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Homosexuality and the New Testament. Guest Post by Jeff Siker.

Yesterday Jeff Siker, PhD in NT and editor of two books that discuss biblical/Christian views of homosexuality, started his summary and assessment of what the Bible has to say about same-sex relations, in light of the recent vote of the United Methodists not to welcome “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” in their churches.  In that post he dealt with the salient passages in the Old Testament; today he moves to the controversial texts of the New Testament and ends with some insightful reflections on the relevance of the Bible for same-sex relations in the modern context.

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  1. Romans 1:26-27

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

This is typically seen as the most significant biblical passage that deals with same-sex relations.  It includes both women and men.  The larger context indicates that idolatry leads to a distortion of natural relationships.  That Paul condemns what he knows of same-sex relations is clear.  But this raises the question of what Paul understood in his context.  Most scholars agree that Paul would have been aware of three same-sex practices found in pagan culture: pederasty (an older man with a prepubescent boy), prostitution (where a man sells himself to be the passive recipient in a same-sex act), and slave prostitution (where a slave-owner rents out his slaves for sexual acts).  There is no evidence that Paul is aware of committed consensual same-sex relations between adults that is presumed in same-sex marriage today.

 

  1. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

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

This passage is a vice-list that Paul employs to condemn what he sees as unethical behavior.  It is a fairly generic list, but it includes two terms (“male prostitutes, sodomites”) that involve debated translations of two Greek words: malakoi and arsenokoitai.  The first, malakoi, literally means “soft ones,” while the second term, arsenokoitai, literally means “male bedders.”  What mattered in first century same-sex acts between men was who was in the active position and who was in the passive position.  Thus, the translation difficulties for modern translators.  While “male prostitutes” is arguably a good translation for malakoi, “sodomites” is arguably a poor translation for arsenokoitai, as it invokes the history and use of the word and its connection to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  In my view a better, if colloquial, translation of the two related terms would be something like: “male prostitutes and the men who hire their services.”  Regardless, this passage illustrates that Paul does not envision committed same-sex relationships between adults.  (Paying a prostitute for sex is not the same as living in a mutually committed relationship that includes far more than sex!)  It is instructive to consult multiple translations to see the wide variety of ways that different versions construe the terms in question.

 

  1. 1 Timothy 1:9-10

“…the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God.”

This is another vice list, again employing the term arsenokoitai, which is rendered “sodomites” by the NRSV. The same problems arise here as with the same translation in 1 Cor 6:9.

 

What can one conclude on the basis of these six passages (three OT; three NT)?  First, same-sex relations are clearly not a major topic of discussion in the Bible.  The topic does not arise in any of the prophetic or wisdom literature of the Jewish scriptures, nor does it arise in any of the Gospels, or anywhere outside the letters of Paul.  Second, however, it is also clear that same-sex relations are not condoned.  Of course the next question revolves around what the Bible is referring to when the topic is mentioned.  As best we can tell, the kind of same-sex relations that are condemned involve sexual violence (Gen 19), idolatry (Lev 18, 20; Rom 1), pederasty, and prostitution (Rom 1, 1 Cor 6, 1 Tim 1).  But does the condemnation of some forms of same-sex relations necessitate the condemnation of all expressions of same-sex love?  That’s the debate.  Just because the Bible condemns adultery it does not follow that all heterosexual relationships are wrong.  Nor is the Bible particularly consistent about sexual relations overall.  Multiple wives? Concubines? Surrogate wives? Or celibacy as the gold standard?  The Bible includes various understandings of sexual relations.  It also presumes as normative a patriarchal and androcentric worldview that envisions women as inferior to men.

Third, it is important to note that the very term “homosexual” was not coined until the 19th century in German psychiatric literature.  There was no conception of sexual orientation in the first century.  Even in the 20th century we have seen a progression of terms to describe same-sex attraction, starting with “faggots” (because they will burn!), and moving to “sexual perverts,” then to the more middling “sexual preference” in the 1950’s and 60’s, and finally to “sexual orientation” in more recent times.  The key issue has to do with choice.  In the Romans 1 passage Paul clearly thinks that individuals perversely choose to go against natural sexual inclinations. But the language of “sexual orientation” implies that individuals do not choose a sexual orientation so much as they discover a given sexual orientation, whether that be heterosexual, homosexual, or somewhere on the scale.  Ironically, using Paul’s logic, for a gay man to act like a gay man is actually living according to nature, not against nature.

