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Does the New Testament Condemn Modern Practices of Homosexuality?

The third in-class debate (for the other two, see my two preceding posts) is in some ways the most controversial of all, as it hits at the heart of a highly fraught topic today.   And yet the resolution may seem to some people to be undebatable – that the answer to it is obvious.  As it turns out, it isn’t.  The third resolution is this:

Resolved:  The New Testament Condemns Modern Practices of Homosexuality

Again, the wording of the resolution is meant to make students think about the very words being used.  What is “homosexuality”?  And what are “modern” practices?   If you define homosexuality as same-sex sexual relations, and you define modern practices as things like men having sex with men, then it seems that the answer would be fairly obvious: yes the New Testament does seem to condemn that sort of thing.  But, actually, it’s not that simple.  At all.

There are tons of issues involved, which make this debate very complicated.   For one thing …

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    ffg  March 17, 2016

    It’s a real pity that there are not more people like you who speak from a position of knowledge and objectivity. I am heterosexual but feel aggrieved about the amount of Christian bigotry about this subject. . It’s amazing how much uninformed bigotry there is in the Christian church. Christians posting what I consider hate speech on social media against homosexuals. Churches splitting over the same issue. So much for the love message of Christianity.

  2. Avatar
    john76  March 17, 2016

    The Devil’s Syllogism:

    (1) Homosexuality is not a choice (obviously – is heterosexuality a choice?)
    (2) Paul condemns homosexual acts (Romans 1:18-32)
    (3) Therefore, either God is EVIL, or else we have to throw out all of Paul’s writings as merely arbitrary prejudices and musings, rather than the inspired word of God.

    lol

  3. Avatar
    jhague  March 17, 2016

    In your opinion, are the verses in the Old and New Testaments that mention/condemn same sex relations referring to religious practices involving same sex relations and/or pedophiles?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 18, 2016

      I think they are talking about men having sexual relations with men and women with women (independent of religious practices)

      • Avatar
        jhague  March 18, 2016

        You do not see any conversation in the verses referring to temple prostitution or pedophiles?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 19, 2016

          Possibly, but that is never mentioned in the text. The point is that all gentiles are condemned — so it almost certainly has to be more than just temple prostitutes and their customers for the logic to work.

  4. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  March 18, 2016

    Greek and Roman practices weren’t Jewish practices. I’ve read a few sources that said Jonathan and David were in a romantic relationship, but there’s nothing to indicate that they had a physical relationship. Physical acts seemed to mean a lot in ancient times as David Lambert pointed out with the concept of repentance. With that in mind, Jonathan loved King David immensely. Their relationship was described as souls knitted together (1 Samuel 18:1). That seemed to be fine with God since we don’t read that there was any condemnation of their relationship, but what’s missing? The physical sex act. It was forbidden (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13). Leviticus 18:3 states that the Israelites were called out of the practices of Egypt. Homosexuality may even be one of the reasons that motivated the Israelites to separate from the Egyptians. They were okay with slavery and rape though…go figure!

    If there wasn’t an issue with homosexuality, Paul wouldn’t have bothered to mention it. Since he was such a stickler for order, one would think that he would have written instructions for committed, homosexual relationships like he did for the unmarried, married, and widows. Instead, he wrote I Corinthians 6:9 and Romans 1:26-28. Doesn’t read to me that Paul cared much for same-sex relationships.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 18, 2016

      I’m not sure that most Jews could be seen as completely distinct from the Greco-Roman world they inhabited. (Are Jewish Americans today Jews but not Americans?)

      • talmoore
        talmoore  March 18, 2016

        Dr. Ehrman makes an important point here. Jews back them really ran the gamut. At one end we see radicals like the Essences who would excommunicate a member simply for exposing his genitalia to a cellmate, while at the other end we see extremely Hellenized Jews who would literally surgically re-attach their foreskin so they could exercise naked around other men in the gymnasia without fear of being derided.

      • Avatar
        Pattycake1974  March 18, 2016

        The word you wrote in the above comment–“ARSENOKOITES”–isn’t that a more primitive way of saying (male) homosexual? It means manbedder doesn’t it?

