Friday, December 08, 2006

The New Testament and Homosexuality: My Quagmire Revisited

As I mentioned earlier, this Wednesday I finally finished my Forum series at church on Homosexuality and the Church. This forum gave me an opportunity to revisit and re-explore some of the issues I raised about a year ago (Dec. 6, 2005 - exactly one year to the day before I concluded my series at church) in my mammoth post, The Culture War and Homosexuality: A Different Sort of Quagmire.

While I am still quite pleased with that post, finding it to be a thorough exploration of the moral, theological, and scriptural issues related to how Christians should view the phenomenon of same sex attraction, I was in hindsight a little bit disappointed in the brief exegetes of various New Testament passages.

There are basically four New Testament verses/passages which have historically been used to condemn homosexuality. Each of these four verses comes from the Epistles, and three of the four have been attributed to Paul. They are, in order of appearance:

Romans 1:26-27
I Corinthians 6:9-10
I Timothy 1:9-10, and
Jude 7

Because the final three selections are so weak, I essentially did not deal with them in my original piece. In fact, I ignored Jude 7 altogether as it seemed clear to me (for reasons I'll get into in a moment) that it could not be seriously applied to homosexuality as we understand it today. Of I Corinthians 6:9-10 and I Timothy 1:9-10, I said only this:

The only other passages from Paul, and as such the only other passages in the Bible, which appear to deal with homosexuality are found in I Corinthians 6:9 (in a list of types of people who will not inherit the kingdom of heaven) and I Timothy 1:10. In both cases the best translation of the word which is often translated as something like “homosexuals” is unclear. There is, however, no reason other than prejudice to believe that the obscure Greek word in question amounts to a Biblical condemnation of all homosexuals, or even homosexual acts.

Today I'll say a bit more about these verses before I briefly mention the verse I omitted altogether last time. Then I'll conclude with a much more thorough exegesis of Romans 1:26-27, as I am no longer completely satisfied with the treatment I gave it last year.

I Corinthians 6:9-10 reads in the NRSV:

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers - none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

Similarly, I Timothy 1:9-10 reads:

This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching.

Each of these passages offers us basically a list of "sins," of behavior contrary to "sound teaching" and which thus places one outside the kingdom of God. In each of these passages a group called "sodomites" stand among the condemned. Before we explore whether or not this group can be equated with the monogamous homosexual couple seeking full inclusion in the church and society as a whole we should first note that, even if they can be equated with that loving, committed couple, they do not stand uniquely condemned. In fact, despite our tendency to set sexual sinners in general and gays and lesbians in particular up as a special class of sinner, these "sodomites" have good company in both passages.

Like a good Pharisee, Paul sees "the Law" as a cohesive whole. If you violate any part of it you have violated the whole thing. It doesn't matter what part of the Law you've broken. If you break any of it, you stand as condemned as anyone else who's broken it. This is one of the many reasons why grace is so important for him. As all of us stand condemned by the Law, having at some point broken some part of it and as such standing perpetually in condemnation, grace is our only hope.

So, for Paul, "the greedy" stand in every bit as much judgment as the "sodomites," whoever those "sodomites" are. So, if you've ever wanted something that wasn't yours, or if you've ever under any circumstances told a lie, you stand as condemned as the murderers, thieves and rapists mentioned here. These lists, then, instead of setting up certain groups as uniquely sinful, instead remind us of the universality of sin. Those groups mentioned in them serve to remind us that all stand in condemnation, in need of grace. We should not read these lists looking to find in them some group more deviant than ourselves who reflect God's judgment away from us. Rather we should see that, in some way, these lists include us, reinforcing in us our fundamental need of God's grace.

That said, can these "sodomites" really be compared to those in the homosexual relationships which so trouble the church today? In her essay What the Bible Says, or Doesn't Say, About Homosexuality, Rev. Dr. Lisa W. Davison writes:

The word translated in both passages as, "sodomites," is the Greek word, arsenokoitai, which is hard to translate. Linguistically the word possibly means "male beds." It is most often used to mean "male prostitute."