Appealing to the Bible alone has thus proven to be tricky at best when trying to discern how to answer questions regarding same-sex relations as currently understood.  Contextual readings of the Bible, and awareness of constructions of human sexuality in antiquity, have shown how problematic it is to simply cite Leviticus 18 or Romans 1 and say that the Bible condemns homosexuality.  In an effort to make more sense of all this the church has historically appealed to tradition, reason, and experience, in addition to scripture.  More conservative interpretations arise from a focus on tradition and scripture.  More liberal interpretations arise from a focus on reason and experience.  Hence the American Psychological Association deemed in the 1970’s that homosexuality was not a mental illness, but was a naturally occurring sexual orientation.  What should the church do with such findings?  Or what of how LGBT individuals describe their own self-understanding, especially those individuals who affirm both their faith and their LGBT identity as God-given?

If you are a member of the blog, you get posts of this size five days of the week, on everything having to do with the Bible and early Christianity.  If you are not, you don’t.  So why not join?  It’s easy and cheap, and all the money goes straight to good causes!

 

 


My Next Scholarly Book: Visits to Heaven and Hell
Homosexuality in the Bible (and the Christian Church)

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    jhague  March 4, 2019

    It seems to be an impossible task to get the Christian church as a whole to understand that during biblical times, there was not an understanding of sexual orientation and that what was being referred to in the Bible is sexual violence, idolatry, pederasty and prostitution.
    Bart or Jeff – Any thoughts on how this can be explained?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 5, 2019

      It’s common sense to almost everyone on the planet that what is common sense to them is common sense to everyone, and always has been!

    • cheito
      cheito  March 7, 2019

      jhague:

      You’re not compelled to believe what Paul states in Romans 1:26-27, but integrity should compel you to be honest about what Paul is saying… In Romans 1:26-27, Paul is clearly speaking about men having sex with men and women having sex with women contrary to nature… Paul is not addressing sex between men and boys, sexual violence, idolatry, and/or prostitution. And Yes Paul did have an understanding of sexual orientation; i.e, God did not create a man to sexually desire another man nor a woman to sexually desire another woman, that has been their choice because they wanted same-sex relations or because they have been deceived into believing that God created them to be gay.

      • Avatar
        The Agnostic Christian  March 8, 2019

        I agree. It seems pretty clear to me that if same sex relationships had existed back then the way they do now that the Jews would have condemned it. We know they did have a distinction between the religious and tue secular. Everything for them was tied to religion. Much like Islam today.

        • cheito
          cheito  March 10, 2019

          I think Paul’s main point in Romans 1:26-27 is that God himself condemns same-sex relations and that those who choose to engage in them will pay a penalty for their error. Paul also says that God considers same-sex relations unnatural and degrading.

          I think that people who choose to engage in same-sex relations have been deceived by an ideology whose conception and origin is not from the mind of God.

          I also think that the only way SOME people will accept the truth about whether or not God created them to be gay is when they meet the Lord in person.

          Of course, some believe that when they die they’ll cease to exist; however, I will remind you that no one really knows what will happen when one dies.

          The thing we can know for sure is that death happens to all of us, so everyone will certainly find out what will happen at death…

          I believe my last day on earth will be my first day with the Lord Jesus and my life will go on to eternity but I can’t prove this to you!

          You believe that when you die you will cease to exist but you can’t prove this either…

          All I say is everyone will get a chance to find out! Make sure you get it right!

      • Avatar
        DaveAyres  March 12, 2019

        Sexuality is not a choice. Denying one’s sexuality is a choice.

        • cheito
          cheito  March 13, 2019

          I agree that the sexuality we’re born with is not our choice and that denying the sexuality we’re born with is our choice. Is that what you mean? If one is born male and contrary to nature one desires relations with another male that’s a choice one makes. A man can choose to have sex with another man but a man is not born to be romantically involved with another man. A person can choose to have sex with animals but a person is not born to naturally have sex with animals!

          • Avatar
            godspell  March 25, 2019

            But why are some animals other than humans born with this ‘unnatural’ urge? This has been well-do umented among multiple species of birds and mammals. Same sex pair bonds exist in nature. Are they acting contrary to nature as well?

            Doesn’t most of human civilization involve acting contrary to nature? Isn’t religion in many ways a rejection of natural laws (like survival of the fittest, kill or be killed, nature red in tooth and claw, etc?)

            Jesus said we should never commit an act of violence even in self-defense. He said we should give everything we own away. He said that family relations were not important, and that people not related to you by blood were your brothers and sisters just as much as your blood relations. He said the Kingdom of God would be a place without conflict–but nature IS conflict, competition. Isn’t Christian belief entirely against nature?

            Jesus said to love everyone–obviously he didn’t mean sex. Sex did not seem to be important to him. Christianity values celibacy–but that is against nature, isn’t it? A healthy man or woman vowing to never have sex, never reproduce?

            You don’t seem to have thought this out.

