Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

GLBT Persons in Church: The Case for Full Inclusion,6

I have much neglected this series of posts in setting up the Christian Peace Bloggers blog-ring and with many events, but I haven’t forgotten it. For the previous posts in this series, see one, two, three, four, five, and this one. We come, at last, to the New Testament.  We shall have to spend much time (I anticipate 2 posts) on Romans 1, but first, we need to deal with 2 other brief verses in the Pauline epistles that are often cited on this subject.  As we will see, the verses are quite brief, and there are major issues of translation and interpretation.  Because of this, I will first quote the relevant passages while leaving the key terms untranslated.

1 Cor. 6: 9-11:  “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Reign of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor μαλακοι, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers, will inherit the Reign of God. And such were some of you, 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.”

1 Tim. 1:8-11: “Now we know that the Law is good, if anyone uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the Law is not laid down for the righteous, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers, ande murderers of mothers, for manslayers, sexually immoral folk, άρσενοκοίταις, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”

Both these unusual terms have been translated in some modern translations by the term “homosexuals,” or, in older translations, as “sodomites,” but, as I mentioned earlier in this series, the term “homosexual” (and its equivalent in other languages) did not exist until the late 19th C. when it was coined to refer, as we now do, to persons whose sexual orientation/attraction is toward their own sex and not the opposite sex.  And, as also mentioned, we do not find anywhere in the Hebrew Bible or Greek New Testament, any nouns built off of the place name “Sodom.” The terms “sodomy” and “sodomites” to refer to a range of sexuals behaviors considered illicit, especially between persons of the same sex, dates to the Middle Ages, as we have seen.

These verses include standard “vice lists” which were common in pagan Greek literature, especially from the philosophers, to list disapproved behaviors. Skipping over all the other interesting features about the use of these vice lists in the NT, let us work with our strange terms left untranslated.  Μαλακοι (“malakoi”) literally means “soft ones.” Some translations have rendered it “effeminate males,” but since what counts as “effeminate” appearance or behavior varies from culture to culture, we have to probe further into the likely background. Robin Scroggs, William Countryman, Victor Paul Furnish, George Edwards, and many other NT scholars think that there are two common Greek practices that Paul is condemning in the 1 Cor. passage. First, was the widespread (but often condemned even by Greek philosophers like Plato) practice in the Greco-Roman world of rich men taking young male protoges and mentoring them–but with part of that mentoring including using them sexually.  In this VERY patriarchal society, men married to have offspring, but women were not considered intellectually or spiritually equal to men, and so it was improper to attempt having any “soulmate” kind of mutual love between the sexes, even between spouses.  One turned, instead, to other males. In Plato’s ideal, this male-to-male love was non-sexual (from where we get the term “platonic love” or “platonic relationships”), but Plato himself acknowledged that this ideal was often not met–both in terms of equality and in terms of the love being non-sexual. Instead, these rich elite males would take young boys who were barely pubescent and forcibly make them the passive partners in sex. They made them “soft” or “effeminate” by forcing them to shave body hair, etc., to minimize their masculine appearance.  It is possible that this is the practice that Paul is condemning in 1 Cor. (and it is certainly one part of what is in view in Rom. as we will see in a future post), but the problem is that if μαλακοι refers primarily to these “effeminized males” then Paul would seem to be blaming the victims in saying that they will not enter the Reign of God.

Another possibility, which I think more likely in 1 Cor. 6, is that the “soft ones” are male prostitutes which we know existed in the 1st C. Greco-Roman world. Especially common were male temple prostitutes and we have evidence that there were some at the temple in Corinth. If this is the reference for μαλακοι, then Paul is condemning male prostitution, especially temple prostitution, which, we have seen earlier in this series, was a major factor behind the condemnation of male on male sex acts in Leviticus.

The term used in 1 Timothy is άρσενοκοίταις (“arsenokoitais”) which appears only here.  It appears to have been a word that the Pauline disciple who wrote 1 Timothy (or Paul, himself, if Paul is the author) made up to describe a practice that he found repugnant but had no ready word for. It combines the terms for “male” and “bed.” The reference is clearly sexual, coming directly in the vice list after πόρνοις (“pornois”), “sexually immoral ones.” Robin Scroggs, again, argues that this probably refers to those men who used the male prostitutes’ services and/or to those male child abusers who effeminized and forced themselves on their young protoges.

If this is accurate, then these two verses are condemning not just ANY FORM of male-to-male sex, but a very exploitive (and even idolatrous in the case of temple prostitution) form. The contemporary equivalent would not be gay couples in longterm relationships trying to get permission to be married, but the horrible “Man-Boy Love Association” which is condemned even by most gay activists and which argues that it should be legally and morally okay for middle aged or older men to have sex with teen and pre-teen boys! I condemn the Man-Boy Love Association and would do so even without specific guidance from these Pauline verses because such relationships are clearly harmful and exploitive.  As we have seen throughout this series, exploitive sex is alway, ALWAYS wrong. (This is why I am glad that Kentucky has become one of the first U.S. states to make marital rape illegal, even though the very CONCEPT of marital rape was unknown until the recent past. For most of history and most cultures throughout history, men were considered to own their wives and wives had no right to ever say “no” to husbands when the latter wanted sex.)

Would Paul (and the Pauline author of 1 Timothy) also have condemned non-exploitive same-sex relationships?  Those, like myself, who argue for revising traditional church teaching and welcoming and affirming gay & lesbian Christians in our churches argue that we do not know the answer to this because Paul does not address the questions being asked today. He had no knowledge of non-exploitive same-sex relationships analogous to heterosexual marriage.  Traditionalists argue that Paul also condemned even loving same-sex acts and relationships among equals.  But traditionalists do not have much to work with in these two brief references. They rest almost their entire case on Romans 1: 24-27.  It is to that passage that we shall turn in the next installment in this series.  Stay tuned.

March 23, 2007 - Posted by | Biblical exegesis, GLBT issues, homosexuality, New Testament


  1. I have yet to read your other posts on this issue, but I like this one. You are certainly correct in pointing out that Paul had no framework for “non-exploitative same-sex relationships,” which raises obvious difficulties in using these verses as a standard for a theological stance on the issue.

