Why it is important to recognize that Paul does not write about “homosexuality”: The Bible and LGBTQ inclusion [Part 2]

Ted Grimsrud—October 4, 2017

Over the past several decades, as North American Christians have sought to discern the way forward amidst differing convictions concerning the acceptance of LGBTQ Christians and of same-sex marriage, one of the arenas of debate has been what to make of the writings of Paul the Apostle. Several different perspectives have been argued for, in a general sense breaking down into three broad options.

Paul and “homosexuality”*: Three options

*[I will use quotes around “homosexuality” throughout this post to signify my uneasiness with using the word because of the pejorative connotations it has in general usage. What I will mean by “homosexuality” is the general phenomenon of people being attracted to others of the same sex. Part of the difficulty with the language is due to the fluidity of human sexual attraction in general that shows that our reality cannot be reduced to two simple categories, “heterosexual” and “homosexual.”]

(Option 1) Paul may not have written a great deal about “homosexuality,” but what he did write is clear and utterly damning. In Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 Paul makes it clear that same-sex sexual intimacy is always wrong. And, for those who hold this view, Paul’s views remain normative for today. Hence, Christians are bound to oppose same-sex marriage and to restrict the involvement of LGBTQ Christians in the churches.

(Option 2) Others mostly agree with the interpretation of Paul’s writings given by the people in the first group, but they would strongly disagree about the application of Paul’s perspective for today. They would say that Paul was simply wrong; that he was bound by his cultural limitations to hold to views that we no longer need accept. So, in spite of Paul, we should affirm same-sex marriage and full LGBTQ involvement in the churches.

(Option 3) Yet others argue Paul was not writing about we today call “homosexuality” at all. He simply did not address the phenomenon we know today of people whose affectional orientation is toward people of their same sex. Rather, in both Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6, he had in mind the kinds of behaviors that are also wrong for heterosexual people—not a condemning of a class of people for the inherent wrongness of their same-sex orientation.

Confirmation bias?

I suspect that #1 and #2 are both conclusions that follow from starting with the question of what does the Bible tell us about “homosexuality”—with the assumption that it does indeed speak about “homosexuality” and that it is going to be negative about it. Generations of hostility toward “sexual deviance” have reinforced these assumptions—both among people who want to continue that hostility and people who want to eliminate the hostility.

So, the few texts that allegedly speak about “homosexuality” are usually simply cited rather than explored with the question of how we best understand these passages on their own terms. This dynamic then raises the more general issue of how we best apply the Bible to our current concerns: Do we try to find verses that seem to speak directly to our issues or do we look for more general guidance that follows from seeking first to understand the texts on their own terms?

An approach that focuses on understanding the texts on their own terms—and only then tries to draw some general kind of guidance—is much more likely to end up with #3. I believe that when we look at the texts on their own terms we will recognize that Paul did not write about “homosexuality” at all and hence does not offer direct guidance for our ethics on this topic. I would add, then, that following option #3 would lead to a similar conclusion regardless of one’s view of biblical inspiration and authority—whether these are words directly from God or simply from Paul, when looked at on their own terms they are not concerned with “homosexuality.”

What Paul does say

I have written at length elsewhere about what I think these texts, when read on their own terms, do address. In brief, Paul presents in Romans 1 the dynamics of idolatry among Roman pagans as a spiral of injustice where people trust in the creation rather than the creator. Such people inevitably depart from the justice of God and instead embody injustice. One of the most outrageous manifestations of this dynamic, Paul suggests, is how the Roman elite engage in extreme orgiastic parties (notoriously linked with emperors such as Caligula and Nero).

Paul goes on, though, in Romans 2 to make it clear that this description of pagan excess is a caricature that plays the rhetorical role of setting his readers up for a more important critique—the equally unjust dynamics of self-righteous religious folk who point fingers at other terrible sinners while engaged in their own profound injustices. Part of the background here likely is Paul’s own profound injustices borne out of his own earlier religiosity as a zealot Pharisee when he violently persecuted followers of Jesus.

Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 6, Paul also uses an exaggerated caricature of unjust acts done by pagans as a rhetorical device to critique the behavior of Christians. Some in the Corinthian church took fellow church members to secular courts, suing them to address their grievances. Paul heatedly rejects that practice and urgently argues that the Corinthian Christians must instead find ways to resolve their internal conflicts internally and not via the secular magistrates.

To make this point, he emphasizes that the magistrates are unjust, as is typical of pagans, just as the Corinthian Christians themselves were unjust before they met Jesus. To drive this point home, Paul uses what may be a standard “vice list” that illustrates just how unjust pagans are. All of the items on the list Paul uses here seem to refer to obviously unjust behaviors. Their meaning is to be found in their aggregate impression, not in any details about individual terms.

In this context, Paul uses an extremely rare word (no other known uses outside of Paul’s in any Greek writings we have from the first century) that likely alludes to male/male sexual activity. Absent any elaboration in this list of the specific meaning of this term, we best recognize that it is meant simply to add to the sense of the injustice that the Corinthians must avoid in their processing their internal conflicts.

So, in neither Romans 1 nor 1 Corinthians 6 did Paul address Christian sexual ethics. Whatever allusions there might be in either text to male/male sexual behavior are at most illustrative of pagan dynamics of injustice in general. And these dynamics are noted in both texts for rhetorical purposes that have nothing to do with our present-day “homosexuality.”

The injustices Paul had in mind in these texts are unjust behaviors for anyone who might indulge in them—and insofar as they touch on sexual behavior, they allude to behavior that would be equally wrong for heterosexual people such as indiscriminate sexual indulgence and economically exploitive use of sex. To link these with “homosexuality” in our modern sense of an affectional orientation makes no more sense than to link a man having sex with his father’s wife (1 Cor 5:1) or using a prostitute (1 Cor 6:15) to “heterosexuality.” With those latter examples, Paul did not say that “heterosexuality” is the problem, but the specific behaviors. Surely this is the case with regard to the allusions in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 as well.

Why is it important to recognize that Paul does not write about “homosexuality”?

One of the main reasons is that virtually the entire basis for discrimination against LGBTQ people (e.g., in relation to marriage and to church participation) is based on religious convictions that override the actual evidence of the wellbeing of people in same-sex intimate relationships. The lack of evidence of genuine harm caused by the affirmation of same-sex marriage is one of the main reasons that American courts have recently legalized it.

The bases for those religious convictions include understandings of the Bible’s teachings. There actually are very few texts that are cited. Two of the major texts are these two passages from Paul’s writings, Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6. In fact for many thinkers, including the influential New Testament scholar Richard Hays, Romans 1 provides the main evidence for the restrictive position.

So, to recognize that Paul in fact does not write about “homosexuality” is to take away one of the major pillars of the restrictive position. In fact, the only biblical evidence that remains would be a few Old Testament texts, each with its own limitations. There is nothing else that could directly apply from the New Testament.

If we realize that we can’t base our judgment concerning “homosexuality” on New Testament teaching we will have to pay much more attention to the actual present-day experiences of LGBTQ people. And we will most likely realize that the aspirations, joys, failures, and struggles of people in same-sex intimate relationships are very similar to those in opposite-sex intimate relationships—and that the “homosexual lifestyle” is pretty much the same as the “heterosexual lifestyle,” for better and for worse.

To recognize that Paul does not give us any guidance concerning same-sex marriage will also likely require us to take a less rule-centered approach to these issues. If we don’t have direct commands that tell us what to do, we will have to think more in terms of broad understandings of human flourishing shaped by biblical teachings (both general commands [such as the call to mutual respect and servanthood] and stories [such as the account given in the book of Ruth]) as well as our sense of ways of life that are healthy in practice (and those that are not).

One other benefit of the recognition about Paul not writing about “homosexuality” is that it will help those Christians whose instincts push them to be inclusive but are held back by a loyalty to the Bible. If they realize that, in fact, Paul does not teach the traditional restrictive approach, they will be freer to base their understandings on other moral convictions.

