Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Jesus and Homosexuality 5

posted by xscot mcknight

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
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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.



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Scott Morizot

posted February 6, 2006 at 9:10 am


There’s certainly nothing in the above with which I disagree. In my own rambling, meandering way I’ve already expressed the continuity I find in scripture that God’s design seems pretty clearly to be for the permanent union of one man and woman. It took me a long time and a lot of prayer, study, reflection, and inner struggle for me to get to that point for my history and background was not one that left me predisposed toward such an understanding. Frankly, I found very little in present day arguments, debates, and position papers that helped me. I’m very sensitive to efforts to shape things to prove a point and that is rampant in most of it, making it very difficult to extract the credible. Too bad I never ran across someone willing to approach the topic as you have.
Though I don’t know Greek, I liked the way you connected Romans 1 to Genesis 1-2. That had always seemed to be the proper link to me given the context and audience rather than later texts. It’s how it fit together in my mind.
Of course, as you’ve already noted, we all keep jumping to what it means today in our world. What should we do? And while I find a consistent theme in Scripture from beginning to end on what God designed as the one proper sexual union, and thus making everything else the outworking, expression, or damage of sin, I have a lot more difficulty building any coherent picture of practice. The Bible is full of variations from that design (which from my understanding would have to be called sin) that at different times and in different cultures God appears to have at least suffered and sometimes blessed. Nor do I get much help from the church. The modern day American church really is a mess when it comes to how it practices its espoused views on marriage and sexuality. But then I don’t find much evidence in history that the church has ever not had some sort of struggle in this broader area of sex and marriage.
Further, the inconsistencies in our practice, some of which I’ve pointed out, are pretty obvious to the culture in which we live. If we’re going to have any credibility speaking on this one aspect of the broader issue (whatever we might say), we have to offer something coherent both in word and deed broadly, not just in narrow chunks.
I know I’m rushing ahead again, so I’ll stop. I mostly wanted to say thanks for pointing out the consistent flow of the picture of God’s design and the gentle manner in which you’ve approached. I strongly suspect there are no easy or simple answers to the questions I still have.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 6, 2006 at 9:13 am


Scott,
Eventually we’ll get back to the original post on how we make moral decisions and that is where “culture” comes in. Our culture has something to say, but I too have to avoid jumping ahead.



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Stephan

posted February 6, 2006 at 9:28 am


I would like to bring up another point – not what scripture says about homosexual relationships, but what scripture says about marriage between a man and a woman. It is compared to Christ’s relationship with the church. For this reason I believe that any sexual relationship outside of marriage, including premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexual relationship, divorce, etc., are, in a way, a more egregious type of sin. It is distorting the picture of Christ’s relationship to His church, and I don’t think this can be taken lightly.
Also, I think it is vital to note that nowhere in scripture is there an example of a healthy homosexual relationship, and I believe this omission is also significant. If God had intended for this to be an option, wouldn’t He have said so?



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Scot McKnight

posted February 6, 2006 at 9:46 am


Stephan,
Fair questions.
First, I think it would be pretty hard to make your argument that simply. The Christ-Church and Husband-Wife point in Eph 5 is an analogy that works, but it is not clear to me that the Christ-Church is the ontological foundation for the latter. It is a simple analogy. There are those who find more once one gets to Eph 5:32. Paul’s point is about “submission” and about “husbands loving wives” not about sex.
Second, there is no reason to think that God will tell us everything about everything. It is hard, at least for me, to explain omissions as intentional on God’s part. There are pressing issues in each culture and in each age that are not addressed in the Bible.



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Stephan

posted February 6, 2006 at 10:02 am


Scot,
Granted my two earlier points are not definitive, but I believe they are accurate and relevant. In a trial, minor pieces of evidence may be introduced to support major pieces of evidence. Though my points may not have been strong, I believe they can still be used to support other arguments.
My second point, regarding omission of any examples of healthy homosexual relationship in scripture, I believe is most relevant. Certainly there was homosexuality in society while scripture was being written, but the only times it is mentioned is in a negative sense, never positive. If this is how God intended people to live, surely there would have been at least one example where this was the case. I know there have been changes in society that the Bible cannot directly address (What would Jesus drive? What are the ethics behind nuclear weapons?), but sexuality really hasn’t changed since the beginning. You can’t get past the fact that the only healthy relationships mentioned are heterosexual, and the only times homosexuality is mentioned it is called sin.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 6, 2006 at 10:28 am


Stephan,
I agree in general with what you are saying. But it is, after all, an argument from silence. I agree that the only healthy relationships (which is hardly a biblical category is it? do we get marriages described as good marriage or bad marriage?) are heterosexual.



