One important factor in the moral development attested in Scripture is the movement from taboo to ethics. The arc of this process is ongoing, and continues to this day. There are still some matters of morality where many seem to be fixed (or fixated) at the taboo level, what I would call the level of the flesh, the external, the physical. I have reflected before about how the prophetic tradition culminating in Jesus appears to turn us from a taboo fixation on "the outside" to look more to the heart and mind, in an ethics of the "inside" of a person. Much of the debate concerning circumcision involved just such a distinction, by means of which a very clear legal requirement was eventually set aside by an understanding of the moral issues at its heart.
Another example of this process is provided in the [BCP] lectionary from last Sunday, in which the Ethiopian eunuch is invited warmly into Christian fellowship; this in spite of the clear injunction in the Law — based, as is the circumcision law, on an objective anatomical reality:
No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. (Deut 23:1)
I have noted elsewhere the significance of the fact that the Ethiopian was reading Isaiah, perhaps because of the hopeful and more inwardly moral teaching espoused by that prophet:
For thus says the LORD: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. (Isa. 56:4-5)
(How timely that the pope just visited Yad va Shem — the very "monument and a name" promised the eunuchs even before the righteous gentiles in the following verses.)
The promise is also developed in the Wisdom literature:
Blessed also is the eunuch whose hands have done no lawless deed, and who has not devised wicked things against the Lord; for special favor will be shown him for his faithfulness, and a place of great delight in the temple of the Lord. (Wis. 3:14)
And of course, Jesus offers this word on the subject:
For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can. (Mat 19:12)
Thus there is movement from the external and verifiable taboo of the Law, concerning a fleshly reality, to the prophetic concern with the rightness of the heart, the internal disposition of the will; and finally an affirmation that something which under the Law restricted entry to the congregation should become a means of participation in the kingdom of heaven. (Though I think Jesus has so spiritualized "eunuch" here that he is not speaking literally: in itself a testament to the capacity for a physical fact to be understood metaphorically and spiritually.)
My point in this is to emphasize once again, as I have in Reasonable and Holy, that a fixation on the external and anatomical at the expense of the internal and spiritual lacks the prophetic grasp of the problems that face us, and the willingness to follow the movement of the Spirit so clearly laid out for us in regard to other moral questions.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG