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Homosexuality in the Bible (and the Christian Church)

Here is a pressing question I was asked about a month ago, involving homosexuality and the Christian church.  Since the question was asked, as you know (if you follow the news!), the Methodist Church has made its decision.

I decided to ask a real expert to deal with the question, my friend Jeff Siker, PhD in New Testament who has just retired from a 30+ year career teaching biblical studies at Loyola Marymount, and who has edited two books that address Christian views of homosexuality, the one he mentions below in his answer (1994) and a more recent reference work, Encyclopedia of Homosexuality and Religion (2006). When it comes to this topic, he’s heard it all and is massively informed.  These two posts, of course, represent simply a condensation of the relevant information and his views about them.

Jeff has served as a guest poster twice on the blog before, and both times graciously answered questions and responded to comments.  I’m not sure if he will be able to do so (I asked him just now, but he is in a different time zone); if he can, great.  If not, I’ll deal with questions, comments myself.

 

QUESTION

From February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, the United Methodist Church will have a special conference session to discuss the issue of homosexuality. As a former UM and with relatives in the UM church, the result of this conference could result in the split of the UM church.
In Romans 1:26-27, conservative will argue that these verses condemn homosexuality. Liberals will argue Paul is only condemning behavior by Roman male citizens abusing slaves and young boys who had no rights because they were not Roman citizens. Paul is not condemning consensual homosexual relationships.

I support the right of gays and lesbians to marry but wonder if liberals are allowing their own bias to influence their reading of Romans 1:26-27.  NRSV Romans 1:27 reads: 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.  The phrase “consumed with passion for one another” does not imply abusive relationships to me, but consensual attraction.  What do you think of Romans 1:26-27?

 

RESPONSE BY JEFF SIKER:

Twenty-five years ago I published a book on Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994).  Since then many things have changed both in the church and in society regarding the status of LGBT individuals.  Some churches have split after years of unresolved debate over whether homosexual expression is by definition sinful or not (the Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Church).  In the United States the most important change has been the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage.  This has been accompanied by a general cultural acceptance of LGBT individuals within society at large.

But just as LGBT individuals have found far greater acceptance over the last generation, so have some churches reaffirmed their traditional ban on same-sex relationships.  This past Tuesday, February 26, the United Methodist Church held its General Conference in St. Louis, with representation from around the world.  The church voted to affirm “The Traditional Plan” as the way forward to address the deeply divided denomination in regard to the status of LGBT clergy and marriage.  Since 1972 the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline has made it clear that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” are not to be tolerated within the church.  But over the last couple of decades the church has been lax in enforcing its ban on same sex relations, in large part because of more inclusive attitudes within US society.  Many clergypersons have “come out” to their congregations as LGBT individuals in committed relationships, and many clergy have openly performed same-sex marriages as blessed by God.

In response to the growing acceptance and normalization of LGBT relationships both in society and in the church, the United Methodist Church decided to take a firm stand.  Either they would reaffirm “The Traditional Plan” that endorsed the historic prohibition of same-sex relations and more strictly forbid the inclusion of openly LGBT individuals within the church, or they would adopt the “One Church Plan” that would allow flexibility for local churches and larger clusters of United Methodist churches (Annual Conferences) to recognize same sex marriage and openly LGBT clergy as legitimate expressions of Christian faith.  The church voted for “The Traditional Plan” in a firm rejection of same-sex relations.  In taking this stance the United Methodist Church has joined the Roman Catholic Church in rejecting homosexuality as a valid way to live a Christian life.  The United Methodist Church’s vote encourages more progressive members and congregations to leave the denomination if they are unwilling to endorse the traditional view that goes back officially to 1972.

One of the primary rationales for the traditional view, of course, has to do with perceptions of what the Bible says about same-sex relations.  This involves no small debate about how to read, interpret, and apply the Bible to modern times.  A brief overview of the six biblical texts typically cited and debated as relevant to the discussion is appropriate here.

  1. Genesis 19:1-11

“…the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.” Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

The story of God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah has often been used to argue against same-sex relations.  After all, the argument goes, the wickedness of the men in the town is demonstrated by their desire to “know” (i.e., have sex with) the two visitors that Lot is hosting.  Little did they know that these visitors were angels sent by God.  Most interpreters recognize that the story is about sexual violence (rape).  Still, this biblical passage is often cited as an indication that scripture links same-sex acts with sin, especially since the term “sodomy” came to be used as a generic term for anal intercourse.

