January 8, 2007

Leviticus and the Anglican Deformation

a comment in response to Ashley Null’s “Thomas Cranmer and the Anglican Way of Reading Scripture,” Anglican and Episcopal History Vol LXXV No 4, December 2006, pages 488-526
Canon Ashley Null has written a helpful commentary on Thomas Cranmer’s way of reading Scripture as part of a broader search for a distinctively Anglican approach to Bible-reading. I am happy to say that in large measure the approach Canon Null summarizes at the end of his article is remarkably similar to that which my co-authors outlined in our 2002 paper “Let the Reader Understand.” (This document is available on the website of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.)

Null affirms the obvious truth that a particular approach to Scripture is embedded in the “historical Anglican formularies” — but he gives, in my opinion, a bit too much credit for this to Thomas Cranmer, and inadequate weight to the interplay between Cranmer and the other bishops and scholars of his day, and the crucial adjustments and alterations made to these formularies in succeeding generations. He takes note of Elizabeth’s addition of authoritative weight to the church in matters of controversy — surely the point at which an authority is needed — but fails to note how very much this undercut Cranmer’s main agenda — to downplay the church’s role by expanding that of Scripture. (Null 520) One might also add that one of the things Cranmer was most eager to remove from Biblical discussion — the scholastic tradition — shortly found its way back into classical Anglicanism via Hooker’s reliance, for good or ill, on Aquinas’ methods and the theories of natural law. By emphasizing Cranmer’s admittedly central role, and neglecting these and other later developments in the interest of recovering a “thoroughly Protestant” voice for the “historical formularies” Null engages in a subtle kind of dispensationalism, not unlike that which Cranmer himself applied to the understanding of Scripture.

For Cranmer was, as Null points out, an ardent defender of the notion of the Scripture-over-the-church — opposed to the Catholic notion that “defended the priority of the church over the Bible.” (Null 495) Cranmer accepted his favorite theologian Augustine’s teaching that the witness of the church certified what was Scripture and what wasn’t — but Cranmer held that this power belonged to the ancient church alone. Even at that, as Null duly notes, the church’s power was strictly limited, and did not allow even the Apostolic church to be a vehicle for revelation. The church was to be the interpreter, not the speaker, of the heavenly message of salvation once set down. Cranmer allowed even the Apostles only the same capacity he allowed the later church: establishing ceremonies and changing only those traditions not based on God’s moral commandments.

Cranmer also minimized the role of the larger church in interpreting Scripture, advocating as his primary tool for understanding Scripture a method by which one part of Scripture illuminates another and witnesses to a coherent gospel within the enlightened mind of the faithful reader; as the Homily on Scripture put it: “there is no thing spoken under dark mysteries in one place, but the self same thing in other places is spoke more familiarly and plainly.” These themes echo through the Articles, the Collects, and the Homilies, and represent a thoroughly Cranmerian — and Anglican principle.

* * * * *

Unfortunately, this idealized theory falls down in practice, and it has since the time of Cranmer himself; which is why, in succeeding generations, beginning with the Elizabethan revision, the formularies of Anglicanism have been amended and refined — and in some ways fundamentally altered — in practice if not in form. Ecclesiastical dispensationalism — an effort to find ad fontes some “pure” Anglicanism, begs the question of what Anglicanism is today, and even more what it is to become. For if Cranmer, why not Ridley and Jewel; why not Hooker, Laud, Maurice, Pusey, Temple, and, dare we say, ourselves? The church is not simply a source, but a continuing stream, and that living stream has many tributaries that join it along its course, and add their unique contribution to what we now call “Anglicanism.”

The primary flaw in Cranmer’s theory of the self-explaining Scripture — and the primary reason scholars such as Hooker added an authoritative role for the church — lies in his two-fold failure adequately to understand the nature of revelation itself, and to give proper dignity to those who receive it. For revelation is always revelation to — God does not speak (except at the moment of creation itself) into the void: rather the Word that goes forth “accomplishes that which God has purposed.” (Isa 55:11) And the Word of God is efficacious precisely because it is “read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested” — and the “body” that does this is the church, only beginning with the individual Christian but finding its true locus in the larger community, as the Word cooperates with human flesh in its coming into activity.

This is no novel post-modernist observation dependent on communication theory, but lies at the heart of the Scripture’s own testimony to itself, as well as the method of the church up until Cranmer’s essentially hopeless effort to recover a “pure” method of biblical interpretation, in which the plain meaning of Scripture would be obvious to each, as if protected from abuse by the meddlesome all: the church. Jesus himself advanced the idea later discerned by communication theory: communication requires a recipient. Jesus the Word incarnate portrayed this parabolically in the famous image of the sowing of the Word-as-message: the sower broadcasts the seed over all sorts of terrains, only some of which receive it, where it comes to bear fruit —even as it dies (John 12:24). Broadcasting requires a receiver if it is to “accomplish that which is purposed.” We are after all surrounded at every instant by countless radio waves — but they only become music when received and amplified. In this case the church — in its individual members and in the broader community of faith — is the body which faithfully receives, amplifies, and interprets the message of God transmitted through Scripture. Ironically, pace Cranmer’s peculiar eucharistic theology, receptionism is a far more accurate representation of the church’s engagement with the Word in Scripture, than of the individual believer’s encounter with the Word in the Eucharist — for it really is only in the reception of the Scripture by the church that it truly lives.

To a certain extent Cranmer acknowledged all of this — and the Homilies even make use of the figure of Philip offering timely help to the Ethiopian as testimony to the church’s role in unpacking hard Scriptures. But with the temper of an idealist and an individualist Cranmer resisted the obvious implications of the need for some authority external to the Scripture, suggesting instead a supernatural enlightenment attendant upon continued prayer and study, and sifting of texts.

Where this conflict of ideal with reality came to a head was in the limitations Cranmer placed on the church in its role as the “keeper of Holy Writ.” It is all very well to say that the church is bound not to ordain anything contrary to Scripture, and not to require anything as necessary for salvation that cannot be proved from it; and that the church has the authority to change rites and ceremonies instituted only by human authority, but not the moral law. The problem — recognized and addressed by Hooker — is that without the voice of the church speaking authoritatively as to the intent, meaning, and effect of Scripture, individuals and sects will come up with all sorts of private interpretations — even when they use the method of intertextual comparison advised by Cranmer, or simply read diligently and pray for enlightenment. As Hooker would say, there must be a final authority in the church in order to have some end of contention, even as to the meaning of Scripture itself.

* * * * *

The failure of Cranmer’s method — and the proof that even supposedly pure methods are capable of deformation under the influence of extraneous agendas — is revealed in a superb example which Null cites for other reasons: Cranmer’s misunderstanding the Apostolic Council in Acts 15 — in which he placed his own judgment (and the judgement of those of his contemporaries who shared his view) over that of the Apostles themselves. In this we see Cranmer (and his church) doing the very thing he thought the church incapable of doing.

In his understanding of Acts 15, the conclusion of the Apostles — that Gentiles were to abstain from fornication (porneia), food sacrificed to idols, the meat of strangled animals, and blood — a decision which the Apostles themselves attributed authoritatively to the Holy Spirit (15:28), was to be rejected as far as the latter two items were regarded, as these were merely ceremonial and dietary, while the first — the prohibition on porneia — was to be understood as part of the eternally binding moral law.

According to Null, Cranmer and the team of scholars summoned to address “the King’s matter” understood the prohibition on porneia to be related to the sexual laws of Leviticus 18, seen as

universal moral commandments that were still biding on the faithful under the New Testament, since these regulations defined the nature of the sexual immorality forbidden by Paul’s epistles and Acts 15. Cranmer owed his place on the king’s team to his sincere insistence that any honest academic would recognize the truth of this understanding of Leviticus. (Null 498)
The problems with this thesis begin with the determination that the prohibition on blood was merely a ceremonial or dietary commandment, set down by human authority — these being the only commandments Cranmer believed capable of alteration even by the Apostles themselves. As I pointed out in an appendix to “Let the Reader Understand” the blood prohibition was given to Noah directly from the mouth of God in Genesis (9:4), and therefore was held in Jewish tradition as binding on all humanity. This prohibition was repeated in the Law of Moses (as a “perpetual ordinance” in Lev 3:17, 7:26-27; in 17:12-14 with specific reference to resident aliens as well as the people of Israel, 19:26; and in Deut 12:16,23; 15:23). The prohibition was observed in the historical period (1 Sam 14:34), and later noted by Ezekiel in conjunction with other grave sins (33:25-26). Most importantly it was affirmed by the Apostles — who, it must be presumed, knew that the Lord had set aside the dietary laws, and that this was a different matter entirely. Moreover, the prohibition was continued by the post-apostolic and conciliar church, in some places up to the present day.

So much for what Cranmer set aside. The situation was rendered the more inconsistent in what he chose to retain: asserting that the Apostles were thinking of Leviticus 18 when they forbade porneia. This is singularly odd since none of the sexual crimes described in Leviticus 18 are referred to as porneia, a word (in its various forms) which in the LXX version of the Old Testament is restricted to prostitution or (by metaphorical extension) idolatry. Surely the context of the decision in Acts would suggest one or the other as being at issue — and although idolatry is alluded to in Leviticus 18 by reference to Molech and the use of“abomination” (to’evah, a term intimately connected with idolatrous cults) porneia is not mentioned.

Null does not explore these contradictions, however, nor does he expound on what led Cranmer to focus on the 18th chapter of Leviticus in the first place, and instead returns to his theme of the various authorities to be ascribed to the church and to the Scripture itself. This leaves a hanging question: Why Leviticus 18 and not 19? For the latter chapter is of much more obvious relevance to the matter at hand, and of more evident weight through its dependence on the Decalogue. Chapter 19 expresses high moral principles — and also includes the prohibition on blood (26), and (unlike chapter 18) a specific reference to porneia (29). Why should Cranmer argue that the Apostles were thinking of Leviticus 18 (which has no obvious connection with their decision) when their action has clear connections with the following chapter?

* * * * *

Clearly the Apostles were thinking no such thing, but Cranmer was. The wonder is that he bothered addressing the overturn of the blood-prohibition — and that Null sees fit to go into it, since it rather undercuts Cranmer’s emphasis on the authority of Scripture-over-the-church. For Cranmer’s church (that is, the scholars and leaders of mid-16th century English Protestantism) held that it was only within their power to set aside or alter “rites and ceremonies established by human authority” — but, most importantly, assumed an unspoken power to decide which items belonged in that category. And once they granted themselves the capacity to declare any given text of Scripture — in spite of what the text itself said — to be merely a human invention or commandment, it was a simple matter then to set the offensive commandment to one side.

