E-Book Review of Jonathan Morrow’s “Is the Bible Sexist, Racist, Homophobic, and Genocidal?”
God’s Perspective vs. Man’s Perspective
Book Review by Dr. David P. Craig
The default mode of the human heart is to replace our central focus on God and replace this void with idols at the center of our lives. The prolific author and Theologian D.A. Carson has stated it this way, “Whenever the periphery is in danger of displacing the center, we are not far removed from idolatry.” I believe that to ask the question, “Is the Bible Sexist, Racist, Homophobic, and Genocidal?” – is at its core a misunderstanding of what’s at the center of our worship – God or self? Are we going to maintain a God-centered focus or capitulate to cultural relativism with ourselves at the center? In this important e-single from a chapter in Morrow’s larger book entitled “Questioning the Bible” Morrow tackles this question with theological precision, biblical erudition, and logical acumen.
Morrow opens this essay by dealing with the question: “Does the Bible endorse slavery?” He then answers this question by carefully developing five biblical responses: (1) Christianity did not invent slavery. (2) He shows how the ancient Near Eastern cultural context was very different from the modern postcolonial context. (3) Christianity tolerated slavery and was instrumental in its abolishment. (4) Jesus was not silent on slavery; he simply understood what the root issues were–and they all reside in the human heart. (5) The Christian worldview best accounts for human rights and dignity.
The second question addressed by Morrow is “Does the Bible approve of genocide?” In five points Morrow sets the record straight in understanding the biblical stance on genocide: (1) Things are not the way they ought to be – Israel as described in the Old Testament is not God’s ideal society. (2) The divinely given command to Israel of herem (Yahweh War) concerning the Canaanites was unique, geographically and temporally limited, and not to be repeated. (3) Genocide and ethnic cleansing are inaccurate terms for the conquest of Canaan. (4) We must allow for the possibility of rhetorical generalization in ancient Near Eastern “war language.” (5) The Canaanite incident should be read against the backdrop of God’s promise of blessing for all the nations.
The third question tackled by Morrow is perhaps the most culturally sensitive one at the moment: “Is the Bible homophobic?” He answers this question with five biblical points: (1) The Bible includes homosexual behavior among a long list of sinful behaviors outside of God’s design for human sexuality (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 18; 1 Timothy 1:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Hebrews 13:4; Genesis 1:26-27; 2:18-24; 19:4-9; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27 are passages discussed in great detail). (2) The Bible does not teach that God created people to be gay – Jesus affirmed that God’s intention was the complementary sexes of male and female committing to a permanent one-flesh union (cf. Genesis 1:27; 2:24 with Matthew 19:3-6). (3) While the Bible does not teach people are born gay, it does teach that all people are born sinful (Romans 3:23; 5:12-21). A helpful distinction is quoted by Mark Mittleberg on this point: “We must correct the idea that because desire seems natural it must be from God and is therefore okay. As fallen humans we all have many desires that seem natural to us but that are not from God.” (4) The Bible teaches that change is possible for all those who struggle with sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). (5) Lastly, the Bible teaches that holiness, not heterosexuality, is the goal of the spiritual life. Morrow writes, “All of us are broken; we just express brokenness in different ways. As we repent and are empowered by the Holy Spirit, we pursue holiness. The goal is being conformed to the image of Christ (cf. Romans 8:29). Unfortunately, when these goals get talked about in the context of homosexual sin, some well-meaning Christians have indicated that the goal is for this person to live a heterosexual lifestyle. This may or may not happen. But we need to be clear that whatever our struggle, holiness is the goal.”
The fourth and final question addressed by Morrow is related to setting the record straight biblically on “Is the Bible sexist?” (1) Morrow states, “God’s creational ideal is that women are made in the image of God and therefore possess the same dignity, honor, and value as men (Genesis 1:27; 2:24; Ex. 20:12). (2) Polygamy was tolerated and regulated in order to offer some measure of protection for women in an ancient Near Eastern context. However, this was never God’s plan. Morrow writes, “We hear echoes of God’s ideal when he warns that Israel’s king should not ‘acquire many wives fro himself, lest his heart turn away.’ (Deuteronomy 17:17).” (3) The realities of women in the Greco-Roman world were harsh. (4) The apostle Paul had a high view of women, and the teachings of Christianity began to elevate their status (cf. Paul’s high view and co-laboring with women in Rom. 16:1-16; Phil. 4:2-3; 1 Cor. 1:11; Col. 4:15; Acts 16:14-15, 40; Galatians 3:28 and 1 Tim. 6). (5) Jesus appearance on the scene is indeed very good news for women – Morrow elaborates, “With the harsh Greco-Roman backdrop in mind, we can see how radical Jesus’ view of women really was. First, he healed several women of diseases (Matthew 9:18-26), interacted with women of different races (John 4:9), and extended forgiveness to women who had committed sexual sin (Luke 7:36-50). Jewish rabbis of the day would not teach women, but Jesus had many women followers and disciples (cf. Mark 15:41) and he taught them (Luke 10:39). Women supported his ministry financially (Luke 8:1-3), and he used women as positive examples in his teaching (Luke 18:1-8). Jesus’ women followers were the last to leave at his crucifixion and the first at his empty tomb.”
Morrow patiently, wisely, and practically articulates that appearances and sound bites on these difficult issues are often messy and moral change is painfully slow in a fallen world. The reality is that Jesus came to liberate us from all of our idolatries and bondages to sin. We find our satisfaction in Jesus at the center of all of life. Many of the issues we struggle with as sinners in a fallen world are blind spots that can only be identified and remedied through the lenses of God’s revelation as revealed in the Scriptures. The good news in this little book is that Jesus has come and fulfilled Isaiah 61:1-2 in Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Morrow reminds us that in all of our personal and corporate sin against a Holy, Just, and Loving God He has “thankfully…not left us to die in our brokenness and rebellion; he has redemptively pursued us with the everlasting love of a heavenly father.”