Rueger, Matthew. Sexual Morality in a Christless World. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016.
Chapter 2, “The Jewish Context” pp. 43-57.
In chapter one Rueger demonstrated that the apostle Paul was not holding to a traditional morality of Rome which, in Rueger’s words, “would have favored bisexual activity, rape of non-Roman citizens, and repression of women” (Rueger 2016, 43). Paul also departed from traditional Jewish ethics. Rueger finds this ethic transmitted primarily in oral traditions which were written down in the 2nd century in a text called the Mishnah (Rueger 2016, 43. This represents several hundred years of oral tradition.
The Christian teaching moved sharply away from the practices of polygamy and use of concubines, which, though not spoken of as generally a good idea, were accepted in society (Rueger 2016, 44). The apostle Paul speaks of the necessity of monogamy. Rueger does emphasize that the Jewish view, though accepting of polygamy, treated wives as respected and trusted people. Though some commentaries on the Mishnah take a negative view of women, this was not at all uniform (Rueger 2016, 45). The later Talmuds, published after 400 as collected commentary on the Mishnah, do not have the positive view of women expressed in the New Testament (Rueger 2016, 47).
As an example of the relatively low status of women in Judaism, Rueger observes that divorce laws gave many protections to men and virtually none to women (Rueger 2016, 47). In contrast, the New Testament rejects almost all divorce (Rueger 2016, 48). Similarly, Rueger sees that legal protections of women in Judaism were largely lacking, though the examples of godly people showed a relatively high level of respect and regard. Women would be expected to bear children, and, if that failed, husbands were encouraged to take additional wives. But history is full of husbands being patient and faithful, even when dealing with infertility. In sharp contrast, in 1 Corinthians 7, the husband and wife specifically have the same rights, though they may have different roles and responsibilities (Rueger 2016, 49).
Within Israel, so as to assure a family had a male heir, the custom of levirite marriage was enforced (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). Rueger finds this affirmed in the Mishnah (Rueger 2016, 50). However, the Christians viewed the people of God differently, not in relation to tribal descent. The need to assure tribal inheritance was not considered important (Rueger 2016, 51).
Jewish law further guarded the requirement of virginity of women before marriage (Rueger 2016, 51). Rueger notes that the same standard was not enforced for men. However, in the New Testament the issue of purity is more closely related to the forgiving work of Christ (Rueger 2016, 52). There is a standard of sexual morality, but it applies to both sexes and is related to faithfulness and monogamy in the marital relationship, in light of God’s faithfulness to his people. Rueger finds John 8:3-11 as a strong example of this principle. When Jesus is confronted with the woman taken in adultery, he acknowledges her sin, directs her to his forgiveness, and instructs her not to enter into sin further. Jesus assumes her condemnation on the cross, and delivers his purity to her (Rueger 2016, 53).
Rueger briefly examines pederasty in the Mishnah, noting that it is spoken against but only bears fines, and penalties which are not as severe as those for the rape of an adult (Rueger 2016, 54). In contrast, the New Testament gives no age of consent, but assumes sexual relations to belong within marriage, in which two people are sufficiently mature to commit to each other for life.
The Old Testament prohibits homosexuality and cult prostitution, which frequently involved people of the same sex (Rueger 2016, 55). The New Testament does not specifically mention civil punishments for homosexual activity, and it groups those relationships with other types of sins. “What this ultimately means is that they are as forgivable as those other sins, and as damning if there is no repentance” (Rueger 2016, 55). Rueger takes this to mean that sexual sins are a matter of moral law which may be punished or not by civil authorities and for which God is the final judge (Rueger 2016, 56). In Christianity, obedience to a moral law is based on the free expression of a life which has been forgiven by God. This is a critical difference in the motivation for a life of holiness, which Rueger will explore in the next chapter.