      • Avatar
        hankgillette  April 4, 2019

        And you know this how? Did you choose to be heterosexual (if you are)? I suspect that many people who think that sexual orientation is a choice believe that because they have attractions to both sexes. Most people don’t.

        Why would someone choose to be ostracized, ridiculed, and be subject to physical attacks (or worse)?

      • Avatar
        wietzea  August 11, 2019

        You obviously do not have gay children, if you did, would that change your mind?

    • Jeffrey Siker
      Jeffrey Siker  March 9, 2019

      Do you mean how it can be explained that so many in the church fail to read the debated passages in historical context? Or how can it be explained so that church people would understand the passages in their cultural and historical contexts?

      • Avatar
        jhague  March 11, 2019

        I was referring to most Christians today being convinced that the NIV is the accurate representation of the original Bible. They believe what it says about most topics and anyone who explains a topic differently is going against the Bible. Therefore, most Christians that I know would never believe the idea that in biblical times, there was not an understanding of sexual orientation. They also would not believe that the Bible passages are referring to violence, idolatry or pediphiles. So with this mind set by most Christians, it seems like an impossible task to ever get them to understand the historical context of these passages.

  2. Avatar
    godspell  March 4, 2019

    Early Christianity didn’t really value ANY-sex relationships, did it? Paul said marriage between a man and a woman was only preferable them to burning in hell for lustful fornication (or even imagining lustful fornication). Still, better to not marry, and lead a celibate life, and wait for the Kingdom to come.

    Marriage is not, to Paul, a desirable state. It’s a compromise with the frailty of the flesh. However, he does want converts, and he wants them to have children and raise them in the fiath–and this is his conflict–he enjoys building this new religion, he’s superbly gifted at it, and he must be thinking what a shame it is that all this work will come to naught when the Kingdom comes, and human institutions like marriage and religion are no longer needed.

    Paul has many insights to share, but I’m not sure he has much of anything to tell us of earthly love. I suspect he never experienced it, or at least, not happily.

    • Avatar
      godspell  March 5, 2019

      Actually, did Paul believe in Hell? Or did he, like Jesus (as Bart has explained), imagine that sinful people would simply suffer a brief and horrible conflagration when the Son of Man came to institute the Kingdom?

      Separate topic. But Paul clearly thought that married sex was the only sex that wasn’t based entirely on lust (as a cursory look at many married couples today confirms), and therefore the only sex that wouldn’t exclude you from the Kingdom. A compromise with the body.

      Still not as good as refraining from sex altogether. But you can see him (as the years go by, and the converts amass) having second thoughts about the imminence of the Kingdom. And if the Kingdom isn’t coming soon (or ever), then perhaps matters like whether to follow the Jewish laws regarding diet and circumcision, and who you can have sex with, take on a relevance that didn’t exist for Jesus, who believed it mainly came down to treating other people kindly and living a life of voluntary poverty.

      Perhaps Paul, like Augustine (who he resembles in many other ways), struggled with his own desires, and this is why sex for him was a necessary evil at best.

      It’d be nice to know more about him.

      • Avatar
        The Agnostic Christian  March 8, 2019

        Your comments made me think of Paul in a much more human way. Very interesting.

        • Avatar
          godspell  March 12, 2019

          There is no religion I’m aware of that deifies Paul, and his humanity is well in evidence in his writings that have come down to us. In ways both good and bad. But that would be true of anyone, wouldn’t it?

          When people write passionately about what they believe in, they tell us who they are. If we’re willing to listen. Now if Paul had only cranked out a few novels, we could know a lot more, but that’s asking a lot of somebody living in the First Century. 😉

          • Avatar
            RodOlson  May 2, 2019

            I love “When people write passionately about what they believe in, they tell us who they are. If we’re willing to listen.“. Can I use this from time to time on social media when irrational, crazy posts (judged by me, of course😳🤭🤣) need to be defused, debate is futile and high emotions need to be neutralized? Please! 🥺🤓

      • Avatar
        mwbaugh  March 11, 2019

        Several of my professors in seminary drew an interesting contrast. They said that Paul didn’t have a negative view of the body (soma), be had a negative view of the flesh (sarx). For him, “flesh” didn’t mean having a physical body so much as it did struggling with the temptations living in a body carries with it.

      • Avatar
        dkmare  June 22, 2019

        I would say Paul did not believe in Hell in the way that a Roman citizen would, If he was Jewish it is Sheol, the end belief is different to the Greek Hades and Roman Hell, while all three share the “common grave of mankind” Pauls initial belief would be simply a place of sleep.

  3. Avatar
    John Murphy  March 4, 2019

    Bart.

    I’m going to go out on a limb here: Jeff Siker is a liberal kind of person?!