    On a linguistic note, I do have one caution about your use of Greek words. It is important not to read too much into the etymology of these words, as etymology does not dictate meaning. This is really just a word of advice when using Greek words. I don’t think you’ve fallen prey to “etymologizing” here, but it is something to be aware of, especially in discussions about the “meaning” of words. Words only gain meaning within context. Μαλακοι does not literally mean “soft ones” just because it is a conjoining of these words, just as άρσενοκοίταις does not literally mean “male bed.” Once again, I’m NOT saying you are saying this, I’m just pointing out that though a word’s meaning can be related to its etymology, the relationship between the form of a word and its meaning is an arbitrary one. Hence the etymology of a word may help to determine its meaning, but only if it can be demonstrated that the writer was aware of that etymology.

    Thanks for your careful and honest consideration of this important issue. I’m off to read the other posts now!

    Comment by R.O. Flyer | March 23, 2007

  2. You also have the problem of Mark 10:1-12. Jesus explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman and attributes this to God’s will at creation.

    We should note that Plato is removed from Paul by four centuries. The church fathers, however, are much closer to Paul in time and culture. Much of the traditional understanding of scripture is in the light of what they said and this is not nearly so ambiguous. Of course, the reason that the terms are ambiguous is that homosexuality has always been unspeakable among polite people, thus, we have terms like ‘gay’.

    The next issue, of course, is that the normal state of affairs with homosexuality is represented by Tom Foley, but since this is primarily a marketing exercise, this will not be mentioned. In other words, nothing of the Bible’s condemnation of sexual immorality will stand after people accept your arguments.

    Comment by Looney | March 23, 2007

  3. “In other words, nothing of the Bible’s condemnation of sexual immorality will stand after people accept your arguments.”

    Why? Why can one not condemn abusive acts and not loving ones?

    Comment by Dan Trabue | March 24, 2007

  4. Wow! This is a sensitive and well-argued essay, Michael. Like R.O. Flyer, I’m off to read the earlier installments. I’m going to urge readers of SubversiveChristianity to do likewise. Well done and well done!

    Comment by Kerry | March 24, 2007

  5. R.O., etymologizing is a problem. I would define these terms by their use in secular Greek at or near the time of the NT, except there is no such usage. These are “hapax logoumenae,” i.e., they are found only here. They appear to have been made up by the authors from their component terms, authors whose native language was probably Aramaic rather than Greek. Thus, the etymology and the context are our only clues to their meaning in this case.

    But it is not my normal approach to translation.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 24, 2007

  6. “Why? Why can one not condemn abusive acts and not loving ones?”

    I believe that the methodology permits anything to be rationalized. My precise, exact sin wasn’t clearly and unambiguously condemned, therefore it is OK. The other item is that you probably have an erroneous understanding of Biblical love. As everyone knows, Tom Foley love is the norm with gays, although HIV and other STDs gives people encouragement to be a little less promiscuous. Monogamy due to fear of STDs is nice, but it isn’t really indicative of love.

    But it does bring up a good point: The GBLT groups are not only dragging marriage down to societies lowest standards, but it is doing the same for love.

    Comment by Looney | March 24, 2007

  7. “Why? Why can one not condemn abusive acts and not loving ones?”

    Dan, this also reminded me of my work in Japan when my married colleagues took me to a bar after work where young ladies accompany men. It wasn’t a prostitution service, more like a dating service. One of the young ladies looked at me and said something about the important thing is love. I was disgusted and insisted on never being taken to such a place again. Shortly afterwards, I was reading a newspaper in Taiwan where another prostitute was asking almost the exact same question that you are asking. Why should love be forbidden? The real question is who owns love and marriage. Is it from God? Or is it the most licentious subculture?

    Comment by Looney | March 24, 2007

  8. Looney, to this point, all I am doing is reading texts carefully. For anyone for whom Scripture is really their authority (not something they just bash people over the heads with), this HAS to be the beginning point in Christian ethics–beginning, not end. So, you might want to hold off before you conclude that my method permits everything not explicitly forbidden. I don’t think that’s the case, but I will not be rushed into giving conclusions, first. That’s how mistakes are made.

    Second, as you have previously admitted, you live near a place in San Francisco where you see much gay promiscuity. THAT is what is convincing you that this is the norm and that any form of monogamy is only a fear of STDs. Not the Scripture, but your experience, is what is dominant here. You have admitted that you do not share the experience Dan and I have of knowing Christian gay couples. So, basically, you don’t know what you are talking about.

    Suppose I were one of those people born with a very small amount of sexual appetite–a tiny libido, as it were. And suppose further that I am a lifelong celibate. Now, suppose I live on “the strip” in Las Vegas. Would I not draw the conclusion that most heterosexuals, especially heterosexual men, were incurably promiscuous and that any so-called marriages were not indicative of love, but either fear of STDs or drunken lust? After all, the “marriages” I would mostly see there in Las Vegas would be at Elvis wedding chapels, etc. and entered into at a whim and often broken before the “honeymoon” was over. Now, suppose my only exposure to heterosexuality was that someone once showed me a hardcore porn tape and it (rightly) sickened me. When I wandered into one of the Vegas strip shows, I quickly wandered out. Wouldn’t this combine to make me very skeptical about heterosexual love? Wouldn’t all those “liberal” Christians who swore they knew loving married couples of 20 years or more with good kids and stable homes strike me as a myth?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 24, 2007

  9. Great post Michael! I agree that the NT authors would have no idea that a healthy gay monogamous relationship could be possible. There only exposure to same sex relationships would have been as extra-marrital and involve children or prostitutes.

    It seem to be hypocritical that pro-marriage people are anti-gay marriage. It also seems that creating barriers to gay people living open lives makes it more difficult for them to develop committed relationships and increases the likelyhood of unhealthy relationships.

