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Jesus and Sexual Immorality

I began to discuss yesterday the interesting case that NT scholar Scot McKnight advances for thinking that maybe Jesus *does* speak of same-sex relations in the Gospels.  The last (group) of his three references are the ones he thinks are the most likely instances:


Matthew 5:32

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 15:19

For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.


The Greek word for “sexual immorality” here is porneia.  It is a broad term that probably does mean something like “sexual immorality.”   Scot argues that any Jew in the first century who wanted to know what sexual immorality was would automatically think and turn to Leviticus 18, the passage I referred to in an earlier post, a passage that considers a sex with certain others is not just inappropriate but an “abomination.”   Included in the list is “men with men.”  Jesus therefore is condemning homosexual relations.

There’s some sense in that and it seems kind of obvious.  But several points need to be stressed.  First, it’s important to stress the obvious Jesus actually doesn’t mention same-sex relations here.  So to say Jesus “condemns” them, or even “mentions” them is too strong.  Jesus is condemning every kind of sexual immorality.  And so the question is: Would he have included same-sex relations in that category?   He may well have – but he doesn’t say and doesn’t even talk about the issue.   Our question is whether Jesus talks about same sex relations.  No, he doesn’t.

But there’s something else to consider here that’s even more important.  Scot wants to focus on the term “porneia” and argues that it means a range of sexual activities, proscribed in Leviticus 18.  For one thing, Jesus wasn’t speaking Greek so he didn’t use the word porneia.  I’m not sure what word he used in Aramaic, but it’s a bit tricky to say that he used one term in his language, which translates into another term into a different language that Jesus didn’t speak, and that other word in the other language means something broadly, but to see what it means broadly we have to look at a passage in a third language that the author of Matthew’s Gospel probably didn’t read and certainly doesn’t refer to.  If you see what I mean.

But there’s a yet bigger problem.  If you do want to talk about the Greek word porneia, as Scot does, I think you really need to figure out what the word actually meant to the people who used it back then.  And it means things that Scot doesn’t seem to have in mind.

One piece of evidence that it is NOT simply referring to all of the practices proscribed in Leviticus 18, and that therefore he has same-sex acts in mind, is that in the context of the two passages cited above, at the beginning of this post, in the first one “same-sex acts” doesn’t make sense (as I’ll try to show) and in the second one the reference does not appear to be to Leviticus 18.

In terms of the first passage, Matthew   Jesus here is giving an interpretation of Jewish law, saying that Moses did allow for divorce but, in Jesus view, a strict interpretation of the law would suggest that in fact it’s not allowable.  Divorce is not an option.  With one exception: sexual immorality.

I should point out that Matthew got this saying of Jesus from Mark, which makes no exception at all (see Mark 10:11).  This is probably the earliest form of Jesus’ teaching: no divorce, ever.   That’s not exactly acceptable in the modern world, and so most Christians ignore it, as so often happens with passages in the Bible that are clearly no longer applicable.

Except, of course, the ones some Christians really do still like (so of course it is sometimes is OK to get a divorce; but hey, no same-sex relations!  The Bible says so!).

In any event, Matthew has altered Mark’s dictum (on the lips of Jesus) to say that divorce is not acceptable EXCEPT in the case of “sexual immorality.”  In other words, the only time a man can divorce his wife is if she has had immoral sex.   Porneia.   It should be clear that he’s not talking specifically about lesbian sex.  The issue is men and women and what it means to commit “adultery.”  But in every discussion of the term of “adultery” in ancient Jewish sources, it involves men with women, not women with women.

But you think, yes, OK, but he’s actually not saying just adultery: he’s saying all kinds of sexual misconduct.  OK, fair enough.  So what does that entail?  What does “porneia” cover?