    With all due respect, the two pieces he wrote seem quite tendentious, almost desperate to salvage something for the modern Christian from ancient texts written by people who had very different ideas.

    I don’t find his arguments convincing at all. No offence!

    • Bart
      Bart  March 5, 2019

      Well, they’re worth thinking about. It’s often hard to see a point of view that is contrary to what we’ve always thought! Among other things, I think he is *absolutely* right about ancient people having no conception of sexual orientation/homosexuality/heterosexuality.

      • Avatar
        Thespologian  March 17, 2019

        Apologies if this was answered somewhere in this lengthy thread: Can you explain what conception means in this instance?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 18, 2019

          They did not have any understanding that people had sexual orientations.

          • Avatar
            Thespologian  March 18, 2019

            I can grasp the idea that people weren’t outspoken or didn’t appear to have strict definitions of sexual oritentation, but the perspective that there was no conception of sexual orientation — largely due to a lack of written evidence — seems implausible.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 19, 2019

            Ah, right. You have to see the evidence to find it convincing! I’d suggest starting with Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: From the Ancient Greeks to Freud. It has opened many an eye!

          • Avatar
            Stanley  June 1, 2019

            Prof Ehrman what did Paul.mean when he spoke about “giving up natural intercourse with women…for one another.”?

          • Bart
            Bart  June 2, 2019

            He meant men having sex with men instead of women.

          • Avatar
            Stanley  June 2, 2019

            So is there any relationship between what Paul meant by a “natural” sexual inclination to what we mean today by a “sexual orientation?” I thought when some members of the LGBTQ community said that they were gay they meant that they were such by “nature” and somehow that understanding got subsumed under the heading “sexual orientation.”

          • Bart
            Bart  June 3, 2019

            Yes, that’s my argument: there’s a *huge* difference. I didn’t come up with this idea myself, of course; there is a massive literature on it. For a now-classic statement, as a place to start, see Thomas Laquer, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud.

          • Avatar
            Stanley  June 3, 2019

            Wow! Thanks Dr. Ehrman. I can’t wait to read Dr. Laquer’s book.

    • Avatar
      fishician  March 5, 2019

      Maybe he’s just trying to understand what the passages actually say unencumbered by religious tradition? If thinking outside of the bounds of tradition is “liberal” then I hope all Christians would be liberal!

    • Avatar
      godspell  March 5, 2019

      The question is, was Paul opining on the legality of gay marriage?

      And the answer is, almost certainly not. Because nobody was. Christians, Jews, pagans, and throw in the belief systems of the far east. NOBODY. Marriage was about children and property. Paul himself never married. For all we know, he preferred men (there is nothing to indicate otherwise).

      Most of us don’t agree with Paul that it’s better to marry than burn. Meaning that most of us–including most truly devout Christians–don’t believe that having sex outside of marriage means eternal damnation (leaving aside the question of whether Paul believed in eternal damnation, which seems doubtful).

      We have contraception. We have DNA testing. We have (controversial though it still be) safe abortion procedures. We even have artificial methods of helping the human reproductive process along (and there may well be human clones as we argue these points).

      We also have many many marriages that clearly could not possibly lead to children being born–or potentially fertile couples who intentionally prevent themselves from reproducing. And no religion I’m aware of tries to forbid such marriages. And of course there are no explicit references to lesbian relationships in the bible at all (because the men writing these texts assumed sex without a penis involved was inconsequential), so should we assume those are all kosher?

      In this context, what exact relevance does Paul’s opinion on licit sec (ie, only married sex for the purpose of procreation, and that in itself is a lamentable compromise with the needs of the flesh) have to us now?

      We have strayed so far from what the authors of the Old and New Testament were writing about in this area, that it’s a bit like consulting the Code of Hammurabi to decide how to settle a parking ticket.

      I find nothing tendentious about it. Maybe a bit–diplomatic. Trying not to give offense to those who seriously do want to try and live their lives according to biblical precepts, and I find nothing tendentious about that either, as long as they’re consistent.

      But how many of us ever are?

    • Jeffrey Siker
      Jeffrey Siker  March 9, 2019

      Yes, you could say that I have liberal leanings. But the arguments I advance regarding the biblical passages represent rather mainstream scholarship on the topic.

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  March 10, 2019

        Prof Siker –

        Thank you for your work here and for sharing it with the blog.

        For those that a rigorous textual/historical analysis of scripture will help open their minds and hearts, winning over even a few at a time will compound humanity in the right direction eventually.

        For those that rigor won’t reach, let us hope they ultimately realize that Jesus meant that second commandment quite literally.

        Best

  4. Avatar
    jrhislb  March 4, 2019

    A post on the historical view of homosexuality in the Bible could be interesting, but I find a discussion of the theological issues to be a poor fit for this blog.