        When I visited a friend in Brooklyn, New York for the first time, she lived in a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood. It was like stepping into a different world. I consider them Americans, but their culture, customs, and religious practices were so different from the *norm*. When I think of ancient Jews, I imagine them as being different from the Greco-Roman world. What was condemned or seen as sin by the NT writers, was the engagement in their sexual practices–man lying with man; woman lying with woman.

        Same-sex marriage wasn’t mentioned at all in the NT, so I’m thinking that idea was so foreign to them, there was no reason to address it. At least in Jewish culture. If there were same-sex marriages recorded in ancient history, I haven’t heard of them.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 19, 2016

          It’s debated *what* the word means. Anyone who has a definite answer probably doesn’t realize the problems. (It could mean the active partner in a male sex act; it could mean a male prostitute; it could mean other htings….)

          • Avatar
            LWE  March 20, 2016

            Russian calque from this word (no longer used in modern Russian) did roughly mean “man who has sex with men, period” at least in cases I’ve seen it mentioned, but this meaning could’ve been influenced by the patristic literature of Late Antiquity.

          • Avatar
            Pattycake1974  March 22, 2016

            I suppose it makes sense that ancient people didn’t have a concept of sexual orientation. The idea of orientation wasn’t introduced yet. Some fundamentalists still don’t understand it because my former church’s view was that no one was born gay, (that’s at least an awareness of orientation even if rejecting it) but that a person just needed to stop the behaviors–stop engaging in same-sex, stop acting feminine when you’re a man, stop acting manly when you’re a woman, etc…
            In recent years, I’ve seen a mind shift that, okay people can be born with certain tendencies, but they should still obey God. Maybe it’s a test by God himself to see if the suffering person will love God more than the world. I know someone who has been mentally tortured for years over trying to live for God and denying himself a fulfilled life.

  5. Avatar
    littlelucyjordan  March 18, 2016

    Hello 🙂 Out of curiosity, how do these debates usually end up, especially the one on homosexuality? Does there tend to be a consistent viewpoint thats usually seen as ‘right’? (I’m not sure about the religious persuasion of your students, but i can hazard a guess here) and, more interestingly, does this also correlate to what side ‘wins’ this particular debate more?

    thanks, lucy 🙂

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 18, 2016

    1. Another very interesting, clear, and concise Ehrman review of a topic.

    2. I think the term “homosexual” really did not exist until it was introduced in 1886 by Richard von Kraft-Ebing in his book entitled “Psychopathic Sexualis.”

    3. Several decades ago, when I started my psychiatric residency and psychoanalytic training, the main book on homosexuality was “The Overt Homosexual” by Charles Socarides in which Socarides contends that homosexuality is a deviation usually focused on too much narcissism. The main dispute was whether it resulted from “arrested” or from “pathological” development. Most psychiatrists now consider it to be not an illness, but a preference having genetic determinants.

    • Avatar
      Pattycake1974  March 18, 2016

      That ranks right up there with children having autism was a result of mothers being uncaring and cold toward their babies.

  7. Avatar
    bobnaumann  March 30, 2016

    Paul seems to have some deep psychological problems that he expresses in Romans 7. Could he be a repressed homosexual?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 31, 2016

      Anything is possible. The problem is how one establishes what is *probable*….

  8. Avatar
    job121a  March 30, 2016

    I am a 71 yr. old heterosexual male who was a fundamentalist Protestant all my life. Over the past 8 yrs. I have done a complete 180 in all of my thinking……religious, political, social & moral. Consequently, for me, this whole debate becomes very simple……There is no god…..All religions are man made……All scriptures were written by men & are not divine revelation. Therefore, they may be useful to examine historically but are irrelevant as standards for modern beliefs & behavior. To believe that a person would resist all religious & societal pressure & CHOOSE to feel different & an outsider from their peers, to be ostracized, kicked out of their family, bullied, assaulted, lose their job, etc. is irrational at best. Thank god for Dr. Herman… :-).

  9. Avatar
    job121a  March 30, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman…….. Damn spellcheck…… LOL.

  10. Avatar
    Kazibwe Edris  April 12, 2016

    22“ ‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.

    23“ ‘Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.

    24“ ‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.