You should not think it must refer to the items listed in Leviticus 18.  That’s because of the next passage.   Here it’s clear that for the author of Matthew (let alone Jesus) “porneia” does not mean “what is talked about in Leviticus 18.”  That’s because right before porneia, and along with it, Jesus lists among the “bad thing” specifically, “adultery.”  The problem is that adultery is one of the things mentioned in Leviticus 18 (you can’t have sex with your neighbor’s wife).   And so, if as Scot asserts, “porneia” simply refers to all the things in Leviticus 18, then it would already include adultery, and there would be no need to mention adultery again.  That shows Jesus is not simply thinking that “porneia” involves the things listed in Leviticus 18.

So what is porneia then?   Yes, it is sexual immorality.  But, unbeknownst apparently to the world at large, including most scholars, in ancient Greek sources means something more than “inappropriate partners” – the topic of Leviticus 18.  It also includes “inappropriate sex acts” even with your partner.  Really.

This has been discussed in a recent article jointly authored by Jennifer Knust (one of our recent guest bloggers!), Dale Martin, and David Wheeler-Reed, entitled, surprisingly, “Can a Man Commit Porneia with his Wife?”  It turns out that the answer for many Jewish and Christian authors in antiquity, the answer is “yes.”

You can see the article here (it uses some Greek words, especially the Greek word for “porneia” = πορνεία), but it’s not a difficult article for non scholars to follow:  http://wp.production.patheos.com/blogs/sites/719/2018/09/jbl.1372.2018.345030.pdf

They prove it.   They look at how the word actually gets used in Greek, Jewish, and Christian authors.  In classical Greek, “porneia” means “prostitution.”  Pretty much that simple.

Jews and then Christians later started using it for other sexual activities other than prostitution that were condemned.   It’s a long story.  The short of it is, in a number of important texts, porneia meant any kind of sex that was not with your “legitimate” wife for purposes of procreation.   It is used to refer to inappropriate sex men have with prostitutes, with fallen angels, with a wife if she is from a different tribe (i.e. exogamy or miscegeny), with a concubine who is not a wife.  But also with a wife who is menstruating or pregnant.  Or on a Sabbath.  Or, most telling, only in order to fulfill “passion and lust” – that is, out of desire rather than to make babies.  Or in ways that can make babies.

OK, then.  If we want to say that in Matthew when Jesus condemns “porneia” he is tacitly referring to same-sex relations, and condemning them, we’d have to say he is tacitly referring to oral sex, anal sex, sex on Saturday, sex when a legitimate spouse is menstruating, or when the only real object is to fulfill sexual desire.

And so why would people want to say that Jesus particularly has in mind same-sex sexual relations here?  Because that’s what they are concerned about.  They would never say that he’s talking about these other things.  Or about what specifically happens in an intimate moment.  Even if that could be every bit as much what he is referring to.  And if he is, why is there not a move not only to deprive gay, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals of their civil rights, but also to throw in jail anyone who has sex just because they want to?

People pick and choose what they want when it comes to discussing biblical views of sexual ethics.





Setting Dates for the Gospels
Maybe Jesus DOES Talk about “Homosexuality”?



  1. Barfo
    Barfo  November 24, 2019

    Many U.S. states had/have “crimes against nature” laws on their books that cover “porneia” but are rarely enforced due changes in attitudes towards them. 11/24/19 @0825.

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    godspell  November 24, 2019

    Would perusing pornography constitute porneia? I jest, but probably there is something to that. And we know there was plenty of porn back then (Tiberius alone was reportedly a mainstay of the market). The term pornography does, in fact, derive from porneia, and means ‘watching prostitutes’. (I don’t think Stormy Daniels would agree, but she seems like a good sport.)

    Jesus is talking mainly to poor people. Poor people living under a colonial government, constantly surrounded by foreign soldiers and administrators, who are away from their lawful wives, assuming they have any–doing what soldiers and colonial overlords have always done–trade hard currency for sex with impoverished locals. A perk of the profession, one might say.