    As for the discussion of the theological issues, it is possible Paul was not familiar with modern pro-gay arguments. But the people who make that sort of argument always seem to do it selectively. They never point out that the biblical authors were not aware of the writings of Adam Smith or Milton Friedman so we should ignore them if they seem to condemn greed.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 5, 2019

      Yes, it’s hard to talk about the news — the Methodist church’s decision — without getting a bit theological!

  5. Avatar
    joncopeland  March 4, 2019

    Thank you for these posts, Drs. Siker and Ehrman. Extremely helpful. Do you have any recommended further readings?

  6. Avatar
    Nichrob  March 4, 2019

    Jeff: Thank you for your hard work. I personally was enlightened by Bishops Spong on this subject matter. When it was pointed out to me that mathematics can be used to illustrate your point: Over 1,000 years of written material and there are only about 9 versus in the ENTIRE BIBLE that even mention this subject matter….? And the infamous Roman’s jargon is the completely exaggerated Greco Roman Rhetoric of Paul’s to “win an argument” (an argument that is ridiculous, in my opinion) So, if it were that important, wouldn’t it be discussed more often? Compare that to the thousands of verses over hundreds of years that “require” us to: help the poor, protect the foreign alien, and protect the widow…. The math on the “subject matter” should give us pause….. thousands (help others) vs 9 (sexual orientation)… over a thousand years…. hmmm?? So, thank you Bart for allowing Jeff to post on your site. Thank you Jeff for your hard work. Keep the faith….. I “pray” for the maturity of humanity…

  7. Avatar
    justyn  March 4, 2019

    ‘ The first, malakoi, literally means “soft ones,” while the second term, arsenokoitai, literally means “male bedders.” ‘

    It’s not clear to me how we would reach the possible translation “male prostitute” from malakoi – if its literal meaning is “soft one” – rather than what might used to have been referred to as the “receiver” or similar (I’m obviously not condoning any of these terms).

    Are there other biblical or non-biblical uses of both malakoi and arsenokoitai that can indicate how each term was understood?

    Even if there are, the point still stands that there simply wasn’t at the time any understanding of consensual same-sex relationships outside the three “practices” listed in the post.

    • Avatar
      Eric  March 5, 2019

      I would like to see some support for the assertion in your last paragraph (which was also made, more than once, in the guest post).

      Occum’s Razor (recently cited to me by Bart!) seems to suggest that a milieu in which consensual and non-consensual homosexual activity takes place is more reasonable than his repeated assumption that only the non-consensual form existed or at least was known about “generally.” The later seems rather tortured compared to the simplicity of the former. It seems to suggest that “male bedders” were only willing to partake in their activities with unwilling or coerced partners.

      Also, find his repeated reliance on “committed.” Not sure state of mind or motive is a big factor in sexual sins in the NT.

      • Avatar
        justyn  March 7, 2019

        I see your point, but…

        The assertion is that the three “types” of relationship (pederasty, prostitution and slavery) were all that was understood by most people regarding same-sex relationships at the time.

        I see this as indicating that the idea of two men/women cohabiting in a relationship like that of a marriage would have been quite alien to most people in Paul’s time. As indeed it was throughout all/most of the western world until comparatively recently.

        I’m not suggesting nobody was aware of such things – obviously there have been gay relationships throughout history. But the truth of these relationships have not normally been publicly advertised, as far as I know (excepting things like the aforementioned pederasty in Greece etc).

        So Paul would have been unlikely to have been aware of such relationships, at least as anything other than rumour.

        Do you think otherwise?

        And regarding “consensual”. I may be misunderstanding but again relating to pederasty, this is by modern definition non-consensual, being between a child and an adult. In those days I presume it would have often been assumed to be “consensual” but we could not recognise it as such today.

  8. Avatar
    crucker  March 4, 2019

    As far as prostitution goes, I’ve often heard “temple prostitution” being mentioned as a thing going on too that could be applicable to Romans 1.

    1.) How common was temple prostitution during that time?

    2.) Is this something Paul may have had in mind?

    3.) What do you think Paul had in mind in verse 23 when he says, “and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.”

  9. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  March 4, 2019

    First of all, I’m not personally against same-sex relationships. I don’t struggle with whether it’s right or wrong; what people do consensually is their business. That being said—

    I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that Paul wasn’t aware of consensual, homosexual relationships. Same-sex unions existed in antiquity. However, I haven’t heard of any Jewish or Christian homosexual unions from that time period. That suggests it was forbidden or wasn’t thought of as a possibility. Besides that, Paul had very strong opinions about sex and marriage between men and women. In Paul’s view, having sex outside of marriage was condemned. So if two men can’t get married in the first place, then it stands to reason their relationship would be frowned upon.