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Jim

posted February 6, 2006 at 12:18 pm


I’ve been enjoying following the discussion on this topic here for a while. I just have two comments:
I think I would personally steer clear from the judgment that only heterosexual relationships can be “healthy.” It seems to me that it might be quite possible for a homosexual relationship to exist that exceeds the ‘health’ of many marriages.
I’m not comfortable with confining the bounds of what makes up a loving, faithful relationship solely to the context of marriage. I would not be surprised to find some existing homosexual relationships that are more loving, more faithful, and long-lasting than many heterosexual marriages tend to be in our society. I think we have to be very careful in making sweeping judgements about the health or lack there of of such relationships.
Now at the risk of sounding totally sacriligious…A previous post in this section mentions that ther are no homosexual relationships in the scritpure, but has anyone not ever wondered, in reading some of the Samuel accounts of the relationship between David and Jonathan (1 Sam 18, 2 Sam 1), as to whether or not there could have been more here than meets the eye? I’m not saying there is I’m just saying I’ve wondered if there could not have been.
I’ve not studied it carefully enought to pass judgement, but a cursory read of some of the dialogue and language (esp through the lens of our culture’s growing acceptance of homosexuality) could suggest a pretty deep and intimate relationship. There is of course no mention of any physical intimacy but that wouldn’t be surprising given a general prohibition of such. I’d love to see some study or further analysis of that particular relationship.



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Greg Mc

posted February 6, 2006 at 12:26 pm


Scot
Thanks for a solid post and also for the clarification on what you mean when you say “I say Jesus would have welcomed all to the table.” Forgive me if I thought there was some ambiguity in the original post. It was just not clear to me that you were talking about outreach and not receiving practicing Homosexuals into membership in the local fellowship (Communion Table). I can be rather thick sometimes. I confess I have not read your books and have not followed your blog long enough to have that context to fall back on. It was nice of Ahnog to offer me your books but I would not feel comfortable imposing on him like that but I am open to doing a trade. If you are interested, I would make you a pottery communion set in exchange for a couple of books. Let me know by email if that interests you but don’t feel obligated.
Anyway…. I see you are still holding your remaining cards close to your vest (for now) :) but I think you are doing a good job so far.
Have a good day.
Greg



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John Frye

posted February 6, 2006 at 12:52 pm


Greg Mc,
I don’t think that it is possible to separate Jesus’ invitational and inclusive table fellowship from the “Communion Table.” Many N.T. scholars make the clear connection between Jesus’ radically countercultural mealtime habits and the early church’s practice of “the Lord’s Table” (see, e.g., I. Howard Marshall’s brief study on the subject). Jesus is always The Host, not the church or its leadership. So, if Scot McKnight is correct in that Jesus would happily accept homosexuals at His table, then there is no reason why we cannot accept them into our fellowship as “members.”



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Greg Mc

posted February 6, 2006 at 2:32 pm


John; Many NT scholars make all kinds of wildly un-biblical statements such as the one below. It was my initial concern that Scot was indeed saying;
“Jesus would happily accept homosexuals at His table, then there is no reason why we cannot accept them into our fellowship as “members.””
However; (and I don’t speak for Scot but…) he does not seem to have made that same untenable leap in his logic so far. Membership in the local Church has clearly defined (biblical) parameters, not the least of which is repentance from sin. I don’t see any requirement for repentance to have dinner with Jesus (If by that one comes to hear the Good News) but the idea that one can come to Jesus for salvation while holding on to their sin is clearly and repeated refuted in the Scripture.
PS I also believe repentance is a gracious gift as well.



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Becky

posted February 6, 2006 at 4:26 pm


I’ve been all over the board on this one. After what I thought was a study in the Hebrew and Greek about sexuality in the Bible, it seemed the things I found in OT were related to participation in another religious aspect that involved same gender sex, and emphasis on taking advantage with one’s greater strength, over one with lesser strength. Then I got into the NT and it seemed the emphasis wasn’t on same gender with same gender, but in “burning with lust” in the way we had relations. 12 yrs of coming from one way of thinking about this, to another, and then back again. One day I just had to agree – we look at bodies, and that’s the way we are made, the parts go together. So I went back to Genesis, and start from there now. And with sadness. I would like to tell those I know with same gender orientation, that sexuality can be used in a godly way, as a general statement. But, where I’m at now, in this more than 12 yr thinking on things, I have to say we go back to nature, and how our gender parts were made to go together. But, I hope I have at least another 25 yrs in me, and God knows what other nuances I’ll find on this issue.



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Julie

posted February 6, 2006 at 5:42 pm


Great discussion and I really appreciate the sensitive manner in which these issues are being discussed. Hope I am equally sensitive.
I can’t get past something and I hope one of you would like to comment. Why does it matter to God how people express their sexual feelings toward one another in a committed, loving relationship? In other words, just because the Bible has a few verses that reveal Paul’s perspective on sex, we still don’t have the “why” to go with it. That seems pretty necessary to me.
I mentioned earlier that plenty of heterosexuals have sex in the manner that matches gay sex (both oral and anal sex). If this discussion is “about nature,” then are we saying that we ought to also condemn how heterosexuals have sex with each other? Ought we to be worrying about how they express love in sex? If so, how and why? What would be said?
And to what end? How does the sex act itself do anything to God, to God’s creation, to the individual, to the marriage or committed partnership? If love is being expressed, and sex is involved, why would God be upset about that? (I understand the argument that the “Bible says so” – I am looking for more than that…)
Even if we come to an iron clad position that Paul is opposed to homosexual sex in all its expressions, does that mean that that’s it? We just accept his word for it as God’s and assume that God had no more to say on the matter? Is there no possibility that Paul was operating from within a scheme that was based on being dyadic (that is – this is how we define the “in” group and this is how we define the “out” group)? I assert that Paul couldn’t possibly have been able to conceive of the complexity that is our sexuality as we know it today. Of course Paul doesn’t address orientation. That whole concept is 20th century.
The boundaries around sexuality in the first century made sense in that world and context in a way that they don’t today… it appears to me. I need to understand what the damage is when an adult has sex in a homosexual way (either hetero or homosexual relationship) in order to understand why we would then say God was opposed to it.
Any ideas?