  1. Leviticus 18:22 “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.“

This passage occurs in the larger context of the Holiness Code (Leviticus 17-25), which spells out how the Israelites should behave as they take possession of the land of Canaan.  Overall the code warns against adopting any of the idolatrous practices of the Canaanites.  This passage is a simple prohibition of same-sex relations between males.  There is neither a rationale nor a punishment specified.

  1. Leviticus 20:13 “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

This passage also occurs within the Holiness Code.  It repeats the prohibition of same-sex relations between men, but also specifies the severe punishment of death.  In both Leviticus 18 and 20 we find significant references to the idolatrous worship of the Canaanite god Molech (18:21; 20:2-6), which suggests that same-sex acts may be connected to such false worship.

****************************************

In tomorrow’s post Jeff will continue on to talk about the few New Testament passages that are usually deemed relevant, and then reflect on the significance of the Bible for the current debates.

Members of the blog have access to five substantial posts of this length each and every week — going back to 2012!  Masses of information, reflection, and debate can be found here — all for a small membership fee.  Every penny of your fee goes to charity.  So do yourself a favor, and join!!

 


Homosexuality and the New Testament. Guest Post by Jeff Siker.
Why Textual Criticism Seemed to Be on Death’s Door

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Loring  March 3, 2019

    I appreciate the premise of this question. As someone who was trained in fundamentalism, spent time as a liberal clergy, and then left religion completely, I think the questioner raises a good point. Sometimes it seems that liberal Christians want to prove that the Bible is a modern, progressive document. In the process, they selectively choose verses and interpretations that support their views–not unlike fundamentalists.

    Since the Bible is no longer the source of my ethics, it doesn’t matter to me if Romans condemns homosexuality or not. What I am interested in is an objective exegesis by experts about what they think this passage is really saying. So, thank you, Dr. Siker, for joining us and sharing your expertise with us! I’m looking forward to the rest of your post.

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    • Avatar
      godspell  March 4, 2019

      Your ethics do come in part from the bible, whether you acknowledge this or not. The influence of the Old and New Testaments is too large for anyone in the western world (or much of the eastern world) to avoid. Gandhi was influenced by both. So was King. Might as well say “I don’t believe in Platonic ideals, so I’m not influenced by Plato.” Of course you are. Negatively and positively, because ideas do matter, and what seems natural and matter-of-course to us now didn’t always.

      Fundamentalism isn’t really about ideas–it’s people looking for a way to escape thinking about things. But that’s not what the bible is about–you can see people actively thinking there, trying to figure things out, trying to know right from wrong. The journey doesn’t end there. But it did, in part, begin there.

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  2. Avatar
    godspell  March 3, 2019

    I can never understand the reasoning that holds we can reject all the many things in the Old Testament that are now culturally unacceptable to most of us (like the dietary laws), but the prejudices of that era relating to male same-sex relationships (they apparently refused to even acknowledge lesbians, though Sappho makes it pretty clear those existed too) are to be maintained in some modified form.

    There is nothing in the Old Testament for or against gay marriage, because nobody in that time period really thought of there being a distinct group of humans who preferred their own gender. The Spartans and Thebans valued such relationships because they were considered good for corps morale (and apparently they were). But we can be sure many if not most who engaged in such practices were not what we would now call gay. Gayness is not a subject in the bible. The bible has nothing to say about it, positive or negative.

    And Jesus has basically nothing whatsoever to say about sex, which seems to have been the least interesting subject in the world to him (perhaps the one respect we least emulate him in, other than voluntary poverty).

    Marriage was not about love then, even though many marriages would have been loving regardless. It was about producing legitimate heirs. Even men who only liked other men would still want to marry a woman and produce children who could carry on their names, inherit their property, assuming they had any. Women who only liked other women would still want the prestige and protection of marriage to a man (who might turn a blind eye to their same-sex dalliances, since they were not, in his eyes, a threat–no danger of any illegitimate issue there).

    We have a somewhat different concept of marriage now. It serves some different functions for most of us in the developed world. Many married couples intentionally don’t have children, or marry knowing one or both are incapable of producing heirs–it’s a life partnership–we don’t have such a strong system of extended families now, and stable supportive relationships can mean a great deal in a changing world. This would also have been seen as objectionable and even unnatural back in biblical times. So why only proscribe such marriages when they involve people of the same sex?

