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Discussions on sexual content from Biblical perspectives

Jesus as Single: An Actual Argument!

So far I have pointed out that it is flat-out wrong to say that every Jewish man in the first century was married and was expected to be married. It is not only demographically impossible (there were not enough women to go around) but we know of Jewish men from the time of Jesus who were not married and were proud of it. Strikingly, they, like him, were apocalyptically minded Jews – such as the Essenes and the apostle Paul. I have also argued that whatever Mary Magdalene was to Jesus, she was not his lover and spouse, to the great disappointment of us all….. But is there an actual argument that Jesus was not married other than the silences? I think there is. And this is what it is. A good deal of Jesus’ teaching, of course, was ethical in nature, about how people ought to live and conduct themselves. Many people think of Jesus as one of the great moral teachers of all time, and I have no quarrel with that. But I [...]

2020-05-01T13:28:08-04:00February 7th, 2020|Historical Jesus, Sex and Sexuality in the Bible|

Was Jesus Intimate with Mary Magdalene?

  I pointed out in my last post that most people simply assume that Jesus was not married because there is no mention of his wife in any of our sources, or any mention that he ever had a wife. And so it is assumed that he did not have one. As scholars often, and rightly, argue, that is an argument from silence, and on it's own it is not a very strong one – since, among other things, none of these sources indicates, either, that he was not married. And so it  is not evidence in one direction or another. It’s a good point, but my own view is that the silence in this case is telling – though not for the reason people sometimes say. It is sometimes wrongly asserted – by no less an inimitable authority than Dan Brown, in the Da Vinci Code – that if there was no claim that Jesus was not married that must mean that he was married, since Jewish men were “always” married. In my last [...]

So… WAS Jesus Married?

As a follow-up to my previous post, I'll now re-post a couple of reflections on this question that has obsessed modern people: was Jesus probably married?   I should say that what obsesses most folk is not what obsesses scholars, as a rule; in my roughly 89 million discussions with New Testament scholars over the past 44 years, I don't recall ever having a detailed back-and-forth about it, except in public settings in front of a crowd of non-scholars.  It's kind-a like Shakespeare.  I know this is disappointing, but the major Shakespeare scholars in universities in England and America do NOT have discussions about whether Shakespeare really wrote the plays.  It's just not the issue.... Anyway, I did have to deal with the question of Jesus possible marriage, with a couple of other scholars, in front of a crowd five years ago.  I posted on it afterward.  Here's what I said. ***************************************************************** I am en route just now, back from Las Vegas, where I participated in a discussion with two other scholars at the Black Mountain [...]

2020-05-01T13:30:43-04:00February 3rd, 2020|Historical Jesus, Sex and Sexuality in the Bible|

Does the New Testament Condemn “Homosexuals”?

It is commonly argued that the Bible condemns sexual “perversion” such as gay or lesbian sex.  In earlier posts I discussed the relevant passages of the Old Testament, to show that they simply cannot be used in these modern debates, since their very understandings of the phenomena are completely at odds with what people think today (including, most emphatically, the people who appeal to those passages in support of their views).  See, for example: https://ehrmanblog.org/are-same-sex-relations-condemned-in-the-old-testament/?highlight=homosexual I should stress there are lots of other activities that are condemned in the Bible all over the map, and these are never a particular emphasis of modern ethical discussion, whether in Christian circles or in society at large.  You may be able to deprive gays and lesbians of their civil rights or deny them the ability to serve in the church, based on a couple of passages (almost always misinterpreted) scattered here and there throughout the very large Bible; but what about doing the same for people who are greedy, who get angry, who disobey their parents, who eat [...]

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 [...]

Maybe Jesus DOES Talk about “Homosexuality”?

In my recent post I pointed out that Jesus said nothing – nada! – about same sex relations in any of his surviving teachings.   One blog member pointed out a post on a different blog by New Testament scholar Scot McKnight arguing that there are there passages in the Gospels where in fact Jesus *may* have been referring to homosexuality, in condemnatory terms.  I thought, HUH?  THAT’s interesting!  I better look.  So I did.   I don’t think there’s any way this is right, but you can decide for yourself. This will take two posts.  I’ll cite the the passages, then Scot’s assessment of them (which I summarize), and my response. Several things to say at the outset.   I have known Scott (not well, but a bit) for many years.  He is a bona fide scholar of the New Testament, a well-trained and careful interpreter of the text.  He is also a committed evangelical Christian, and an interesting one: a few years ago he “converted” (or at least moved on or over) to join the Episcopal [...]

Jesus and “Homosexuality”

This post is free and available to everyone.  Most posts on the blog are for members only.  But the good news is that it's extremely easy and inexpensive to join.  It costs less than 50 cents a week, for five posts of this substance.  You get TONS for your money.  And all proceeds to to charity.  So why not? Most Christians today who continue to condemn homosexuality, whether in publicly opposing the LGBTQ community or privately assigning people of various sexual identities or non-heterosexual actions to eternal damnation, or at least to God’s bad side, do so on the basis of the New Testament.  Yes, they know about the book of Leviticus and it’s condemnation of men having sex with men; but most of the time that is a kind of back-up argument. Since they realize and openly admit that so much else in the book of Leviticus is no longer applicable to Christians (for example, kosher food laws), they realize that the case against same-sex relations, let alone sexual orientation, cannot be water-tight with [...]