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Scot McKnight

posted February 6, 2006 at 5:58 pm


Julie,
Thanks for this.
I do think Paul (and probably Leviticus, because of their overall purity code context) does have an argument or a “why?” It has to do with “nature.” Nature, of course, is under discussion (as is everything), but I find the best arguments favor the view that it refers to “how we are made for one another.” No one disputes that males and females are made for one another — anatomically speaking, of course. So, for Paul, same-sex acts are “out of order” because God made males and females for one another (he does, after all, seem to be rooting his argument in Genesis 1–2).
On married couples… I would say this. The anus is not designed for sex.
Asking me to justify why God does anything is a tall order, and you can only agree with me if you agree with my premise that the Bible is somehow God’s Word and that its Story is our Story. If that is the case, then one would have to say that God cares enough to make males and females a certain way and that he expects them to live within his created design.
On what difference does it matter … we are back to the previous point. I think we could agree that, if we knew God’s intent, we’d agree that God’s intent would be to our best advantage/joy (assuming that God is flat-out good). Then we’d have to say that living within God’s designs is what permits us to have our greatest joy.
You’ve asked a good question on the permanence of Paul: I for one think this is important to ask. Some don’t seem to care for this question. I think it is fairly clear to most of us that some things in the Bible are things we no longer do (wash feet; etc). We tend to reason our way through custom, tradition, and cultural awarenesses. On Rom 1:26-27 Paul’s argument is about “nature” and Genesis 1–2, and that is a profoundly theological argument.
For Paul, then, there is a procreative capacity in sexual relations that is necessary for sexual activity to be within God’s intent. The old “take me or don’t take me” approach to Paul’s statements is too simplistic, of course, but for those of us who embrace the Christian Story as found in the Bible, what Paul has to say is very important.
Now, here’s another consideration — and I’ll speak to this tomorrow in the post — to love our brothers and sisters in the Church is to learn to listen, to one degree or another, to what they have heard the Spirit say throughout the Church. This, too, is part of the moral logical of a Christian.
Sorry for going on too long — I tend to let you readers do the long comments. I am heard enough in the post itself.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 6, 2006 at 6:45 pm


Greg Mc,
When someone offers to give you some books, it is part of Christian reciprocity to receive.



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Julie

posted February 6, 2006 at 7:53 pm


Thank you Scot. I appreciate your taking time to unpack your ideas for me. I also feel I have a more nuanced understanding of where you areheaded than I did when you began this series.
This stood out: Now, here’s another consideration — and I’ll speak to this tomorrow in the post — to love our brothers and sisters in the Church is to learn to listen, to one degree or another, to what they have heard the Spirit say throughout the Church. This, too, is part of the moral logical of a Christian.
This is probably what is causing me so much reevaluation. I am in relationship with Christians who are homosexuals and their understanding of how these issues play out is very different than the typical evangelical heterosexual understanding. I am reading some of the perspectives offered by homosexuals who do theology in your posts (thank you for recgonizing that they exist) and in some of the follow up comments.
I am still puzzling over the “nature” part of the argument… Will spend some time reading the Bible and thinking it through some more. I do understand the procreative power of sex as primary (I have five kids). But even once kids are born, sex is more than that too… and I feel very uncomfortable defining what that looks like for heterosexuals, let alone homosexuals. Clearly sexual expression is a part of love and commitment in some form… So it’s dicey, if you ask me.
Asking me to justify why God does anything is a tall order, and you can only agree with me if you agree with my premise that the Bible is somehow God’s Word and that its Story is our Story. If that is the case, then one would have to say that God cares enough to make males and females a certain way and that he expects them to live within his created design.
But justify it we must or it is not possible to call people to leave behind what they experience as their core identities. The Story that is God’s story has to make sense or it doesn’t have much staying power in individual lives. I think heterosexual Christians find that the story does make sense of their experiences at a deep level. It must be truly heroic for homosexuals to even consider Christianity given all of the hatred and cruelty that has been directed toward them in the name of faithfulness to God.
So I concur with you – that their perspective is vital to this conversation–not just those who have come to believe that homosexual activity and orientation is wrong, but those who believe God celebrates who they are and how they express sexual love to their partners. That’s part of the story I want to hear because it is too easy to overlook it and act like it doesn’t exist.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 6, 2006 at 8:36 pm


Julie,
There is a very good dissertation on same-sex acts in the Roman Empire and its developments, and it has good chps on Hebrew Bible and Early Christianity. By L. Dunn. Done at Miami of Ohio — I agree with nearly every conclusion the author draws.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 6, 2006 at 8:45 pm


Brian,
Lev 18:3 sets the laws in the context of distinguishing from Egyptians and Canaanites (religion is woven into the fabric of life — as you know).
Lev 18:21 connects child sacrifice into the sexual laws.
Lev 18:27 makes it explicit: these are the things the Canaanites did. (also v. 30).
And then we have the other texts, like Deut 23:17; 1 Ki 14:24; 15:12; 22:46 and 2 Ki 23:7 where “temple prostitute” is used.