But why did Cranmer — with his ostensibly high regard for Scripture — run upon this particular ground? Why bring up the overturn of the blood prohibition (unless perhaps to take some heat off of his favorite theologian Augustine of Hippo, who was among the first to seek the overturn of this ancient commandment)?

But more importantly, Why this peculiar emphasis on Leviticus 18? There was a reason for Cranmer’s focus on this chapter, and it represents the powerfully deformative force that political agendas can have on even the most pious. It all comes down to one verse: Leviticus 18:16 — “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness.”

Let us not forget the reason and by whom these biblical scholars had been assembled: Henry VIII had married his late brother Arthur’s childless wife Catherine of Aragon, and the Cranmerian team were marshaling any argument they could find to end the marriage, including that it violated the timeless and eternally binding law from Leviticus.

Rather than use his own method and apply the most obvious text relating to a coherent understanding of this law, and addressing the specific exception to it granted at Deut 25:5-9 (whereby a man is expected to marry his brother’s childless widow in order to raise up an heir — an exception eminently applicable in Henry’s case, as it related to the continuation of the succession); failing to note that Jesus had ample opportunity explicitly to overturn the Deuteronomic law in his confrontation with the Saducees (Mar 12:19, Luk 20:28), Cranmer’s team stuck with Leviticus, for they were interested only in adding weight to this commandment, not in taking any away. They were driven by an agenda — not their own, but Henry’s. Cranmer was, after all, tasked with finding a way to legitimize a second marriage (already anticipated in an adulterous relastionship) on the basis of divorce or anullment, the former rather clearly at odds with any coherent reading of the Gospel, and the latter unknown to it. And so they bolstered the commandment in Leviticus by settling upon the decision of the Apostles in Acts 15— a decision they had also undercut in the furtherance of Cranmer’s other agenda: the diminution of the authority of the church.

* * * * *

Since closer examination of this treatment of Acts 15 hardly builds a strong case for Cranmerian consistency, one is forced to ask why Canon Null brings it up. His article comes at a crucial time in the development of Anglican self-understanding, in particular a wish to outline an Anglican way with Scripture. To do so, Null brings up Cranmer’s treatment of Acts 15, including the assertion that the Apostles were against porneia as outlined in Leviticus 18. However, as I’ve shown, on close examination this did not advance Cranmer’s biblical agenda and teaching (that the Apostles were not to be held authoritative on the blood prohibition, even though they ratified Leviticus 19), but served only his royal agenda (whereby he claims Apostolic ratification of Leviticus 18 as a matter of universal moral law.)

Just as at the first English Reformation, an appeal to Leviticus 18 is now being made in our present Anglican Deformation. It is a different verse this time, 18:22, which is again being subsumed by some under the Apostles’ decision at Acts 15. Some, such as Robert Gagnon, go further and suggest that Jesus himself referred to Leviticus 18 when he spoke of porneia in Mat 15:19 / Mark 7:21 — interestingly enough, in the context of setting aside the dietary laws. Jesus did indeed distinguish between the eternal laws of God and the commandments of men — including commandments given by God through Moses (such as the one allowing for divorce, Deut 24:1); but Jesus supplied a touchstone for making the determination as to which was which: not consistency with some other biblical text (as Cranmer suggests) but rather consistency with the eternal law of Love of God and Neighbor.

The need on the part of some with a particular agenda to broaden the scope of Leviticus’ admitted condemnation of male-male sexuality among Jews in the Holy Land (as the leading scholar in the field of Leviticus, Jacob Milgrom, accurately describes it) into a timeless moral requirement binding forever on all humanity (including, apparently, women, significantly missing from the Levitical text) — and the need to summon up dominical support for this commandment — is deforming rather than reforming the Anglican Communion today.

Rather than looking for guidance to the moral principle laid out by Jesus — loving ones neighbor as oneself, and giving oneself for the welfare of others — cultic regulations and selected sexual offenses of ancient Israel are elevated to a status unwarranted by either moral or ethical principle, while others are hastily explained away. This is not the way forward.

We need honestly to face the fact that the vast bulk of rites and ceremonies and moral laws of ancient Israel were based on a direct ordinance of God recorded in the Scripture. Ancient Israel made no distinction along Cranmerian lines, and the laws are found interwoven throughout the Torah, and serious penalties are attached to some plainly “ritual” acts. Further, many, if not most of these commandments and ordinances were not overthrown by Christ, or by the early church. Their overthrow came only with the passage of time, in part upon application of Cranmer’s principle of distinguishing between ritual and morality, or a general presumption of lack of current applicability.

And in this one sense Cranmer was right: the church does have the authority to set aside commandments — not only the ones made by human authority, but the ones which even though placed in the mouth of God by the Scriptural authors, can be determined to reside only upon human culture and human agendas and human failings. Ultimately all of Scripture comes to us through human agency — and it is no good idealistically pretending otherwise; to do so is to turn the Scripture itself into an idol. The Scripture is not the Word of God spoken, but the Word of God written — and in all cases apart from the purported engraving of the original Decalogue, the writing is made by human hands. For Israel in its long wanderings, for the church in its pilgrimage, and for us today, the Scripture is an instrument through which God’s will is made known, but an instrument which must be played: and the people of God are the musicians.

Cranmer was quite right to hold that the prohibition on blood was no longer binding — but not because the Scripture described it as a human institution. Rather it is clear that the Scripture contains a great many such cultural artifacts and beliefs which, despite the self-authenticating claims of Scripture, will not stand against right reason, and will not stand against the Gospel standard for all morality, given by Christ himself: to love neighbor as self, and do for that neighbor what one wishes for oneself: as Saint Paul observed, such love fulfills the law. (Rom 13:9-10)

It is this reason and this love which the church today is called upon to exercise: to look with eyes enlightened by an understanding of culture and the human capacity for hatred of the other, and to turn aside from the cultural norms of a defunct world, and embrace the Gospel imperative given by Jesus Christ for the life of the world to come.

It is to be hoped that all of us can return to the principles that Canon Null summarizes at the end of his essay, which echo the conclusions of “Let the Reader Understand,” and which form a core upon which to build a sound biblical understanding and engagement. As I would rephrase them here:

  • that our understanding of Scripture be unified around Christ and his commandments — primarily the commandment to love;
  • that our reading of Scripture nourish our hearts and minds;
  • that the Scripture empower our personal and corporate repentance and reformation;
  • that we remain true to the whole Scripture in its redemptive context and avoid the agenda-driven approach that sets texts against each other, and against our sisters and brothers; and
  • that we rejoice thereby in the restoration of the divine image in humanity, empowered to mission for the good of the world for which Christ died.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

I welcome comments on this reflection, but reserve the right to moderate comments posted here. I would respectfully ask two things:

1. That those who wish to comment anonymously at least adopt a “pen name” if they lack the sense of trust to stand by what they say under their own name, and

2. That comments address the primary concern of this reflection: the authority of the church to determine which portions of Scripture are of continuing relevance. As the character in the Python sketch observed, I am interested in cogent argument, not mere contradiction.


Anonymous said...


A wonderful essay. Thank you! The focus it seems to me, at the end of the day, is our own moral agency as Christians in community. And that we apply Christ-guided ethical and moral principles to our reading and use of Scriptures.

As my Old Testament professor was fond of saying, the Bible does not glow in the dark. Nor was it an instruction book that fell out of the sky. By itself, it has no moral agency, and can be used for good or ill. Perhaps among the clearest demonstrations of this is Jesus' argument with Satan in the wilderness (as in Luke 4 or Matthew 4), in which both Jesus and the figure Satan quote Scripture in contradiction of each other.

I am also intrigued by your consideration of the way political agendas, and, indeed, cultures co-opt Scripture for their own agenda. That illuminates portions of the divide in the Anglican Communion right now, as some (i.e. Archbishop Akinola) have argued that the prohibition of Lev. 18:22 defends tribal customs and an already-existing taboo. On the other hand, the rising acceptance of homosexuality in the West is another (contrasting) cultural understanding. The witness of LGBT Christians in our communities and the findings of empirical science had some role in reexamining a canonically privileged interpretation of Biblical texts.

It seems to me that we as Christians should avoid the temptation to proof-text any cultural view, but instead, return to the underlying themes and foundational ethical/moral principles we hold as a Christian community, constructed, as you so eloquently put, around the love of God and love of neighbor, upon which "hang all the law and the prophets" (Mt 22:40).

Through that interpretational lens, apparently sanctioned by Christ himself and, it seems to me, born by the Church against all abuses of law, taboos, and power through the Ages, we are in a position to measure the morality and efficacy of any relationship and behold its "fruit" (Mt 12:33).

If committed LGBT relationships demonstrate the fruits of love of God and love of neighbor, then we have every reason to bless them in the Church, no matter what cultural winds are prevailing.

Anyway, if I understand you aright, I am merely echoing your arguments, but not so coherently or with such attention to detail and expansive exegesis! For that, I may need bear correction, and am happy to drop my two cents into a discussion here.

Thanks again, and God's peace.

Anonymous said...


That's the way thinkers used to write! That's the way exegesis used to be done!

I have always thought it oddly curious that, in fact, Cranmer apparently did not believe in his own touted "sufficiency of Scripture". The very existence of his Articles is evidence against himself ? something "more" needed to be said to "clarify" ? and "clarify" for him meant, of course, to point in the Protestant direction.

Thanks for a fine piece.

Anonymous said...

do you think that those of us who believe that the scriptures are over the church, and those like you who believe that the church is over the scriptures (and I hope I don't offend you by summarising the positions this way) can co-exist in the same church?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks to the commenters thus far. I think Obadiah's question a legitimate one: and I would say the short answer is "Yes." I say this in large part because this has been part of the genius of Anglicanism.

The longer answer includes the reality that -- in accord with what I've said above -- in some sense the church is "over Scripture" (as even the Articles admit in giving the church the title "keeper of Holy Writ); while at the same time admitting the limitations on the church, in which sense it is "under Scripture": that Scripture alone is sufficiently revelatory unto Salvation (teaching, as Hooker would say, things that we could not know apart from it; i.e., that Jesus is the Son of God) and that the church is not to require as necessary for salvation that which cannot be proved from Scripture. In "Let the Reader Understand" my co-authors described this as a kind of "Constitutional" relationship -- a point echoed by Null in his article, and in the Windsor Report. That is, the church is the proper interpreter of the "constitutional" text, but is also bound to remain under it.

The nexus of our present woe lies in the difference of opinion concerning a matter that falls under the latter limitation: how clearly can it be "proved" from Scripture that abstention from any and all same-sex sexuality is necessary for salvation. It is plainly evident that Scripture does not -- in itself -- provide adequate "proof" if only for the reason that if it did we would not be having this discussion, and those who argue against faithful monogamous same-sex relationships would not constantly feel the need to resort to such things as natural law arguments, medical statistics, and other such resources.