    So obviously they would be instances where a man discovered his wife had given herself to a non-Jew for money and/or presents. Under Jewish law this was a slam dunk case for divorce. (And in some cases, might even lead to the woman’s extrajudicial execution, as we see in the Pericope Adulterae–why wasn’t the man there as well? Probably because he was a Roman, therefore not subject to Jewish law, and she was really being punished for consorting with the enemy. Next time you see your recent professional acquaintance Roger David Aus, you might discuss that).

    I agree with you that Jesus wouldn’t have made an exception, even for this–the man should forgive his wife, and the wife should sin no more. But easy to see why Matthew would draw this line, because in Jesus’ short lifetime of asking very difficult things of human nature, this surely is a contender for first prize. Matthew simply couldn’t believe Jesus would have meant no exceptions whatsoever.

    Difficult to find any condemnation of same sex relations between women in the Old Testament–people try, but it isn’t there. Because such relations don’t involve a penis, and are therefore deemed inconsequential. It was the same in most of the ancient world. Until wives started leaving their husbands for another woman and taking the kids, no one cared.

    One must inquire–did Jesus even know there was such a thing as lesbianism? Where precisely would he have learned about it? I assume there were no Aramaic translations of Sappho floating about?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 25, 2019

      We have no way of knowing for sure, other than “common sense” (which is not always common or sense)

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      nichael  November 25, 2019

      With regard to the lack of any mention of lesbianism, as many writers have pointed out, many old and ancient discussions appear to be written with a mindset that seems to presuppose that lesbian sex didn’t actually happen, or, indeed, that no such acts were even possible.

      For example while laws in late 19th cent English were (by today’s standards) quite severe, they contained virtually no mention of corresponding lesbian acts. The (possibly apocryphal) story is that Queen Victoria refused to permit such laws because she found it impossible to accept that such things happened.

      Likewise, another famous show of “lack of imagination” concerning this topic appears in the couplet attributed to Shakespeare (from “The Passionate Pilgrim”):
      “Were kisses all the joys in bed,
      One woman would another wed.”

      • Avatar
        godspell  November 26, 2019

        I thank you for information I did not heretofore possess (though it doesn’t surprise me much).

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    ShonaG  November 24, 2019

    Wouldn’t it be practically impossible to ‘make babies’ without lust unless you used IVF & wouldn’t it also be rape to have sex with somebody that didn’t want to have sex.

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    smackemyackem  November 24, 2019

    Quick side note. Lately I have been going down a William Lane Craig Rabbit Hole. Have you ever specifically addressed his arguments? You know, the four or five indisputable facts. Empty tomb, post-mortem appearance, and the apostles sincere belief in resurreccion.

    Perhaps this would make an interesting series of blog posts on your behalf.

    Just a thought.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 25, 2019

      I’m not sure but I imagine I addressed them in my public debate with him. But I would say that the empty tomb is not an indisputable fact since people — including me — do dispute it. Sincerity of belief is proof of nothing! (Think about it) (I wish *he* did).

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      Fernando Peregrin Gutierrez  November 26, 2019

      WLC says: “New Testament researchers have established this first fact on the basis of evidence such as the very old tradition about Jesus’ burial quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-5:” For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received …
      [F. P.] Nothing is said about that “very old tradition.” There is no traceability from the origin of that oral tradition and its documentation by Paul. W.L.C., escapes that question without responding with the excuse that, being an oral tradition, no documentation has been left.
      But why doesn’t Paul say the source of that information? Was it perhaps Peter when they were together in Jerusalem? It does not seem to be that way, because if that information had come from Peter’s mouth, Paul would surely have written it in his first letter to the Corinthians.
      [W.L-C., Citing Paul] … that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
      [F.P.] Where does that say in the Holy Scriptures?
      You have to have a lot of imagination to see in Isaiah 53 a prophecy of the passion and death of Jesus to radiate the sins of mankind, starting with that of Adam and Eve.
      For the Jews, that interpretation of this passage from Isaiah as a prophecy of Christ is nonsense.
      [W.L.C., citing Paul] “and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
      Again, where in the Holy Scriptures are these facts clearly and unequivocally described?
      Evidence is needed. The Epistemology of the Inner Testimony of the Holy Spirit defended by Mr. Lane craig is not valid.
      [W. L. C., citing Paul] and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. ”
      [F.P.] Impossible for the risen Jesus to appear to the Twelve (Apostles). There were only eleven left.
      All in all, what is the value of this testimony of Paul of the resurrection of Jesus? I’m afraid very little, to say nothing at all.