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Curt

posted February 6, 2006 at 9:26 pm


Scot,
On point 2 to be considered:
2. The issue is not pederasty: Paul sees female-female and male-male, not “men-boys.”
What would lead us to believe that Paul is speaking of female-female sex acts here? Clement of Alexandria, Augustine and other early church leaders understood Paul, in Romans 1:26, to be speaking of women participating in sex acts with men non-procreatively i.e. unnaturally. And indeed, if Paul is reaching back to Leviticus as some argue, there is no notion of female-female sex acts there.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 6, 2006 at 10:01 pm


Curt,
Fair enough, and I am aware of other views here — but I can’t just provide a listing of viewpoints. You’ve been a good conversation partner here, Curt, and I appreciate your comments, even when I know you disagree with me.
I took this view for two reasons: (1) the word “unnatural”, in my judgment, has to do with contrary to nature sexual acts [lesbian sexual acts are at least a tolerable interpretation from such wording] and they are contrary to the creation account of Gen 1:26-27, and, most importantly, (2) the “in the same way” [homoios] of v. 27 which then connects to male same-sex acts — and thus, leads one to think same-sex acts in v. 26 with women is in view. Nothing new in my view, of course.



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Bryan Hodge

posted February 6, 2006 at 10:14 pm


Scot,
1. My point is that the underlying argument in Lev is that these are all things that fall into the single category of sexual immorality—a sex act done that does not have at its primary purpose to create an opportunity for God to fill up the earth through us (i.e, that cannot fulfill the first command in creation). So all of these in one way or another prevent this from occuring. It is not therefore necessary to read into the sacrifice of a child an act of idolatry instead of an act of sexual immorality as with which the context is dealing.
2. Because religion is interwoven into the fabric of life does not mean that these are religious rituals done to offer up some sort of communion or ceremony to a false god. I see no evidence of such in half of the examples given here.
3. I agree that these are things that the Canaanites did, but my argument is that it is not necessarily connected to religious ritual. There is no evidence for it.
4. the texts you referred to all either have to do with temple prostitution to Yahweh and/or (if to foreign gods) are not specifically connected to the issues in this text (The people in Kings are not Canaanites). If all these things had to do with rituals, we might expect the word for cult prostitution in this text.
5. If the text is really talking about sexual immorality (as is the interpretation found in the 2d Temple period), then Jesus did comment about homosexuality in the context of being an unlawful union over which the marriage was not binding (since it was not recognized to begin with).
So, if the real issue is that these practices in Lev 18 are wrong because they are not able to obey the first commandment given by God (i.e., the reason why He made them male and female was to fulfill the command–in Gen 2 the animals cannot fulfill it, so it is not good for man to be alone, which is not talking about loneliness in the context–hence God makes one that is “according to his side”), then it makes more sense to condemn:
sleeping with a woman in her menstrual period because a child cannot be conceived in that situation,
not participating in an incestuous relationship which threatens the chance of a healthy child being born and raised,
not participating in bestiality because a human child cannot come about,
not killing off your offspring in the name of sacrifice,
not comitting adultery, which carries the death penalty for both the woman and whatever is inside of her,
not participating in homosexual acts, which cannot give God an opportunity to use the natural functions He made to produce children.
It further then gives us the reason “why” pedophilia is wrong, masturbation, birth control, abortion are wrong, etc. Although the Evangelical church would have to swallow a jagged pill to admit that practices they are involved in are sexually immoral/distorted.
We need to see Scripture (as Jesus taught us) in spirit and not letter, so as to see that these are mere examples of the underlying evil that connects them all (eg. murder as one of the symptoms of apathy, adultery one of the symptoms of coveting another, homosexuality as one of the symptoms of a wrong view of the purpose of sex in general). This is also the way the Church has always seen these practices (hence I marked on your Bible survey that I believe the Bible interpreted through tradition).
I think the need for modern scholarship to connect these somehow to idolatrous rituals is because we are moving toward a more sexually inclusive culture and the academic interpretations reflect that. Whereas I would not set my foundation on Gen or Judg, I think this passage both in its context and in its interpretive tradition has been clear, but ignored or rejected as to its real implications.
It is our culture which has redefined the sexual act (as you can see in some of the posts where people don’t understand why God would have a problem with homosexuality) to be either PRIMARILY for pleasure (which smells of our hedonism) or PRIMARILY for intimacy (which stems from our psychological grid we rake everything through, including Scripture). Sex may have the added bonus of these two, but it betrays the command of God to ignore the primary purpose of it; and therefore, to take the two over the first is to be in rebellion against God who commanded and made us otherwise.
P.S. I’m not Roman Catholic.