    Most of us have accepted this, including most who are religious. It’s true whether we accept it or not. So I would suggest that the biblical proscriptions on same sex relationships (not marriage, which isn’t discussed) are irrelevant, as are so many other parts of the bible that relate to the customs of a different time, and not to lasting issues of ethics and spirituality that will hold true for all time.

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  3. Avatar
    nichael  March 3, 2019

    A note about Genesis 19:1-11:

    Another common argument often made here is that Sodom was destroyed precisely _because_ of the (sexual) attack on the strangers.

    But reading the story in context makes it clear that the destruction of Sodom (and, indeed, all the “Cities of the Plains”) was a done deal, before the Angels ever showed up. The account of the attack may have been meant to underscore what jerks the people of Sodom were; but it certainly wasn’t the cause of the destruction of Sodom.

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    • Avatar
      fishician  March 4, 2019

      Ezekiel 16:49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.

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    • Avatar
      jhbaker731  March 5, 2019

      The verses in Ezekiel 16:48-50 also state that Sodim’s sin was not taking care of the poor and needy. It does say detestable acts as well, but….how are we taking care of the needy here in America?

  4. Robert
    Robert  March 3, 2019

    “Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

    So if one wants to draw upon Genesis as a source for modern morality, a father pimping out his virginal daughters to be raped is morally superior to allowing homosexual rape of one’s male guests. Recall also Abraham pimping out Sarah as his sister. There’s truly no limit to the rationalizations fundamentalists will go in their approach to the bible, is there?

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    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  March 4, 2019

      That story put a crack in my faith when I was a fundamentalist. That, and the story about the woman whose body was chopped into pieces. No one in the church batted an eye over it. That bothered me too.

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    • Avatar
      DennisJensen  March 5, 2019

      “a father [Lot] pimping out his virginal daughters to be raped is morally superior to allowing homosexual rape of one’s male guests. Recall also Abraham pimping out Sarah as his sister. There’s truly no limit to the rationalizations fundamentalists will go in their approach to the bible, is there?”

      (also re XanderKastan 4mr19)
      But the Bible does not say Lot’s offer was not morally reprehensible or that one is “morally superior” to another. However, Abraham’s “pimping out Sarah” seems to have been more of an “if they abduct her, it’s better than being killed” kind of situation. Abe probably should have stood his ground (if he only had enough faith in the God who had spoken to him) and we can’t say he was without guilt for his action; nevertheless, he may have been in a truly life threatening situation had he done so.

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    • Avatar
      ftbond  March 6, 2019

      I’m guessing you must be thinking that what Lot did was somehow the “prescribed” thing to do? Or that what Abraham did was the thing to do?

      Just because it’s written in the OT that those things were done by those men, don’t presume that somehow what they did was “the right thing to do”. It’s just what they did. That’s all. Whether it was right or not is the whole reason Rabbis pick such stories apart, almost ad-infinitum. Just start reading the Talmud and other Jewish commentary…

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      • Robert
        Robert  March 6, 2019

        ftbond: “I’m guessing you must be thinking that what Lot did was somehow the “prescribed” thing to do? Or that what Abraham did was the thing to do?”

        Quite the contrary. It should be clear from what I said that I certainly to NOT think one should “draw upon Genesis as a source for modern morality.”

        DennisJensen:  “But the Bible does not say Lot’s offer was not morally reprehensible or that one is “morally superior” to another. … Just start reading the Talmud …”

        It is hard to say if the biblical authors might have intended this implication here, but modern fundamentalists who use this verse as a condemnation of homosexuality do seem to be inferring that it is worse, ie, to be avoided at all costs. Otherwise, how can thus passage be understood as a condemnation if homosexuality?
        That’s the point. … And I’ve read a fair bit of the Talmud, thank you.

        • Avatar
          DennisJensen  March 15, 2019

          @Robert 6mr19
          It looks like this message got stuck following a different post (probably my fault) and I don’t know how to erase it. So I’m repeating it here in the hope that you won’t miss it.

          1) Note: it was ftbond, not I, who said “Just start reading the Talmud.”

          2) Certainly some fundamentalists can say some pretty stupid things. But I suppose their counterpart—should we call them village atheists?—often does the same thing. I could give you some samples from the internet. I know someone who has an “atheists say the darndest things” collection.