In my own process, I started with an acceptance of the restrictive evangelical view that was questioning due to my growing sense of the Bible’s message of care for the vulnerable and offer of mercy to all people. I also was troubled by the hostility toward LGBTQ people that I saw around me among my fellow evangelicals. So when I read a carefully written essay on the Bible and “homosexuality” by a trusted evangelical writer (John Alexander in The Other Side magazine) that showed how many of the traditional understandings of the Bible on these issues were not the best interpretations of the texts, I was ready to move away from the restrictive views that had seemed increasing incompatible with the rest of my theological and ethical worldview.

Using the Bible for ethics

This discussion about “homosexuality” may serve as a helpful case study in relation to use of the Bible for ethics. We see here the common approach where Christians begin with an issue of concern and then look to the Bible for direct teaching about that issue. What often happens in such cases is that some oblique or obscure biblical text takes on an outsized importance because it can be seen to allude to the issue—though when read on its own terms the text does not warrant such attention.

So, when we have thought of a Christian response to “homosexuality” we have focused a few obscure texts—such as Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11—and use them as the authoritative base for Christian practices and beliefs. As I have suggested above, though, this approach leads to imputing into these texts meaning that the texts themselves do not have when read on their own terms.

If we recognize that in fact Paul did not write about “homosexuality” it could be easier to take a different approach to ethical discernment. Rather than looking for direct teaching, we will look rather for broader, more general messages that could contribute to our ethical discernment. We may thus draw some general guidance from the Bible, but we will also be more likely to be transparent about the role other sources play (and should play)—such as experience, scientific data, church teachings, and theological analyses.

Now, we do have general guidance that we may draw from the Romans and 1 Corinthian texts. I’ll mention just a few points. Romans 1–2 teach of the problems of self-righteousness and judging others as a way of reinforcing self-serving religious boundary markers. The broader context of Romans 1–3 emphasizes the message of the gospel of God’s mercy made available to all people. And 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 calls Christians to a biblical/relational restorative justice in contrast to the “magisterial justice” that Paul’s readers were turning to as means to adjudicate their conflicts. Each of these points is plenty relevant to LGBTQ inclusion in the churches.

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14 thoughts on “Why it is important to recognize that Paul does not write about “homosexuality”: The Bible and LGBTQ inclusion [Part 2]

  1. I have to admit that Romans 1:26-27 is a difficult passages at best, BUT to say with conviction that Paul is NOT speaking against homosexuality is a bit of a stretch

    We have the clear phrase that men were turning away from the NATURAL use of the woman i.e sexual attraction and sex, which seems to be a clear indication of heterosexuality, and instead the men were burning in their lust towards each other, with the clear phrase MEN WITH MEN…….There’s no getting around that phrase, it’s in every single translation on the market

    Paul seems to be making a clear contrast between that which is natural, i.e sexual relations between male and female, and that which is un natural i.e sexual relations between men and men and women with women

    I am certainly NOT making any judgments here, I’m simply sharing my thoughts on these verses

    I think where the CHURCH has gone wrong, is in it’s horrific treatment of homosexuality, in light of these verses….somehow we’ve got it in our stupid little self righteous brains, that homosexuality is somehow worse than all other sins, and that we must ostracize those in the LGBT community, and hate them

    I am routinely attacked by other Christians because I make a distinction between 2 types of homosexuals
    1: Those who are radical, and in your face, going to gay parades, marches, practicing sodomy etc and…..
    2: Those who lead quiet lives, but nevertheless are attracted to the same sex, and express that attraction via sex

    I personally believe that Romans 1:26-27 is written about group 1, and as Christians we should be actively resisting them and exposing them

    Your thoughts?

    1. 1. I think it is more likely that what Paul thought was “unnatural” was “lustfulness” not the same-sexness. But more deeply, what was “unnatural” was worshiping the creation and not the creator. He’s talking about a spiral of injustice/wickeness that result from idolatry. It’s a whole dynamic of violence and brokenness. Certainly men having sex with other men could be a part of that dynamic (as it apparently was among the Roman elite), but it’s the bigger dynamic that Paul has in mind.

      2. That said, the bigger point is that Paul is using this “vice list” as part of his caricature of pagan idolatry, clearly overstated and stereotypical, in order to make his main point, which is to critique the self-righteous judgmentalism of religious arrogance (of the type he himself had embodied when he persecuted Jesus-followers). He’s not thinking about sexual ethics at all here other than how he could appeal to prejudices against the behavior of the Roman elite in order to make his point about unselfaware judgmentalism.

