Did Jesus Talk about Homosexuality?

Did Jesus Talk about Homosexuality? April 6, 2015

One is no longer surprised to read in discussions about same-sex relations — in church or in society at large — that Jesus did not bring the matter to the surface. In fact, some have said he never said a word about it. Some, of course, draw a conclusion from this: Therefore, it was not important to him (and should not be to us). There is a case to be made for such a conclusion about Jesus but arguing from silence to what should be done today is a careless game to play.

But let’s dig back to the question: Did Jesus talk about homosexuality? I shall present today a mild case that in fact he possibly did.

Before we get started, it needs to be emphasized that Jesus never explicitly says anything about same-sex relations though there are three texts that could mention or imply same-sex relations. We are dealing here then with ancient texts, evidence, and historical probabilities. I will move from the least likely to the most likely — if he did talk about it. [I have a chp on this topic in A Fellowship of Differents, but there the discussion is about Paul with only a clipped footnote on Jesus, where I mention Matt 11:7, and left it at that … I could have gone on and on but it was a footnote.]

One more prefatory word. The most significant scholar in the world on this topic for biblical studies is William R. Loader, who has written more than a half a dozen books on this topic, and he has summarized all of his decade long studies in a short book called Making Sense of Sex. The more extensive one for New Testament studies is called The New Testament on Sexuality. His books are not reduced to discussions about same-sex relations but are about the breadth of Jewish beliefs about sexuality. Along with my commendation of his historical research must come this: (1) he thinks the Bible and Judaism of that time are uniformly and unequivocally against same-sex relations and (2) he is personally progressive about the topic, which means this: he thinks the Bible is against it but he thinks the Bible got this one wrong.

Now to the texts, one of which he brings up, and two of which I will draw our attention to.

First, Loader thinks it is possible when Jesus talked about scandalizing a child he could have been talking about pederasty and the all-too-common Roman empire practice of males having small boys around for sexual gratification. Yes, that’s right. Pederasty was not at all uncommon in the Roman world. A good read of Thomas K. Hubbard, Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents reveals the ubiquity (and sickness) of pederasty among Roman and Greek males.

Here is Mark’s account of the text:

Mark 9:42   “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble,  it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.  43 If your hand causes you to stumble,  cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell,  where the fire never goes out.   45 And if your foot causes you to stumble,  cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.   47 And if your eye causes you to stumble,  pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,  Mark 9:48 where “ ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ 

Loader’s contention is that in the context of Mark himself this text would have been heard (possibly or more than possibly) as a reference to pederasty. Raymond Collins, whom he quotes on p. 122, puts it this way: Mark 9:42 “reflects the Near East’s abhorrence of pederasty.” The words in 9:43-48 could well mean sexual actions or organs (Loader, 123). His point is unremarkable: Mark 9:43-48 is sexually charged language. His point about 9:42 is possible. [Added: This short sketch on Mark 9:42 does not intend to suggest that all same-sex relations are pederastic or prostitutional. Merely that one form of same-sex relations among males in the Roman empire, brought to the fore in the recent book on Paul by Sarah Ruden, was pederasty — and if Jesus is talking about that in Mark 9:42, he would be commenting only on that form of same-sex relations, and he would be stating that it is wrong.]

Second, a text Loader does not mention, and I don’t know why for it at least deserves consideration in such a discussion. That text is Matthew 11:

Matt. 11:7      As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? [en malakois] No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

The term malakos could mean “soft, fine” or it could be a subtle piece of ridicule “dandy,” but it most often means the “receptive partner in male same-sex relations.” As in 1 Cor 6:9, from the NRSV: “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes [malakoi], sodomites [arsenokoitai].” Thus, when Jesus said “a man dressed in fine clothes” he may well have been looking at Tiberias or Sepphoris, Roman established cities, and had the Roman male practice of recreational sex with other men or young boys in mind. He may have used their “soft” clothing as a metaphor or trope for their recreational sexual practices. I consider this text also possible.

Third, one term is both not explicit but (I now think) as close as it gets to thinking Jesus did have something to say about same-sex relations. The term is porneia. This term is used by Jesus in these texts:

Matt 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. 

Matt 15:19: For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 

Matt 19:9: I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.

Again, not explicit — that’s for sure. But what does porneia mean? There are two basic meanings: (1) sexual relations with a prostitute or, in a more general sense, (2) sexual immorality, which for a Jew refers to prohibited degrees of intercourse. When you double-click on the term porneia, then, it takes you to Leviticus 18.

A student, Derwin Gray, asked me this summer if I thought porneia included same-sex relations. I said, “Yes, in general” but I wasn’t sure it was explicit. I spent some time this winter working on this term and I would now sharpen this point to say when the term porneia is used in a general sexual immorality sense, it refers for the Jew to Leviticus 18, which means it includes same-sex relations as one kind of sexual relation prohibited. In other words, it can mean “sexual immorality” in general, with no particular boundaries in mind, but for a Jew it is more likely it has a Leviticus 18 context in mind. Here is my latest thinking on this term:

So, while porneia can be a sweeping generalizing term referring to any kind of sexual immorality, for the Jew there was an established list of what was meant. If one wants specifics, no better listing can be found than in Leviticus 18. In fact, the importance of this chapter for defining what porneia would have meant for a 1st Century Jew cannot be exaggerated. Leviticus 18 was for the Jewish world of Torah observance God’s covenant gift to the Israelites (18:1-2) that both clarified how to live and set them apart from pagans. Thus, the chapter overtly distances Israelites from the Egyptians and Canaanites (18:3, 24-28, 29-30) in prohibiting sexual relations with:

close relatives (18:6),
parents (18:7) and the spouses of parents (18:8),
siblings (18:9, 11),
spouses of one’s children or their children (18:10),
aunts [and uncles] or their spouses (18:12-14),
children by law (18:15),
sisters-in-law [and brothers-in-law](18:16),
a woman and her daughter and her children (18:17),
sister in law (18:18),
women during menstruation (18:19),
neighbor’s wife (18:20),
same-sex relations (18:22),
and animals (18:23).