So I think the only people who will find themselves unable to abide in the same church will be those who -- ultimately -- place their own judgment over that of the body of the church. This becomes more complicated for the Anglican Communion because we are dealing with the question of polity: is the national church or province competent to make judgements for itslef that might not be acceptable to other provinces. Until now the Anglican Communion has not had an overarching political structure that limits provinces in this way. The present crisis has led to calls to do just that. My sense is that this approach will in fact violate the Anglican formularies by requiring that which cannot be proven from Scripture for all; whereas the actions of the "liberals" have only "allowed" something for some. I think the tradition in Anglicanism has tended towards the laissez-faire approach in the past, and I see no reason for it not to be able to do the same in the future. A number of provinces are on record in this regard: Japan, Ireland, Southern Africa, the Caribbean, etc.

So yes, to get back to the short answer, it is possible. The question is, will it happen?

Anonymous said...

tobias: a wonderful essay. Your exposition of Cranmer and connection between the political and the spiritual is very helpful.

Obadiahslope - we can live in the same church if we want to. God's not making the decision. We are.

We are misled if we think we cannot.

Anonymous said...

Null tackles the issue you raise in an essay "Biblical Authority in the Thirty Nine Articles http://www.ucu.ac.ug/gsi/downloads/Null.pdf
In the course of his argument he states ..'The Forty Two articles sought to apply biblical authority to the doctrinal controversies of the day."
Null sets out to show how the then 42 articles supported a view of scripture over the church. The articles are not an attempt to add to scripture but to summarise it for the benefit of the church.

Thank your for that helpful answer. You raise the danger of "violat[ing] the Anglican formularies by requiring that which cannot be proven from Scripture for all". I agree that those of us on the conservative end of the anglican spectrum may be prone to do this. I wonder if there is not a current example of the progressives doing this, too. The recent panel of reference statement concerning Fort Worth ISTM attempts to maintain some freedom of conscience regarding Women's ordination. Some of the TEC left seem to argue that sexism is sin and no bishop opposed to it should be confirmed in their election or no diocesan policy restricting it should stand. Is this not "requiring that which cannot be proven from Scripture for all"?
(I don't wish to start a debate here about women's ordination - a topic on which I would be closer to your view than bishop Iker's.)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Gawain, and also Obadiah for the continued discussion. Before anything else, let me add that one of the thoughts floating in my head prior to actually composing the article didn't actually make it in -- I even alluded to it on another blog saying I was working on an essay, but then neglected to include it. I want to raise it here because I think it might help clarify what I regard as the middle way between "church-over" and "church-under."

It is the English constitutional notion of King (or Queen)-in-parliament: whereby for the highest authority given to an Act there is a synergistic relationship between the Monarch and the Parliament. The Monarch alone can do certain very limited things, and the Parliament alone can pass Acts, but the notion of King-in-Parliament places limits upon both while at the same time potentiating their effect.

So what I'd like to suggest is the best way for the church to approach the Scripture is in this same way, mutually, with the church-in-Scripture and the Scripture-in-church actually being the point at which they both bear fruit together. I hope this is a helpful addition to my main essay.

Now, to your question. I agree entirely that to require any given bishop to ordain a given woman would be, at this point, a clear violation of Scripture. It would also, however, be more importantly a violation of our own Canons, which a careful reading of those canons, the Panel of Reference statement, and our Presiding Bishop's response will indicate. The present canons only require that the ordination process be open to women in all dioceses -- not that the diocesan bishop actually ordain any given woman candidate. This is only "ambiguous" on Bishop Iker's claim; and the failure to quote the last line of the canon is indicative, for the canon ends, "No right to... ordination... is hereby established." The "Dallas Plan" as it is being called (a similar plan used to be called the "Montgomery Plan" after the former Bishop of Chicago) is, as both the present and former PB have noted, and as the Panel reporte states, appears to be working -- so the only "problem" appears to be ambiguity, and the possibility that a person opposed to the ordination of women might not be confirmed in the Episcopate.

The argument as to whether sexism is a sin, and whether the ordination or women is a good or a bad thing (I think the former, clearly) is a debate that will continue for some time, and you are correct that this is not the place to take it up. I would suggest, however, that this is an example of the kind of cultural issue that is merely "in" but not truly "of" Scripture, and so those texts which would seem to argue against giving women positions of authority in the church will be seen as telling us more of Man and his weakness than of God and his grace.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Haller,

You said:

"The need on the part of some with a particular agenda to broaden the scope of Leviticus? admitted condemnation of male-male sexuality among Jews in the Holy Land (as the leading scholar in the field of Leviticus, Jacob Milgrom, accurately describes it) into a timeless moral requirement binding forever on all humanity (including, apparently, women, significantly missing from the Levitical text)"

I think this is something of a mischaracterization. The orthodox argument is not burdened with the task of carrying the levitical prohibitions forward into the New Covenant. That has been done for us.

Our position is that the "some" who have brought these prohibitions forward include Jesus in Mark 7, St. Paul in Romans 1 and 1 Cor 6:9 and the early church in Acts 15.

Moreover, while the levitical text specifically identifies male homosexual behavior, Paul includes both male and female same sex behavior as symptomatic of our fallen nature in Romans 1.

Matt Kennedy

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Matt,

You risk here, as I noted at the end of the article, falling into mere contradiction rather than argument. I do understand your position, but you are reasserting it instead of arguing it. I understand your assertion of linkage between Mark 7, Romans 1 and 1 Cor 6:9 and Acts 15 to Leviticus 18. The problem is that this linkage is not self-evident. What "proof" do you have that this was the text Jesus, Paul, and the Apostles had in mind, other than your simple assertion. I have shown that there is no verbal connection between Acts and Mark and Leviticus 18. (I didn't mention Romans in this regard, nor 1 Cor, and the case for a linkage is somewhat better there, and I will say a bit more below.)

But how do you prove the other links? It is no use simply cataloguing all of those who agree with your position, as if that constituted proof. As Hooker so clearly said, "Even such as are readiest to cite for one thing five hundred sentences of holy Scripture; what warrant have they, that any one of them doth mean the thing for which it is alleged? Is not their surest ground most commonly, either some probable conjecture of their own, or the judgment of others taking those Scriptures as they do?" (Laws, II.7.8) This is precisely the hermeneutical dilemma in which we find ourselves. You claim that the citations you give "bring forward" into the New Testament a specific law from the Old. I would welcome seeing your evidence: though I've seen most of the arguments along these lined before.

I would agree that Romans 1 may have some relevance to Lev 18, in that it is a clear condemnation of male same-sex activity in connection with idolatry -- which is the significance of to'evah in Leviticus. This behavior is forbidden to Jews precisely because of its connection with Gentiles; and this relates to Paul's condemnation of the disordered life of Gentiles in Romans 1. But it should be clear that the disordered life of idolatry is not what is at issue in addressing faithful, monogamous same-sex relationships between Christians.

To address at greater length the false reliance on porneia -- there is no concrete evidence that any 1st century person would have connected same-sex sex (whether they approved of it or not) with porneia. Similarly efforts to relate arsenokoitai to Lev 18, are not as clear as it might seem. See, for instance, the common attempt is to derive this rare word from Lev 18:22 on the basis that the two root words appear together. But they don't come together grammatically in Leviticus; they are in two different phrases. (The same is true in the Hebrew.) The verse in question actually refers to koiten gunaikos (bedding of a woman, "beddings" -- that is, plural, in Hebrew). If you want to find a grammatically compelling source for arsenokoitai a better selection of verses is Numbers 31:17,18,35; where you actually have koiten arsenos / andros in a meaningful grammatical structure. The meaning here is, "one who known a man by bedding him" and is referring to women. I am not suggesting that arsenokoitai could not well include men who sleep with men, but suggest that the range of meaning might be broader and include women who sleep with men (but who are not married to them, i.e., "loose women") as well. Indeed, when taken in conjunction with the following word, malakoi the idea of "looseness" is emphasized. Is not Paul's concern a life of license and disorder? It seems a massive stretch to extend this word to cover life-long same-sex relationships. It may even be a stretch to apply it to boy prostitutes, as is commonly done, since it might also refer to effeminacy, or weakness either of body or will. In any case both terms lack any hint of a longterm or loving relationship, and it appears, on the basis of context, rather to refer to licentiousness. "looseness" or ?sleeping around? ? in keeping with the rest of the vice list in which these words appear, summing up again (as in Romans) a vision of total depravity and disorder.

Further, you make the claim that Paul "includes ... female same-sex behavior as symptomatic of our fallen nature in Romans 1." This is arguable, and indeed has been argued in the literature. But the text itself is by no means clear (another instance of the failure of "sola Scriptura"). Augustine, for example, believed this text referred to women engaging in non-procreative sex with their husbands. He takes "natural use" to mean that which leads to generation; and so notes, "As regards any part of the body which is not meant for generative purposes, should a man use even his own wife in it, it is agasint nature and flagitious. Indeed, the same apostle had previously said, concerning women, 'Even their women did change the natural use... etc.'"(On Marriage and Concupiscence 2.20) I realize there are other early teachers who disagree with Augustine on this.

But so it is that we are, I think back where we started. The Scripture is not "clear" in its condemnation of life-long committed same-sex relationships (except between Jewish males in the Holy Land); and there is no "proof" that lesbianism is covered at all -- without going outside of Scripture to some external interpretative authority.

Matt, I know you are an ardent defender of Scripture, but I hope you see the large role that such interpretative authority must play, whichever side of the argument one wishes to take. As I said above, if the Scripture were entirely clear on the applicability of these texts to our present dilemma, life would be much easier. I accept that you take a certain view, and I do understand it. But I do not regard it as "proof" --- and as I have noted in another context, the burden of proof is on the prosecution, not the defense.

And, by the way, I'm not a Doctor. I'm a simple M.Div, with no ambition to any higher attainment along academic lines.

All blessings now and through the coming year.


Anonymous said...

Tobias, what is a good working definition of "ecclesiastical dispensationalism"? I have Googled with not much success. Portions of your essay are over my head - not your fault, simply because I don't know enough - but I could proceed with more understanding with a definition of that phrase.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Chere Grandmère,

Dispensationalism generally refers to the idea that God treated Israel (under the Old "Dispensation") differently than the Church (under the New). I'm using the term broadly here to reflect a "good old days" mentality that attributes authority to the early church denied to the church of today. Some argue that the difference is valid because the early church was "undivided" and we are very much so. That might be a persuasive reason to take such a view of waning authority, if it weren't for the fact that on closer examination we see that early Christians were very much divided on many issues -- starting with circumcision -- and that we tend to "bless the winners" and call them "the early church" and try to pretend the "losing side" weren't around, and didn't feel themselves to be just as Christian as the next bloke.