      This isn’t all that different than the overall thrust of what you are saying, “necroking.” It’s just that I think you are still reading this text as if Paul’s intent was to tell us something about “homosexuality.”

  2. My old friend Glenn Peoples wrote a post Whittling down the pacifist narrative, and your posts and writings on homosexuality remind me of that. Dr Peoples painstakingly analyses the texts and the witness to mitigate and whittle away at what they seem to teach and say, and sows enough doubt, so he thinks, to call into question the verdict that the earliest Christians were pacifist and that this is the correct interpretation of the Christian scriptures.

    In these posts you seem to be doing basically the same thing, working away at the whole narrative and context and individual texts to mitigate and to litigate away perspective that homosexual conduct and relationships aren’t acceptable.

    True there is little on sexuality per se in the entire bible. The bible doesn’t approach these issues as a question of desire, motivation, inclination or even morality, really. The approach of the bible to these issues is legal and social. It is focused on the threats to peace posed by adultery, divorce, abandonment, treachery and so forth. These kinds of behaviour are able to be proscribed, and remedies provided, or the lack of effective remedy decried.

    These proscriptions, and remedies for breach, come to us as part of a vision of peace, of shalom, of wholeness and good living. There is a vision of righteousness where we have a model of how culture and society and law and governance should be working. The laws and the remedies, the proscriptions, are about some but not all threats to this vision or way of life.

    The creation story sets out this vision. It provides a model and the whole point of it is to be normative. Are you suggesting it is a literal history, to tell us a set of facts about how, in particular, the creation was made, and approximately when? The story of the creation and the fall tell us, briefly, the vision for shalom, right living, and the threat to that, and the remedy to the threat. It tells us that there was to be a way back to shalom and righteousness, through the seed of the woman.

    Jesus came to be the seed of the woman, and to birth a new body, a new man, the new creation, which is the restoration to the garden. Through the killing of the serpent. Paul said that was soon to happen after 57 A.D. (Rom 16:20). And the adversary was crushed 13 years later in AD 70.

    Jesus and his teaching are about restoration to the garden. He came to put things back the way they were in the garden, to restore fellowship with God and peace on earth among men. Part of that teaching is the restoration of the standard and the law of the garden: against divorce, and requiring a man to leave his father and mother, be joined (properly and legally) to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. What God joined together (properly and legally), must not be separated by human divorce laws, decrees as well as by desertion or taking another. We have to recognise what is really going on here: Jesus is affirming the creation mandate for marriage, and he is proscribing even the law of Moses permitting divorce. He is lifting the standard, raising the bar, and announcing the arrival of the messianic kingdom, and the laws and administration thereof, as superseding and surpassing and trumping Moses. God’s creation mandate trumped Moses, signifying the end of the age of Moses and the law, and the arrival of the age to come, consummated at the fall of Jerusalem (Mat 24).

    The change of the law brought a change of the remedies. The stoning and law of death was defeated, and the law of clemency was instituted. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is gentleness, not coercion. I think that a lot of the animosity you are concerned about is linked to the failure of understanding that the penal and remedial laws of Moses, the ministry of death, and the spirit of death and coercion, continue to be espoused by modern Christians, notwithstanding the change of the age.

    But that is not the end of the vision of shalom, nor of remedies for violation of the law. The proper remedy under the kingdom age is not death, but discipline within the Christian community, with a most serious remedy of being excommunicated. Within that community, there is an even higher standard of conduct than under the Old Covenant. And to be a leader in that community requires high standards of conformance to the vision and lifestyle that it represents. This includes embracing the institution of marriage as per the creation ordinance, and being a man of one wife.

    However, it seems that you are advocating that people who have a lifestyle and manner of living and social and legal arrangements that are completely different from those set out in the scriptures to be not only protected from discipline for such non-conformance, but even to be permitted to represent and hold office in the Christian community. And it is based on a whittling down approach to the material and the witness.