Are Same-Sex Relations Condemned in the Old Testament?

When people want to show that the Bible condemns same-sex relations – either to justify depriving LGBTQ people of civil rights, to condemn them morally, to preclude them from serving in church offices, or even to participate at all in faith communities (or for any other reason) – there are a few passages that typically get cited, usually with vigor. I should stress that there are only a few passages that get cited, since out of the entire Bible – thirty-nine books in the Old Testament, twenty-seven in the New – there are in fact very few that appear to relate to the matter directly.  I stress both the adverb “directly” and the verb “appear.” In terms of “directly: It is possible to take thousands of passage that have nothing to do with same-sex relations and say that they are definitive for them (as in the phrase that was already worn out decades ago: Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve). In terms of “appear”: virtually all of the passages that do seem to deal [...]

Sex and Gender in the Ancient World

Most people agree that there are parts of the Bible that are not applicable today.  We don't normally execute people for being witches or for disobeying parents anymore (at least in the U.S.).  But what about same-sex relations?  Are the Bible's injunctions still applicable about *that*?  It turns out the issues that are involved are different from those surrounding witches and rowdy kids, and n ways most people wouldn't suspect. It's not as easy to explain why, and so I've been laying the background generally by talking about the Bible's understanding of sex and gender broadly.  So far I've talked about the creation of Adam and Eve and what it says about gender and the relationships of male and female (the only gender categories available to the authors), and about how that basic story underlies the insistence by some early Christian authors (1 Timothy 5:11-15, e.g.) that women should be completely submissive to men, and therefore not exercise authority over them or even speak in church (or does it mean generally, unless spoken to?). Now [...]

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. Jeff Siker is the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity, Liquid Scripture: The Bible in the Digital World and Homosexuality and Religion: An Encyclopedia. ****************************************************** 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 [...]

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 [...]

The Surprising Understanding of Gender in the Ancient World

Back in January I made three posts on the role of women in the churches of Paul (see the posts of January 16, 17, and 18).  These raised various questions from readers about how and why women went from having a fairly *prominent* role in Paul’s own churches to having thoroughly *diminished* roles in the churches that arose after his day, as embodied for example in the Pastoral epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (books that claim to be written by Paul but that he did not himself write; they were produced by a later author who, among other things, opposed the role of women in the church). I’d like to answer these questions by discussing a matter that most modern readers of the Bible (or of other ancient texts) simply are unaware of: how ancient people understood the relationship of the genders.   We ourselves have a “common sense” of what the differences between male and female are, and we naturally assume that our common sense has been the common sense of everyone [...]

Celibacy and Polygamy in the Bible: Weekly Readers’ Mailbag July 30, 2016

In this week’s Readers’ Mailbag I’ll be addressing two questions having to do with marriage: first, is it possible that Jesus was not actually celibate but was married and second whether the Bible allows for multiple wives and/or husbands.  Hot topics!   QUESTION Why do so many NT scholars (most recently John Meier) state as fact that Jesus took a lifelong vow of celibacy?  Wouldn't it be more historically accurate simply to say that the NT is silent on the topic?   RESPONSE I have dealt with this issue on the blog before but here let me simply give the brief version, by making a couple factual points and then making a specific argument Factual points: No ancient source of any kind indicates that Jesus was married. The recent “discovery” of the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ wife” has been shown to be a modern forgery.  No Gospel (or any other writing from antiquity) indicates or even suggests that he had (or ever had) a wife (let alone that he had any kind of sexual relationship [...]

Does the New Testament Condemn Modern Practices of Homosexuality?

The third in-class debate (for the other two, see my two preceding posts) is in some ways the most controversial of all, as it hits at the heart of a highly fraught topic today.   And yet the resolution may seem to some people to be undebatable – that the answer to it is obvious.  As it turns out, it isn’t.  The third resolution is this: Resolved:  The New Testament Condemns Modern Practices of Homosexuality Again, the wording of the resolution is meant to make students think about the very words being used.  What is “homosexuality”?  And what are “modern” practices?   If you define homosexuality as same-sex sexual relations, and you define modern practices as things like men having sex with men, then it seems that the answer would be fairly obvious: yes the New Testament does seem to condemn that sort of thing.  But, actually, it’s not that simple.  At all. There are tons of issues involved, which make this debate very complicated.   For one thing ... The Rest of this Post is for Members [...]