It is, in part, the romantic notion that there is some Golden Age in the past which if only the church could recover it all would be well. The desire for such a Golden Age is echoed in an urge towards certainty and finality. There is a wonderful Talmudic text which says, "Moses pleaded with the Lord, '“Master of the universe, reveal to me the final
truth in each problem of doctrine and law.”' To which the Lord replied: “'There are no pre-existent final truths in doctrine or law; the truth is the considered judgment of the
majority of authoritative interpreters in every generation.”'" (pSanhedrin 4.2) That approach gives some people the willies; but I think this is why the Scripture is still a living tool for divine guidance: it is capable of addressing needs in every age, golden or otherwise.

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for responding. I think Romans 1 is the key text here. Paul links homosexuality not to the original turning away of humanity from God. Of course, any turning away involves idolatry and Paul, I agree, in the first part of the text is specifically referring to the sort of idolatry found among gentiles. However, homosexuality comes into the mix as an extreme example of the result of God's wrath. The gentiles turned away and so God gave them over to...and then he lists homosexual behaviors.

What is key here is to recognize that Paul goes on to list a large number of behaviors and character traits: Greed, malice, etc..that also resulted from God's "giving over" of the gentiles.

In all of this, and I think you will agree, he's setting a trap for his Jewish readers. They will be reading along nodding their heads at the dirty sins of the gentiles. By the time Paul turns to Greed etc...they might be getting a little uncomfortable.

And then just at the right moment, he turns the tables and includes not only the Gentiles but the Jews as well as among those who "do the same things..."

So then this forces the Jew to look back at the beginning, the run up from verse 18-32 and realise that Paul was speaking not only about Gentiles, but all human beings...a point he drives home in Romans 3:10-18.

So how does Paul employ homosexual behavior here? It is a general ramification or result of God's giving humanity over to their own desires to the point that these rebellios desires have come to characterize our very nature.

We were not created to be greedy, malicious, or to engage in homosexual behavior, but because our hearts have become darkened these things are a part of our nature.

As Dr. Gagnon says, and I think says well, were Paul to study the latest findings with regard to biological/genetic predispostions toward same sex behavior, he would not be suprised. Of course we are by nature drawn to do what we ought not to do. Our nature has fallen.

AS for the question of porneia, NT Wright points out, and I'll have to find the reference, that it was not an arbitrary decision to link porniea to leviticus 18. Rabbinical literature in the 2nd century used "porniea" as a gloss for the levitical sexual code. The word, in other words, is specifically tied to leviticus `8.

Furthermore, I do not think it plausible to suggest that a first century rabbi would have understood homosexual behavior as anything but lawless and forbidden. The suggestion that homosexual behavior would be excluded from the prohibition in Acts 15 or Mark 7 (Matt 15) cuts against everything we know about 1st century Judaism.

As for 1st Cor 6:9

here is a section from an article I wrote earlier

Anonymous said...

Here is the section:

In 1st Corinthians 6:9-11, St. Paul again turns to the subject of homosexuality and includes homosexual behaviors in a list of behaviors considered characteristic of people who ?do not inherit the Kingdom of God? (see above). Some revisionist scholars have questioned whether the Greek words Paul uses here are intended to indicate all homosexual activity or whether St. Paul is addressing specifically male prostitution, in which case, they argue, this passage cannot apply to the monogamous homosexual relationships of today. Given Paul's very clear and strong condemnation of homosexual behavior in general in Romans 1, the argument over 1 Cor 6:9 is not all that crucial because we know that Paul condemned the homosexual act in general whether paid for or not.

But just to play along with the argument, let me note that the most common ways the two Greek words in question here, ?Malakoi? and ?Arsenokoitai,? were used demonstrate that Paul almost beyond a doubt was referring to male homosexual relations. ?Malakos? refers most often to a male who is ?soft? or effeminate, or passive. In the context of sexuality it was used most commonly to refer to the passive partner in a male homosexual erotic relationship. Some have argued that it refers specifically to young male prostitutes who take on the role of the female in bed, but there is another much more common word for these people, ?kinaidos.? So, it's more likely, given the plain sense of the word ?malakos? and the fact that there was a more common word available??kinaidos??that Paul was simply referring to the passive sexual partner in male homosexual intercourse, and the identification of these people as male prostitutes is incorrect.

?Arsenokoites,? the second word, means ?one who lies with a male in a male homosexual erotic relationship.? This word as it was most commonly used in the context of sexual relations refers ?in general? to any male who plays the role of the male in bed with another male, be he with a prostitute or with a lover.

The interesting thing about this word, as Richard Hays notes in his Moral Vision of the New Testament, is that coming from a learned Jew like Paul, ?arsenokoites? would likely represent an allusion to the Greek text of Leviticus 20:13 ?meta arsenos koiten gynaikos,? ?arsenokoites? being a compound of ?arsen? (male) ?and koiten? (intercourse). The compound word, ?arsenokoites? is in fact not known in Greek literature prior to the NT. For that reason Hays believes Paul likely created it in reference to Leviticus 20. The significance of this, of course, is that Paul understood the Levitical prohibitions against homosexuality to be morally binding on the church beyond the context of ritual purity. Most likely these two words taken together represent a blanket condemnation of both the passive and assertive forms of male homosexual behavior. This passage, therefore, represents another explicit NT condemnation of homosexual behavior without regard to cultural or relational context. ( Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker Greek Lexicon of the NT and other Early Christian Literature )

Anonymous said...

Tobias, it does help. As to the Golden Age of the early church, one has only to read the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles to learn that contention and controversy were present from the beginning of the written record of Christianity.

Today is the feast day of William Laud, and this brief biography indicates that the church seems to fight the same battles over and over. But I stray from the subject of your post. Sorry about that.

Anonymous said...


On a somewhat tangentially related matter of exegesis, I'm wondering what your view is over the controversy over the use of "pais" for the servant/slave in the story of the Centurion (beginning at Matthew 8:5).

There is some considerable note made that, in this context, "pais" may have indicated a sexual slave/lover (hence a homosexual relationship, although we would still have to wrestle with pederasty here).

That Jesus seems to make no condemnation has been of note. In fact, he hails the Centurion's faith and heals the "pais." For more background, I think particularly of Gray Temple's recent, pithy Gay Unions and here's a web reference.

I'm dubious that any thoroughgoing argument for same-sex unions can be made with this, regardless. One could also argue by this passage that Jesus' complicity in the face of slavery somehow justifies it. (That raises another question for historical Christianity, but I digress.)

But it might at least suggest a level of cross-cultural tolerance or ambiguity in first-century Judaism (or simply in Jesus' views) and move beyond the monolithic tenor of the so-called "clobber" passages of Scripture often quoted.

What say you?

Anonymous said...

Just a word-up: Matt Kennedy seems to be continuing the dialogue here at edow.

No, Tobias, you're not a doctor (I am). You're a freakin' genius: they don't have schools (or credentials) for that! ;-p

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Matt, for the continued conversation. My response at this point will have to be brief as I have to run off to the parish for an appointment. Let me address your comments on Romans and hope to get back to 1 Cor later today.

I think, first of all, there are a number of points of agreement between us, which I take as a hopeful sign.

Second, it seems to me that your comments support to a large extent my initial argument, that more than the "plain text" or "sola Scriptura" is necessary to get to the meaning Scripture offers us. In other words, it is necessary in the present instance to "get into Paul's head" to seek to find meaning in his words, to look at a surmised rhetorical intent underlying his work. Now, I'm very glad to see you and I agree about the rhetorical thrust of Romans 1-2, that his ultimate goal is not a condemnation of Gentiles, but a conviction of his Jewish-Christian audience by attesting to the fact that "all have fallen short" and that "there is none righteous."

In Romans 1 Paul is repeating a fairly standard condemnation of gentile depravity, attendant on the abandonment of God to worship as gods things made by humans. Romans 1 relies heavily on Wisdom of Solomon 13-16 ? a number of verses in Romans 1 are either direct quotations or allusions, and the train of thought is identical. So Paul's Jewish audience would have immediately been "warmed up" by familiar ground. And it is certainly true that Jews regarded at least male same-sex sexuality as particularly repugnant ? though also as an essentially Gentile problem. As the Talmud says somewhere, "Israel is not suspected." So far, I think we actually might agree.

Where we diverge is that I tend to follow Walter Wink's view on this text, and what we are to do with it, as opposed to Dr. Gagnon. And this is where we come to a surmise, on both sides. Gagnon tries to make a case ? as you repeat it ? that if Paul were to somehow drop into our time, and have our scientific knowledge, he would still think homosexuality to be wrong. However, this doubly begs the question, in that it assumes that one knows what Paul would say, and second that it is Paul whose opinion matters ? rather than our own. (This reflects, by the way, the strange individualism of Cranmer, in that he placed Paul's opinion over against that of the Council of the Apostles in Acts; no doubt in his interest to downplay "the church" and its councils over against the illumined individual.)

I would like to see the citation from Wright concerning porneia; however, I note once again that Leviticus 18 lacks any such reference, while chapter 17 and 19 refer to porneia in the senses in which all sources contemporary to Paul use it: idolatry or prostitution. I would welcome any specific use of the word in a context that clearly linked it to male same-sex sexuality.

When it comes to first and second century Judaism(s) I would say I am probably as widely read as most; and in fact the literature attests to an essential disinterest in same-sex sexuality on the part of Jews, particularly in Palestine. The references are very few and very far between, and almost always involve Gentiles, not Jews. Homosexuality does not appear to loom very large in the Jewish mind; hence to attribute a conscious intent to Jesus (in the vice list in Mark/Matthew) or the Apostles in Acts 15, simply is very unlikely. To return to Leviticus 17, for example, verses 17 and what follows, the close connection between porneia (figuratively for idolatry) and blood is again emphasized. I could also point to Psalm 106, which links idolatry and bloodshed with "going awhoring." This, it seems to me, is a much more likely confluence of meaning than the somewhat technical list of incest by affinity and consanguity, bestiality, male-male sexuality and sleeping with a woman during her monthly flow ? which is the content of chapter 18.

Now, I'm certainly not suggesting the Apostles would have approved of any of these things. What I am saying is that these were not the objects of their concern in the decision reached in Acts. I think to stretch this to Jesus goes rather further, and is an effort on the part of those opposed to the legitimization of any same-sex relationships to find an implicit dominical condemnation in the absence of any explicit one.

I'll return later to make a few comments on 1 Corinthians.

Anonymous said...