  5. Avatar
    nichael  March 3, 2019

    Another note about Genesis 19:1-11:

    It’s also useful to emphasize that in most old commentaries about Sodom, that the main “Sin of Sodom” was understood to be their failure to behave properly according to the rules of “Xenia” or “hospitality”; that is the care and protection of guests, strangers and other helpless folks who come under ones protection.

    In the modern West it is difficult to appreciate how important this concept was in the ancient world (or, indeed, remains in parts of the traditional Mideast). The protection and help of trangers (or others, like neighbors in need) were understood to be the responsibility of the host, and the responsibility was meant to be taken seriously. For example, note the examples in Genesis of the welcome given to strangers and travelers. (Moreover, this is a major theme in, for example, ancient works like “The Odyssey”.)

    In particular, note how Lot appeals to the attackers (and the lengths to which he is willing to go -i.e. offering his own daughters) to prevent the strangers under his care from coming to harm. The fact that the men of Sodom ignored this is clearly meant to be their real crime.

    Now, it would probably be hard to argue that the writers of the Hebrew Scripture were OK with homosexuality, but it would be even harder to argue that it was a major concern of theirs. The three passages above contain basically everything that the Hebrew Scriptures has to say on the topic. But there are whole books whose main point is to decry lack of compassion, and the neglect of, or the harming of, the strangers and the helpless among us.

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    • Avatar
      Eric  March 5, 2019

      This hospitality ethic is a feature in the plot of “Lone Survivor”, a roughly true war movie about a fugitive SEAL in Afghanistan.

    • Avatar
      DennisJensen  March 14, 2019

      (Note: it was ftbond, not I, who said “Just start reading the Talmud.”)
      Certainly some fundamentalists can say some pretty stupid things. But I suppose their counterpart—should we call them village atheists?—often do the same thing.

  6. Avatar
    fishician  March 3, 2019

    I am interested in this subject because I think the Bible is lacking a good discussion of LGBTQ issues and many people fill in the gap based on their own feelings. Also, I wonder why the gods of so many religions are so preoccupied with sex, when there are so many other grievous issues that need their attention! And while I am interested in this discussion, in the end I don’t think what the Bible says on this subject will convince me any more than I am convinced of talking snakes or Paul’s magic healing handkerchiefs or many other things it says!

    • Avatar
      godspell  March 5, 2019

      It sucks to have to keep repeating this, but ancient literature as a whole lacks any serious discussion of these issues–the issues don’t exist, though same-sex oriented people certainly did. And what we do know about same-sex sexuality is mainly relating to a handful of wealthy educated people and their–for want of a better term–slaves. I don’t really agree with anybody from that era, in any culture, or of any religious belief, on the subject of sex.

      Except maybe Jesus, since he just said “We’re all sinners, I don’t condemn you, sin no more.” And it is certainly possible to sin against other people sexually. We’re talking a lot about that now as well.

      The LGBTQ discussion, such as it is, began in earnest during the late 20th, and at the start of the 20th (honorable mention to the handful of people who talked about it before then, when it involved real risk). In the late 19th/early 20th, ‘Gay’ was a term used more to refer to the variously risque behavior of straights who didn’t subscribe to conventional sexual and social mores. Now it’s been repurposed.

      I think we’re catching up pretty fast, but it’s a bit like Xeno’s Tortoise–the closer we get to understanding all the currents in human sexual orientation, the further away we seem. Damn turtle keeps getting away from us. 😉

      1
  7. Telling
    Telling  March 3, 2019

    “Does it have a secular purpose” is the only question we need ask, for Christian principles will have secular purpose or are otherwise mere rituals.

    Regarding “same sex” we need only examine the natural purpose for sexual behavior and for man’s institution of marriage. The term “deviant sexual behavior” was traditionally used in law. “Deviant” meant any sexual behavior not for producing children. This included even use of birth control (a Connecticut law prohibiting use of birth control was struck down by the Court as late as the 1960’s on basis that birth control devices could be lawfully prohibited at sale, which is less intrusive to civil liberties than government peeking into the bedroom.)

    But with less need for having children the “deviant” term was necessarily redefined (by the Church!) as expression of love for unity of the family. It is a dubious explanation, needed actually for unity of the Church, so that people wouldn’t leave it. The real truth is people live a rather miserable and dreadfully repetitive life and so (not unreasonably) cling to sexual activity, redefining it as a “for pleasure” act.