Jesus Kissing Mary Magdalene

QUESTION: I know that the “Gospel of Philip does not have much if any real historical veracity to it about Jesus’ life, but does the references about Jesus and Mary Magdalene being lovers and the holes in the papyrus ‘kissing’ verse (verses 32 and 55 in your “Lost Scriptures” book), help support the view that this most likely Gnostic Christian sect truly believed and taught that Jesus and Mary M were married? RESPONSE: Yes, this is one of those questions I get asked about on occasion.   I have a reasonably full discussion of the relevant issues in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.   In the book I put the discussion in the context of – yes, you guessed it --  Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, the one source many people turn to for the Gospel of Philip. (!)   Here’s what I say there: ************************************************************** Some of the historical claims about the non-canonical Gospels in the Da Vinci Code have struck scholars as outrageous, or at least outrageously funny.  The book claims, for example, that [...]

Jesus and Sexuality

A few more thoughts on why it might matter whether Jesus was married. I must admit, for me one of the most useful outcomes of such a discovery (which, alas, I’m afraid will never be made since I doubt he was married) would be that it would show that Jesus was a sexual being, and not some kind of divine automaton walking the dusty paths of Galilee. As Mark Jordan said during our public discussion in Las Vegas – I’m paraphrasing since I can’t remember how he put it exactly, except that it was much wittier than anything I would be able to come up with: Christians need to decide if Jesus had genitals, and if so, whether he used them. Related to this, in theory at least, discovering that Jesus was married could elevate the status and importance of women within the Christian tradition. They are not outsiders, the way they are often imagined to be when people think that all Jesus cared about were the twelve men disciples. They were central to his [...]

2020-04-30T12:43:38-04:00January 30th, 2014|Historical Jesus, Sex and Sexuality in the Bible|

A Married Jesus and Celibate Priests

So, I’ve written a few posts on the question of whether Jesus was married. Short answer: I don’t think so. I’m surprised at how many people on the blog apparently do think so, and I don’t recall that anyone has actually presented any evidence for it. :-) But, well, maybe he was! (I should stress though, that since history is a matter of probabilities, “maybes” don’t as a rule go very far.) Anyway, some readers do think Jesus was married, and fair enough. But does it actually matter? I have jokingly said on a number of occasions: “Not to *me*!” And that’s absolutely true, as I’ll explain later. Some people think that it certainly would matter. For example, if Jesus was married, wouldn’t that more or less single-handedly destroy the idea that priests have to be single and celibate? That would matter! And wouldn’t it elevate the importance of women (especially one of them) in relationship to Jesus, and wouldn’t that be a good thing for women who are oppressed within the Christian tradition? And [...]

2020-04-30T12:44:10-04:00January 29th, 2014|Historical Jesus, Sex and Sexuality in the Bible|

Jesus and Marriage: An Actual Argument!

So far I have pointed out that it is flat-out wrong to say that every Jewish man in the first century was married and was expected to be married. It is not only demographically impossible (there were not enough women to go around) but we know of Jewish men from the time of Jesus who were not married and were proud of it. Strikingly, they, like him, were apocalyptically minded Jews – such as the Essenes and the apostle Paul. I have also argued that whatever Mary Magdalene was to Jesus, she was not his lover and spouse, to the great disappointment of us all….. But is there an actual argument that Jesus was not married other than the silences? I think there is. And this is what it is. A good deal of Jesus’ teaching, of course, was ethical in nature, about how people ought to live and conduct themselves. Many people think of Jesus as one of the great moral teachers of all time, and I have no quarrel with that. But I [...]

2020-04-30T12:45:07-04:00January 27th, 2014|Historical Jesus, Sex and Sexuality in the Bible|

Was Jesus Married?

I am en route just now, back from Las Vegas, where I participated in a discussion with two other scholars at the Black Mountain Institute on the question “Would It Matter If Jesus Were Married?” The Black Mountain Institute is part of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV); it sponsors events having to do with literature and history. Usually these involve two or more scholars, on stage, on chairs, with a moderator, discussing a topic of mutual interest. The moderator last night was Carol Harter, the former president of UNLV. The two other scholars were Karen King and Mark Jordan. Both Karen and Mark are very well known and highly respected scholars. Karen is a professor of early Christianity at Harvard, where she holds the oldest endowed chair, of any kind, in the country; her expertise is especially in early Christian Gnosticism, and she has become best known in the past few years for her role in publicizing the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” that I have blogged on before (search and see!). I’ve [...]

The Sons of God and the Daughters of Men

Another tidbit from my Bible Introduction.  Old news for a lot of you, I know.  But it's fun to write this kind of thing up for college students, who have never heard of such a thing! ************************************************************************************************************************* One of the most mysterious and even bizarre stories in Genesis happens right at the beginning of the flood narrative, where we are told that the “sons of God” looked down among the human “daughters,” saw that they were beautiful, and came down and had sex with them leading to the Nephilim.  The word Nephilim means “fallen ones.”  According to Numbers 13:33, the Nephilim were giants.   So what is going on here in Genesis?  Apparently there were angelic beings (the “sons of God”) who lusted after human women, cohabited with them, and their offspring were giants.  It is at that point that God decides to destroy the world.  The situation was too weird even for him. This brief episode has parallels in other ancient mythologies.  It is common in Greek myths, for example, for one of the gods [...]

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