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Bryan Hodge

posted February 6, 2006 at 10:22 pm


To further add, This also explains why polygamy and prostitution are not condemned in the OT in general.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 6, 2006 at 10:23 pm


Bryan,
Thanks for this.
Let me say this first: I’m not happy with “not necessary” arguments. They are not fair to the ambiguity of evidence. Nothing, of course, in historical interpretation is necessary, and such an argument assumes a position and anything that is not necessarily against is given a favorable reading.
You may not be doing this so much as using that language.
There is in this text evidence of clear consciousness to separate from pagans. There is worship in the text (Molech verse). There is evidence in the OT for pagan incursion into Jerusalem of temple prostitution. To synthesize this, I suggest Bryan, is not outside reason — of course it is not necessary, but that is not a fair argument to what we are doing. Such arguments are too easy to reverse against the other view. [Which is exactly what Boswell did in his famous study of homosexuality.]
My contention and view is not heavily rooted in such a view: I think the religious element is present; I think the texts, Gen 19, Judg and Leviticus, transcend the violence and the paganism. But I stand with many who think the religious element is present. I sense on your part that if that is permitted, the whole is given away: I don’t think that.



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Bryan Hodge

posted February 6, 2006 at 10:37 pm


Thanks Scot, I would challenge again on this though:
If there is primarily a religious context to this passage and the elements stated here, where is there evidence of adultery being a pagan ritual practice? Or sleeping with a woman in her menstrual cycle? My point is that if one is to say that these have to do with idolatrous worship, then one must say that they all do. If in fact most of them don’t, then there needs to be an alternative understanding for why the sacrifice to Molech is mentioned (hence, the connection of it being sexually immoral like the rest because it rebels against the 1st Command given in creation). So all of them must be proven (as far as historical reconstructions can be) to have involvement in religious rituals, and I was contending that this cannot be done (half of these things are abominable to the surrounding culture as well).
I, like you, Scot, would never say that this doesn’t have connection to practices in the culture. I just think that synthesizing something said in Deut or Kings and make that the backdrop for Lev 18 might be stretching a bit. I know that you are not throwing everything out however. I just think, after studying, reading and thinking about this for years, that the best explanation of the evidence is the one I gave above. And even though you might not get rid of the whole for the part, others will use the idea that “it’s really all about idolatry, not sexual practices” when in fact I don’t think that is a strong argument for them to fall back on. But I know you still have a lot to write on it, and I don’t want to jump ahead again, so I’ll wait until the end.
This blogging thing is so much more difficult than reading a book. I would just read a book you wrote to the end in one night, but this takes the virtue of patience. Thanks again.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 6, 2006 at 10:42 pm


Bryan,
Back again: I don’t think I’ve said the whole has to do with pagan religion: the whole is set in that context (front and back of Lev 18). Undeniable.
Not each issue has to be connected to pagan religion.
And, there is evidence of temple worship and prostitution and even same-sex. There is nothing compelling; there is something here that to me is possible.



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Curt

posted February 7, 2006 at 12:00 am


Scot,
You say in point 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.”
I would suggest that the explicit nature of the discussion on idol worship in this chapter restricts the behavior mentioned to idolatrous sex acts.
It seems this chapter is talking about Gentiles who, knowing God, exchange the worship of God for Idols. There appear to be three parallel descriptions bracketed by “they exchanged” (v.23,25,26b) and “God gave them over” (v.24, 26a, 28). Followed by a list of sins beginning in v 29. The first two “exchanges” describe explicit idol worship i.e. 1. images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles; 2. worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator. To interpret the third “exchange” describing sex acts as pertaining specifically to pagan ritual as the previous two parallels describe seems to be the most consistent handling of the passage. Especially when a long list of sins proceed in verse 29.
To me, for Paul to be putting this kind of emphasis on male same-sex acts apart from describing Gentiles turning to worship idols seems to make it out of proportion with the long list of sins that follow in v 29 and would seem odd given the relative scareness of the discussion in Jewish scriptures or rabbinic writings.



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Bryan Hodge

posted February 7, 2006 at 1:47 am


Curt the text states that the giving over to these sexual practices was a result of their worshiping false gods, not a means of their worship. It would be difficult to make the argument that the homosexual acts are a part of their worship instead of the result of God’s judgment upon their worship. Also see 2 Pet 2 where the fruit of the false teachers includes warped sexual practices that would not be considered cultic in nature.



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Curt

posted February 7, 2006 at 1:56 am


Scot,
Regarding your comment 19:
“Fair enough, and I am aware of other views here — but I can’t just provide a listing of viewpoints.”
I really appreciate that you cannot provide a listing of viewpoints and I am not meaning to imply that you do not know of these other viewpoints. I am also not necessarily disagreeing with you when I post alternatives.
I am not posting them from a position of certainty. I am a post evangelical who reads scripture as story, not a science book. And because of that, I ask lots of hard questions of scripture and how we interpret scripture because the church has been wrong in the past.
I have been married 35 years to the same wife who is also my best friend. And we share 2 great kids and close authentic relationships among us. And all that has happened because of Jesus in our lives. It would be easy for me to expect that all relationships should be the same.
But when it comes to being proscriptive toward others, I am more concerned of having Jesus accuse me as he did the Pharisees in Luke 11:24
“And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.”
I believe we should be more concerned about how Jesus is going to judge the church for “othering” gay Christians than we are about how he is going to judge any of their homosexual behavior.
I appreciate that you are willing to take on the subject in your blog.