    All would probably be fine as now redefined, except that babies are invariably hurt by the “for pleasure” act which reduces the unborn to mere nuisance, being in the way of people showing their “love”.

    This is the predicament. The Church threw out the baby (keeping the bathwater) when they abandoned the “deviant” definition, opening a cottage industry of abortion and a new species of humans whose genitals don’t match their brains, which is actually absurd because the distinctions between male and female is mostly society induced, and because it is physically impossible to change sexes other than pretend (a man cannot carry a child).

    Civil marriage has a secular purpose only in potentially procreative (non-deviant) relationships (mother and child’s protection). It otherwise has no purpose or legal foundation, and becomes excessive law.

    But “spiritual” union (marriage) is not ever unreasonable or wrong. It is the basis for the church wedding, and free people should not find there being any kind of prohibition. But such is not of a secular nature, it is of a religious nature and so there is no governmental (societal) purpose in giving such legal recognition.

    What did Jesus say? Surely, he reflected logic and reason but not the popular ideas of that period or of ours.

    1
    • Avatar
      DaveAyres  March 12, 2019

      The natural purpose of sex is to reproduce. The natural purpose of homosexuality is to reduce reproduction when reproduction is at a dangerous level. Nature is smarter and wiser than we. When there are too many people various mechanisms kick in to decrease populations to sizes that are self-supporting. Usually they are very unpleasant. Disease and starvation are just two examples. But nature provides a mild and painless way to slow down population growth. Redirect some members to desiring those of their same gender.

      So there is very much a natural purpose for homosexuality.

      1
  8. Avatar
    jrauch  March 3, 2019

    I find it very interesting that people want to use the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as a Biblical passage against homosexuals but never mention a VERY similar story in Judges 19. The men in this case end of raping the Levite’s concubine to death! I guess since we don’t often hear about homosexuals gang raping a woman to death, these passages are not part of the Biblical readings from the anit-LGBTQ!

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  9. Avatar
    Pattylt  March 3, 2019

    Lev 20:13… I have a gay friend (male) who likes to emphasize that that isn’t a problem as he has NEVER lain with another man LIKE a woman! Makes me laugh til this day…of course they don’t!

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  10. Avatar
    ddorner  March 3, 2019

    Leviticus 20:13 “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

    Most denominations today would acknowledge (one would hope) that putting someone to death for a sex act would be unjust. it’s part of an antiquated view of sexual morality. So why not simply acknowledge that the biblical view itself of sexual morality may be antiquated and unjust? Especially considering most churches today permit divorce and remarriage, i.e. church sanctioned “adultery”.

    Luckily even among my most fundamentalist friends and family i’ve begun to see a change in perspective. i don’t think a church with anti LGBTQ is sustainable.

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    • Avatar
      DennisJensen  March 5, 2019

      ddorner 3mr19
      “putting someone to death for a sex act would be unjust. it’s part of an antiquated view of sexual morality. So why not simply acknowledge that the biblical view itself of sexual morality may be antiquated and unjust?”

      The NT does not advocate putting anyone to death for such acts (I would argue). The OT civil and ceremonial law was for a specific group of people under a special covenant. Those Israelites who didn’t want to follow such laws (non-moral laws, I would claim) could easily emigrate to more gay-friendly countries. (Could you imagine Alexander proposing anti-gay laws?) And doing so wouldn’t necessarily indicate a rejection of their God.

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      • Avatar
        ddorner  March 12, 2019

        @dennisjensen 1 Corinthians 6 “9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

        Perhaps the NT doesn’t call for a physical murder of homosexuals, but Paul clearly believed homosexuals would not inherit
        the kingdom of God. Which, one could argue, is far worse than an earthly death. At least from his perspective.

        • Avatar
          DennisJensen  March 14, 2019

          @ddorner 12mr19
          I made some comments earlier to Dr. Siker’s post on Homosexuality and the New Testament that responds to this comment. I’m not sure if this will link you or not but you can try it: https://ehrmanblog.org/homosexuality-and-the-new-testament-guest-post-by-jeff-siker/comment-page-2/#comments. Otherwise just search for my name under that topic at 5mr19.

          Two points for now, another one later (I overran my word limit):
          1) it is not at all clear that he is speaking of any kind of homosexual behavior at all in 1 Timothy 1 or 1 Corinthians 6. If I remember correctly, someone might argue that the words could refer to same-gender sex involving prostitution or pederasty but I’d have to review the argument to see if even that has any force. See Boswell’s very important and much longer argument. I left a reference to his book in the above linked post.