    29“ ‘Everyone who does any of these detestable things—such persons must be cut off from their people.

    dr ehrman

    how does one “cut people off” ? if acts listed above defile the land, then yhwh is a “clean” god , right? note even those who stay with the jews are prevented to practice the list …foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things

    • Bart
      Bart  April 13, 2016

      Being cut off from the people means being excluded from the community.

  11. Avatar
    Dhdsas  April 15, 2016

    Hi Bart:
    What is the Greek word that has been incorrectly translated as homosexual and what would be a better translation into English of that word?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 16, 2016

      αρσενοκοιτης. That’s the problem — it’s not clear *how* to translate it! But it can’t be “homosexual” since ancient people did not have any idea of sexual orientation (which is what the word connotes in our context)

  12. Avatar
    sladesg  April 18, 2016

    Hi Bart, I’d like to make sure I understand correctly. I think you’re saying that what Paul (and/or) others are condemning in the NT are homosexual sex acts specifically, since they had no notion of a long-term homosexual “partnership” as we think of it today. I’m confused though, because your response to the first question in this thread was that you assume lots of homosexual “partners” did marry. Aren’t we to assume that as partners these folks had homosexual sex? So then, is Paul condemning the assumed homosexual sex acts that the partners would have had, but not condemning the actual partnership? Thanks for the clarification!

    • Bart
      Bart  April 19, 2016

      No, you were not allowed to marry someone of the same sex. Paul is condemning men having sex with men and women with women, but he has no concept of sexual “orientation,” or that one could be “homosexual” (Or “heterosexual”)

      • Avatar
        OCR  June 19, 2016

        In light of gay marriage not being allowed in that time and sexual orientation not being in view, could you elaborate a bit on how the marriage of Nero and Sporus and Pythagorus would’ve been viewed?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 19, 2016

          I”m afraid I don’t know anything about it!

          • Avatar
            OCR  June 19, 2016

            D’oh! Sounds like a new subject to blog about!

  13. Avatar
    lhogan18  November 21, 2016

    Bart,

    I was wondering if you had any thoughts on John Boswell’s “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century.” I’ve read some historians had issues with the book and his interpretation, but have had trouble finding much of it since the book is from the 80s and that was before every opinion was made available on the internet. Thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  November 21, 2016

      I know the book but am unable to critique it one way or the other.

    • Avatar
      Elagabalus  September 27, 2017

      I’ve heard from a reliable source in Germany that an upcoming article in Byzantinische Zeitschrift gives Boswell a good spanking over his interpretation of αρσενοκοιτης / αρρενοκοιτης. I’ll keep you posted if I learn more.

      • Avatar
        lhogan18  September 27, 2017

        Thanks. I’ll be interested to see what you find out.

        • Avatar
          Elagabalus  November 3, 2017

          The article just came out: “Boswell’s arrenas arrenokoitai (Anthologia Palatina 9.686).” It’s quite technical, getting into the meter of Greek dactylic hexameter and such. A quote from Boswell drops the F-bomb, and author of the article comments on the F-bomb quote, something I was surprised to see in supposedly dry academic writing.

  14. Avatar
    Benevolent  September 25, 2017

    FYI, this is a fascinating and ridiculously in depth study on the ancient meaning of eunuch as well as ancient perceptions of sexuality.

    https://www.well.com/user/aquarius/

    • Bart
      Bart  September 25, 2017

      I served on a dissertation committee many years ago at Duke about Jesus’ saying that some people “make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”; the disssertation went into amazingly graphic and gory details about people being made eunuchs in antiquity. I’ve never been more uncomfortable reading a dissertation!

      • Avatar
        Benevolent  September 25, 2017

        The researcher above uses historical/literary references to show that born eunuchs were gay men, according to modern standards.

  15. Avatar
    bradseggie  March 25, 2020

    I read you as saying that the Bible condemns same-sex sex acts, but it does not condemn “homosexuality” because that concept was foreign to the ancients. It’s interesting that when evangelicals make that very same distinction — that is, that when the Bible says homosexuals will not inherit the Kingdom it refers to homosexual acts rather than orientation — those evangelicals are condemned for it by the LGBT community. “Homosexuality isn’t what we do; it’s who we are.” I think the two groups are speaking past one another, each offering a compassionate interpretation within a different context.

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