    Paul may not have understood sexual orientation, but from what he did understand about it, (one partner is the passive) the practice was condemned. People in relationships have sex, so he’s basically saying “No” to same-sex relationships. There’s no approval or praise for homosexual relationships with or without the physical act of sex, so the inference is that it was condemned.

    The bigger picture here is that people can’t look to the Bible as a moral compass for their relationships.

    • Avatar
      Steefen  March 5, 2019

      Pattycake1974
      In Paul’s view, having sex outside of marriage was condemned. So if two men can’t get married in the first place, then it stands to reason their relationship would be frowned upon.

      Steefen
      Paul vs. the Athenians during the Age of Pericles, who do you think wins?

      Pattycake1974
      Paul may not have understood sexual orientation, but from what he did understand about it, (one partner is the passive) the practice was condemned. People in relationships have sex, so he’s basically saying “No” to same-sex relationships. There’s no approval or praise for homosexual relationships with or without the physical act of sex, so the inference is that it was condemned.

      Prius
      What do you think David and Jonathan were doing?
      What do you think Jesus and his beloved disciple were doing? Jesus loved that man so much, at death, he put his mother’s care in his hands, bringing him into his family.
      What do you think Julius Caesar and his beloved Octavian were doing? Julius Caesar loved that man so much, they had sex, and at death Octavian was brought into his family.

      What do you think Achilles and his lover were doing?

      You have the culture of an empire vs the culture of a territory within an empire. You have the bearers of Hellenism, Roman culture, vs. a territory that rejected Hellenism. Ancient Greece reached its heights with embracing homosexuality not without embracing homosexuality.

      The Italian Renaissance reached its heights with embracing homosexuality not without embracing homosexuality.

      Paul advocated for Holy Communion.
      Do this in remembrance of me
      Blood Transfusions
      Don’t drink it.

      There is an appeal to authority fallacy in play with the line of thinking that the New Testament’s stand on homosexuality determines whether or not you are a member of the most holy community of human beings. Holiness is based on truth, facts, and more. There is no truth in advocating putting blood through the wrong system of the human body. There is no truth that it was not a Samaritan messiah, son of Joseph, who was executed (possibly by crucifixion) by Pontius Pilate but a non-Samaritan, Jewish Jesus, son of Joseph, who was crucified by Pontius Pilate. The appeal to authority is denied.

    • Avatar
      godspell  March 5, 2019

      For their SEXUAL relationships. Though you must admit, the Song of Songs is anything but prudish.

      “This in the bible is clearly true, therefore everything in the bible is true.”

      “This in the bible is clearly false, therefore everything in the bible is false.”

      I would view both statements as expressions of fundamentalist thought.

      And nobody in all of history has ever followed any text to the letter.

      And nobody in history needs a book to teach them to hate. We could do that very well before we ever learned to read, write, or make stone tools.

      • Avatar
        meohanlon  March 7, 2019

        or, perhaps, to remember how to love

        • Avatar
          godspell  March 8, 2019

          I wish that was true. But love is harder, and most of all, love for those who are different. Jesus said it was no great feat to love those who love you–that is merely a reflection of our own self-love, though it can go far beyond that. He asked for more, and most who followed in his wake were at best half-willing to comply.

          In a tribal world, a world of warring factions, warring families, warring interests–we do need to learn how to love beyond the familiar boundaries of family and fatherland. We need to remember that love isn’t just for those who have done us good. Since clearly, it’s very easy for us to hate people who have done us no evil at all. Hate is always easier. Hate is the default setting, or at least distrust and fear are, and we know where they lead us.

          Our primate cousins never got past loving those close to them–they do sometimes war with others of their species, though not as much or as viciously as we do. Our greater capacity for abstraction makes us capable of love and hate on a grand scale. And belief isn’t the source of either, you’re right. But it can shape both of them. How it does that is our choice.

          Homophobia would have existed without any religion at all, and the large number of homophobic atheists proves that. (Racism in the modern sense is almost entirely a creation of what comes after religion–the Nazis were influenced by a gross misunderstanding of Darwin, not Jesus, whose influence Hitler wanted to destroy.)

          As a system of belief gains adherents, converts enrich it with their best qualities, but they also diminish it with their worst. And this is unavoidable. This is life. Love it or leave it.

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    Foxtank  March 4, 2019

    Much appreciated thread for those who were raised and spent a good amount of time as adults in churches where we were exposed week after week, month after month and year after year to “one verse sermons” devoid of any context. I came to understand that it was not so much what was told but what was not told. Thanks.

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    fishician  March 4, 2019

    Excellent discussion of the terms used in the New Testament, which I would hope would at least cause people to pause and think before using the Bible as a bludgeon against the LGBTQ community. It’s not as black-and-white as many people and churches assume it to be.