Dear Tobias (if I may),

Many thanks for your willingness thoughtfully to engage at some length with my recent article in Anglican and Episcopal History. I certainly appreciated your overall positive reaction. Nevertheless, I thought it might be helpful if I tried to clarify some of the concerns you also raised.

Your comment seeks to make at least two significant corrections:

1) Cranmer himself is guilty of setting aside divine commandments, so the church today can do likewise.

2) There is no reason for Cranmer to appeal to Lev. 18 other than as a means of twisting Scripture to advance his own specific theological agenda.

Please allow me to address each assertion in turn:

Your assertion #1: ?The problems with this thesis begin with the determination that the prohibition on blood was merely a ceremonial or dietary commandment, set down by human authority ? these being the only commandments Cranmer believed capable of alteration even by the Apostles themselves. As I pointed out in an appendix to ?Let the Reader Understand? the blood prohibition was given to Noah directly from the mouth of God in Genesis (9:4), and therefore was held in Jewish tradition as binding on all humanity. This prohibition was repeated in the Law of Moses (as a ?perpetual ordinance? in Lev 3:17, 7:26-27; in 17:12-14 with specific reference to resident aliens as well as the people of Israel, 19:26; and in Deut 12:16,23; 15:23). The prohibition was observed in the historical period (1 Sam 14:34), and later noted by Ezekiel in conjunction with other grave sins (33:25-26). Most importantly it was affirmed by the Apostles ? who, it must be presumed, knew that the Lord had set aside the dietary laws, and that this was a different matter entirely. Moreover, the prohibition was continued by the post-apostolic and conciliar church, in some places up to the present day.?

My Response: In keeping with the historical nature of my article, I will confine my remarks here to what Cranmer believed he was doing.

Cranmer did not think that the prohibition against blood in the Old Testament had been given by human authority. Nor did he believe that mere human authority could set it aside. Rather, he believed, as Article 19 of the 42 Articles (included as part of Article 7 in the 39 Articles) makes clear, that these divine ceremonial commands were ?given by God? but ?bind not Christian men?. Why not? Because, as you yourself acknowledge, Jesus himself taught that maintaining dietary laws was no longer a necessary part of salvation under the new covenant: ?It is not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.? (Mark 7:15) The Apostle Paul preached the same message: ?I know and am convinced on the authority of Jesus Christ that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat.? (Romans 14: 14) In short, Cranmer believed that only Jesus, as the author and finisher of our faith, had the authority to set aside the obligatory nature of the dietary laws for salvation and that he had in fact done so.

Why then did Cranmer think that the Apostles retained the prohibition against blood when Jesus himself had abolished its obligatory nature? As I said in my article:

?[In Cranmer?s opinion], although the council had authority from God to regulate the life of the church at that time as seemed best to them under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they could not decree something to be a commandment necessary for salvation that God had already declared otherwise. They could only recommend these dietary restrictions as a good custom to avoid contention in their current circumstances, something later generations would have every right to abandon, if they so chose.?

In other words, Cranmer understood the retention of the prohibition against eating blood in Acts 15 as the kind of practical expression of love urged by Paul in Romans 14:15 ?And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don?t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died.?

Thus, because Cranmer relied on the authority of the plain sense of the New Testament witness, he believed that God himself through the revelation of Jesus Christ had made the keeping of the dietary laws optional. Consequently, Cranmer believed that human authority now had the divinely given responsibility of discerning whether or not to keep the dietary laws as a pastoral provision for a season amongst Christians.

Clearly, Cranmer?s was a sensitively nuanced, thoroughly balanced reading of the New Testament. Since he carefully delineated between definitive divine decisions about the way of salvation and the need for the church to exercise pastoral wisdom on how to implement them in the light of current human needs, surely it is a profound misconstrual, perhaps even in your own words, ?an Anglican deformation,? for you to unreflectively conflate these two categories by saying:

?Cranmer?s church . . . assumed an unspoken power to decide which items belonged in that category [of ?rites and ceremonies established by human authority?]. And once they granted themselves the capacity to declare any given text of Scripture ? in spite of what the text itself said ? to be merely a human invention or commandment, it was a simple matter then to set the offensive commandment to one side.?

Such a breath-takingly broad indictment is simply historically unteneable.

Because of this same sensitive but thorough reliance on the New Testament witness, Cranmer came to the opposite conclusion about the commandments on permissible sexual partners, as I will now address.

Your assertion #2a: ?So much for what Cranmer set aside. The situation was rendered the more inconsistent in what he chose to retain: asserting that the Apostles were thinking of Leviticus 18 when they forbade porneia. This is singularly odd since none of the sexual crimes described in Leviticus 18 are referred to as porneia, a word (in its various forms) which in the LXX version of the Old Testament is restricted to prostitution or (by metaphorical extension) idolatry. Surely the context of the decision in Acts would suggest one or the other as being at issue ? and although idolatry is alluded to in Leviticus 18 by reference to Molech and the use of?abomination? (to?evah, a term intimately connected with idolatrous cults) porneia is not mentioned.? Null does not explore these contradictions, however, nor does he expound on what led Cranmer to focus on the 18th chapter of Leviticus in the first place, and instead returns to his theme of the various authorities to be ascribed to the church and to the Scripture itself. This leaves a hanging question: Why Leviticus 18 and not 19? . . . Why should Cranmer argue that the Apostles were thinking of Leviticus 18 (which has no obvious connection with their decision) when their action has clear connections with the following chapter??

My response: It is no great mystery why Henry?s scholars linked Lev. 18 with porneia. Firstly, Paul did so himself with his use of that word in I Cor. 5:1 to describe the action of the man who broke the incest commandment recorded in Lev. 18:8. As you agreed, Cranmer?s method was to use one part of the Bible to interpret another. Significantly, this reason?the main, obvious reason?was not mentioned in your response. Secondly, as you did note, this linkage had obvious advantages for their argument that the king?s marriage to his brother?s wife was biblically immoral. They argued, reasonably enough in fact, that if Paul thought that Lev 18:8 was still in force for a Christian, then Lev 18:16, which prohibited a man from having sexual relations with his brother?s wife, remained in force as well.

Please refer to the footnote at this point in my article which points the reader to these details as outlined in the official statement by Henry?s scholars. Let me quote at length from that source. The English translation is Cranmer?s own, but I have modernized the spelling:

?The authority of St. Paul, whereas he giveth his judgement that Christian men, even at this time, are bound to keep that other Levitical law that a man should not marry his stepmother which law was made and published in the same place, the same text, by the same spirit and the same self time, that this other law was that a man should not marry his brother?s wife . . . . And by this it cannot but be evident and clear to every man that seeing Paul doth judge that this law of Moses that no man should marry his stepmother ought to be keep even now among Christian men. And seeing that he doth openly say that such fornication is utterly unnatural and beastly where a man had a do with his father?s wife, that is to say, with her that is near unto him, he seemeth plainly to mean, thus, that surely much less it is lawful for Christian folks to marry women that be more near of their blood and that all those things which be reckoned up in the same Levitical law be (doubtless) in like manner forbidden. . . . And this same thing is proved also manifestly by this that the apostle in the same place also doth use this word of fornication [porneia], by this that which word not only he but also all the other apostles all most ever more in their writings are want to comprehend all those unlawful marriages and foul couplings that be forbidden in the book of Leviticus.? Edward Surtz and Virginia Murphy, eds., The Divorce Tracts of Henry VIII (Angers: Moreana, 1988), pp. 49, 51, 53.

Your Assertion #2b: ?Rather than use his own method and apply the most obvious text relating to a coherent understanding of this law, and addressing the specific exception to it granted at Deut 25:5-9 (whereby a man is expected to marry his brother?s childless widow in order to raise up an heir ? an exception eminently applicable in Henry?s case, as it related to the continuation of the succession); failing to note that Jesus had ample opportunity explicitly to overturn the Deuteronomic law in his confrontation with the Saducees (Mar 12:19, Luk 20:28), Cranmer?s team stuck with Leviticus, for they were interested only in adding weight to this commandment, not in taking any away. They were driven by an agenda ? not their own, but Henry?s.?

My Response: Of course, Cranmer did address the Deuteronomic passage. To be brief, he realized that the crux of the biblical debate about Henry?s marriage to Catherine came down to these conflicting verses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Here was the original test case for the Anglican use of reason in biblical interpretation. How should the exegete in this case expound the one passage so as not to not deny some authority to the other? Since the laws contradicted each other, the question of how to harmonize them was relatively simple. Which commandment was the general rule and which was the divinely-ordered exception?

As we have seen, Cranmer argued that in the light of Paul?s use of Leviticus 18 in I Cor. 5:1, it was clear that this chapter contained a group of universal, on-going moral commandments. Consequently, Deuteronomy 25:5-9 had to be the exception authorized as a specific custom within the particular common life of the Jewish kingdom. As a part of their ceremonial law, the Deuteronomic commandment was amongst those which ?were abrogate and clean taken away by the coming of Christ? (Surtz and Murphy, Divorce Tracts, p. 257). As we have also seen, Article 19 [1553]/Article 7 [1571] clearly states that the civil and ceremonial laws of ancient Israel are not binding on Christians. Jesus? reply to the Sadducees about the inherent provisionality of the Deuteronomic commandment could easily be understood as only adding weight to such reasoning. Henry asked Cranmer to join his team of researchers because the king could see that Cranmer?s thoughtful and thorough biblical hermeneutic had genuinely convinced the Cambridge don that Henry?s marriage was contrary to Scripture.

My conclusion: Thomas Cranmer?s understanding of the difference between the Old Testament dietary regulations and its moral laws about sexual partners can be easily summarized. As God the Son, Jesus dispensed Christians from the Old Testament?s dietary laws. He also dispensed Christian authorities from having to implement Old Testament penalties for breaking the laws about sexual partners (see John 8:1-11 and Article 19 [1553]/Article 7 [1571]). However, Jesus never dispensed his followers from having to obey the Old Testament?s moral prohibitions about sexual partners (see again John 8:11). What Jesus no longer required as obligatory for salvation, the church could choose whether or not to implement pastorally and provisionally. What Jesus and the entire witness of the New Testament retained morally, the church also had to retain faithfully until their Lord?s second coming.

Once again, Tobias, many thanks for taking the time to interact with my article. What the Episcopal Church and the entire Anglican Communion should decide to be the norm for biblical interpretation is beyond the purview of a piece of historical scholarship. However, academic honesty and theological integrity require us to strive to understand as accurately as possible the various aspects of that specific Christian heritage with which we have been entrusted as stewards. I hope these comments help clarify what Cranmer thought he was doing when he acted as chief, although by no means sole, architect for the Anglican Communion?s centuries-long official formularies.