According to Davison, this difficult word reflects Paul's concern with "pagan religious practices," which often employed male prostitutes, rather than with "a relationship between consenting adults, whose attraction is to someone of their same sex."

Jude 7, which clearly condemns the "sexual immorality" of "Sodom and Gomorrah", reads (in the NRSV):

Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

The view that this relatively obscure verse stands as a blanket condemnation of homosexuality as it is understood today rests on a very bad interpretation of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. And since I dealt with that story in last year's piece, I thought that it would be redundant to attack that interpretation of Jude 7. Here is what I had to say about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah:

Genesis 19:1-11 describes the sin committed by the men of Sodom, which is often understood to be homosexuality. It is from this passage that we get the word “sodomy.” Yet sodomy, ironically, does not describe the sin of Sodom. Sodom was not condemned for homosexuality. Sure, the men of Sodom tried to take two of Lot’s male guests for sex acts, but their intention was certainly not to be sexual partners with them. “Partners” implies a kind of equality, like what is seen in good, loving, sexual relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual. The intention of the men of Sodom was gang rape.

And, alas, it was not the gang rape which was condemned. After all, Lot offered to allow the mob to gang rape his daughters and is still considered righteous. No, the people of Sodom are condemned for their failure to observe the laws of hospitality of the Middle East. Because the men (or angels in the guise of men, though it is unclear what is meant by "angel" here) were Lot’s guests, they were also guests of the community. As such they fell under both the protection of Lot and the protection of all of Sodom. The men of Sodom, in their attempt to kidnap and ritually gang rape Lot’s guests, failed to live up to the divine law concerning how you treat guests. There is absolutely nothing in this story to indicate how we should view homosexuality. Of course, even if there were something about homosexuality in this story, would we want to learn sexual ethics from a story which allows its hero to offer up his daughters to a mob bent on gang rape?


The phrase "sexual immorality" covered as broad a topic in the time of the writing of Jude as it does today, and the only clue we have as to what it might mean here is the connection with Sodom and Gomorrah. As it is clear from reading that story that the sin of Sodom was certainly not consensual, monogamous, homogenital sex, we have to say that it is impossible to apply this verse from Jude to the current debate on homosexuality.

This leaves us with only Romans 1:26-27. In most English translations it uses some pretty strong language; words like "degrading," "unnatural," and "shameless." The two verses in their entirety read (in the NRSV):

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse of unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

My first treatment of this passage focused on the textual context. Whenever a passage begins with something like "For this reason..." contextual questions should immediately pop into your head. "For what reason?" The passage we have here doesn't say, so we must look before verse 26 for our answer.

The best context within which to frame this passage is Romans 1:18-34, taking us a little bit before our passage begins, and just a little bit past where it ends. Seen in that context it immediately becomes clear that homosexuality is not the primary subject of the passage. Instead the subject is idolatry. Homosexuality, especially the male prostitution found in pagan temples, is not seen as the sin here. Rather it is seen as evidence of a deeper sin, an inversion of the natural, a worshipping of the created rather than the Creator.

In my treatment of the context of the passage, however, I used a few clumsy phrases, based on old assumptions, which embarrass me today. For instance, I wrote:

Paul’s intention in this section from his letter to the church in Rome was not to condemn homosexuality, though he certainly didn’t think it was a good thing.

I'm not sure now, however, whether there is enough evidence here to determine Paul's view of homosexuality as it is understood today. I say this for two reasons:

1. It is not at all clear that Paul is concerned here with consensual, monogamous, homogenital sex. It is quite possible that he has in his sights instead a more ritualized sex which was part of a religion he is seeking to discredit.

2. Many of the words which have been translated into strong negative terms have more ambiguous meanings in the Greek.

As I said earlier, the NRSV text follows the lead of other English translations in using stark language to describe the homosexual behavior in question. The words "degrading," "unnatural," and "shameless" are very strong, and imply a strong, negative judgment. This passage, like all other Biblical passages, was not, however, written in English. As such, we should look at these terms in their original Greek to get a fuller understanding of the passage.