    1. I don’t agree with your assessment of what I am saying, David. The likely outcome of my argument would be that we would simply not discriminate based on sexual identity while advocating a thoroughly biblical “lifestyle” (meaning Jesus-focused) for all Christians.

      1. Dear Ted,

        I’m not asking for you to just agree/disagree with my assessment of what you are doing with these posts, although I don’t see why you shouldn’t reflect on my assessment to ask yourself if it doesn’t ring true at least in some respects that imply you should re-consider your process and outcome.

        I think we both are willing to think through the issues of the Christian faith and its social, legal and institutional content implications in a way that is thorough, deep and deeply critical of and different from mainstream modern Christianity. And for the most part I really enjoy and agree with your insights and the way you develop and express your stance.

        Where we come to a deeply non-traditional view of social-legal, eschatological or sexual ethics, ethos and doctrines, don’t you think we should be holding ourselves to the highest standards of discernment, thought process, scholarship, and willingness to engage and reconsider?

        Now you are a pacifist-anarchist or something close to that, as am I. That’s our common ground. But it is also our common ground with the earliest Christian community, as far as we can understand from the earliest Christian writings preserved for us. Shouldn’t we take considerable comfort from that, and should not that bear some weight in our reflections and discernment on these matters?

        Now I am a full preterist, and I understand the eschatological consummation was at the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. I think it is the only way to make sense of and accept the time-statements, and to understand the social, political and military nature of the parousia, and to really understand the political split in Judaism between, on the one side:
        the revolutionary resort-to-arms and God-with-us-through-force-of-arms, and political-military kingdom of God messianic zealots, and on the other side
        the pacifist, spiritual kingdom Pharisaical Christians, our correct self-identification

        (why you recently referred to zealot Pharisees I don’t know, I’d classify them as radically opposed in late Second Temple Judaism on the critical question of relations with Rome and actions to take to usher in the kingdom).

        Now, in taking this stance, I have to be honest how non-traditional this is, and how much the post Second Temple early Christian writers seemed to understand the parousia, the millennium etc. based on a futurist (to them) eschatology, and affected by and holding the immortality of the soul and a very personal rather than political-social idea of what salvation and eternal life and the judgement are all about. It becomes a cause of pause for me to reconsider if I can really maintain such a non-traditional understanding, so much at odds with the early Christian writers. I am forced to ask myself to see if I can explain why they would have the views they did, and I think I can find answers in the loss of the Hebraic identity, culture, use of apocalyptic language and so on, with the massive influx of Greeks and the loss of connection with the Jewish world destroyed in 70 A.D. Notwithstanding my explanations, it still causes me some pause and mystery, and I hope it makes me more open to reconsider the issues as well, and to re-examine my thought process.

        Regarding the laws and practices and views on marriage, divorce and sexuality, I think you need to be honest to confess how different your stance is to the earliest Christian views as the come to us through the writings we have from that period. And I don’t think you are seeking to mitigate or deny that gulf. Unlike the issue of political-legal view, and ideas about the nature of the kingdom, this is not an area where the earliest Christians (back to and including the apostolic age) took a different view from the rest of Judaism. When we discuss the Christian political-legal tradition, we do so in contradistinction from where the rest of Judaism went, especially in their political structure in the temple and rise of the temple authorities against Jesus, and the later rise of the zealots in the rebellion that precipitated the fall of Jerusalem (which, by the way, I suggest was the resurrection of the unjust).

        So we have traditional Judaism and early Christianity in agreement and harmony, so it appears, concerning the exclusive legitimacy of male-female marriage for sexual conduct, and with some differences around polygamy and divorce and re-marriage. But, concerning homosexual desire and practice, there is an apparently uniform and restrictive view preserved through the separation of Christianity and Judaism.

        Since you are taking such a non-traditional view, compared to both First Century pre-Christian and non-Christian Judaism, and post-apostolic Christian writers, should not that give you a whole lot of pause, and make you so careful and open to reconsider whether your position and process is really robust and appropriate? And should not it be incumbent on you to describe and explain how, supposedly, a new tradition was created and destroyed between, say, 30 AD and 100 AD, without leaving a trace in any texts that actually discuss the issue explicitly?