    Comment by Progression Christian Blogger | March 24, 2007

  10. I want to take this moment to express my appreciation for Looney. He disagrees strongly, but he continues to read my posts on this subject and interact. Several other critics, including one preacher and one NT scholar who, on other topics, is far more “liberal” than I will ever be, rant and rave elsewhere about my revisionism on GLBT issues, BUT REFUSE TO ENGAGE MY POSTS on the topic. Looney doesn’t take that route. For all of our disagreements, he, at least, takes the time to read what I actually write and to engage with it. In my view, that puts Looney ahead of some of my other critics in integrity.

    Now, after the admiration, I have to ask Looney a critical question: These Church Fathers you want me to consult in interpreting the NT on same-sex issues–are they the same church fathers who, before 250 A.D., were UNANIMOUS in interpreting Jesus as pacifist and in claiming that Christians should be pacifist–a position you reject? Just curious.
    I admit that I haven’t read the Ante-Nicene Fathers on this issue. I’ll work on that. Do you have particular passages you’d care to share? (There is no topical index for the library volumes of The Ante-Nicence Fathers.)
    I cite Plato because he is quoted on this subject so often by writers who were closer in time to Paul. The kind of relationships that Paul is condemning were both widely practiced and widely condemned in the Greco-Roman world.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 24, 2007

  11. “As everyone knows, Tom Foley love is the norm with gays”

    Michael addressed this already, but, No. Not everyone knows that “Foley love” (and I’m assuming you’re talking about promiscuity) is the norm with gays. I know of no promiscuous gays amongst my gay friends. Of course, all my gay friends are faithful church-goers, so that might not be a fair sample.

    And what would make you suspect I have a poor understanding of biblical love? God’s love. Perfect love that wants the best for us and doesn’t want to see us engage in painful, sinful behavior. Is that the sort of love you’re talking about?

    If so, I probably do have a poor understanding. It’s difficult to understand that sort of perfect, undying love. But that’s probably true for us all, right?

    Comment by Dan Trabue | March 24, 2007

  12. Nice post, Michael.

    It seems to me that one can exegete the scriptures here just as you have and yet still consider homosexuality unacceptable. That feels like an important observation to make, particularly in a discussion that can quickly become polarised.

    Comment by graham | March 24, 2007

  13. Hi, Graham. I agree. Exegesis is only step one in any moral argument from Scripture. But, for me, it is step one–and a step that far too many omit.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 24, 2007

  14. Michael, I will try to gather up my material and post them. Unfortunately, I will be on a business trip for the next two weeks.

    Another item relevant to this discussion is how other early Christian translators handled the word “malakoi”. For example, the Latin Vulgate uses the expression “masculorum concubitores” for “malakoi” (if I have lined things up correctly). This looks to translate as using another male like a concubine, but I do not even claim dilettante skills in Latin.

    Regarding pacifism, I am all in favor of it, except that I prefer a quiet pacifism like the Amish rather than a noisy fist shaking pacifism.

    Comment by Looney | March 24, 2007

  15. I don’t know Latin at all. I’ll look it up. But if the Vulgate (which is much later than the NT–after paganism was already being replaced throughout the Roman empire) translates malakoi as “male concubines” then that would reinforce the interpretation that Paul is condemning exploitive male/male sex and not male/male sex as such.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 24, 2007

  16. There is a big problem if we try to separate out “consensual” vs. “non-consensual” in scripture per our modern outlook. Today we consider all non-consensual sex to be exploitive, yet much of the world has arranged marriages and these are generally more stable than the consensual ones. The Levite and his concubine story of Judges merely implies an unmarried couple. In other words, exploitive vs. non-exploitive gay sex distinctions may just be a modern artifice.

    My one history book, Christ and Ceasar by Durant, indicates that by the early 3rd century, Christianity had drastically changed the sexual habits of the Roman Empire with homosexuality largely disappearing. Given that I don’t entirely trust Durant, I would consider this a starting point for more searching. We also need to consider what the Christians did in practice while parsing words.

    Comment by Looney | March 25, 2007

  17. The fact that consent is a contemporary norm doesn’t make it illegitimate–unless you are agreeing to arranged marriages, marital rape, the whole 9 yards.

    Even if Durant is right, it would only mean tht same-sex pairings had gone “under cover” and/or that the forms of same-sex activity condemned (e.g. temple prostitution, “mentoring” young men), which were the forms widely known, were suppressed–and rightly so.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 25, 2007

  18. Being you were suggested by Dan Trabue, I decided to have a look.

    One major oversight that I’ve seen here, as in similar pieces trying to legitimize homosexual behavior through Biblical interpretation, is the notion that Paul, or whatever author being reviewed, didn’t have any concept of this or that, in this case, committed homosexual relationships. This presupposes that these authors had no insight into human nature that could have been given by the Holy Spirit. In other words, if one views the Bible as the inspired Word of God, then God’s inspiration would take into account the vast and varied nature of human sexuality. Thus, trying to see how this verse or that verse might not really be a condemnation for the behavior in general is an exercise in futility. “What it means is, you can’t do it unless it’s on a Tuesday before lunch.” I believe God, and those He chose to pen His Word, had a little more on the ball when creating this Good Book. Now if there were no words like “homosexual” to denote the person or the practice, that doesn’t meant they didn’t have words that were understood in the same way. What did the words you’re dissecting mean to THEM? I think more objective scholars work on that level.

    Comment by Marshall Art | March 25, 2007

  19. Well, Marshall, we clearly have a different view of biblical inspiration. Your view would have us believe that the biblical writers knew the world was round, but for some reason described a 3-layer flat world anyway, etc. Your view assumes that God merely used the biblical writers as pens and that the Bible is one book with one Author.

    Rather, the Bible was written in layers, over about a thousand years time, beginning about 3,000 years ago. It has numerous authors, perspectives, cultures, different points of view, different genres of literature, etc. Most of the writers are anonymous. God’s Word comes to us in and through these very human writings–not dropped from the sky on golden plates.

    Further, I do not think that biblical injunctions on anything are a matter of “you cannot do them on Tuesday before lunch.” But we must take care seeing just what is and is not forbidden–and why. Or do you refuse to wear polyester blends in your clothes, refuse to eat shellfish, but happily contemplate selling your daughter into slavery to pay off some old debts?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 25, 2007

  20. Michael this series is really nice – and it has generated some great conversation. So much I barely have any room to add more.