          2) Romans 1 is the only important NT passage to look at. From that passage we might come to wonder whether Paul thought that marital (intentionally monogamous) homosexual behavior by the constitutionally same sex attracted is sinful and damning. Of course he might have, the problem is that he just doesn’t say. So we just don’t know. Christians cannot be concerned about what a biblical writer might have thought, even those who are pretty sure they know what he thought; they’re only concerned about what he actually wrote. The idea is that God guided the writing of scripture so that even if a writer had a false religious belief, God made sure that belief was not recorded in scripture. Pediphilia and prostitution, whether they involved the same sexes or not, he clearly did condemn.

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        • Avatar
          DennisJensen  March 14, 2019

          @ddorner 12mr19
          “Paul clearly believed homosexuals would not inherit the kingdom of God. Which, one could argue, is far worse than an earthly death.”

          Let me give you one other comment on this point specifically in addition to my previous two:

          I do think Paul did teach in Romans 1 that homosexual behavior by certain people is morally wrong (opposite sex attracted individuals who become same-sex attracted simply as a result of unbridled lust and promiscuity). Siker thinks it’s speaking of pederasty and prostitution. Whether or not he is right, Paul does elsewhere clearly condemn such acts as well. And you quoted 1 Corinthians 6 citing several other activities Paul thinks exclude people from the Kingdom of God. Most of these activities, maybe all of them, I think you would admit are pretty bad and should exclude people from God’s Kingdom (if there is one). The Christian message is that God offers a means by which people like this—and indeed anyone who has done something evil, something harmful to someone else—can be reconciled to God. I’ve argued elsewhere that the biblical view is that God’s judgment of those who knowingly reject God and God’s offer of reconciliation (as well as those who reject God on just the possibility of God’s existence) face only a temporary time of punishment depending on what evil they have done (see my book Flirting with Universalism for the arguments). What we deserve may certainly be far worse than an earthly death but it would be just.

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  11. Avatar
    XanderKastan  March 4, 2019

    It seems to me in Genesis 19, Lot is telling the men he would be happy to let them rape his daughters in order to save the visitors. Wanting to protect his guests is just good hospitality, but being willing to make that sort of sacrifice is quite sick! I know the writers of Genesis generally display a lower opinion of females, but still, it’s his own daughters!

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    • Avatar
      godspell  March 7, 2019

      Compared to your average first person shooter game?

      People liked lurid violent fantastic stories back then too–all people. Everywhere.

      Yes, it’s absurd to say the people in the bible are all models of good behavior, but have most Christians and Jews really taken them as such?

      If we’d read more mythology besides the bible, we’d realize how normal this all is. And how ridiculous it is to either take this all as a literal guide to living OR as proof that these people have nothing to teach.

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  12. Avatar
    rburos  March 4, 2019

    Didn’t see this string coming, but looks like March is going to be just as interesting as February.

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    Ask21771  March 4, 2019

    How do you respond to people who say form criticism has been debunked

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2019

      Parts of it certainly have. It’s really no longer used. I discuss all this in my book Jesus Before the Gospels.

  14. Avatar
    jhague  March 4, 2019

    It is interesting that many Christians condem homosexuality and reference Leviticus 20:13 but back away from the dealth penalty for it. Bart – do you find this to be true of your students?

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    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2019

      Never asked them! But I’m sure they do.

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      • Avatar
        Hon Wai  March 5, 2019

        When was the first recorded incident in Jewish or Christian writings of someone being killed or threatened to be killed for expressing their homosexuality? I don’t recall any incident in the Bible that narrates an incident of this sort. I wonder to what extent this feature of the Jewish Law was ever put into practice. Rabbinic Judaism of later centuries were often very creative in their interpretation and implementation of the Jewish Law. Did those rabbis mandate the death penalty for homosexuality? Am I correct that all patristic Christian writers who commented on homosexuality, condemned it?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 6, 2019

          The point Siker is making is that homosexuality didn’t *exist* for these people. But if you’re referring to same-sex sexual acts (not the same as “homosexuality”!) no, there’s no instance of execution for it in the Bible. But yes, in Jewish law it is forbidden, and the church fathers agreed.