        Not only do you need to, in my view, grapple with that, you also need to grapple with the New Testament writings, which is what you have been doing in these posts.

        And this is where I see a defensive and whittling away approach that I don’t see as appropriate. Of course we should try to present the arguments of any issue in the strongest way from each side, and you have essentially been presenting that case. I have been seeking to understand your thought processes, and to reflect on your interpretation of the texts you worked on, to figure out whether these alternative interpretations or implications are possible, plausible, probable or arguable.

        Overall, the arguments are lousy and unconvincing, not for lack of care and skill in presentation on your part, but because the material you have to work with is so limited in your favour (to the point of being non-existent) and so damning against your position (in what is actually said and the argument structure and contexts that require us to understand their meanings in particular ways).

        So, on reflection, it is like Glenn Peoples and his arguments whittling away the pacifist narrative. It really comes across as lawyering-away at a defence, seeking to exploit every avenue to create enough reasonable doubt against the guilt of your client to get a non-guilty verdict. If you win your case, most everyone still thinks your client is guilty. Maybe the mother of your client will be convinced, that’s about it.

        Can’t you see that is the approach you are taking, and that you are in effect playing that role in the debate?

  3. Excellent article. Thanks.

    Let me suggest adding to the main article here that the original text doesn’t talk about homosexuality generally but only male-male sexual acts specifically. To apply that to female-female sex acts is to read more into the text than is actually there.

    Those who claim “women exchanging natural for unnatural relations” means lesbianism have no textual basis to prove that is Paul’s meaning over more plausible explanations such as male-female oral or anal sex nor from male-female incest (as was common in the Roman Imperial Household of the day).

    Indeed, there was a time when Christian ethicists held any non-procreative sex — even in marriage — was wrong. But such prohibitions have been waived to the benefit married women. Or perhaps it was waived to benefit married men. Hmmm.

    1. I agree, Dave, that Paul did not likely have female/female sex in mind here. I think he was alluding to women’s participation in the kinds of “orgies” that the Roman elite engaged in that would have profoundly offended Paul’s readers—as part of Paul setting up his readers for his punchline that is stated at 2:1 about unselfaware judgmentalism.

  4. You’re right, Ted; in the texts you cite, Paul wasn’t writing about a modern construct called “homosexuality.” In Romans 1, Paul was writing about people who had lost their way and in 1 Corinthians about the absurdity of seeking justice from the unjust. In each instance, Paul illustrated an aspect of his argument (i.e., “people who had lost their way” and “the unjust”) by a reference to male-to-male sexual activity.

    Really, though, you are not satisfied with a change in vocabulary. Your larger goal is for us to accept that Paul was talking about a particular kind of male-to-male sexual activity—“behavior that would be equally wrong for heterosexual people such as indiscriminate sexual indulgence and economically exploitive use of sex.”

    To make your case, you take the same passages you have characterized as “standard vice lists” and “rhetorical devices” that you say do not address sexual ethics at all and are used by Paul used solely to advance another argument entirely and (SHAZAM) you find in them nuanced, hair-splitting ethical teachings about how people (whatever our pairings) are to do sex. You know, no “lusting” for the other, no “degrading passion” while having sex, and no “shameless acts” either. And when we lay together, we should do so justly. This is Paul the Victorian moralist, interrupting his stump speech vice list with carefully calibrated advice about how to do sex without too much enthusiasm.

    It doesn’t wash, Ted.

    Beneath the argument you have constructed, I hear you expecting us to conclude that because we live in a different century that uses modern social constructs to explain male-to-male sexual activity, we will dismiss what Paul thought on the matter.

    Paul was a sophisticated urbanite who traveled widely in a society in which male-to-male sexual activity was very common, widely accepted and publicly celebrated in the arts. Much of that sexual activity strikes us today as exploitative because of differences in age and status between the male partners, yet in that era it generally was regarded as beneficial to each. Some of that activity occurred within long-term relationships between fully consenting men of similar age and status. Despite considerable variety in the relationships in which male-to-male sexual activity occurred, and despite the generally positive view of this activity in Greco-Roman culture, Pauls found it unnecessary to justify his inclusion of male-to-male sexual activity in his lists of sins or to draw the sorts of distinctions you wish he had. That’s because there was general agreement within the Christian community that male-to-male sexual activity was not acceptable.