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Don in Phoenix

posted February 7, 2006 at 2:10 am


Bryan,
You’ve got the cart before the horse with respect to the purpose of sex. Sex was the answer to the problem of intimacy and companionship (“It is not good that man should be alone.”) The command to reproduce came after. In my mind, celibacy is a more unnatural state than homosexuality, because it’s the FIRST thing God ever called “not good”.



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Becky

posted February 7, 2006 at 2:24 am


Julie, per post #15. “Core identities.” I am a support person/guide to women who are survivors of childhood sex abuse. Their core identity is fixed at an early age of being a victim, as one part. It is possible to leave a core identity. The core identity is something a child took on and an adult continues to choose to keep. There is a lot of victim mentality in the gay culture – I can’t help it, and such. As always, I’m open to learn more and nuance my view, but I think a person will not change till the inner pain is enough to want something different. I think this is why those who help gays wanting to change, can help, but not to recruit gays to change. I’m not sure we need justification in order for gays to change. When the identity gets in the way of the character we want, we are open to change. Then is an open door to suggest other ways of viewing one’s self. And there is so much more to address in that, than don’t have sex with the same gender. It is not easy, I know, I’ve been in it for 20 yrs. Easier said than done. But I do think those are some of the dynamics. I just don’t go along with the notions of gays have it harder because of x,y,z is what makes them what they are, or makes it harder for them.. No more harder than any of us. We all are broken, we all have our unique struggles.
As usual, this isn’t a summation of all that I believe or think.
And Scot, I know this isn’t what this segment is about, but I saw the blip in Julie’s post and wanted to respond.



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Julie

posted February 7, 2006 at 9:22 am


Curt, thank you for continuing to put forward the views you offer here. This is my position exactly:
I believe we should be more concerned about how Jesus is going to judge the church for “othering” gay Christians than we are about how he is going to judge any of their homosexual behavior.
Homosexuality does seem to be the most easily targeted sin category by the heterosexual church, perhaps because it is the one sin in which they don’t participate, and therefore can feel good condemning.
I am leaving the biblical arguments to others since I don’t have time to make them myself and I would not do it as well as the Curts and Scotts. What I prefer to do in this discussion is be the advocate for difference of experience as a critical piece of theological reflection. The reason the homosexual experience is particularly important is because experience guides and shapes our theology like it or not. If we discount its power, it swamps us later.
Homosexuals cannot be contained in one categorization any more than heterosexuals can. We can’t merely explain them away as a sub-group that fits X features. They must be taken seriously and their self-reporting must be believed (as in, reflecting their true beliefs about themselves, not easily discounted by our doubts that protect our beliefs).
I do not feel that I can so quickly conclude that all gay adults are victims of abuse or trying to assuage a parent wound. That is not what they say of themselves. To ask them to accept my estimation of who they are over their own reporting is profoundly disrespectful. I must deal with my uneasiness with the way their perspective clashes with my tradition’s.
It may be possible to discuss sin and sexuality with someone with whom you disagree after you have taken their perspective seriously. But how long would that be (what would taking it seriously look like?). Can homosexual couples show up at our churches and participate? Or must they clean up and agree with “us” first?
Instead of doing the biblical groundwork, then, I prefer to point out changes in Christian theology that reflect cultural shifts that have already impacted Christian theology – how has our collective perspective as a body (both conservative and liberal) changed with regard to blacks (slavery and race issues) in the church and with regard to the role of women?
Without putting a priority on the deeply felt experiences of these two groups (blacks knowing at a core level that they were human and equal to other humans, that slavery is immoral and categoriccally wrong; women discovering that they had intellectual and spiritual power and were not “weaker vessels,” or somehow confined to the home in their desire to live out the faith), theology would have continued to defend the status quo and could’ve done so artfully and skillfully… and wrongly.
I read in Pelikan’s The Christian Tradition (vol 4) this a.m. a reminder again that a theologian has a propensity to find in Scripture that which supports his particular ideas (in this case in reference to the mass)… We are all guilty of this error. (page 300)
The only corrective that I can see is the uneasy balancing act of Experience, Tradition, Reason and Scripture as we do theology. We must keep all of these together and not demote one to inferior status so quickly that we forget to allow it to have an impact.
So discovering Paul’s intent for his world when he wrote his letters is critical. It is also important to consider what homoseuxuality meant in the ancient world. I liked Bryan’s take on this – that the need to guard conception was critical to the survival of the race as well as the Hebrew nation. I do think that has to be a piece of the discussion.
We must ask today if this imperative is still applicable. If so, why and how?
Well, this has taken three drafts so I’ll hit submit. :)