          • Avatar
            Lebo55  May 26, 2019

            “The point Siker is making is that homosexuality didn’t *exist* for these people. ”

            Please explain, was it that they didn’t hold the same views on sexuality especially homosexuality that we do today or it wasn’t important to them and why was it forbidden at all in Jewish law was it to set them apart from the broader ancient world?

          • Bart
            Bart  May 26, 2019

            They did not have any sense at all that people have a sexual “orientation.” They knew aobut same-sex sex acts, but not about “sexuality”

          • Avatar
            Lebo55  May 28, 2019

            I’m only asking because people today myself included I think are confused about how to interpret the Bible VS knowledge of the world of the Bible and of ancient times especially when archeology comes into play.

            The subject of homosexuality is important because how does one interpret chapter and verse condemning sexual acts when we know through archeology, artwork and literature that these acts were widely practiced and accepted or is that a stretch?

          • Bart
            Bart  May 29, 2019

            There’s an extended literature on this among biblical scholars. You might start with the collection of essays on Homosexuality and the Church by Jeff Siker (guest blogger!) and / or a book by Dale Martin: Sex and the Single Savior.

        • Jeffrey Siker
          Jeffrey Siker  March 8, 2019

          It’s a good question, and I wish I knew the answer. There’s certainly nothing in the Bible that narrates the killing of anyone for same-sex acts. There’s no real evidence of which I am aware that describes an actual case of punishment of same-sex relations in rabbinic tradition. The rabbis did have an interesting debate about whether same-sex relations between women was banned or not. Some rabbis said yes, while others said it wasn’t a sin because no semen was involved. Most modern legal codes included laws against sodomy. For example, laws against homosexual practice can be found in 18th and 19th century English common law (the crime of “buggery”). In 1895 the famous writer Oscar Wilde was convicted of sodomy and sent to prison for two years.

  15. Avatar
    RVBlake  March 4, 2019

    “Clergypersons.” Good Grief.

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2019

      Sounds weird at first! But a lot of better language does, when we’re not used to it. The only option is to call women men, and that can’t be good!

      10
      • NulliusInVerba
        NulliusInVerba  March 4, 2019

        “Clerics” is a good synonym although it doesn’t speak as to gender.

        1
  16. Avatar
    dankoh  March 4, 2019

    Many people here have already commented on the story of Sodom, so I’ll just add that the traditional rabbinic (Talmudic) view is that the sin of Sodom was its ill-treatment of strangers, of which the attempt to rape the angels was one more example. Philo of Alexandria was one of the few commentators of that period to associate it with homosexuality, and he may have been influenced by the Hellenistic milieu he lived in.

    Later rabbinic commentators, in the Middle Ages, did adopt the Christian position, probably because they were surrounded by Christians.

  17. Avatar
    Steefen  March 4, 2019

    Here we go, again, slapping homosexuals with Leviticus. You want to slap homosexuality with Leviticus well, all of Christianity is slapped into a poisonous atheism with Leviticus as well.

    Jesus and Paul and the gospel of John in the New Testament say, this is my blood, drink, this is my body, eat. Psalm 27: 7 says Hear, O LORD, my voice when I call; be merciful and answer me. What? The homosexual cannot call God, cannot ask and obtain mercy? You so-called African Christians are in ERROR. Psalm 28:8 My heart said, “Seek His face. Your face, O LORD, I will seek.” But Paul, Jesus, the author of the Gospel of John knew LEVITICUS 17: 10: Any Israelite or ANY alien living among them who eats any blood–I will set My face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people. THAT is the poison of Christian Holy Communion. The Jews who had input into what the gospels and the letters of Paul would be KNEW the sacrament of Holy Communion would make Christians blocked from the God of the Old Testament. I would never again have that God try an exodus or try to deliver the Jews from the Romans: it would end militant belief in messiahs and revolution against Rome. Rome was afraid of the God of the Old Testament and by separating people from that God through Holy Communion, they had insurance that God had no life.

    Jeremiah 19: 4-5. “For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods … they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. [Wasn’t Jesus supposed to be so innocent?] Verse 9: I, the Lord Almighty, will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters and they will eat one another’s flesh during the stress of the siege imposed on them by the enemies who seek their lives.

    Now, turn to Lamentations 4: 10. With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children who became their food when my people were destroyed.

    Communion is a ritual of God turning his back on people, it is a ritual of defeat, and it is a virus to shut down the energy flow of face time with God.