    Have you engaged with Robert Gagnon’s work at all? His arguments from scripture strike me as the most forceful among those advocating an “anti-homosex” (his terminology) position. In fact, some of his arguments, particularly his work on defining the terms malakoi and arsenokoitais, is difficult to get around.

    The reason I bring it up is because I think the argument for full inclusion will have to cede some of the biblical ground and proceed on the moral ground instead. Just as relatively broad support for slavery can be found in scripture we may need to just make a choice to say that we reject a reading of scripture that condemns homosexuality whether or not it is well attested.

    Comment by Aric Clark | March 25, 2007

  21. “Your view would have us believe that the biblical writers knew the world was round, but for some reason described a 3-layer flat world anyway, etc.”

    Just a reminder: The flat earth theory was invented by Washington Irving.

    Comment by Looney | March 25, 2007

  22. Aric, I have thought the work of Robert Gagnon to be overblown. He is incredibly impressed with himself, but his work was ably answered by many even before he trotted out old answers in new packages. I do think you have a point about the key being hermeneutical and theological rather than exegetical. But that will become clear soon as I engage some of the strongest arguments on the “other side” given by the likes of Richard B. Hays.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 25, 2007

  23. Michael, you’re doing a great job. Yes, Richard B. Hays has to be dealt with, but I don’t find him all that convincing. I like Walter Wink’s “the Bible gives no consistent ‘sex-ethic'” conclusion, but unfortunately it does not totally resolve the issue.

    Comment by R.O. Flyer | March 25, 2007

  24. Well, well indeed, Michael.

    First, I don’t recall any verse describing the earth in those terms. Please provide the tract so that I may study it. Secondly, I believe I referred to “Paul, or what ever author is being reviewed”. Thus, I’m well aware there are different writers. I’m also aware that there is one God, and the idea that He would allow for different perspectives on what God has decided is right and wrong makes no sense. Is that what YOU’RE implying? Seems to be by your response.
    If God’s Word comes to us through these writers, what makes you think they’d come through in such a cryptic manner that only the superior men and women of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries could decipher them? Sounds pretty arrogant to me.

    I’m also a little insulted that with all your high-falutin’ talk, you’re reduced to throwing Mosaic law at me, as if it applies to me at all. I’m sure you must be well aware that there is a big difference between laws regarding human behavior, that is, what God finds objectionable and found objectionable in the peoples surrounding the Hebrews, and the ritual laws and restrictions imposed upon the Hebrews to set them apart from those other peoples. My belief in Christ as my Savior has relieved me of having to adhere to such laws and restrictions, as well as the blood payments for my sins.

    So that still leaves us with the question of whether God has any understanding of committed homosexual relationships, and if He imparted that understanding unto those who wrote the many books of the Bible in His Name. I think it’s a stretch to assume that He was only working on the level of ancient people and hoping we’d pick up on the distinctions in 2007. Not at all likely, but I give you kudos for the work you put in to flesh out this wishful thinking. I believe that God is well aware that there is no evolution in human nature since He first laid down the law till now. We are the same as the ancient Hebrews, we just have better toys. We are prone to the same temptations, the same ambitions, the same lusts. He accounted for our modern “understanding” and you can bet on that.

    “He is incredibly impressed with himself..” There seems to be a lot of that going around.

    Comment by Marshall Art | March 25, 2007

  25. BTW, a low libido doesn’t mean one is turned off or disgusted by sex, only that they have no desire for it. Glad to help.

    Comment by Marshall Art | March 26, 2007

  26. Marshall Art,

    There is apparent and deep divergence between your point of view and Michael’s. You have clearly misunderstood him by your post and perhaps he has also misunderstood you. Therefore, we should be careful to be respectful with our tone so that this can remain a conversation instead of shout-fest.

    With that disclaimer out of the way, allow me to address your latest comment.

    It is pretty clear from any reading of scripture or observation of society or study of history that God does in fact allow for divergent opinions about what is right and wrong. This might not make sense to you, but it is simply the case that devoted and righteous Christians, equally committed to an accurate interpretation of scripture have come away with diametrically opposed ideas of right and wrong. Consider slavery, or war, or divorce for an easy selection of issues which the church has had a myriad positions on throughout the centuries.

    As for the arrogance of “new” interpretations. It isn’t that we suddenly have wisdom which people of previous centuries didn’t, but that we cannot be lazy and refuse to do the work of interpreting scripture for ourselves. As much damage can be done by an ill-considered holdover from a previous era as a hasty change. If our faith and our reading of scripture isn’t open to growth as our culture and our knowledge changes then it is useless and if you don’t believe that there is real and meaningful change overtime (both technologically and paradigmatically) then I fear you underestimate the degree to which we are all conditioned by our culture.

    As Michael pointed out in his comment above, you clearly have a very different view of inspiration. One, which seems rather naively to imagine that God was standing over the shoulder of the various authors, editors and redactors of scripture and whispering in their ear precisely what to write on the page. This is not the way most theologians and exegetes think of it at all.

    Referring to someone’s vocabulary as “high-falutin'” is just another way of attempting to claim superiority. Denigrating intellectuals won’t get you far in this crowd.

    As far as Mosaic law – Peter, James, the Jerusalem Church and the Gospel of Matthew all definitely assume that the Law is still in effect…even the purity codes. Your brand of violent atonement as expiation from sins and freedom from the law is not a universal norm in the church. Indeed it has critical flaws which I hope you’ll be willing to see. Go here for more on this:


    Finally, just let me assure you that you’ve targeted the wrong person with your repeated jibes about arrogance. There are many in the blogosphere, perhaps even myself, that deserve the adjective, but Michael is not one of them. Attacking him personally in that fashion only serves to discredit your viewpoint.

    Comment by Aric Clark | March 26, 2007

  27. Marshall, I realize that a low libido would not automatically entail disgust with sex. That’s why I added the other parts of my scenario in trying to explain to Looney how his experience has shaped his perspective on these texts as much as my experience has shaped mine. None of us approach texts “objectively,” although we can and should try to find and correct for our biases.