      If we add to this the absence of something as fundamental to the primitive Christian cult as it is the precise location of the supposed empty tomb of Jesus, how can one affirm so emphatically that there is historical evidence, based in oral sources, of the resurrection of Jesus? There is only faith!

  5. Avatar
    nichael  November 24, 2019

    > “[…] we’d have to say he is tacitly referring to oral sex, anal sex, sex on Saturday, sex when a legitimate spouse is menstruating, or when the only real object is to fulfill sexual desire. […] but also to throw in jail anyone who has sex just because they want to?”

    1] To add one other item to the list:
    Growing up, probably the verses that I most commonly heard cited to “condemn homosexuality” (and which I’ve not seen mentioned in the current discussion) occur earlier in the teaching on divorce in Mk 10 that you cited above; I.e. “God made them male and female. […] Therefore what God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” [Mk 10:6,9]

    Of course, as noted in other examples, this only works if one is willing to twist the clear meaning of the words into knots.

    But the real point here is that if they were making even half an effort to be logically consistent and/or respect what the text actually says, any congregation or group that so much as _questions_ homosexual activity shouldn’t even be willing to allow divorced folks into the building.

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    nichael  November 24, 2019

    Probably the wisest thing I’ve heard said about this topic is that perhaps one could make an argument that the writers of the New Testament (or, for that matter, the Hebrew Scriptures) weren’t OK with (or even neutral about) the question of same-sex relations.

    But a cursory glance at the amount of time they actually spend on the topic makes it pretty clear that it’s not something that they were greatly concerned with; especially when compared with the quantity of ink they used discussing issues that they *were* worried about –like mercy, compassion, and justice.

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    Matt2239  November 24, 2019

    The assumption that Jesus did not speak Greek is not supported by the objective evidence. Jesus was learned, and, according to the New Testament, people marveled at his intelligence. There’s also a huge gap in his history between age 12 and 30. Who knows what he was doing or where he was doing it. Maybe Greece. Maybe even England, the furthest reaches of the then-Roman Empire. We know Jesus was at odds with the local religious leaders, whose written religious documents were in Hebrew. We know the alternate version of the Old Testament at the time was a Greek version, known as the Septuagint. We know the original gospels were written in Greek. We know the earliest churches sprang up in Greece proper. Hence, the conclusion that Jesus didn’t speak or write Greek seems less than certain.

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      RICHWEN90  November 26, 2019

      If Jesus was actually God it has always seemed to me that he ought to have known everything that God knows– past and future in perfect detail, every language, including modern and future programming languages, Quantum Field Theory as it might be several thousand years in the future– all that can be known, in fact. And that would include causes and cures of every disease. On and on. Based on the gospels I don’t really get the impression that Jesus knew any of that. So, if God becomes Man, is God, then, as stupid as we are? And if God incarnate is as stupid as we are, why should anyone take Jesus seriously? Yet another question that Licona would dodge or ignore. I noticed a lot of dodging and ignoring going on in his guest post… he might be a very nice and even intelligent guy, but being a True Believer seems to make people disingenuous and a a bit shifty. Just my opinion. No offense.