    Let’s not forget that everything Paul said in the first two chapters of Romans is rooted in the righteousness/justice of YHWH (1:17). “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made” (1:20). We really will not get to “human flourishing shaped by biblical teachings” if we proceed as if the creation accounts and what they suggest about marriage/children are not our starting point.

    1. I’m impressed with your imaginative reconstruction of my argument and thought process here, Berry, that follows after your first paragraph. But I am afraid I don’t recognize myself in it at all. Maybe you don’t want to believe it, but it is truly the case that all I am trying to do is what I say I am.

      I’m suggesting that Paul is not writing about sexual ethics in these texts, period. That’s all. That would have the implication that these texts should not be used to reconstruct Paul’s views about “homosexuality,” that’s true. But I see no further implication about our sexual ethics there.

      1. I’m glad you distance yourself from Berry’s reconstruction. Please try to write more carefully then, Ted, for what Berry understood was also what I was hearing you say.

  5. My response to your explication:
    #1 First, I need to clarify that I do support marriage of same sexual individuals. For individuals who are born same sexual, it is important that they be able to live in monogamous marriage.
    (My view is that just as the pro-slavery passages don’t hold authority in the Bible, but the over-all justice passages do,
    SO
    the anti-same sexuality passages in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament don’t hold authority, but the over-all love-marriage passages do.

    #2 From the perspective of a literature teacher (who has read quite a bit of biblical textural criticism, etc.) it seems to me that you are in your article doing almost exactly the same thing that pro-war Christians do with the peace statements of Jesus and the NT, reinterpreting the texts to fit a different ethical view.

    I agree that Paul is giving the pagan vice list in preparation to actually critiquing Jewish and Christian people’s hypocrisy. And I agree that “To drive this point home, Paul uses what may be a standard “vice list” that illustrates just how unjust pagans are. All of the items on the list Paul uses here seem to refer to obviously unjust behaviors.”

    Where we disagree is your last statement,
    “Their meaning is to be found in their aggregate impression, not in any details about individual terms.”

    All of those immoral, unethical actions are individually condemned by Paul or he wouldn’t include them in the list.

    Furthermore, do you not see how your sort of textural interpretation is NOW, also, being used to justify polyamory, war, torture, anti-immigration, etc. by Christians leaders?!

    1. Daniel (if you’re still around), I truly don’t see “how my sort of textual interpretation is … being used to justify polyamory, war, torture, anti-immigration, etc.” My intent is totally the opposite—how to read the Bible in a way that empowers us to be just, peaceable, and compassionate. I would appreciate more details on where I go wrong.

      What I mean to say is that the point of the “vice lists” for Paul is about the total effect of the list. You could likely delete any particular “vice” and it would not at all change what he is trying to say by using the list. In saying that, I certainly don’t mean that Paul would have thought any of the specific items was anything but wrong.

  6. You state again and again, Ted, that “Paul in fact does not write about ‘homosexuality.'” But where do you establish that claim?

    Not here. Here you only make some broad claims about rhetorical “caricatures” going on in Rom 1 and 1 Cor 6. There is no careful building toward your Option 3 conclusion that “Paul was not writing about we today call ‘homosexuality’ at all.”

    Instead you point us where you “have written at length elsewhere” on these texts. I and many of your blog readers have just read through your recent blog on Rom 1 (of almost 10,000 words!). But even that did not establish your claim that Paul does not write about ‘homosexuality.’ A seeker-of-the-truth need only read your final comment to realize that.

    In that final (Oct 2) comment you say that the argument from context (that Paul in vv26-31 presents a “sting operation” to catch the self-righteous) is your “main argument about this text.” (Indeed it is your main one! In that blog it seemed that 90% of your energies were on it.) But what you get from it is incoherent. You say that since the passage is a sting, it “should not be used as the basis for our ethical directives concerning same-sex marriage and LGBTQ inclusion in the churches.” You redoubled that in your reply yesterday to Berry: “Paul is not writing about sexual ethics in these texts, period.” But (contradicting that) you also acknowledge that “Paul gives us a list of sins; we as believers don’t want to commit sins, so let’s encourage each other to stay away from those behaviors.” You said the same earlier, too: “Paul assumes…that all of his readers (then and now) would agree that these behaviors are always wrong for everyone.” Once you acknowledge the latter, it’s incoherent to persist in arguing the former, that we can get no guidance from the passage for same-sex marriage.