    Aric, I appreciate the compliment, but I am afraid that I can be arrogant at times and probably have been in the blogosphere–even on this blog and on this topic. When I catch myself at it, I repent, but I’m not so self-deluded as to think that I haven’t been arrogant from time to time. Anyone who is an author, who has the audacity to think others ought to pay money to read what s/he writes, has some arrogance! 🙂

    Also, Aric, although I reject penal substitutionary atonement, too, (I hold something similar to what Mennonite theologian J. Denny Weaver has called a “narrative Christus Victor” approach to the cross), I am not certain that atonement theories are germane to the discussion of sexual ethics, particularly sexual ethics for GLBT folks. I try to stick to one topic per thread.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 26, 2007

  28. I offered the atonement point to prevent the oft used tactic of suggesting I’d prefer stoning for various offenses. Such methods of atonement, as well as rituals and dietary restrictions mandated for the Jews, are not required of Christians, beyond belief in the Ressurrection. Or do you insist that I AM to refuse “unclean” foods?

    And speaking of tone, I must take issue with the condescending tone that suggests I might believe that God “whispers into the ears” of the Biblical writers. Need inspiration be so tangible? I think not. But to say that Christianity has struggled with notions of right and wrong is one thing. To say that God has is quite another. My point is that the Bible as a whole is quite consistent in illustrating for us God’s Will regarding humman behavior. The confusion and debate is largely self-inflicted as segments of the population have sought to interpret based on personal desire, picking apart ancient languages looking for permission and justification for the continuation of behavior long known to be forbidden. Such “Easter-egg hunts” imply that somehow God, his prophets and his apostles, were somehow lacking in knowledge of human behavior that He might somehow fail to address that which might come up in future generations. This is the arrogance of which I spoke. And despite the fascination that I, too, have for such exercises, I believe that, all in all, Scripture was written for the benefit of the common man as well as the scholar. It’s laws and mandates are, or were, easily understood by all who take the time to read them, flowery language notwithstanding. The debate regarding homosexual relationships is clearly a manufactured one, and not the result of misunderstanding of clear Biblical teaching.

    I also want to add, just to get it out of the way should anyone have any such ideas, that I in no way support the “bashing” of gays. I don’t hold with anyone who would visit harm upon anyone simply for a difference of opinion. I don’t believe holding them to account for bad behavior is bashing. Though I did, I’m going to assume I didn’t need to say this.

    Comment by Marshall Art | March 26, 2007

  29. The Bible is not God’s book. God didn’t write it. It isn’t a rulebook for life. We don’t have clear, timeless guidance from God on how to live our lives. It is a disparate collection of ancient texts, leaving many equally ancient texts out, written for various political and religious motivations to serve a variety of purposes. Most of what it contains is not rules or commandments, but narrative, from which it would be bizarre to extract rules as though the stories were merely morality tales. The Bible as a whole is not very consistent or clear about almost anything. That is because the books were written at such vastly different times by such vastly different people that there really is very little agreement between them. It does form an organic whole, yes, but only because over centuries the church has reinterpreted most of the documents to try and build a meta-narrative that isn’t in the text itself. That, and the textual tradition the documents come from means that there is a great deal of intertextuality going on between the books, but what meant “red” in one document in another means “orange” and in still others means “yellow”. Even the themes that seem to carry through change in meaning over time.

    A few examples of the myriad ways that the Bible is inconsistent on human behavior:

    Is slavery condoned or not?
    Is divorce condoned or not?
    Is sacrifice absolutely required or completely irrelevant?
    Is loaning money at interest approved or not?
    Is violent warfare advocated or completely rejected?

    Reasonably coherent positions for either side in any of these debates can claim pretty clear scriptural support. To make any headway we have to begin deciding which scriptures take priorities over others. It is not clear or simple or straightforward at all.

    You say “segments of the population have sought to interpret based on personal desire.” But who is it that is really interpreting based on personal desire – those who look to scripture to find a justification for their bigotry, or those who see in scripture an overturning of previous invalid category distinctions like righteous/sinner, gentile/jew, man/woman, free/slave etc…

    The honest answer to the above question is that we all see in scripture a mirror of our own presuppositions. The best of us, at times, manage to be open enough to have our opinions changed by scripture a small amount. Most of us never manage to get above reading ourselves on the page though. So rather than claim “I have the authoritative interpretation” we should be humble enough to say that there are a variety of interpretations and we can distinguish the good from the bad only carefully and with lots of consideration.

    Comment by Aric Clark | March 26, 2007

  30. In the second post in this series, I map out my overall approach to Scripture. Go up to the beginning of the post and click to that. Marshall seems to have skipped reading the earlier posts. This is ALWAYS a mistake. Although I have made adjustments and added posts based on feedback in these comments, I planned the overall shape of this series from the beginning. I meant the posts to be read in a particular order. Skipping that order leads to comments and questions answered earlier.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 26, 2007

  31. Michael,

    You completely butchered your treatment of arsenokoitais. The term is important because it employs the two words found side by side in Leviticus 20 in the Septuagint (which Paul used exclusively in his writings) – arsen (men) and koitos (lay down with). As was common in Greek, when there was no term to clearly describe an action, the author would combine two other terms or use suffixes and prefixes to alter the word in such a way as it becomes clear to his readers the intention. Clearly, this is what Paul was doing. We find the term used no where else before Paul introduces it here. And it was used later by Christians to describe homosexuality. It did evolve even later to mean immoral activity, but clearly Paul’s coining of the term and the use by early Christians is what is important here. I am surprise you ignored this argument, given that you claim to have read Robert Gagnon, whose argument for this is quite sophisticated and impressive. You have not dealt with that at all here. And that is much more damning to your argument than the straw man you have built here (and throughout this series).

    Comment by D.R. Randle | March 26, 2007

  32. BTW,

    This statement is simply not true:

    “[Paul] had no knowledge of non-exploitive same-sex relationships analogous to heterosexual marriage.”