  8. Avatar
    Logan Jones  November 24, 2019

    I’m assuming you’ll talk about Paul’s view on homosexuality in the future?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 25, 2019

      I wasn’t planning on it. What I will be arguing is that ancient people had no concept of homosexuality. If the issue is whether Paul had sex with other men, I’d say there’s no evidence either way, so statistically it would be unlikely, but … there’s no way to know.

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    Pattycake1974  November 24, 2019

    I don’t find McKnight’s argument convincing. Philo mentions men wearing purple robes, putting on makeup, curling their hair, and completely living their lives as women. There’s no context for Matthew’s use of robe to mean other than what it says.

    I read the article about porneia, and there’s definitely lots of restrictions on sex and marriage in the ancient world. However, the article doesn’t suggest that Matthew is talking about lustful desire toward a spouse. It says that porneia is a mysterious reference that could mean prostitution, incest, concubinage….at least one scholar says it simply means sexual activity outside of marriage.

    I very much disagree that Paul instructed his followers to not have desire toward their wives. The article references 1 Thess. 4: 3-7. (2 Thess. is referenced too, but that’s a mistake; it has to mean 1 Thess.) The footnote in the NRSV does say that it could be an instruction for how to take a wife, but really, Paul doesn’t seem to be talking about that. In 1 Corinthians 7, he gives explicit instructions to men who can’t control their desires which is to marry. He even tells them not to abstain from sex for a long period of time. I think it’s possible Paul instructed both men and women to behave appropriately in public whether they were married or not. Or it could mean that he expected men to behave chastely toward women they intended to marry. At any rate, I think the NRSV translators got it right.

    The other NT scriptures they give are listed as vices and are very generalized. They state this in their article, so the only scriptural reference they give that could mean “fornication with one’s wife” is 1 Thessalonians. I find it very odd that they would say that “acquire” or “possess” a “vessel” means that Paul is talking to married men about their wives. They have to take out the inclusive language in order to do that. And it doesn’t work unless it’s written to a male audience, but then Paul doesn’t say anything about husbands, wives, marriage… It’s a very weak argument and comes across as forced.

    • Avatar
      Pattycake1974  November 24, 2019

      Adding on to my other comment:
      That section of the article ends with “If we were to ask Paul, then, if a man can commit πορνεία with his wife, he would say, “Yes!” especially if he has sex with her out of lustful desire. In our opinion, Matthew likely thinks the same thing.”

      First of all, they didn’t prove that.

      Second, I have to wonder what they’re talking about when they say Matthew thinks the same thing when nothing about their argument suggested anything close to that. Are we to think Matthew is saying that a man can only divorce his wife when she lustfully desires him? If that’s the case, the disciples ask Jesus, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” To which Jesus replies, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given…Let anyone accept this who can.” In other words, don’t get divorced or if you do get divorced, accept that you’ll never have sex again. He mentions eunuchs in this passage as well.

      If this is what they’re trying to say, the argument is not in their favor even more because the disciples know that passion exists between spouses, otherwise, they wouldn’t have said that no one should marry. Jesus recognizes that fact too and may not be exactly thrilled about it, but indicates he understands that everyone isn’t cut out for the single life, so stay married. Paul echoes much of the same sentiment: sexual desire isn’t a good thing, but if you can’t control yourself, marriage is the only way. At any rate, that wasn’t their argument, so I don’t know why they made that statement about Matthew.

      • Avatar
        Pattycake1974  November 24, 2019

        My final comment for this:
        “Though it may seem difficult to pinpoint exactly what this word study means for modern readers of the New Testament, we believe the answer is quite simple. By the reckoning of early Christian authors, including those of the New Testament, anyone who has engaged in a sexual act and enjoyed it is guilty of πορνεία. This means, of course, that modern attempts to relegate πορνεία to same-sex acts and sex outside marriage need to be reevaluated. It is not just sex acts outside marriage that were deemed illicit and were condemned by Second Temple Jews and early Christians; certain acts within marriage also received the stigma of πορνεία.”