Yours faithfully,


(The Rev. Dr. Ashley Null,
Canon Theologian of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Kansas
Author, Thomas Cranmer?s Doctrine of Repentance: Renewing the Power to Love)

Closed said...

Fr. Haller,

This is very helpful, as a sola Scripture, self-interpretting approach, raises to my mind who exactly is that "self" in the interpretting? There is always someone or several someones.

Given a conflation of Leviticus and certain New Testament passages by certain readings that cannot seem to find a way for any same-sex sexual/affectional relationships within the Christian faith, which reading from here smacks as arbitrary picking and choosing from the Law, as I note in my latest post, it would be better for me to join a community in which the whole of Torah has never been jettisoned, but has been engaged over time with principles of interpretation and scholarship and legal wrangling, rather than the arbitrary pick-and-choose approach of most Christians wihtout any nuance or contextualization or history of reexamination in legal terms, which tends to support this or that bias rather than put forth a consistent ethical approach, muchless a ritual approach with regard to relationships and sexuality.

To say that Paul alludes to Leviticus in some places is troubling in that it contradicts his tendency in Galatians. If Leviticus is binding in 18:22 and interprets nature, then the entirety is binding or else how can we say that we have a consistency rather than an arbitrary ethical approach. And is troubling because even if he did, that doesn't mean we should take Paul as the final authority. And importantly, these are pastoral letters, not systematic theologies or moral theologies. To my mind, if Paul alludes to Leviticus in his letters as binding in this matter, then given this arbitrariness, his own argument falls down in Galatians, and circumcision seems the better route as there is room for engagment within a system that way that isn't simply arbitrary. It's either all or nothing to my mind. Better in my case to get circumcised in a Conservative Jewish synagogue and have some modicum of consistency around the Teaching to my mind that the limited circumcision party of most, though not all, heterosexual Christians that binds me as a gay man to particular burdens while loosing themselves from any observance of Leviticus at all. And then I could actually be a full and practising member, not simply in word of support, but in deed and rite.

I also note that in his work Wrestling with God and Men, Rabbi Greenberg offers possibilities that it isn't all male-male sexuality, but anal sex, which makes sense with regard to a once enslaved, oft conquered people.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

In response to Fr Matt's comments on 1 Corinthians 6:9, I just have a few observations. I have to note in passing we are getting rather far afield from the content of my original post, which has to do with Cranmer more than Paul! I hope below to get back to this in response to the very helpful comment from Dr. Null.

But first I don't think it will work to use Romans 1 to support your argument on this other text, as I don't think it supports the argument on its own, as I noted above. Romans 1, as is clear from the context, is about a complex of total depravity; the Corinthians passage is a vice list. In neither case can it be certain that Paul would have included a life-long and loving relationship under these headings, or if he was simply laying out a taboo, which appears to be what you are suggesting ? that is, the moral character of a relationship is irrelevant if it violates the physical limits established here.

More importantly, I would have to dissent from your rather assured readings of malakoi and arsenokoitai. You will note above my comment on the problems with deriving arsenokoitai from Leviticus 18 or 20, in that though both parts of the neologism appear in each verse (next to each other but in different phrases in the latter), they are not grammatically related in either phrase, as they are in the verses from Numbers. It could just as well be limited to male prostitutes (who serviced women as well, as I believe is attested in at least one early citation of this word) as to males taking an "active" role in a sexual act with other males, and might even (on the basis of the passage in Numbers) include women who "slept around." The fact that the BAGD goes as far afield as The Arabian Nights for citations attests to the paucity of immediately relevant evidence for this word. Which is, I think, important; hence I would object to your characterization that it "commonly" means anything since it is an extremely uncommon word, and it is by no means sure, apart from the claims of some scholars over against others, that the primary focus is sex of a particular kind rather than license of a more general sort. Malakoi creates additional difficulties in that it was in earlier translations and teachings held to refer to masturbation. The emphasis appears to be on submission or weakness.

In short, any definitive reliance on this text for a blanket prohibition on all same-sex sexuality is unconvincing, and could scarcely be called "proof" sufficient to warrant such a blanket prohibition. Again, what about women, which Romans does not definitively address, and about which the Corinthian passage is silent; and what about sexuality that doesn't involve "active" and "passive" behavior? No, I fear that these passages do not provide, as Robin Scroggs and others have said, a clear answer to how to deal with the present issue of lifelong monogamous same-sex relationships.

It seems that to lay so much stress upon literally a handful of verses with such assuredness ? when the church itself and the scholarly community appears not to be of one mind ? is unwise. This, I would say, is the nub of the problem, and why I follow Walter Wink's approach in saying, that in spite of what Paul may be saying in these texts, and what he may have known about same-sex relationships (which is a matter of conjecture ? some have suggested he would have known Plato's Symposium, but this is highly unlikely as Plato was far from being in fashion by this time), this is no longer relevant because, ultimately, the test we are to apply comes from Jesus, not Paul: and that is the test of love of God and neighbor.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks R for the question about Gray Temple's article. It's a bit off topic, true, but in the end I think it relates to an imporant issue for me, the WWJD question. While some on the "opposing" side are trying to find ways to find an explicit condemnation of same-sex relationships in Jesus' teaching, and in some instances, I think, stretching his words further than they can legitimately be expanded; it is fair to seek in his teaching for the contrary evidence; which I think will also be not explicit, but implicit.

The situation Gray Temple describes is certainly possible, but I wouldn't hang a "proof" on it.

I think it would be wrong to say that any sexual relationship between the centurion and "his boy / slave / servant" is explicit or necessarily implicit. It is certainly possible but that is as far as I would go. The reason there is good cause to think that this is a more significant relationship than mere slave / owner (besides the centurion's obvious concern and affection) rests on the use of the ambiguous word pais. The person in question is likely regarded by the centurion as more than simply a slave or servant because three verses (Matt 8:9) later the centurion uses the less ambiguous word for slave (doulos) when referring to his normal daily life of giving orders; so he clearly has the various words at his disposal and appears to make a distinction. At the end of the story the pais is healed (in some manuscripts with an added "his" emphasizing the personal connection).

In Luke's version of the story when other people talk about the servant they use doulos but the centurion himself refers to him as "o pais mou = my boy" -- and similar to Matt uses doulos in his description of giving orders, so again appears to make a distinction; however, this may indicate nothing more than affection.

To dispose of another possibility, it is unlikely the boy is his son (another meaning of pais), as there are other far more precise words for that. However, note that the word for "son" (huios) is used in the John account, as well as paidion and pais. (John 4:46-54)

The age of the person in question is also up for grabs. The lexicons indicate the word was often used of older servants as well, including, perhaps most significantly in the case of a soldier, an armor-bearer or groom. So is not neccessarily a pederastic relationship, if (and it's a big if) it is a sexual or affectional one at all. The relationship between an officer and his subaltern may be represented, and while it goes too far to read a sexual relationship here with any certainty, it can also not be entirely ruled out. Such relationships were not by any means unknown in the Roman world. However, it does hardly seem to be the point of the story, and it certainly appears irrelevant to Jesus. In this sense, it does indeed move us away from the "clobber" passages.

Anonymous said...


Thanks, this is very helpful, as I have only just started cutting the surface of current scholarly arguments on this topic.

I think it will be helpful at some point to open the discussion (maybe not in this thread) beyond the oft-quoted passages of prohibition and enter the current re-examination of the biblical texts for evidence of same-sex relationships. . . which have been glossed over historically simply due to canonically privileged or (what we might call today) heterosexually privileged interpretation.

We are also engaged in a similar recovery with the role of women in scripture, as well as the wisdom imagery (and female imagery) around God in Hebrew Scriptures, etc.

In short, focusing on the "clobber" passages leaves us stuck in an either-or hermeneutic -- either scripture prohibits same-sex relationships or it doesn't. . .which probably only exacerbates the divide in the church and forgets that there may have been, as you say, an implicitly moderate or even approving position present in ancient Judaism and, indeed, possibly in the first-century context of the gospels.

Gagnon seems to insist there was no such position, but his approach, along with other conservative scholars, appears to presume a great deal. We have a habit of assuming, consciously or unconsciously, that ancient cultures and religious traditions were much more monolithic in their values, ethical perspectives, and moral scruples than we are. Of course, this was not the case.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Ashley (if I may also be familiar) for your very helpful response, which I think will go far towards clarifying where we stand, and perhaps even offer some avenues for further exploration.

First of all let me assure you that I never intended to suggest that Cranmer was being hypocritical. (I don’t think you charge me with this — I simply want to be clear on the matter.) Rather I think he was applying what he believed and knew, and the inconsistencies in his conclusions come not from intentional hypocrisy but rather from error — or perhaps I might more gently say, I disagree with his conclusions! As he would be among the first to admit, the church is capable of error! So while it is doubtless true that in “the King’s matter” he was working under considerable pressure, and this may explain the carelessness or the breadth of some of his assertions, I by no means intend to suggest he was willfully misrepresenting the Scripture.

I would demur slightly from your summary of my position on Cranmer in the first of the two points — and if my carelessness of expression led to this I apologize. I did not mean to suggest that “Cranmer himself is guilty of setting aside divine commandments, so the church today can do likewise.” First of all, I did not mean to suggest “guilt” as a category here; nor do I rely on Cranmer for the church’s authority to set aside divine commandments, although, as you point out, he gives the church limited capacity in that regard in the area of rites and ceremonies. Hooker I think expresses this far better and at greater depth, and I rely on his more fulsome explication of the differences between the ceremonial and moral commandments. I realize at one point in my essay I did err in neglecting to refer to the issue of “lapsed” divine commandments, in addition to those based merely on human authority. Clearly all of the dietary laws are divine commandments, but they were undone by a divine revocation, in the person of Jesus. This does not, however, solve the matter of the blood prohibition, which I shall address below.

Rather, the primary problem I am seeking to address, as I noted, is the capacity of the church to place a given commandment in the category of ritual and ceremonial (and therefore reversible, even if given by divine ordinance at the first) and moral (eternally binding on all for all time.)

I have no doubt that Cranmer believed that Jesus, in setting aside the dietary regulations, intended to include the blood prohibition. The problem is that in this Cranmer was in error, for the reasons I described. As I pointed out, the blood prohibition is not within Scripture considered part of the dietary code established by Moses (although it is repeated and reaffirmed in the later law), but is a commandment of another order altogether. The Apostles in reaching their decision in Acts 15 recognized this, and made no mention of the dietary regulations governing clean and unclean animals and the like, but rather the universal prohibition on the consumption of blood.