We should first look at the distinction made here between "natural" and "unnatural." In the Greek this is physis (natural) and para physin (unnatural).

Physis is commonly translated "natural," and is the root of "physics." It is commonly used in Stoic philosophy, and is also used quite a bit by Paul, whose usage differs considerably from the Stoics. Of Paul's use of the term, Daniel A. Heliminiak, author of What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality says:

For Paul, something is "natural" when it responds according to its own kind, when it is as it is expected to be. For Paul, the word "natural" does not mean "in accord with universal laws." Rather, "natural" refers to what is characteristic, consistent, ordinary, standard, expected and regular. When people acted as was expected and showed a certain consistency, they were acting "naturally." When people did something surprising, something unusual, something beyond the routine, something out of character, they were acting "unnaturally." That was the sense of the word "nature" in Paul's usage.

The word "unnatural," para physin, is simply a form of "natural" (physis) with the prefix para added to it. As we can see from English adaptations of the prefix para, such as paralegal, paraprofessional, paranormal, etc., the prefix is not exactly a negation, unlike the prefix "un." Rather, according to Helminiak, it "usually means 'beside,' 'more than,' 'over and above, 'beyond.'" So para physin rather than referring to something "unnatural" in the almost exclusively negative connotation that we bring to the word, more literally refers to something which is "beside," "more than," "over and above," or "beyond" nature. Something which is, perhaps, extra natural. This, then, is not always negative, nor is it always positive.

A quick look at how Paul uses para physin elsewhere in his work should suffice to demonstrate that "unnatural" is not always bad. Helminiak writes:

In Romans 11:24, Paul uses those very same words to talk about God. Paul describes how God grafted the Gentiles into the olive tree that is the Jews. Now Gentile and Jew are one in Christ. But to graft a wild tree into a cultivated tree is not the ordinary thing to do; it is something unusual. Still, that is what God did through Christ.

Helminiak then goes on the state the obvious conclusion one must draw from the Pauline application of par physin to the activity of God:

If to act para physin is immoral, then God must be immoral - and that is patently absurd. Therefore, there can be no moral meaning in those Greek words for Paul.

As such, "Romans is not a moral condemnation of male-male sex."

The other words which appear to carry moral baggage are also, in the Greek, a great deal less loaded. The word for "degrading" found in the "degrading passions" of verse 26 is atimia, which best translates as "not highly valued," or "not held in honor." As such it speaks not to some universal moral status, but instead to how it is viewed within a particular cultural context. Similarly, "shameless," as in the "shameless acts" of verse 27, is aschemosyne, which literally translates "not according to form." Helminiak says that this can be understood as "not nice," "unseemly," "uncomely," or "inappropriate." Looking for aschemosyne elsewhere in Paul's writing, Helminiak notes:

In I Corinthians 7:36 Paul uses the word to describe the father who refuses to give his daughter in marriage: that is not the socially correct thing to do. In I Corinthians 12:23, the prudish Paul refers to the "uncomely" or "unrepresentable" parts of the body. Of course, he means the genitals.

Helminiak also seeks out Paul's use of atimia elsewhere, writing:

[I]n 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul applies the word to himself. He notes that he is sometimes held in disrepute or shame because of his commitment to Christ. Evidently, then, to be in atimia is not necessarily a bad thing.

These words, so full of judgment in the English, do not carry such moral weight in Paul's usage of the Greek. As such it is quite difficult to use them to claim that Paul, and as such scripture, uniformly condemns homosexuality.

These four passages are the only places in the New Testament which can be made to apply to homosexuality as we understand it. And, when we look more closely at these passages it become clear that, on that subject, the Bible has little to offer in the way of condemnation.

13 comments:

Troy said...

Chris,

ah, finally! The little letters appear below...now if only I had saved my longer reply.

Let me say this is a very good essay. You are probably right in associating Paul's discussion of homosexuality in Romans with pagan ritual, though that passage may also reveal Paul's feeling regarding any homosexual sex. Certainly the sex he speaks of there is lust-driven, not monogamous and loving (but then he speaks of hetero sex in dismissively carnal terms on other occasions).