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    doug  March 4, 2019

    Thank you for your good post. Hopefully people can free themselves from using the Bible as an absolute guide to morality. Sometimes it doesn’t mean what it appears to say, and sometimes its teachings are harmful. The Bible is used in ways that are harmful to the point of death for gay people. And, sadly, the vast majority of people won’t know the scholarly interpretations of what the Bible may be saying about sex between people of the same sex.

    • Avatar
      godspell  March 5, 2019

      There can never be an absolute guide to morality.

      But please remember, in a world where everybody lived in accordance with the moral teachings of the gospel, there would be no war, no murder, no rape, no theft, no social injustice, and no hate.

      And sure as hell no gay-bashing.

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    Pattylt  March 4, 2019

    Dr. Siker,
    In your books do you also delve into the ancient views on the purpose(s) of sex and the purpose of marriage? Do we know these views and did they vary between Romans and Jews? Or one Jewish sect from another?
    Thanks, this has been very interesting!

    • Jeffrey Siker
      Jeffrey Siker  March 14, 2019

      Ancient views on the purpose of sex and marriage were fairly straightforward. In Jewish tradition the purpose of sex was to have children (be fruitful and multiply). The Roman world also placed a high value on having children. (Those without children were taxed at a higher rate.) The purpose of marriage was to create stable family units that helped to solidify society — thus the household codes in the deuteron-pauline letters (Ephesians/Colossians/!, 2 Timothy, Titus). By contrast, Paul seems to have viewed sex as a necessary concession for those Christians who did not have the “gift of celibacy.” Since he thought the end of the age was at hand, there really was no point in having children. The second-century writing The Acts of Paul and Thecla (in the Acts of Paul) portrays Paul as deeply committed to a celibate life and telling others they needed to do the same. Thecla is a hero because she renounces marriage and traditional family values to be part of a wandering band of Christian preachers.

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    nichael  March 4, 2019

    With regard to the term “Sodomite”:

    As noted earlier, prior to the obsession of modern conservative Christians with homosexuality, most of the earlier commentators had suggested that the actual “sin of Sodom” was their refusal to aid and show compassion for the strangers, the poor, the sick, and the helpless among them.

    In a world which contains the like of the Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church (i.e. they most famous for their practice of picketing funerals of victims of HIV with “God Hates Fags” signs; or of soldiers who died in Afghanistan because the US military has accepted LGBQT soldiers) I’ve often thought it reasonable to ask who might most accurately be labeled as “Sodomites” in cases like these?

    • Avatar
      godspell  March 7, 2019

      I had never thought to check, but apparently the modern use of the word doesn’t even go back two centuries. One dictionary lists 1895 as the earliest known usage. And it’s generally taken as referring to anal rape, not consensual intercourse.

      And why do people assume the biblical Sodomites were gay? As we’ve repeatedly discussed here, in the pagan world, this distinction did not exist. Maybe the idea was simply to humiliate these outsiders (the sin of Sodom is inhospitality, and Lot offering his daughters is merely to demonstrate he was not guilty of such a sin).

      Or maybe (if anything resembling this story ever occurred in real life), it was a cultural misunderstanding, magnified in the retelling.

      What always gets me is how both sides–religious and anti-religious–want to take the story literally, when the people who first created it almost certainly did not.

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    rburos  March 4, 2019

    Doctor Siker

    You have shaken me with the knowledge that I had been imposing my 21st century definitions onto the 1st century (again). I’m actually embarrassed by it because I’ve always like Crossan’s quote “Get the 1st century right, you’ll get the 21st century right.” I should have seen it coming. Thanks for making me just a tad bit wiser than I was yesterday.

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    Badee Fahmy  March 4, 2019

    Dr Ehrman
    What you think is best book about book of apocalypse?
    I found two options not sure which is better
    worthy is lamb by ray summer
    breaking the code by dr metzger
    which one book would you pick out of these two books?
    thank you

    • Bart
      Bart  March 5, 2019

      Metzger. If you want a really in depth discussion, the commentary on Revelation by Craig Koester.

      • Avatar
        Oikonomos  March 7, 2019

        This a bit off topic, but I’ll throw this out here if that’s OK.

        I’m pretty sure you said before somewhere that you and Dr. Metzger didn’t talk about your religious beliefs with one another, with it being a professional environment and so on, but given that you were his student and worked under and alongside him for years, didn’t you ever wonder how someone so well-trained in the kind of material that made your faith shift from fundamentalism into a liberal Christianity seemingly not impact his at all? You’ve said over and over that your main criticism of the idea of the preservation of scripture is the abundant evidence that suggests it was not preserved reliably, and was even intentionally altered. As I understand it, Metzger was a fairly conservative Presbyterian, and the Westminster Confession says that scripture was “kept pure in all ages,” yet the kind of work the two of you were engaged in throws this idea into question all the time. Even if you didn’t discuss religious matters, did you have a guess as to how he was reconciling all of the difficulties?

