Saturday, August 01, 2015

'But Jesus never said...'

In the post from the other day about the Church's teaching on homosexual behavior, a couple of commenters raise questions about a perennial argument that comes up in various discussions about Catholic teachings that aren't universally acclaimed.

Here's one:

Younger family members like to say "the Bible says nothing about homosexuality. The word isn't even in the Bible. Jesus said nothing about homosexuality or gays."

The other is similar:

I can hear some of my more liberal Catholic friends saying that Jesus was only speaking in the context for that time in History and if He were with us today He would speak differently.

(If you go to the comments thread, you can see my answers to these questions.)

These are pretty common arguments; I imagine a lot of us have heard them. People make them sincerely; and a lot of people seem to think they're pretty good arguments.

They are very poor arguments. Here's why.

The first one is basically an argument from silence. Namely, that Jesus' silence means he either didn't care about that issue, or else...what exactly?

That's the problem with an argument from silence. What, exactly, does it really prove?

And, as stated, the first argument isn't even accurate in a meaningful sense. To be precise? Well, yes; the word homosexuality doesn't appear, because it's both an English word, and it reflects a modern way of thinking -- in terms of a homosexual identity or orientation. So, yes, there's no exact Hebrew or Greek corresponding word in the Bible. But it's totally nonsense to suppose that homosexual acts aren't talked about in the Bible.

So, to be plain, it's not a serious argument. And, if the person making that argument is a serious person, it would be fair to say that, in a charitable way. "My friend, you're smarter than that. Let's try for a more substantial argument than that..." And then, explain why the argument isn't serious.

And both arguments have another problem: the unstated premise, which needs to be brought to the surface: why does it matter what Jesus thought/said/taught about this? 

It matters to me, as a Catholic, because I believe Jesus is God incarnate. Everything stands or falls on that act of faith on my part. Does the person asking the question believe Jesus is God incarnate?

Because if Jesus is God incarnate, then...

It makes no sense to care only what the Gospels say, and set aside the rest of the Bible. If Jesus is God, then did he not -- as the second Person of the Trinity -- answer the question about homosexual behavior in what was said elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible?

And then there are those who like to say the Gospels are one thing, but Paul's writings are another. But again, this is silly. What makes you think the Gospels are reliable? Where did they come from? Jesus never wrote a word of them. You know who did? The Apostles, or those closely associated with them. So if you think the Apostle Paul is unreliable, why do you consider the Gospels reliable?

And if you say, no, Jesus is not God incarnate, then I ask:

Who cares what he thought? Why should anyone care?

The people who tend to ask these questions, don't tend to ask me; why ask a company man? But I'd invite those of you who do get asked these questions to try asking a couple in return:

> Why should I bear the burden of proof about what Jesus believed. You think he didn't object to homosexual acts? Prove it. What basis, exactly, do you have to such an extravagant supposition?

> Suppose -- for the sake of argument -- that I pointed to indisputable evidence that Jesus, did, indeed, believe X (whatever is in dispute). Will that new data change what you believe?

See, my guess is that the question is a dodge. The one asking it isn't really going to say, "wow, Jesus did say that--so I will now agree with the Catholic Church!" Instead, I think it's far more likely that the person will say, "Bummer. I don't like Jesus as much, then."

Now, I don't mean to assume everyone who asks these questions is insincere. Mostly, they aren't. But often people are not asking the right question. So why waste time and energy on the wrong one?

So my suggestion is to cut to the chase and ask: What difference will it make to you to know that Jesus did, indeed, teach ____?

In the end, the only question that matters is what Jesus asked Peter: "But who do you say that I am?"


Steven Cass said...

You say:

"It makes no sense to care only what the Gospels say, and set aside the rest of the Bible. If Jesus is God, then did he not -- as the second Person of the Trinity -- answer the question about homosexual behavior in what was said elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible?"

I would go even a little further than this. If Jesus was/is God incarnate, then he CHOSE to incarnate himself as a member of the only people/religious system in the ancient that actually condemned ALL homosexual acts, and CHOSE not to say anything about the matter; whereas he was perfectly willing to tell everyone where they weren't really following His Law!

However, if He was/is not God incarnate, then why does anything he say matter?

God bless you and your priesthood!

Steven Cass

Michael Haz said...

Thank you again, Father! I really appreciate your follow-up post.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Good point, thanks.