Let's have a thought experiment: what if Paul spent a weekend with a loving, gay Christian couple (they could be modern, as long as they speak latin or ancient greek) would he not, on reflection, come to support their inclusion? If Paul knew what modern psychology tells us about the deeply ingrained nature of sexual orientation, would he not support gay couples who strove to be monogamous? This is the apostle who wrote Galatians, after all. My (confident) literary assesment is that he would.

Would the Jesus of the gospels? Which gospel, of course! I'd have to say I don't know, actually. But Paul was so concerned with removing boundaries between the individual and God and so concerned with establishing an ethic of love. Clearly he had difficulty coming up with behavioral absolutes...welcome to Judaism ancient and modern...but he was deeply moved by an underlying ethic of reconciliation which dismissed the non-essential.

Of course, for me Paul was just Paul; his letters are not God's divine oracles. But I still believe, if he were alive today or if he could understand the experience of loving homosexuals, he would support them as much as he did heterosexuals.

This is a minor footnote to an otherwise strong post. Nice work, C. You just get better.

t

Brian Beech said...

Naturally, I disagree with most of your points. That is not to say that I don’t agree with some of them. :)

KJV reads:
I Corinthians 6: 9-10 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

I agree that this is a ‘list’ of sins and that it does not separate homosexuals from any others. I believe that I am every bit as sinful as any homosexual. I also believe that I have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and that he died for my sins; as well as the sins of homosexuals, drunkards, thieves…etc.

As I was reading this post, I got the feeling that you were taking these scriptures and trying to read them a way as to take away the obvious and explain it to fit your beliefs. Let me give you an example of what I mean before you decide to thrash me with words and angry thoughts. Romans 1:26-27 and your treatment of the word “unnatural”. You took the Greek ‘para physin’ – separated out ‘para’ – then lent the common English adaptations of para to this context. But using the word ‘para’ wouldn’t exactly be translating it, instead it would be translating part of the word and using the other ‘Greek’ in combination. But, even by comparing this to ‘paralegal’, ‘paraprofessional’ and ‘paranormal’ you can get the following interpretations:

From Wikipedia: Paraprofessional is a job title given to people in various occupational fields, such as education, healthcare, and law, that have a certificate that they have obtained by passing an exam enabling them to perform a task requiring a lot of knowledge, but don't have the occupational license to perform at the professional level in the field. Paranormal - "any phenomenon that in one or more respects exceeds the limits of what is deemed physically possible according to current scientific assumptions."Paralegal - In the United States, "paralegal" is not a licensed profession*.

What I take from these ‘definitions’: Paraprofessional – someone who is not considered a ‘professional’ (as considered with an occupational license). Paranormal – phenomenon that is not normal. Paralegal – someone that is able to do the work, but not a licensed professional; therefore *not legal. Also, I noticed that you took a word and tried to apply one understanding/definition of it to every occurrence of the word, without regard for context…as your example in Romans 11:24. I agree that just because something is unnatural doesn’t necessarily make it immoral. Mary being pregnant with Jesus was unnatural…but I doubt any believer would call it immoral; but in the context of Romans 6:27-27 it reads that way.

When I look at that verse from KJV it reads the following way (I included 18-27 for contextual reason – because I think we must be careful when looking at one or two verses – as I see you are careful also):
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

To me it is quite obvious that he is talking about men being with men and that it is quite wrong.

I hope this makes sense...I'm not feeling very well right now and thought I would try to take my mind off of my dizziness.

Brian Beech said...

please let me say though, I think homosexuals need Jesus just as much as I do. I'm no hater. :)

crystal said...

I agree with your take on this. Another article with a similar view to yours is one by James Alison ...

“But the Bible says...”? A Catholic reading of Romans 1

Sandalstraps said...

Brian Beech,

Thank you for once again boldly wandering into this nest of hornets to share your opinion. Your contribution here is vital, and much appreciated whenever it is offered. However, in this case I think that you missed the most pressing argument concerning Paul's use of para physin. As Paul, later on in the same letter (Romans 11:24) uses the very same phrase to apply to God's activity, clearly the phrase, by itself, does not imply moral judgment.