        It may be a weird question but it’s just baffling in its own way to see his beliefs juxtaposed with (certain pieces) of his professional work.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 8, 2019

          Yes, I’ve many many times wondered about it. But it’s not just Metzger and me. Why is it otherwise really intelligent people with the same information available to them come to different conclusions?? One of the mysteries of the universe….

  17. Avatar
    crt112@gmail.com  March 4, 2019

    Bart spends a lot of time telling us we need to let the authors say what thye want to say. Fundamentalists spend their time trying to harmonise contradictory gospels in order to support their pre-defined position. I suspect that on this topic the few biblical mentions on homosexuality are somewhat clear. And they dont support it. The books were written over 2000 years ago and reflect the authors understanding at the time.

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    petegoodlion  March 4, 2019

    Does Jesus himself have any commentary on same sex relationships in any of the gospels, orthodox or non?

    • Avatar
      meohanlon  March 7, 2019

      The one place that comes to mind, that a few scholars have interpreted as actually an accepting stance on Jesus’ part, was when he healed the Roman centurion’s servant without visiting him directly and, instead, just saying the word. The servant in question, who was very close to the centurion, is interpreted by some, not without historical grounding, to be a male lover. There was not indication whatsoever of Jesus using this to express a moral judgement of the nature of the centurion’s love – other than, perhaps, a recognition of its validity, if not of his faith in the Jewish God’s ability to heal through his appointed servants .

    • Jeffrey Siker
      Jeffrey Siker  March 14, 2019

      nope

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    BartyD4all  March 4, 2019

    Very interesting post. I just started reading Elaine Pagels’ book, Why Religion? Early in the book, she relates her experiences of physical attraction to female friends, and explains how Christian traditions have influenced our culture with regards to To being gay or bisexual. I am excited to finish reading this book. It is a personal memoir for her. I read The Gnostic Gospels some years ago. Also, she is from Palm Alto, and tells some stories about Jerry Garcia, of The Grateful Dead,who she knew quite well. I’m a huge Deadhead. Peace.

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    b.dub3  March 5, 2019

    Although it may certainly be true that same sex committed relationships were a concept not developed in the first century, I think to conclude that people were never really fully in them or rather that others did not know or conceive of their existence, like Paul, would be a stretch.

    Because many of us rightfully and dutifully find the condemnation of homosexuality abhorrent, we look for avenues or loopholes in the Bible to say, “well, it really doesn’t mean that…” when it actually does mean that. The Bible was NOT written by God, but by men who condemned not only male prostitution and rape, but also those who engaged in same sex relationships no matter the form or context.

    I wish these words by Paul did not exist because they have brought so much pain to so many, but unfortunately they do exist. Fortunately, despite what fundamentalists believe, Paul does and did not speak for God.

    • Avatar
      godspell  March 5, 2019

      If God exists, I assume we all speak for Him/Her/It/Whatever. Not just humans, but all of Life, here and elsewhere in the cosmos.

      I think it’s self-evident that in ancient times, people of the same sex fell in love, and formed lasting relationships–both positive and negative in nature, as is the case with heterosexual relationships.

      I think the confusion relates to marriage. Nobody really associated marriage with romantic love. It was a transaction–the partners might genuinely love each other, before or (more often) after they were married, but they didn’t have to.

      Ancient societies struggled with the paradox that people would love each other inappropriately, often at great risk to themselves, often causing conflicts that could destroy whole families. Passions would run amuck, making chaos of well-planned unions meant to enrich and solidify the social bonds between clans. I could list all the famous stories about such love affairs for days and never run out of them. And most of them were between a man and a woman. Because it was a sin against society (not God) to put your desires before the good of your family, and of the social order.

      The right to marry only out of love simply wasn’t recognized. Maybe people who had no property, no powerful family, had more freedom in this regard, but that’s probably a bit self-deluding, since such people could easily be compelled into relationships they wanted no part of, and they had no powerful relatives to shield them.

      Why do we now have this idea that marriage is a loving union between two people who will support and tend to each other unto death, even if there are no children, even if desire has faded, even if one of the partners might be better off in some ways to abandon the other? The kind of union that gay people have successfully striven to create for themselves, and to legitimize as fully co-equal with the same unions among people of the opposite sex?

      In part, because of Christianity, and other religious beliefs, that said we are more than just the sum of our desires, and that love means sacrifice for the other–not just self-fulfillment.

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