At the deepest level, Jesus summoned his followers to love God and to love others. The God they were summoned to love was the God of Israel, and the God of Israel spoke in Scripture and Jesus’ followers were therefore summoned to let that story of Israel be their story, which involves (as I concluded in the previous post) passages that are taken to one degree or another to be about homosexuality, though as we saw there, the OT texts in Genesis, Judges, and Leviticus are about violent sex acts and pagan idolatries. I also stated my belief that same-sex sexual actions were assumed to be “out of order.” Not all would agree. Today we need to pick up the NT texts.
First, Jesus did not speak about homosexuality. I do not think malakos in Luke 7:25//Matthew 11:8 refers to the passive partner in male homosexual relations. The term denotes “soft” clothing. Which means that Jesus does not talk about homosexuality at all, either because it never came up or because the Evangelists chose not to record something he said. I suspect the first. I make nothing of it. It can be assumed that Jesus was traditional in seeing marriage as between a man and woman; Matthew 19 says this in so many words. Jesus also believed in the permanence of marriage; which is stated in Matthew 5 and which is more important to Christian ethics than homosexuality, since far more divorce than are homosexual. Some bloggers have pointed this out, and I have agreed with them from the start. Divorce isn’t a controversy, and maybe it ought to be.
But, Jesus is quite traditional, even radically intensifying, when it comes to the Torah and to sexual mores (so far as we know). I think this observation deserves to be at the table, too. There is no need to develop this, for it is often nothing more than an extension of what one believes from other texts.
And Jesus was gracious and filled with mercy and offered healing, and I doubt very much he would have flown into a rant had he seen (if he did) homosexual behaviors — assuming that he thought in terms of Leviticus, he would have treated them as he did anyone else: with mercy, and grace, and with the power of the kingdom at hand to restore people to their Eikonic condition and mission. This is what I mean when I say Jesus would have welcomed all to the table. All means anyone and everyone. The first and last word of Jesus is grace.
But, Jesus did not speak about homosexuality.
Second, Paul did speak about same-sex sexual relations. Paul knows no distinction between same-sex orientation and same-sex sexual relations. Three times, so it appears, Paul brings the matter up.
I begin with Romans 1:18-32, in the middle of which is Paul’s most explicit statement:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
Rom. 1:24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Rom. 1:26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 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.
Rom. 1:28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. 29 They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.
Paul here condemns in the severest of terms a pagan lifestyle, and Paul explicitly ties their moral wickedness and idolatries to God handing them over (which is how he here explains wrath) to the wickedness, an example of which includes sexual impurities (a levitical word). And then Paul mentions both female and male sexual relations at some level — and this is precisely the issue.
Most will at least permit this question: Is he talking about pagan male and female prostitution, is talking about pederasty (so well known in the Greco-Roman world of power and dominance), is he talking about those who are sexually profligate — pursuing anything and anyone, is he describing simply an extreme wing of morally reprehensible people, or is he offering a blanket denunciation of same-sex sexual relations? [Again, Paul does not seem to explain things in terms of “orientation” and “behavior.” His lists are about behaviors.]
Here are the sorts of things that need to be considered:
1. Paul describes the problem as one of “nature.” What the women and men were doing was not natural — this can be, but need not be, connected to the “out of order” argument so typical for Leviticus and the purity laws. It is just as likely, if not more, that Paul is thinking rather clearly here about procreative abilities or about physical unions where the male and female are “made for” one another. Paul’s “nature” argument is not about “cultural convention” but “the material/physical order of the created world.” That is, “nature” has an anatomical shape and order. And that Paul uses words like “glory” and “Eikon” here can lead one to think he finds “nature” in Genesis 1–2.
2. The issue is not pederasty: Paul sees female-female and male-male, not “men-boys.”
3. There is nothing in this text that restricts the behavior to idolatrous prostitution, though I think the connections here with idolatries can lead to such a connection as part of the picture.
4. For me, the options come down to the third and fourth: the sexually depraved or a general prohibition of same-sex relations. The latter is more likely, and a good example of careful exegesis of this can be seen in James D.G. Dunn’s commentary on Romans 1–8 (Word Biblical Commentary).
5. Paul uses theliai for “women” in Romans 1 and this most likely recalls the created order of Genesis 1:26-27.
Let’s move on to 1 Cor 6:9-10 and 1 Tim 1:9-10:
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes [malakoi], sodomites [arsenokoitai], 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
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, 10 fornicators, sodomites [arsenokoitai], slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching 11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
These two texts bring in two special terms: malakoi and arsenokoitai. The first refers to the passive male sexual partner in a same-sex relationship (could be pederasty, maybe not) while the second is more general and refers to male-male sexual relationship.
Some have argued that the first term refers to the passive male and the second to the more aggressive, dominant male. (Same-sex relations often deal with dominance in the classical world.)
Jude 6-7 uses sexual language for Sodom, and his “unnatural lust” evokes the “out of order” argument (apparently).
Now we’ve gotten well beyond Jesus into the documents of early Christians decades after him. One thing that can be said is that there is continuity between Genesis, Judges, Leviticus, and the early Christians on sexual purity and on strong denunciations of sexual perversions. There is no evidence that anyone addressed the distinction between same-sex orientation and same-sex sexual relations. What we do have, in my assessment, is that the Torah (in possible assumption, as I stated earlier) and the early Christians thought same-sex relations were unnatural. What Paul saw, whatever that might have been — either gross sexual perversions or same-sex sexual relations, he saw as the unfolding of God’s wrath for wickedness and for idolatry. I see no strong argument for concluding that the early Christians were thinking only either of pagan prostitution or pederasty; I think both may be involved, but those categories are only latently present in the Pauline texts.
I am persuaded of this: to love God is to love God’ Word and to let its Story be our Story. It is our responsibility to live in that Story, including the early Christian Story that takes the OT Story into the era of Jesus Christ and the Pentecostal Spirit.
I’m not done with my posts about Jesus and homosexuality. There will be three more posts about Jesus and homosexuality, and I hope you stay with us.