        This looks very much like the type of shenanigans that conservative Christians resort to when trying to prove homosexuality is a heinous sin.

        • fefferdan
          fefferdan  November 28, 2019

          On the other hand [regarding having lustful desire towards one’s wife] the rabbis thought that lust for one’s wife was actually a good thing, for without it, humans couldn’t fulfill the blessing to be fruitful and multiply. Remember that for Jews [including Paul?] there was no such concept as Original Sin. The Yetzer Harah [evil inclination] was part of God’s creation and that includes lust. See for example (Sifre, Deut. 32) which says that when a human is enjoined to love God “with all thy heart,” this means that both the good impulse and the evil impulse must be directed in accordance with God’s Law . Whether Paul shared this view is debatable. But I do think we need to take care to avoid projecting Augustinian views onto Paul and other NT writers. Not sure how understand Hebrews 13.9, Patty — is the marriage bed ‘undefiled’ as long as there is no actual adultery, or is it to be ‘kept undefiled’ by engaging in marital union without enjoying it? https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Yetzer_harah

          • Avatar
            Pattycake1974  November 29, 2019

            Do you mean Hebrews 13:4? “Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.”

            I think it means someone who is behaving in a sexually immoral way. It’s vague; however, there’s no context for it to mean lust between a husband and wife. Whereas, the extra-biblical sources the article mentions are either explicit in their meaning or understood contextually.

          • Avatar
            Pattycake1974  November 29, 2019

            But what’s even more bizarre in the article is that the authors use the Church Fathers‘ writings to explain how they condemned lustful desire between a husband and wife by using Paul’s letters. The Church Fathers didn’t even mention 1 Thessalonians which is the one place where the authors try to support their claim. The other place where they say the NT probably asserts the same thing is in Matthew. The Church Fathers didn’t use that either.

          • fefferdan
            fefferdan  December 5, 2019

            Pattycake… Yes, I’m referring to Hebrews 13.4. My Greek is weak but I think the interpretation “Let the bed be undefiled” may be misleading. I’ve understood it to read “the bed IS undefiled” which seems to be the more literal translation. That’s where I derive the sense of the verse to mean that the marriage act [like marriage itself] is not to be considered shameful even when it’s enjoyed!
            Bart, if you see this your expert opinion would be helpful.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 6, 2019

            It’s actually interesting in the Greek. Sometimes Greek doesn’t actually have the verb “to be” at all in a sentence that implies it. The form of the verb (and it’s presence at all) is to be implied by the context. Literally the Greek of Heb. 13:4 says. Honorable, among all: marriage; undefiled: the marriage bed. This is in a serious of admonitions, so the verb to be supplied is something like “is to be.” Marriage is to be honorable among all; the marriage bed ist to be undefiled.

          • Avatar
            Pattycake1974  December 7, 2019

            Sounds like the marriage bed IS honorable and undefiled in addition to the marriage bed is “to be” or should remain (?) should stay in a continual state of (?) honor and undefilement. So does that mean it stays undefiled because one is married or Is continually undefiled because one is married or should the married person actively avoid defilement?

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    hankgillette  November 24, 2019

    Jesus’s words come to us filtered through two languages. Can we ever know the subtleties of what he said, even assuming that the writers of the Gospels knew the exact words he said in the original Aramaic?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 25, 2019

      Probably not completely, no. For that you need to see a person face to face while talking, adn even then you’ll miss some things.

      • Avatar
        Kirktrumb59  November 27, 2019

        AH! The issue of executing and comprehending non-verbal communication (gestures, vocal tone, pitch and amplitude, postural changes, etc.) i.e., PROSODY. There’s a Greek-derived word for ya. In many social contexts, non-verbal communication (e.g., irony, sarcasm, inference, others) is as, or more important than what’s actually been spoken. APROSODY (or dysprosody), in the absence of any verbal language disturbance (aphasia) can be disastrous. See: Woodrow Wilson, Wm. O. Douglas

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    mikezamjara  November 25, 2019

    very interesting Dr Ehrman.