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Curt

posted February 7, 2006 at 11:05 am


Julie says “The only corrective that I can see is the uneasy balancing act of Experience, Tradition, Reason and Scripture as we do theology. We must keep all of these together and not demote one to inferior status so quickly that we forget to allow it to have an impact.”
I appreciate what you say here. I am a recovering fundamentalist so there is a propensity for me to want to proof text rather than incarnate theology.
We practice a lot of table fellowship in our home and I am thankful to Scot for his wonderful books that have encouraged me to embed the Jesus Creed in my life – to challenge me to be a more authentic follower of Jesus in this way. Some of the people that feel welcome to sit at our table have a same sex orientation. They are at different places in their journeys like all of us. Our desire is that we are able to incarnate God’s love for them.
In trying to incarnate theology in my life, I just happen to think that Romans 14 has more to say about how we should relate to gay Christians than Romans 1.



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Bryan Hodge

posted February 7, 2006 at 12:06 pm


Don, you’re demonstrating my point when you interpret “alone” through a psychological grid that causes you to first see “lonely” (as though God is not enough for the man). The context in Gen 1 is that He made them male and female in order to command them to be fruitful and multiply and fill up the earth (so he made the animals male and female as well). The context of Gen 2 is that the woman is made a female because man cannot procreate on his own (hence, it is not good for him to be a single unit, by himself). The animals cannot provide an appropriate companion, so the woman is then made because she is “according to his side.” The two are to become one flesh, and skipping over the interuption of Chpt 3, 4:1 would have been the next verse to the end of the union (but the Fall gets in the way). This text has 0 to do with psychological intimacy (that is a modern eisegetical read of the text with which the Israelite author and readers would have little concern when discussing the primary reasons the human was made male and female). So I think it is you who might have the cart before the horse (according to the context).
There’s so much talk about the evangelical church reading modernity back into the text, but I’m wondering actually if the biggest problem in the church is that it can no longer read the Bible without superimposing a psychological reading upon texts (I hear this done in sermons, by professors, by most layman). I think this is the biggest problem with our hermeneutics rather than the a belief in knowing absolutely or other ideas that are often critiqued by the pomo church.



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Bryan Hodge

posted February 7, 2006 at 12:14 pm


Curt, Rom 14 has to do with “things” that have no theological or moral qualities within themselves. They are the use of “things” as preference. This says nothing about morality except how we treat others that have a preference for the use of “things.”
If you are worried about being judged by Christ in the way He judged the Pharisees, I would take into account not only the verse you quoted, but also this one:
Matt 5
“17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others [to do] the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches [them], he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses [that] of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Mark 7
6 And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: `This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. 7 `But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ 8 “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition[cultural ideas/teachings] of men.” 9 He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition [cultural ideas]. 10 “For Moses said, `Honor your father and your mother'; and, `He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death'; 11 but you say, `If a man says to [his] father or [his] mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given [to God]),’ 12 you no longer permit him to do anything for [his] father or [his] mother; 13 [thus] invalidating the word of God by your tradition [cultural ideas/teachings] which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”



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Julie

posted February 7, 2006 at 12:24 pm


Bryan, great points about reading psychology back into the text when that wouldn’t have been there originally.
What are we to do with our understanding of psychology today? Does it need to be ignored, involved, used as a tool for reinterpretation of ideas that come from before a time that understood psychology? Can we help but use a psychological perspective when we do theology?
Example: our understanding of the universe as advanced by science changed our concepts of heaven. We went from the world of the ancients where heaven was literally and physically over head about 3 miles above the earth to believing it is an invisible dimension, not fixed in a place in the universe.
Is that shift in understanding justified? Can we do that to the text?
I also read the Matt verses above that you posted, and it is interesting how we can always read those from our own perspective (seeing someone else as missing the commandments of God and not ourselves). I felt that internal corrective as I read them today. Thanks for the reminder.



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Bryan Hodge

posted February 7, 2006 at 12:48 pm


Hi Julie, those are great questions. I often think of the same. I think for me, as I read the Bible in its context, I want to make the distinction between what it is teaching and what it is culturally utilizing in order to teach something that is not merely cultural. In the example you gave, “heaven” or “sky” in the Scripture seems to simply be an analogy used for that which is not physical (often represented by “earth” or “world”). So it is used for the spiritual realm, not a physical place (and this can be seen by a close study of the texts with or without science). But I think when science comes along, it can make us look at Scripture to see if the Scripture is teaching science and therefore in conflict, or is teaching theology/ethics communicated with the particular “science/mythopoeic language” of the day. I really think the latter. I would however shy away from changing the theological and ethical teachings of Scripture (which are metaphysical) because of something that modern science (which deals with natural things) now has proven. I don’t think these intersect. So that’s how I personally see it. For me the church seems to err the most when it tries to interpret the Bible as a science book instead of a theological and ethical one.
As for psychology, we need to be careful in associating everything that we put under that name as “science.” The scientific aspect of psychology is in its observation of behavioral patterns and partially in some solutions to those patterns. A lot of the rest of it has more to do with philosophic naturalism and the secular humanism that flows from our modern worldview. It’s when something like this that rears its head that we have to make a decision on where our ultimate authority lies. So, for me, I would not nullify the teaching of Scripture with any modern cultural idea (since science cannot contradict something metaphysical, the only ideas conflicting with a theological or ethical teaching of the Bible would be another metaphysical idea within the culture–stemming from an alternative “religious” idea in that culture).
So ultimately I don’t think we are changing the text, but being forced to look at the text for what it is really teaching.
And yes, I only quoted these verses to Curt because they scare me along with the one he quoted.