    You still want to slap people around with Leviticus? You still want to base your votes on Leviticus?

  18. Avatar
    JayinHK  March 5, 2019

    I liked the way Harari put it in Homo Deus:
    “Hence according to our best scientific knowledge, the Leviticus injunctions against homosexuality reflect nothing grander than the biases of a few priests and scholars in ancient Jerusalem. Though science cannot decide whether people ought to obey God’s commands, it has many relevant things to say about the provenance of the Bible. If Ugandan politicians think that the power that crated the cosmos, the galaxies and the black holes becomes terribly upset whenever two Homo sapiens males have a bit of fun together, then science can help disabuse them of this rather bizarre notion.”

    • Avatar
      godspell  March 5, 2019

      Did it ever occur to you that homophobia was not invented by any one culture? Prejudice against gays exists in places where Christianity was never prevalent.

      If there had been no Judaism, no Christianity, no Islam, there would still be homophobia. It might look quite different, but it would still be the same old human distrust of those who are different, and we’re all guilty of that.

      3
  19. Avatar
    MaryPetra  March 5, 2019

    I remember having heard a lecture where the speaker speculated on possible reasons (i.e. on the cultural background) why lying with a male as with a woman is called an abomination in Lev 18,22.
    The first thought was that it might have been perceived as a betrayal of the patriarchal role of the man when he behaved like a woman.
    And secondly, he suggested that the offense might have been taken in the waste of sperm involved. People didn’t know yet how abundant a male’s production of that treasure was and therefore feared that men could run out of it before the highly valued heirs were begotten and born.
    Do these points sound plausible to you, Dr. Siker und Dr. Ehrman?

    2
    • Jeffrey Siker
      Jeffrey Siker  March 8, 2019

      It’s more likely that the prohibition had something to do with practices that were perceived as idolatrous. The proximity of references to “Molech worship” in the Leviticus passages is suggestive in this regard.

      2
    • Avatar
      DaveAyres  March 12, 2019

      There is a period when semen was perceived to carry that actual human being. A woman’s body simply allowed the already created human being to grow to a larger size. Therefore ejaculation could be seen as killing the person who was in the ejaculation. That can explain the Onan story.

      We have to put ourselves into the minds of people thousands of years in the past. That is problem with assuming that Biblical text is divine and literal. That premise refuses to see the past as the past. Not unlike Faulkner’s description of the southerners not seeing the past not as dead or even as the past.

  20. Avatar
    ftbond  March 6, 2019

    I tend to think that there is far too much emphasis put on whether the bible (OT or NT) “condemns” something (or not).

    What if the wording were something like “thou shalt not engage in sexual acts with those of the same sex, because ‘this-and-that emotional-and-physical-health-related reason(s), and thus, would not be good for you”? Then, it wouldn’t be a matter of discussing (and agreeing or disagreeing) with a “moral” issue, but would be a matter of whether one agreed or disagreed with the (stated) health-related reasons.

    Let’s take “theft”, as a “for instance”. One might say that theft is wrong “because God says so, and He condemns it”. Fine. But, what if the bible said “thou shalt not steal, because in doing so, you are potentially (or, in fact) causing harm to the owner of the object”, says God.

    Would anybody have a problem with that? Yeh, some would, I’m sure. But hey, it takes all kinds…

    My point is that people get so caught up in concerning themselves as to whether “God condemns” something or not, when in fact, we – just as humans – have all kinds of prohibitions on things which are not “wrong” just because somebody said so, but rather, because most everybody agrees that they are things that are bad for the human being. It’s kind of the reason we have laws to put warning labels on rat poison, that kind of thing.

    • Avatar
      godspell  March 7, 2019

      More to the point, if the people who wrote these books–who hardly represented all Jews–are constantly referring to these behaviors among their own, that means these behaviors may not have been that rare. The gospels are enormously influential books, but at the time they were written, very few people had even heard of Jesus. The Old Testament books were similarly not best-sellers of their day (they probably weren’t selling at all, but were composed for a tiny select audience), and may not have become well known for centuries after they were first written–and their authors were likewise forgotten. The text takes on authority by virtue of being old, and people say it’s the word of God, because nobody can remember who actually wrote it.

      After a while, all I can hear in these rants is “Those awful Jews! If it wasn’t for them, we’d have no sexual guilt or prejudice!”

      Sheahright.

      1

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