    Paul’s travels to Rome and Corinth themselves are enough evidence to suggest he would have had exposure to such relationships (as scholars have shown repeatedly that these existed at the time of Paul and even at the time of Plato – a good 100 years before). Also, you would have to deny that Paul had any exposure to Plato’s “Symposium” (from which he gathers the term “against nature” in Romans 1) and any other of the Greek philosophers (since any exposure to Greek philosophy would entail reading Plato), which would clearly put you in contradiction to pretty much every Biblical scholar and Greek archaeologist out there.

    Here you are clearly jumping to false conclusions to form an argument that will inevitably be flawed. I suggest you back up and reexamine the evidence your presuppositions are build upon.

    Comment by D.R. Randle | March 26, 2007

  33. D.R., I had, indeed, forgotten about the LXX usage–although it is not quite the same word there, but both are clearly, as you say, doing a literal translation of Lev. So, my treatment of Leviticus reinforces what I say here. But I don’t think this undermines my case at all. It seems Paul (and the author of 1 Tim.) is condemning call-boys and those who are their customers (as Robin Scroggs argues closely).

    I not quote from the Symposium, but I did cite Plato’s condemnation of this kind of exploitation. I will get to Romans 1; don’t jump the gun.

    However, I think you are wrong about the type of same-sex relationships Paul knew about and condemned. Far from being in “contradition to pretty much ever Biblical scholar and Greek archaeologist out there,” I was following the conclusions of many of those who publish on the topic: Robin Scroggs of Union Seminary of NY; Daniel Helmeniak; Walter Wink of Auburn Seminary; George R. Edwards, retired from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary; Jeffrey Siker, Loyola Marymount University; Victor Paul Furnish, Perkins School of Theology/Southern Methodist University; William L. Countryman, Church Divinity School/Graduate Theological Union; etc. What Paul was exposed to in the Greco-Roman world was exploitive same-sex behavior.

    By the way, D.R., few, if any, biblical scholars still hold that Paul exclusively used the LXX when quoting the OT. He often seems to be translating from the Hebrew himself or else has access to a Greek translation other than the LXX. There are too many divergences from standard LXX quotations.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 26, 2007

  34. By the way, D.R., “arsenokoitais,” does not combine “male(pl)” and “to lie down with” but combines male and “bed.” “To lie down with” is an interpretation–one that makes sense. But I already covered that.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 26, 2007

  35. Aric, Marshall–I can see that I am going to have to re-post the few rules I have for commenting: 1) Treat all with respect, 2) Stay on topic, 3) Keep comments relatively short, 4) Don’t hog the conversation–let others speak. Both of you are straying from the topic, at least & Marshall is now writing comments longer than the original blog post.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 27, 2007

  36. You raise some serious issues (some of which I agree with, others I don’t). I wanted to respond both as an Evangelical Christian and someone who has several homosexual friends. I think this issue of sexuality has become far too contentious to be called Christians. Let’s “speak the truth in love,” put things in perspective, and laugh at ourselves. In an effort to do this, I’ve written “I’m OK, You’re All Gay” as my blog today. Check it out and tell me what you think.

    Comment by pistolpete | March 27, 2007

  37. Michael, I’m glad you clarified that arsenokoitais actually combines (or seems to combine) the words ‘male’ and ‘bed’, not male and lies with. Either way, I think that it’s a mistake to read too much from that, as we all know that that’s not strictly how language works.

    I think that the important point is the assumed reference to Leviticus in Paul’s usage of the word, which is an assumption I would accept. Nevertheless, I think that actually strengthens your case as Leviticus is certainly not referring to monogamous life-long relationships between two people who are sexually attracted to each other. However, that seems to point away from child abuse and into the direction of Temple Prostitution.

    Anyway, they’re just my thoughts in response to a claim that I’ve heard a number of times.

    I also think that Gagnon is not quite as impressive as he himself seems to think. For his weight of words, ISTM that he makes some rather fundamental assumptions.

    Comment by graham | March 27, 2007

  38. You still didn’t quite deal with the problem of arsenokoitais. As you stated it is clearly sexual and does refer to male-on-male sex. But there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that it had anything to do with prostitution. None. This is clearly an argument meant to induce doubt, not to clarify what Paul was speaking about. As I noted before there are clear examples of mutual homosexual relationships and since Paul in Romans 1 makes it clear that he is speaking about these types of relationships (which I am guessing you will agree to), why would this term not be inclusive of those relationships? And why would either of these verses be thought to relate to prostitution. Biblical interpretation involves probabiliities and in this case it is much more probable that Paul was using the two words found in Leviticus 18 and 20 to combine to form the one word meaning sexual relationships between men, which were clearly condemned by the Jews throughout history, with no prejudice toward only prostitution, just as we find throughout all Church History. This only changed with the sexual revolution of the 60’s. Before that your interpretation of homosexuality being alright with God didn’t exist. I for one would rather stand with Tertullian and Chrysostom than with an interpretation of the text based on cultural norms.

    BTW, your statement regarding love relationships between men not being something Paul would have know about is not helped by appealing to authority, which is a logical fallacy. The fact is that in both Plato’s Symposium and Plutarch’s Moralia there is mention of mutual same sex relationships unrelated to pedastary or prostitution. Plato was a century before Paul and Plutarch was a contemporary. That is why almost your conclusion is in “contradition to pretty much ever Biblical scholar and Greek archaeologist out there.” As for those men you mentioned, they all seem to ignore those facts. I hope you and your readers won’t make that same mistake.

    Comment by D.R. Randle | March 27, 2007

  39. Sorry, the third to last sentence should not have the word “almost” in it.

    Comment by D.R. Randle | March 27, 2007

  40. Both Old and New Testaments condemn same-sex sex. Saying they don’t amounts to lying. According to the Bible, the only sexual activity that God approves of is that between a husband(man) and his wife(woman). God has made no provision for same-sex marriage either.

    Your arguments to the contrary do not change the facts.


    Comment by Gary | March 30, 2007

  41. Aric: I was reading this thread and had in my mind to post something similar, but you summed it up well. I spent years trying to discover the intricate meaning of obscure Biblical words. The more you leatrn, the less sense it makes — until it dawned up on me — Biblical literalism is impossible.