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Curt

posted February 7, 2006 at 2:41 pm


Brian Says 33.”Curt, Rom 14 has to do with “things” that have no theological or moral qualities within themselves.”
As I read your quote I envisioned putting you in the middle of a room of Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome at the time this letter was written as you tell them that what they were disputing were just “things” with no theological or moral qualities.
I think it would be a very spirited discussion.
Blessings



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Curt

posted February 7, 2006 at 2:44 pm


Bryan, I just see I mis spelled your name on post 36. Apologies,
Curt



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Bryan Hodge

posted February 7, 2006 at 2:54 pm


Curt, I imagine this letter going to them from Paul, which is what his whole point is in Rom 14. He’s trying to get them to understand that days, meats and wine are just created things. If one wants to attribute something moral or theological to them, that must be an add on. But they are neither good nor evil within themselves. So you don’t need to put me in the middle, just imagine what happened when this letter from Paul went there.



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Curt

posted February 7, 2006 at 4:12 pm


Bryan,
Thank you for the exhortations from Matt 5 and Mark 7. I am thankful for the reminder that Jesus came to fulfill the law, otherwise we would have to be exceeding the rightousness of the scribes and pharisees and I am afraid I couldn’t pass that test.
1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. Rom 8:1,2



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Greg Mc

posted February 7, 2006 at 7:27 pm


Scot;
“For Paul, then, there is a procreative capacity in sexual relations that is necessary for sexual activity to be within God’s intent.”
1Cor 7:1-9 seems to deal with sexual relations inside of marriage, but apart from the procreative context. Are you saying that for Paul, the “only” legitimate expression of sexuality between married people is within a procreative context?
PS; I hope your response to this is not as condescending as your last one was.



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Roger

posted February 8, 2006 at 3:23 am


Scot & Everyone;
Thank you for an Excellent Subject equally well stated follow on comments. I have all my life not been happy with how mainstream Christianity Faiths treat this subject. Christ is meant for everyone, not just the “straights.” I’ve always believed misintrepretions have ocurred due to the Human element involve with writing & arranging the bible presented to us.



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Bryan Hodge

posted February 8, 2006 at 11:01 pm


Actually, Greg Mc, I think what everyone misses about 1 Cor 7 is that Paul says “because of SEXUAL IMMORALITY each man is to have his own wife.” If sexual immorality is a sexual act which does not provide an opportunity for procreation, that is significant for what he is saying. That is usually missed and gives the context for the passage.



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Greg Mc

posted February 9, 2006 at 12:07 pm


Bryan You say “If sexual immorality is a sexual act which does not provide an opportunity for procreation” but I think that is foreign to the context of the passage which seems to address temptation and self control, not reproduction.



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Bryan Hodge

posted February 9, 2006 at 1:40 pm


Greg, I would argue that the temptation is in regard to sexual immorality (having one’s desire fulfilled in a way that would not fulfill the divine mandate that is always assumed in the Biblical context). So the temptation is to have the sexual desire fulfilled in a way that is not pleasing to God. What way is that in this context: “sexual immorality.” So the question is what is sexual immorality in the Bible? And that has been answered to mean what I put forth above.
The “burning” refers to this. My point is that the procreative concept is contained within the idea of sexual immorality, so it is in the context. 1 Cor 7 isn’t teaching what sexual immorality is. It only mentions that each man and woman should have their own wife or husband because of the possibility of it. Therefore, this passage cannot be used, as it often is, to describe the sex act in marriage as nothing more than a hedonistic pleasure. Paul is teaching that if one is going to have such passion and seek such pleasure, that they are to have it in the marriage relationship where God can bring about His will if He chooses, and the individual is therefore not guilty of sexual immorality (the “burning” may have to do with masturbation, but that might be speculative). So the word assumes it as well as the larger teaching of the subject gained from the OT, use in the NT, the 2d Temple Jewish literature, the Fathers on up through all sections of the Church to the 20th Cent. It is we, absent of what “sexual immorality/distortion” is that have read this passage assuming OUR presupps of hedonism or intimate views of the sex act. So it really goes to whose assumptions of the passage we should interpret it with.
Also remember that I’m not saying that the sexual act is ONLY for reproduction, but that it is PRIMARILY for reproduction via giving God the opportunity to create and bring up children through us, so any sex act that does not allow this is a sexually immoral act.



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Bryan Hodge

posted February 9, 2006 at 1:44 pm


One more thing, Greg, I just wanted to mention that if one argues that a sexual act can be performed for the sole purpose of either self-gratification or psychological intimacy, then there is no argument against homosexuality because it can accomplish both of these.



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