My use of English words which contain para as a prefix borrowed from the Greek reflects a few things:

1. That I like to employ teaching tools that are familiar to most people whenever I can, especially in such a long, dry essay.

2. That English owes a great deal to Greek (and, of course, Latin) and that we can understand our language better by becoming aware of words whose origins are found in other languages. In 7th grade I had to take a class in Greek and Latin roots, and I guess it scarred me!

3. That many bonified scholars have also employed the same technique to make clear to a lay audience (including myself, who is by no means a Greek language scholar) the general usage of Greek words.

The argument that the prefix para, as found in para physin, is not a mere negation, does not rest on its usage in modern English. The modern English usage simply supplements the point.

It also seems reckless to me to place Wikipedia up against a thorough Greek exegesis which rests on the work of Biblical scholars. In other words, that Wikipedia uses negatives to explain the usage of the prefix para in the English language (and, by the way, I disagree with that usage, though they needn't consult me) does not change the fact that in Greek para is not purely a negation. What I mean by that is this:

Even in the English, para does not mean "that which stands in opposition to," but rather, more like, "that which stands beside." To use the English words again, a paralegal is not one who works against a lawyer, standing in opposition to the lawyer, but rather one who, while not a lawyer, works alongside a lawyer, supplementing the work of the lawyer. A paralegal, in other words, is not an antilegal.

This is very much the way that the para in para physin is seen here. It is not "natural" in Paul's sense of the word, but neither does it stand opposed to nature, working against nature. It is not, in other words, a necessarily perjorative term, a fact which is once again seen in Paul's employing the word to describe the activity of God in Romans 11:24.

Also, and in the plainest terms I can use, the KJV is a bad translation. It is historically and culturally significant, and of course it is a magnificent work of literature, rivaling the works of Shakespeare, especially in the Psalms. But as a translation of Hebrew and Greek, simply put, it stinks. And when we are exegeting the Greek, we can't turn to any English translation, much less such a poor one, as though it had some authority over the original language. So, while I appreciate that for you the King James text has a very plain meaning, trust me when I tell you that:

a.) I am quite familiar with the King James text of the passages involved, and

b.) They do not represent the Greek involved very well at all.

This is one of the reasons why turning to the Greek is so important. Every translation reflects the thought-world of the translators, who unconsciously or consciously project their own reading of the text onto the text, making their theological agendas and assumptions the subject of the text. So, when you read a translation, you are reading not the text itself, but rather someone else's reading of the text.

Now, as you and I are not experts in Hebrew and Greek we must, of course, employ translations. But when we do, we would do well to remember the limitations of those translations, and employ them with the insight provided to us by those who do understand the languages. And, there is simply not a single credible Biblical scholar that thinks that the King James is an accurate translation. That is not to say that it can't be used in devotion, or even worship. But it is to say that, in exegesis, it provides next to nothing of value, and can often lead one away from the original readings rather than toward them.

Anonymous said...

As a believer, I am allowed to practice mutual mercy towards other people. It is not the gospel to persecute sinners - that is in direct opposition to the gospel message. However, I do not enable or condone lustful relationships because sexuality can become a governing force in a person's life and that is a false idol. The power of the gospel is not, "The stuff I do is not so bad so I am loved by God". The power of God is to love those who are unlovely, that practice habits that don't exist in heaven. To sin is to suffer, to live apart from God - it requires no punishment from Him, but salvation. Blurring the lines between God's definition of relationship and our definition of relationship blinds us to God and allows us to remain apart. It is powerful when we can truly humble ourselves to God and receive God's mercy at that time - that is what creates a trusting bond with God - to know He has a better way for us, not punishment. That can only happen if we know and believe that what we have done is wrong and receive His mercy - then we can begin to know the difference between heaven and hell.

Sandalstraps said...

Anonymous,

While I appreciate the power and sincerity of your message here, I wonder what exactly it has to do with the topic at hand.