    If God wrote this book and everything is perfect, why are there so many contradictions? Mr. White says the rule is to be brief, so as an example, what happened after Jesus died? Every gospel tells a completely different and contradictory story. Who went to the tomb and when? What/who the did the person see? How did they react?

    Or what happened to Judas? Each gospel tells a different story. Paul’s conversion is described in different ways in Acts and Paul gives another completely different account in Galatians. And on and on.

    As far as the gay question, suffice it to say that the idea that there is a deity in the sky who is goading people on earth to hate each other over their choice of sex partner — it’s just crazy. It’s an ancient prejudice that originated with a group who also condemned two-fiber clothing and ordered the excommunication of heterosexual couples who copulated during a woman’s menstrual cycle. Why did that bother God then and not now? Or maybe it still does and churches should be checking for it?

    Comment by pf | March 30, 2007

  42. Actually, this entire subject is quite simple: Read again the list: “sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, malakoi, thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanerers, swindlers”. Clearly all of the items on this list are intended to be timeless and consensual sins. In the case of adulteres and sexually immoral relationships, people daily complain “how can God condemn a loving, caring relationship?”.

    To suddently pretend that malakoi is a sin unique to ancient Greece and distinct from all the others never made any sense. The other problem is in the consensual/non-consensual logic. If one chooses sin without coercion, then the guilt is greater than for the one who is compelled to sin by others. This is explained in John 19:11. Thus, to argue that consensual homosexual relationships are less sinful than becoming a male prostitute to keep the family from starving (as in Thailand) is worse than nuts.

    Comment by Looney | March 30, 2007

  43. “Both Old and New Testaments condemn same-sex sex.”

    Without a doubt. They also condemn opposite-sex sex. Outside of a committed healthy relationship.

    No one here is endorsing sex (straight or gay) outside of the context of a committed healthy relationship.

    Thank you very much.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | March 31, 2007

  44. “No one here is endorsing sex(straight or gay) outside of the context of a committed healthy relationship.”

    But some are arguing that homosexuals can have committed healthy relationships that are moral and pleasing to God. But God says that is impossible. God makes no provision for any kind of sexual relationship outside of marriage between a man and a woman. There is no evidence that God allows homosexuals to marry, therefore all homosexual activity is immoral.

    Comment by Gary | March 31, 2007

  45. Following are some excerpts from “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs” by Bercot on the topic of Homosexuality. I have excluded those which might be disputed due to the ambiguities of “malakoi” and “the sin of Sodom”, so that the clearer statements would be emphasized. Another item to note is Pliny the Younger’s letter to Trajan in which sexual restraint is a primary characteristic of Christians. Taking these statements together with the disappearance of recorded homosexuality by the end of the 3rd century, it seems that this is one area where the Christian community was quite clear and united in purpose.

    “Some polluted themselves by lying with males.” Aristides (early 2nd century AD).

    “The Greeks, O King, follow debased practices in intercourse with males, or with mothers, sisters, and daughters. Yet they, in turn, impute their monstrous impurity to the Christians.” Aristides (this follows the pattern of Leviticus.)

    “They do not abstain even from males, males with males committing shocking abominations, outraging all the noblest and comeliest bodies in all sorts of ways.“ Athenagoras (2nd century AD)

    “The whole earth has now become full of fornication and wickedness. I admire the ancient legislators of the Romans. These men detested effeminacy of conduct. The giving of the body to feminine purposes, contrary to the law of nature, they judged worthy of the most extreme penalty.” Clement of Alexandria (2nd – 3rd century)

    “The Christian man confines himself to the female sex.” Tertullian (2nd – 3rd century)

    “I find no dress cursed by God except a woman’s dress on a man. For he says, ‘Cursed is every man who clothes himself in woman’s attire.’”. Tertullian

    “The coupling of two males is a very shameful thing.” Tertullian

    Comment by Looney | March 31, 2007

  46. “There is no evidence that God allows homosexuals to marry, therefore all homosexual activity is immoral.”

    But then, there’s no evidence to the contrary either, is there?

    We have to use a bit of our God-given reason sometimes to sort out areas in the bible that don’t have clear-cut answers. Is abortion wrong? We have to make some conclusions based on what the bible says but acknowledge that the topic goes untouched in the Bible.

    Should Christians go to war? There’s some pretty strong evidence (love your enemies, overcome evil with good) but no direct word, we have to use our God-given reason to sort it out.

    Is it a healthy thing for gays to marry? Not answered directly in the bible. God does NOT, in fact, say it’s impossible. We have to sort it out, prayerfully and carefully.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | March 31, 2007

  47. Looney – you’d condemn Monty Python and Uncle Milty for a little cross-dressing? What a boring heaven you’re looking forward to…

    Comment by Dan Trabue | March 31, 2007

  48. “Looney – you’d condemn …”

    Dan, I am not in the condemnation business, but it is the job of all Christian leaders to warn people of God’s standards and maintain some discipline within the church. Otherwise, we are the ones who will be the recipients of the condemnation.

    Comment by Looney | March 31, 2007

  49. It was a joke, Looney.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | March 31, 2007

  50. Sorry Dan. What had come to mind was about 6 years ago when I was an Odyssey of the Mind “coach” for some 6th grade children. One of the other teams that showed up for the competition had a gay couple as the coaches where one of the couple was in a dress. They were noisily announcing their role model status to the hundred or so other children within hearing distance.

    Comment by Looney | March 31, 2007

  51. “The whole of the Bible supports the belief that only sex between a man and woman married to each other is acceptable to God.”

    As I’ve stated before, the Bible is sort of all over the place on sexuality (harems, concubines, polygamy, offering your wife off as your sister that she might be abused, marriage), and your response here betrays a reliance upon tradition, not the Bible.

    Now, having weighed all that the Bible has to say about sexuality, most of us here have come down on the side that thinks clearly the overall teaching of the Bible is for committed monogamous relationships. But to say that male/female sex in the context of marriage is the ONLY way GOD thinks about it is to put God in a box in which the writers of the Bible didn’t feel free to place God.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | April 1, 2007

  52. “How many were at the crossroads of really trusting the Lord and taking steps to repent until they’ve read this and others like it should give you pause.”