    In your final (Oct 2) comment on your Rom 1 blog, you also also show a deep flaw in your main argument about what particular behaviors Paul has in mind when he speaks of men who are “consumed with passion for one another.” You argue that Paul is referring to same-sex relations driven by “excessive lust” (and that those relations are wrong just as heterosexual relations driven by excessive lust are wrong). Then you go on to say that, since sexual relations of excessive lust do not characterize today’s loving, committed same-sex marriages, Paul is not referring to today’s same-sex couples. I have pushed back at you, saying that even if you are right (that Paul views the behavior in v27 as wrong because of its “passion” and not because it is “unnatural”), Paul as a Hebrew “would have viewed even committed, loving same-sex relationships as instances where desire has ballooned out of control, leading persons to go where the law of God forbids.” You agree (in that Oct 2 comment) that “the general sensibility among first century Jews likely was negative” about same-sex relations. So you admit that Paul “likely” would have opposed same-sex marriage if he was aware of it. (Scholars such as William Loader cite first-century Jewish writers who were aware of—and condemned—mutual same-sex relations between adult males.) Those odds increase from “likely” to “very likely” when we see Paul apparently using the same-sex prohibitions of Lev 18 and 20 (he uses words from those prohibitions in 1 Cor 6). Are you really willing to rest your stance on an argument that ignores what is “very likely”?

    Likewise, your recent blog on 1 Cor 6 (much shorter!) did not establish your claim that Paul does not write about ‘homosexuality.’ The only major argument you put forth is, again, an argument from context. And my final comment on that blog effectively neutralized that argument. Further, as I pointed out to you in an earlier comment on that blog, you left many considerations that “show that the historic understanding of vv.9-11 is strong exegetically” unchallenged.

    Kurt Goering, in a comment this week on your “creation story” blog, says that after reading your recent blogs on Rom 1 and 1 Cor 6 as well as the extensive comment sections, he has “concluded that people of good faith will continue to interpret the Bible differently on the issue of same-sex marriage.” He evidently thinks that you defended your interpretations adequately. But I cannot agree that your words make room for your interpretation of those two biblical sin lists. Not when your “main” arguments on Rom 1 are incoherent or based what is very unlikely. And not when you cannot defend your 1 Cor 6 arguments. (Perhaps you still will.)

    Currently it seems to me, Ted, that your stance on same-sex marriage does not rest on compelling and weighty biblical interpretations but on your sense of the “actual evidence of the wellbeing of people in same-sex intimate relationships.” It is true that we can see much such evidence in these couples. But do we judge whether a physical body is healthy by whether it has lots of systems still functioning well? Obviously not. Further, can we diagnose “evidence of wellbeing” among long-term committed male-male couples when a high percentage of them (according to data collected by these couples and in nationally-based studies) give each other permission for outside sexual liaisons? Obviously not. Until we see the Anabaptist gay community resisting that pattern (at least hear some respected voices in that community saying that monogamy is what all couples should strive for), how can you and other straight supporters be sure same-sex marriage is something our church should bless? As I say in a web article, “Tendencies and characteristic patterns matter. A community decides on the goodness of a category of relationship (eg., polygamous, gay, hetero) by whether the general pattern of that relationship is good, not by whether a specific instance is good.”

    Many “Kurts” look to you, Ted. Our conference looks to you (even though you’re not a member of the conference) and has put you on our Biblical & Theological Task Force on Same Gender Issues. (That’s a main reason I am pouring time I do not have into this discussion). That’s a weighty position. The weight of a millstone might come to mind. (That millstone threatens me too.) Please be very careful to not make persons comfortable with assuming the rightness of a biblical interpretation that has only 10-20% (or less) probability of being right.

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