    What about sex before marriage?, do the bible says something about that? just checking.

    off topic:
    You have said many times that if we compare the gospels in a paralel way we could see the differences of the passages in it. Is that job done somewhere? I mean, a version or book that shows the four gospels in parallel? If not, isn’t that a good idea for divulgation or research purposes? what about a bible with the books in real chronological order of writing? I mean, the gospel of Mark first or the paul’s letters before the gospels to check the evolution of theology in time.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 25, 2019

      No, not really.

      Oh, yes, lots of books that give “Gospel Parallels.” Best is Kurt Aland, Synopsis of the Four Gospels (but make sure you get the ENGLISH version, not the Greek one!)

  12. Avatar
    AndrewB  November 25, 2019

    Hello, Dr. Ehrman!

    Quick question re: Matthew 5:32. “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

    Wouldn’t that quote by Matthew be an argument against the word meaning homosexual sex? Matthew is separating the two: Adultery = sex outside of marriage; sexual immorality = not sex outside of marriage (but something else. After all, Leviticus provides a lot of options for sexual immorality that are not homosexuality). Otherwise, he’d say, “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for her adultery, makes her the victim of adultery. . .” Whatever she is doing does not seem to be in the same category as homosexuality, which, in their times, would be by default adultery when done when married (cause you wouldn’t be allowed to marry someone of the same sex). (Also, it seems to be a one-way street; as if a woman would never have to worry about a man having same-sex relations while married – but that’s the specific type mentioned in the OT and would seemingly be more relevant to 1st century Jews/Jesus).

    • Bart
      Bart  November 25, 2019

      Interesting argument.

      • Avatar
        hankgillette  November 25, 2019

        Matthew 5:32 “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

        I have trouble parsing this verse because it is so androcentric (I had to look that word up). Did a female have the option of divorcing her husband for sexual immorality? If so, if she remarried, was the man who married her committing adultery?

        Could a man who divorced his wife for sexual immorality then remarry (presumably a virgin) without causing anyone to commit adultery?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 26, 2019

          The verse *seems* to presuppose that the divorced woman remarries, and thereby commits adultery; as does the man who marries her. And yes, apparently a man who divorces because his wife is guilty of sexual immorality can remarry a single woman who has not herselve been divorced without either of them committing adultery.

          • Avatar
            RorscHaK  November 26, 2019

            Dr. Ehrman, do you think Matthew 5:32 is likely from the historical Jesus, or was it more likely Matthew’s own view?

          • Bart
            Bart  November 27, 2019

            I think Jesus himself opposed divorce for any reason.

          • Avatar
            hankgillette  November 28, 2019

            Okay, I did ask multiple questions, but could a Jewish woman divorce her husband for sexual immorality?

          • Bart
            Bart  November 29, 2019

            I’m not sure we know exactly, except that it depended on when and where.

  13. Avatar
    pianoman  November 25, 2019

    I asked a Christian friend of mine why I should follow anything Jesus had to say about sex and his moral code, since most Christians say that jesus never had sex in his life! If Jesus never had sex himself (including masterbation), how would he even know what it was all about? How can he give a moral code for sex when he knows nothing about it? I found out Christians don’t like to talk about this subject. Seems to me like another mistake in the Gospels.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 25, 2019

      Interesting argument. On the other hand, I am happy to tell people not to commit murder even though I haven’t done so myself.

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    AstaKask  November 25, 2019

    Is that why the Catholic Church condemn condoms?

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    ShonaG  November 25, 2019

    ‘Porneia’ doesn’t mean prostitution, means working class prostitution or prostitution available to the poor just as porn means erotic art the poor can access. Why is it being discussed without referencing the class aspect of the word. It is just as relevant today as then, not only does Jesus not use this word he wouldn’t have used it. For the same reason he wouldn’t have called Epstein a sex offender instead of a paedophile just because of royalty.