Of course, as I noted at the end of my essay, I find myself in the embarrassing position of agreeing with Cranmer’s decision but for different reasons than those he gave. As you say, Cranmer regarded the reason for the Apostolic retention of the blood prohibition as charity— clearly not seeing it as part of lapsed dietary regulations, which included more than blood, but because it was disrupting the common life of the newly emerging church in which Gentile and Jew could be together. Following Augustine (who, as I suggest, it appears Cranmer is defending in this) with the passing of time and fewer Jewish Christians, this law could be held to have lapsed. Cranmer (and Augustine) were mistaken in thinking its retention was simply a matter of charity; rather the Apostles retained this law because they believed it to be binding on all human beings since Noah — they were taking a view as to what was required of Gentiles at a minimum — and they could not ignore something that they believed to be forbidden to all people but allowed by Gentile custom.

So why did they include proneia — not at all referring to the incest restrictions in Leviticus which were already forbidden to Gentiles by Roman law (which was rather punctilious in this regard, and who also forbade the polygamy Judaism allowed up until the 10th c A.D.) — but to prostitution, which Roman law allowed, but which, in the Jewish mind, had long since become intimately connected (in every sense of the word!) with idolatry. More on this anon.

Meanwhile, I agree that Augustine and Cranmer were right to do away with the blood prohibition in their own time. My reason for the appropriate discontinuance of this law lies in the fact that it is plainly a cultural artifact with no moral underpinnings — not properly ritual or ceremonial — but local and cultural. The blood is not actually “the life” in spite of what God said to Noah (and hence forbade on “moral” grounds). This prohibition represents — I’m trying to be prudent here so as not to cause offense or misunderstanding, but let me say it — a superstition or taboo, retained in the traditions of an ancient Near Eastern cultural setting. Now, of course, Cranmer couldn’t advance that argument. He believed his reasons were valid, and although I think he was mistaken, his act was appropriate.

In light of the present controversies, however, one is forced to ask where charity and the unity of the church come to play in our own debates. This is why I think it prudent to ask if the law of Lev 18:22 is a local and cultural regulation, relating to a taboo, or a timeless law to govern all humanity. I’ve laid out the objections to the latter in some detail; Jacob Milgrom, in his mammoth work on Leviticus, lays them out at far greater length and with far greater expertise than I possess. In charity, applying the principles for moral discernment laid down by Jesus, I am led to the conclusion that it is possible for the church to recognize and encourage faithful, monogamous same-sex relationships, as containing the moral core that is of significance in the sanctified life of faith.
* * * * *
Now, as to your second point. I did not mean to be understood as saying there was “no reason” for Cranmer to be interested in Leviticus 18 apart from his concern in the King’s matter. I will stand by my suggestion that this was the primary impetus. I think it fair to say that the King’s matter was a dominating element in the whole life of the court, and was certainly his reason for assembling the scholars and putting them to work.

I did not bring up 1 Cor 5 in this regard because your article focused on a purported relationship between Acts 15 and Leviticus 18; not between Paul and Leviticus. Yes, it is true you refer to theDivorce Tracts in a footnote, but this seems not to have been the major thrust of your article. I am glad to address the matter, however — though it again highlights what I alluded to in another comment: the tendency of Cranmer and his fellows to favor Paul over the Apostles. I wonder if there is not something to be learned here about his distrust for the church and councils as authorities — a distrust you amply document in your article and they did in the Articles! This does appear to be an element in Cranmer’s view of individual illumination having a kind of priority over conciliar discernment. I’m sure a thesis could explore that point to good advantage; perhaps noting as well how the powerfully individual personalities of Augustine and Luther had a similar effect on church history? But I digress.

1 Cor 5 is a difficult passage. No doubt Cranmer saw a connection between the “man who had his father’s wife” and the prohibition in Lev 18:8. The citation from the divorce tracts is interesting, though it does evince some of the carelessness I’ve alluded to: for the connection with a stepmother is not a connection by “blood” (consanguinity) but by relation (affinity). As indeed was the relation between Henry and Catharine. The passage ends with the assertion that porneia was “almost always” used by Paul and the apostles in this sense of covering anything in Leviticus. No doubt the Cranmerian Divorce Team believed this to be true; that it helped their cause simply explains why they brought it up. But this latter assertion, that porneia = “anything sexual in Leviticus” (if I can so shorthand it) is at the nub of the present debate.

And I must again return to the text to refute it — or at least to offer an alternative explanation that has the virtue of covering all, not just some, of the evidence. It is, first of all, not evident that Paul is referring to Lev 18:6 in his condemnation of this man “having his father’s wife.” It is true that this could be the case, and the language is similar. But his outrage is rather specific, while the exact nature of the relationship is hard to pin down, though presumably well-known to the Corinthians who have tolerated it. He says that this offense is “unknown among the Gentiles.” He refers to the younger man “having” this “woman” (the Greek is, as you know, ambiguous). Some have suggested this couldn’t simply be a case of adultery combined with incest — that is, this is not the man’s mother, but stepmother — which appears to be what Leviticus addresses; and so the Cranmerians appear to have understood it. Yet, as Orr and Walther point out, “in contemporary Judaism there seems to have been no particular objection to admitting a proselyte who was married to his stepmother.” (I Corinthians 187) Far from being “unknown among the Gentiles” this kind of relationship (in spite of affinity) was known, though Roman law forbade it.

My solution to this dilemma is simple. Let us take porneia in its “plain” meaning of harlotry, and set to one side the superficial resemblance of this situation to Leviticus. We have then, a man who is “practicing a kind of harlotry unknown among the Gentiles” as he “has his father’s woman.” The simplest literal reading then would be that the father is still living, and is pimping his mistress or concubine to his son; it isn’t about marriage or affinity at all, but harlotry of the sort envisioned in Amos 2:7 — “father and son go in to the same girl.” Indeed Amos is instructive for opening some of the other issues Paul had with the Corinthians, including the excessive luxury, the outrages of mistreating the poor and humble, and the charges ofdrunkenness. (I don’t have time to pursue this particular line of thought at the moment, but it seems to me that Paul’s outrage is more prophetic in the manner of Amos than legalistic in the manner of Leviticus.)
* * * * *
Finally, to address the last issue you raised, I did not mean to imply that Cranmer made no reference to the countervailing authority of Deuteronomy 25:5; what I am saying is that I think he erred in his decision to give greater weight to Leviticus. If his rationale, as you suggest, was that this law was “ceremonial” then he was further off-base than I imagined. I would say, on the contrary, however, that this law does come under the category of “local and cultural” as I described above. However, whether local or cultural to ancient Israel, it surely had application in Henry’s case — and if I’m not mistaken (my memory may be faulty on this) it was employed as part of the initial papal dispensation that allowed Henry’s marriage to Catherine. My recollection is also that Henry leaned towards Leviticus in part because of the “penalty clause” relating to what he had come to regard as his offense: Lev 20:21 — “if a man shall take his brother's wife... they shall be childless.” Now, it’s true Henry and Catherine were not childless, but she had not produced the all-important male heir.

I must add, however, that Jesus’ response to the Sadducees does not attest to any “provisionality” in the Deuteronomic commandment, but rather to marriage itself — which Jesus says has no place in the life of the world to come. On the contrary, since Jesus owed his nominal descent through the Davidic line to the implementation of this law by Ruth and Obed — a fact the Evangelists are not shy of recording — one might say, then, that the Levirate law is intimately tied up with salvation history. The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief of the corner.
* * * * *
Thank you again, Ashley, for the willingness to engage in this conversation. I think, if nothing else, we are seeing that the practice of hermeneutics is more difficult than Cranmer’s hopeful, but to some extent wishful, trust that all could be made clear by sifting the texts faithfully. I do not at all mean to disparage Cranmer’s hope and earnest desire — it is, after all, what we all crave in the end: some clarified vision of God’s will for us. But in the meantime, we are left looking through a glass darkly on much of this, and must trust to God for continued grace to discern God’s will.

All blessings now and in the coming year.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the comments, Christopher. I want to echo your concern. I think the only fair lens for Christians in regard to the Law is Christ. All talk about ritual and ceremonial is less than helpful, in addition to being foreign to the original text's own dignity, and Paul's teaching that if you follow the way of the Law it is all or nothing.

I do think it fair, in a critical setting, to talk about "cultural" readings -- as this is a helpful way of trying to understand what the original texts were about. I commend Milgrom's essay on Leviticus in this regard, and his view on Lev 18 referring to a limited range of same-sex behavior by Jews is becoming fairly standard in Conservative circles.

But ultimately, for Christians, it is the Summary of the Law that must "prove" the any given action. Is the act in accordance with love of God and neighbor; that is what is crucial, not "what the Bible says." The letter kills, the Spirit gives life. I can't say it any better!

Anonymous said...

I think the only fair lens for Christians in regard to the Law is Christ.

Ah, Tobias, you give me hope in the midst of my ignorance. I have often said that I read the rest of the Bible through the lens of the Gospels. That's not far from what you said, is it?

No, I'm not exercising false humility, because I am obviously not so learned as you and some of your commenters. Reading this post and the comments was somewhat like reading in a foreign language which I have not yet fully mastered. ;o)

Nevertheless, Christianity is not just for scholars, is it? It's accessible to all with the proper attitude of heart.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Grandmère Mimi, for the kind words, adn I agree you are on to something there. Part of the irony is, of course, that this was Cranmer's hope -- along with other humanist thinkers of the Renaissance and Reformation: that once the Bible was available in a "language understanded of the people" there would be fewer controversies, and people would have access to the Word directly, not mediated by "teachers" of various sorts.

This is one of those ideas, as I tried to say in my original posting, that is partly true and partly false. Teachers, scholars, and so forth often miss the obvious because they look too closely at the text; indeed I think one of our issues in the present turmoil comes from the tendency to particalize quotes and take them from their immediate context; and sometimes to engage in connections with distant texts that may or may not be relevant (this latter was called "collection of texts"). As with any system, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

Which is why at the end the final "proof" must be consistency with the Summary of the Law.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

An additional observation in the "mot d'escalier" category: (something I wish I'd said earlier but which only came to mind this morning!):

Dr. Null explained the "conflicting" or "contradictory" verses on marriage with a brother's widow that the Cranmerians sought to harmonize, with Leviticus as a "general rule" and Deuteronomy the "divinely ordered exception." Dr. Null says that the Cranmerians held the view that the Deuteronomic law (the Levirate Law) was a temporary expedient for the Jewish kingdom, and a matter of ceremonial. I addressed the latter claim above, noting that the matter of family succession was no mere trifle in Jewish law, and hardly a matter of ceremony. One might barely argue it comes under the rubric of "civil regulations" but this only expands the need to go outside of Scripture itself to decide what is civil and what is ceremonial and what is moral. As I noted, Judaism itself does not make such distinctions -- in a theocracy, God's word is law regardless of how trifling we, or the Cranmerians, in a different time or place, might see any given ordinance. (Which brings me back to the point of the need to recognize that it is cultural matters that are on the table -- and this includes sexual mores as well as dietary and family regulations.)