The contention here is not that there is no such thing as sexual sin, if by sexual sin we mean inappropriate sexual behavior. The contention here is that homosexual relationships are not inherantly sinful. That is, the moral value of sexual relationships is not determined by the gender of the partners in the relationship.

There has been offered here a great deal of evidence for this claim, evidence which has been address both by those who agree with the conclusion and those who do not.

I wonder where you stand on this topic.

I welcome your reply, and if it is possible encourage you to end your anonymity. I find it most helpful to have some idea of who I am conversing with.

I would most happily discuss my views on sexual ethics and how it relates to our relationship with God. I greatly enjoy such discussions. But those discussions need some point of entry, so that I can understand how you are using the words that you are using, and so that you can understand how I am using the words I'm using.

As such, if you care to participate in this conversation, try to spell out more clearly what you are saying in your comment.

You say, for instance

I do not enable or condone lustful relationships because sexuality can become a governing force in a person's life and that is a false idol.

What do you mean by "lustful relationships"? Are all sexual relationships "lustful," or only some? If some are "lustful" and others are not, how do we distinguish between the two? In other words, in your view, is there such a thing as healthy sexual expression, and if so, what constitutes healthy sexual expression? These are the question we bring as we attempt to build a Christian sexual ethic.

Also, you say

The power of God is to love those who are unlovely, that practice habits that don't exist in heaven.

My question, and I mean it sincerely and charitably, is this: Which habits do you have in mind? It seems that you are using some excellent poetic language to alude to God's love for sinners. But you have not yet spelled out what you mean by sin, save for that it separates us from God, making the distinction between heaven and hell. So, which concrete behaviors (if this is what you mean by "habits") do you have in mind here.

I ask this because the post addresses what the New Testament has to say about same-sex sexual relations. My contention is that these relationships need not in all cases be considered immoral, and I have used scriptural evidence to support that claim, undermining the more conservative contention that the Bible clearly condemns all forms of homosexuality. I take it from the subtext of your comment that you

1.) Disagree with my claim, and
2.) See it as a kind of denial of any kind of sexual immorality.

But, because this is not clearly articulated in your comment, I could very easily be misunderstanding you. So, would you be so kind as to spell out what you are saying so that even someone as daft as me can read past the subtext and into the text the point that you are making.

Sandalstraps said...

Troy and Crystal,

Sorry I did not respond to your comments sooner. Apparently I like dissent more than agreement!

Troy,

I'm glad to see that the difficulty you were having leaving a comment has at least for the time being been resolved. If you ever experience that trouble again, let me know and I will take off word verification. I like it because it eliminates comment spam, keeping me from having to put comment moderation on. But, of course, if it serves to filter out real comments as well, it has ceased to be a useful tool.

I'm inclided to agree with you about Paul.

As for Jesus, it is interesting that, for such a hot button topic today, he had absolutely nothing to say about homosexuality. He was far too busy worrying about more important moral issues. In fact, as a thought experiment, I had my church rattle off all of the things that Jesus was more concerned with than homosexuality. We might want to try that here.

And to think, this issue, not a concern at all for Christ, is tearing the church apart!

Crystal,

Once again, thanks to both you and PamBG, who have independently of each other turned me on to James Alison. I've not had the chance to read him yet, but your descriptions of his work intrigue me. I will read the essay you've linked here with great interest!

Troy said...

I wish I had time, friend, to address the passage in Mark 10, used by Luke and Matthew and cited (in some form) by Paul. Many use this as defense that Jesus condemned homosexuality, but there is no evidence of this. I have to go with your reading; it has nothing to do with it. It's still a challenging statement (though Matthew, of all people, presents a softened form, and Paul himself provides an out if the spouse is a non-believer). But Jesus is not addressing the naturalness or non-naturalness of homosexuality, in my view, when he uses Genesis. Jesus' use of Tanakh is quite selective; he is answering a scripture with scripture, but the underlying issue is committment to another human being, not sexual practice. And surely, if God made Adam and Eve hetero, he has made others since who are homosexual. The real issue is the spiritual health of the persons involved. How can we best care for God's creatures, whatever their position in the world?