    Yes, such a question SHOULD give us ALL pause. How many people have you turned away from your church’s doors because of your rejection of their committed, loving relationship? Not that you would turn them away actually, but your words and your use of words certainly turns them away.

    How do I know? Because we get those people coming to our doors regularly who felt rejected by God because of the words of folk like you and like me fifteen years ago. The Bible warns us of what it will be like for one who turns away folk from God, so we ought to take pause for prayerful consideration, instead of just blind acceptance of the “way it’s always been taught.”

    Comment by Dan Trabue | April 1, 2007

  53. “How many people have you turned away from your church’s doors because of your rejection of their committed, loving relationship?”

    Dan, the local Gay-Straight Alliance at my kids’ highschool would trash that position in about 5 minutes. How many seconds does the Bible prescribe for the establishment of a committed, loving relationship? What if I am involved in more than one committed, loving relationship? ….

    I have heard the exact same rhetoric from adulterers among the deacons while their spouses and children grieved.

    Comment by Looney | April 1, 2007

  54. “But a sorry friend it is that puts that friendship above God’s Truth.”

    Here, Marshall, you’re bearing false witness. No one here who disagrees with your position is doing so so that we can be “friends” with sinners. We’re doing so because we don’t think your position holds water biblically. By saying things like this, you are using strawman arguments (“SEE?! They are rejecting the bible so that they can be friendly! Well, that’s just wrong!”)

    If you’d like to discuss this matter as a brother, do so civilly and don’t resort to this sort of demonization. Such shrillness does nothing to help the conversation, but instead serves only to erect barriers.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | April 1, 2007

  55. I repeat: No one here who disagrees with your position is doing so so that we can be “friends” with sinners. We’re doing so because we don’t think your position holds water biblically.

    So, to cast the unsupported accusation that we do so MAY just be a faulty presumption borne of ignorance the first time you make it. Repeating it, though, causes one to assume that you are deliberately trying to confuse the matter with a strawman argument, which is exactly what it is.

    It’s not a matter of hearing something that I don’t like, it’s a matter of you making unfounded accusations. It doesn’t help the conversation.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | April 2, 2007

  56. Ya know, I find it interesting that some would accuse us of wanting to befriend “sinners.” Let’s see…who ELSE was accused of being a friend of sinners?

    Oh, yes. Jesus!

    Wow. What a compliment. Thanks!

    Comment by Dan Trabue | April 2, 2007

  57. Marshall:

    That you think gays are akin to thieves and child molesters is kinda obvious proof of bigotry.

    Tell me, if you want to take the Bible literally, why not stone gays? Why not excommunicate couples who have sex during a woman’s menstrual cycle? Why not legalize polygamy? Heck, why not barter women in marriage to men for property?

    Fundamentalists believe they read the Bible literally, but they don’t really, they pick apart a bizarre stew of disparate passages to create a set of beliefs that just don’t hold up to any logical way of thinking.

    Comment by pf | April 2, 2007

  58. “Fundamentalists believe they read the Bible literally, but they don’t really, they pick apart a bizarre stew of disparate passages to create a set of beliefs”

    Yes, this is it exactly. Now many traditionalists will SAY that they take the Bible literally, BUT… well, we all know that no one takes or SHOULD take the Bible literally. If we did we’d have people committing all sorts of horrific crimes and offenses.

    They will generally admit that there are parts of the bible that are parables and similes and specific to a time and place for some reason or another. As well they should.

    Perhaps it would help in our conversations if some more traditional-minded individuals would spell out what parameters they have for interpreting the Bible? You take it literally unless…

    As it is, it seems to be just as pf said, a bizarre stew of disparate passages. I know. I have held such a stew in my more traditional “literalist” days.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | April 2, 2007

  59. “Perhaps it would help in our conversations if some more traditional-minded individuals would spell out what parameters they have for interpreting the Bible?”

    Not here, of course. Off topic. But on their own blog perhaps?

    Comment by Dan Trabue | April 2, 2007

  60. Here’s one criticism you might want to address.

    It may be not be your words, but maybe it is a combination of your article and Dan’s comments, but it seems like the approach to this discussion is trying to find scripture that might oppose a “loving relationship.”

    The criticism is, under what parameters do you make this? It’s creating rules we must work with and if we do not use these rules we might end up with a different answer.

    A corollary might be with science. Intelligent Design does not fit the science category because it does not seek to find the natural cause of natural events. Science has defined the playing field.

    But what about a loving, non-exploitative sexual relationship between siblings? Cousins? Consenting adults in a committed relationship, right? Or does this fall into the category of social engineering? Eugenics?

    Comment by Steven Kippel | July 17, 2008

  61. Those kinds of discussions have to wait until later in the series. FIRST we get the interpretation of texts right–then the contemporary theological reflection.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 17, 2008

  62. I disagree, I think it’s more related to the goal you set out when you started this who series, which was to create a single moral guideline for all people regardless of orientation.

    You have not established why this is an imperative. You have also not addressed why finding a “cure” not part of this single moral guideline. You have framed this entire discussion from the beginning to reach a point you’ve already established.

    And I understand you say this is not what you did, and I believe you, I’m just trying to help your argument. I can only go by what you have written so far and it hasn’t addressed this issue.

    As I have mentioned elsewhere, humans are born ambitious with a desire towards violence and domination. Just because this is inherent in out nature does not mean we should adjust our morals or parse scripture to give allowance for our nature. In the same way, why would it be unfair to say the desire for same-sex relations is something we should correct? Or for that matter, the desire for multiple partners which is inherent in all males (according to most experts)?

    Your ethic laid out at the beginning of this series was for monogamous relationships. Scripture supports polygamy. The scriptural basis for monogamy is found in the passage where Jesus said “the two became one,” but this is obviously male-female relation. Or perhaps when elders are told to “have but one wife.” Again, a male-female relation.

    I’m making this much too long, but the point again is that the entire basis of this series needs to be addressed or the whole thing fails to prove anything but that it might fit your personal guidelines.

    Comment by Steven Kippel | July 18, 2008

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