But to get back to the Levirate Law, It would appear, as Jewish tradition understood it, that the law in Deuteronomy was the exception, but was needed precisely because of the rigor of the Law in Leviticus, lest a name be lost to Israel. So it was not a contradiction, but an exception. (Much as Jesus is reported as granting a single exception for divorce -- unfortunately not the one Henry needed, at least for his first divorce; and the English treason laws took care of some of his later problems.)

What came to mind this morning, however, was that in erasing authority of the Levirate Law, and holding it as a contradiction rather than as a harmonious exception eminently suitable in Henry's case, the Cranmerians were in danger of violating their principle concerning reading one portion of Scripture as "repugnant" (i.e., contradictory) to the other. After all, when a specific exception is granted, a law cannot then be held to be unexceptionable, eternal, and binding. Even Jesus (Mat 5:32, by including logou porneias = "word (perhaps "rumor"?) of whoredom" recognized the Mosaic law's exception in granting a divorce to a man who found agains his wife "a word of scandal." (Deut 24:1 -- ervath davar = "a word (or thing) of nakedness / shame" i.e., scandal)

Again, I have no wish to accuse the Cranmerians of hypocrisy or malfeasance. But they clearly had a good deal of pressure on them to produce results suitable to Henry's needs. It is said that some of them (though not Cranmer) went as far as Luther did with Philip of Hesse in commending bigamy as permissable to anointed kings, and it is reported that Henry (such as the man was) did not find the idea totally out of the question.

However, it is also a timeless truth that "government experts will find what the government expects" and report accordingly. As Upton Sinclair once said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it." I would never suggest that Cranmer was not a man of keen understanding; but as other aspects of his life show, he was able to accommodate himself to the pressures of power as much as the next man.

Ultimately, the question we face is: Is same-sex marriage more like the questions of eternal law and morality, or the ritual, ceremonial, or civil regulations of family life interwoven throughout the Torah, and for the greatest part all coming -- or purporting to come -- from God? When Peter entered the centurion's home, it was not, as he clearly said, a matter of the dietary restrictions having been eased, but rather that God had showed him that he was not to call anyone profane or unclean.

Anonymous said...

i think i agree with broad outlines you've sketched here, though it's beyond my competence to say more than that.

one question:

you say that there must be a final authority in the church in order to have some end of contention, even as to the meaning of Scripture itself.

i do not disagree but i wonder why we must have "some end of contention"? is it that if we achieve an end to contention, we can rest secure that the result, whatever it is, must be the truth? i think a look at historical change will suggest deficiencies in that procedure. what is the purpose or value of "ending contention"? why do we wish to do it? i think that we need to be clear about the answer to that first.

i am reminded that the nigerian house of bishops recently said that where there is no common agreement, there cannot be walking together. i find this stunning; how many close friendships actually require agreement in order to walk together? is not walking together a gift of the will and not of the intellect; a matter of what one chooses to do and not what one opines? there are people with whom i have extremely deep disagreements, but with whom i can walk side by side and hand in hand; others with whom i have extremely powerful agreements, but manifestly no ability to walk together.

this is something i have learned from the religious life, in fact: that we are bound together by our common decisions, not by our agreement, and we can (and do!) disagree, sometimes sharply, without it impinging upon our love. we have decided to make the person more important than the idea, and in that lies all the difference.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Thomas, for the comment. I didn't say that there "must" be an end of contention -- merely that if one wants an end to contention there must be some agreeement to an authoritative means to decide it. In this I am echoing Hooker, of course, especially section VI of the Preface, which begins, "What success God may give unto any such kind of conference or disputation, we cannot tell. But of this we are right sure, that nature, Scripture, [Heb 6:16] and experience itself, have all taught the world to seek for the ending of contentions by submitting itself unto some judicial and definitive sentence, whereunto neither part that contendeth may under any pretence or colour refuse to stand. This must needs be effectual and strong. As for other means without this, they seldom prevail. I would therefore know, whether for the ending of these irksome strifes, wherein you and your followers do stand thus formally divided against the authorized guides of this church, and the rest of the people subject unto their charge; whether I say ye be content to refer your cause to any other higher judgment than your own, or else intend to persist and proceed as ye have begun, till yourselves can be persuaded to condemn yourselves. If your determination be this, we can be but sorry that ye should deserve to be reckoned with such, of whom God himself pronounceth, "The way of peace they have not known." [Rom 3:17]"

I agree that a certain degree of contention is not unhealthy, and life in community does not require unanimity, but charity.

Anonymous said...

yes, i didn't take you to be saying that we must have an end to contention, but only that a "live authority" is necessary to have such an end. to this i agree.

i just wanted to urge what i see as a precedent question, namely, why must we have an end to contention?

the roman church declares that there must be an end to contention, proposes that there must be a present speaking authority to have it, and concludes that this authority must be infallible. there are many logical leaps in the argument of vatican one, but i think the worst is the one not often noted: that there must be an end to contention.

i think an attitude in which contention is not, in itself, harmful except to the extent we wish it to be, would be salutary for the church: and indeed, your nice emphasis on the pastors of the church as speaking to the church instead of speaking for it would dovetail nicely with this.

it is for this reason that, i think, i would prefer to drop all the talk of (human) authority: i am not sure there is any.

a philosopher-type question: how would the world be different if people still could say and do what they say and do, and had the same power to control whatever they can now control, but didn't have any of this "authority" stuff? if we removed "authority" from the world, what would change? (i am not, finger-on-the-scale, trying to say that nothing would change; i am just interested in what would, and being clear about that, i think, might illuminate what authority is and why anyone would bother caring about it.)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Ah, Thomas, now you?re making me put my thinking cap on. How much simpler just to have opinions, like Ruth Gledhill!

I suppose I would begin by coming at this from my communication theory background, with some sense of the autonomy of minds and the limitations that brings ? that we have what we call ?agreement? via the ratification of some external ?thing? to which all sides agree ? a covenant or contract in the form of words. The problem, as we have seen with the various interpretations given to such ?things? as the Primates? Dromantine Statement, or indeed Lambeth 1.10, is that even though the words on the page say one thing, different people who signed off on them intended them in different senses. Some have gone so far, as you know, to accuse Bishop Griswold of duplicity as far as Dromantine is concerned; what it is clear to me is that ?what we have here is a failure to communicate.? This underlies the larger-scale difficulty we have with, ?what the Scripture means.? Setting aside questions of textual integrity, the text is before us, but the meanings given to any single text lead to disagreements.

So it is quite true, that we only ?need? authority ? I imagine an umpire to render a final decision ? when and where we feel that an external ratification of agreement, or a force to determine who agrees and who doesn?t, is believed to be necessary. As you point out, the Nigerians seem to have the idea that two cannot walk together unless they agree. (A rather shallow reading of the text at Amos 3:3, by the way, since it simply means ?do two walk together unless they have made an appointment or agreed [as to the time and place of meeting].? But then, the Nigerians may not agree with my reading!) But as I note above, due to the independence of minds, agreement that we have agreed is the actual issue ? and as the old proverb says it is perfectly possible to agree to disagree, and yet still keep company. Since actual agreement is unknowable ? all one can have is agreed-upon agreement, and even this, as I?m sure you are already thinking, simply leads to retrogression of asymptotic approximations of agreed-upon agreed-upon agreement ? it seems in the long run best to take our Lord?s advice and not have authority but rather a willingness to abide together in spite of imperfect agreement or even outright disagreement.

So the ultimate contention, it appears to me, in our present case is actually about whether one can coexist without some contention! The quest for a final authority as opposed to an ad hoc or case-by-case dealing-with issues-as-they-arise, through a process of reception by which they are incorporated, or desuetude by which they pass into the status of adiaphora, seems to be as unattainable as the holy Grail.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

RE 1 Cor 5:1

There is a lot of baggage here; Emperor Louis?s quasi-Levitical 7 Forbidden Degrees of 829 made 4 by Lateran IV, and the imagined sacramental blood-relatedness of 13th century Canon law making godparents, in-laws and step-siblings ?of the blood? (both rigorously adhered to by Swedish State Absolutism up to the 1950ies), along with the anti-heterosexual Every Sperm is Sacred; Don?t Masturbate! Gnosticist/Neo Platonist morality of 2nd Millennium European Academia.

Nowadays this verse is often claimed as ?proof? that porneía always means something ?sexual?, but the LXX theological/technical lingo valid for 1st century scriptures was specific and material, not general and abstract - and porneía is cult, Idolatry.

Don?t have them! don?t worship them! don?t serve them!

I would say, that the subject matter of 1 Cor 5:1 (authentic or no), rather than ?moral? ? a 12th century abstract concept ? is a question of conflicts of Authority.

The Husband had (total) authority over all in his House (to the point of killing them, forbidden by the 5th Commandment), but a mother or step-mother had authority over her step-sons (and not least over their poor wives).

Which actually does bring it close ? although at 90 degrees ? to the Household Taboos of Leviticus 18, verses 6-18 being about Authority in the House: Don?t uncover your Father?s asxemosúnen! verses 19-23 being a pot pourri of the remaining Cultic and Social Commandments.

So IMO, whatever being married to one?s deceased fathers 3rd or 4th wife could have been to 1st or 2nd century Corinthians, it cannot reasonably be described abstractissima as porneía, either in the LXX sense of the 2nd Commandment nor in an extra-biblical (somewhat later) de-sacralised sense of prostitution tout court.

In the 2nd century some early Rabbis may indeed have used porneía in a wider sense for things goyim, but such a use is clearly at odds with anything found in Paul?s authentic letters ? 2nd Millennium Academic attempts to sexualize and generalize what was once specific, notwithstanding.

Precisely the rhetorical ?unknown (even) among the Gentiles? indicates this is not 1st century, but a later gloss.

Paul?s House-congregations lived in the midst of Gentiles; indeed they were themselves in part Gentile. So 1 Cor 5:1 must come from a later age, when Congregations were large enough to be socially exclusionary and self sufficient ? Sects soon to become Church ? and more or less contemporary with early Rabbinical Judaism.

As to Cranmer?s obvious dilemma, I find it somewhat intriguing that it should have been one ? surely, there were (several) precedents for younger brothers marrying their dead brother?s left behind sweetheart before 1893, when George V married the Lady Mary of Teck?

As to the Anglican wrestling with the very Scholastic cum Renaissance much-too-neat-and-separate categories of Civil, Ceremonial and Moral, I cannot find them in Leviticus ? nor are they known to my tradition. Thankfully.

My 2 cents.

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