Anyway, best. I have to run. I want to call you before I leave for so. cal. and see how you are. Let me know if there's a good time or day.

t

Sandalstraps said...

Troy,

As you've indicated, in Mark 10:5-9 (this story, as you note is found also in Matthew 19 and Luke 18 - I've added the chapter numbers in case anyone would like to look these up for themselves) Jesus, in responding to some Pharisees who question him concerning divorce, quotes selectively from Genesis 1:27 and 2:24. As you note, he does this in response to the Pharisees' allusions to Deutoronomy 24:1-4 and Jeremiah 3:8. As the subject here is divorce, it never occurred to me that people might try to apply this to the topic of homosexuality. But I suppose since some people see homosexuality as unnatural, and see gay marriage as a threat to "traditional marriage" (as I've said before, my wife and I have our problems, but none of them involve the notion that some day maybe gay people can get married too! I simply don't see how this threatens marriage in general, or any concrete marriage in particular) we should look at the verses cited here by Jesus, so often and eloquently used in Christian and Jewish wedding ceremonies.

Simply put, at no point do they address the phenomenon of same-sex attraction. The best take I've heard on the argument that since, in light of the passages here quoted by Jesus from the creation myths of ancient Israel

a.) God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, and

b.) God ordained the sacrament of marriage,

c.) People of the same gender ought not have their sexual relationships legitimized or recognized

comes (again!) from Rev. Dr. Lisa W. Davison, who writes:

Referring back to the two creation stories found in Genesis 1 & 2, this argument claims that heterosexuality was divinely ordained from the beginning of time. This interpretation of the text fails to take into account both the literary and logical aspects of the stories of creation. First, one must realize that the point of any good story is to get from one point to the next as smoothly as possible. The creation stories are attempting to explain how all creation came to be, especially humanity. Based on their understanding of procreation, the ancient writers knew that, to go from two persons to many peoples, God had to start with a female and a male. More specifically, both stories describe the creation of two sexes but not of sexual orientation. In Gen 2, God understands that the first human creature is lonely. Out of a concern for the human creature's need for companionship, God divides 'adam into two parts. The Divine affirms that we all need to be in relationships. Thus, our lives are about finding that which completes us - male or female.

The text itself in no way deals with the phenomenon of same sex attraction. There is simply no mention of it. It is not a concern. Likewise, at no point does Jesus mention the phenomenon of same-sex attraction. If he had, there would be no need to try to manipulate this scriptural discussion of divorce to try to include it. The text itself does not support this inclusion, and to press the issue is to engage in much more reckless "scriptural gymnastics" (a term a conservative evangelical pastor friend of mine likes to use for the sort of exegesis in this post) than any heretical "liberal" is ever likely to employ.

krister said...

I got here via Patrik's site. I am particularly interested in this subject and thought I would offer some resources that might be helpful for further reading. One of the best resources is a book edited by David Balch called "Homosexuality, Science, and the 'Plain Sense' of Scripture" In it I would direct your attention to a chapter written by David Frederickson called "Natural and Unnatural Use in Romans 1:24-27: Paul and the Philosophic Critique of Eros."This is the most original take I've read on this subject. The book is unfortunately out of print, but you can find it used and in any theological library. Unfortunately, we get bogged down in trying to argue about "para," and never think to explore the word Paul uses which is translated as "intercourse."

Helminiak is not considered to be much of an authority. Most of the exegetical work he presents in his book is borrowed from John Boswell, a gay historian from Yale, whose own interpretive miscues have been documented elsewhere (see Richard Hays' response in the Journal of Religious Ethics).

However, there are certainly a number of wonderful resources for those who support GLBT inclusion, including articles by Jeffrey Siker (see his edited book).

As it relates to 1 Cor. and 1 Tim. you may want to read some of Dale Martin's thoughts. One of them can be accessed online. It's called "Arsenokoites and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences."

Anyway, I just wanted to offer a few other resources for your study. Thanks for this post.

Sandalstraps said...

Krister,

Thank you for the recommended resources. I'll happily check them out.

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Can you please BRIEF the whole blog for me? I have to counsel a young man on this topic next week.

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