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    timcfix  November 25, 2019

    Thank you for the Knust, Martin, Wheeler-Reed link. I can’t wait to hit the KJVOs with that knowledge.

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    Pattycake1974  November 25, 2019

    “OK, then. If we want to say that in Matthew when Jesus condemns “porneia” he is tacitly referring to same-sex relations, and condemning them, we’d have to say he is tacitly referring to oral sex, anal sex, sex on Saturday, sex when a legitimate spouse is menstruating, or when the only real object is to fulfill sexual desire.“

    I don’t understand why you’re saying this. The best they could come up with in their article is that porneia means sexual activity outside of marriage/infidelity. They even state that Origen’s view of Matthew was that a husband should satisfy his wife’s sexual desires in order to keep her from committing porneia. Other extra-Biblical authors may attribute Matthew to lustful desires for a spouse, but the bottom line for certain Christians will be that the NT doesn’t say that.

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    dankoh  November 25, 2019

    1. Paul (who did write in Greek) uses the word porneia; was he using it for prostitution, or did mean it in a broader sense?

    2. Jews generally did not limit sexual activity to procreation; the Talmud (which admittedly is later than this period) prescribes a minimum number of times husband and wife should have sex, based on his occupation. (It also says she can refuse him, but he cannot refuse her.) The major exception to this view was the Essenes, who were extremely strict in limiting sex to procreation, one reason, I believe, why they were never very popular among the Jews. But John the Baptist was a novitiate there and I think this is one more piece of evidence that the Essenes influenced Jesus’s thinking.

    3. The other impression I have of Jesus re: sex is that he wasn’t that interested in it. In particular, he argues that there will be no sex in heaven, and the world is about to end anyway, so why bother?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 25, 2019

      1. More broadly, almost certainly; 2. The article is talking about usage in Jewish sources in the second-temple period, not the Talmudic.

      • Avatar
        dankoh  November 25, 2019

        On point 2: Yes, it’s later, but I don’t think there was much difference in Jewish thinking on this topic between Second Temple and Mishnah times. In the Middle Ages, we do see an increasingly “puritanical” attitude in Judaism, probably the result of Christian influence.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 26, 2019

          That’s been the biggest transformation in the understanding of early Judaism in the past fifty years, the recognition that the rabbis are not representative of the centuries before them.

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    jhague  November 25, 2019

    “I should point out that Matthew got this saying of Jesus from Mark, which makes no exception at all (see Mark 10:11). This is probably the earliest form of Jesus’ teaching: no divorce, ever.”

    Do you believe this saying to be from Jesus, partially from Jesus or only from the author of Mark?

  20. Avatar
    nichael  November 25, 2019

    This is pretty far off topic, but since Christmas is coming up –and this relates to some discussions earlier this year– I thought I’d bring it up:

    Among folks who attempt to provide “natural” justifications for extraordinary events in biblical accounts, a common explanation for the Star of Bethlehem is that it was a particularly notable “planetary conjunction”.

    I thought I’d mention this because there is an actual major conjunction going on in the evening skies at this very moment. In short if you look to the southwest shortly after sunset the two brightest “stars” you’ll see are the planets Jupiter and Venus. (The moment of closest approach occurs in the evening of Sunday 24Nov when the planets will pass within about 1.5 dgs of each other –that is about 3 times the diameter of the full moon. But the “conjunction” will remain visible over the next few days.)

    In short, this what a “planetary conjunction” actually looks like. That is two bright “stars” kind of close to each in the sky. Not exactly the blazing glory typically depicted in popular depictions and stories. (Furthermore, if you watch the planets over the next few nights you’ll also notice how quickly the planets drift apart. I.e. the celestial event doesn’t linger for months, let alone drift across the sky for searchers to follow.)

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