The categories at work in what a Jew in the 1st Century meant by porneia were shaped by the Torah, and that means Leviticus 18.

For Jesus, then, there are no instances where a reference to same-sex relations is certain; there are two texts that are possible, but with the term porneia same-sex relations are undoubtedly entailed if the term is general and refers to Leviticus 18.

Did Jesus talk about homosexuality? What do you think? 

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  • Andrew Perriman

    Scot, wouldn’t “these little ones who believe in me” in the context of Mark 9:42 refer to the disciples, following on from “whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward” in verse 41? The saying about receiving a child is a little further back (36-37). The thought is echoed in Matthew 10:42 (“whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple”) and in the phrase “the least of these my brothers” in Matthew 25:40, who are given a drink when they are thirsty, etc.

    It’s perhaps more likely a child in view in Matthew 18:5-6: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea”. But the issue is still that they believe in him, and arguably the reference is to those who humble themselves like a child. In Luke 17:1-2 the “little ones” to whom skandala inevitably come unambiguously refers to the disciples.

    I agree with you about porneia, though.

  • scotmcknight

    First, I’m sketching the view of Loader who proposes this, not that he is certain, but as a genuine reality of what would be heard by the hearers in the Roman world. The scandalizing of children, yea, brutalizing, through pederasty was a reality esp among Roman/Greek elites.

    A healing story of a “boy” in Mark 9 already: Mark 9:17-24. A child in 9:36 is used as an example. Now the “little ones” … and you are right in the suggestive word connections with disciples (cup of water, least of these though here is only mikros and not mikroteros). At any rate, it’s a possibility.

  • I’m curious, and I asked this question on another post: should gay couples be included in the fellowship of differents? Regardless of your personal convictions (of which I’m uncertain), the fact is that there are faithful Jesus-followers in covanental partnerships. What are the pastoral implications of your theology for these Christian couples who are gay?

  • scotmcknight

    I have sketched my approach in chp 12 in the book.

  • Interesting stuff Scot. I have a question though…if each of these verses remained the same but the children/actors were of the opposite gender (hetero) wouldn’t they still work out to the same condemnation? Recreational sex/Sex with children/Divorce for bc of adultery…these remain illicit regardless of genders concerned. Right? Or am I misreading something.

  • I believe you about porneia, which would mean that Jesus found gay cheating on a partner among the acceptable reasons for divorce.
    And ever since the first time I heard Matthew 18 refers to molesting a child, my heart knew it was true. My heart knew this was an acceptable application long before I first heard it from a Bible scholar. David Instone Brewer also believe skandalizo is about molesting a child.
    The “what did you come to see? A man in soft/ fine/ prostitute’s clothing” don’t ring true to me. Why would Jesus bring up prostituted slaves in that question? I can see how “fine clothing” work with the story, but I cannot see how “dressed like a prostitute” fit in.

    But even if you believe both the above, it would probably mean that Jesus treated gay adultery like straight adultery, and probably would have hated heterosexual child molestation as much as gay child molestation – it is just that pederasty seemed to have been a more common practice of the Roman world at the time, by the writings we have.

  • Greg Hahn

    One would hope this would bring some clarity to the “debate” over the Bible and gay practice, but as you say- from these points above we can’t say for sure whether Jesus addressed the issue. But if he did…..

  • Inquirer

    Scot – you use the term “homosexuality” in your wrap-up question. I find it difficult in many cases to determine what people mean when they do not distinguish between orientation and practice. I believe your question relates to practice.
    1) Am i right about your intent?
    2) Would you agree that making such a distinction would generally be helpful?

  • scotmcknight

    First passage only?

  • 2nd one you say, “Thus, when Jesus said “a man dressed in fine clothes” he may well have been looking at Tiberias or Sepphoris, Roman established cities, and had the Roman male practice of recreational sex with other men or young boys in mind.”

    3rd one you connect with a word that implies illicit sexual behavior. Particularly you say the Jews would think of Lev. 18

    Therefore all three of the examples as I read them – though I may just be misunderstanding since you had to articulate a difficult idea in brevity – are about illicit sexual behavior and this would be the case regardless of the gender of those involved.

    Thanks for your response.

  • Kevin McKee

    To me there is far too much in these passages that is speculative to be able to state the view of Jesus. With regard to children it I think is clear that Jesus opposes any form of abuse adult domination of a child for any form of gratification for the adult That applies to hetero as well as homosexual adults. With regard to the other passages again I think we are inn the realm of pure speculation which may show the biases we enter the discussion with. I also need to ask why the fixation on sexual activities should we not be focused on the sins Jesus clearly critiqued which we modernly refer to as materialism Let us start with the plank and the move to the splinters

  • Scot, regarding porneia, I’ve generally seen the response “But what about women on their period?” ie does Jesus put that activity in the same category as sleeping with a prostitute? I’d assume not, but I don’t have a good reason for that assumption. Any thoughts?

  • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

    I’m a little . . . disconcerted here. People who are arguing in favor of things like gay marriage (that is, in favor of committed, loving homosexual relationships) are not also arguing in favor of pederasty. Thus, if Jesus was arguing against pederasty in some passages (and I think it’s fair to say that pederasty is pretty against the teachings of Jesus), I don’t see how that would belong in a discussion about “Did Jesus Talk About Homosexuality?” Child abuse isn’t homosexuality, and to be honest, as someone who was sexually abused as a child, I’m pretty exhausted of it being treated as if they are somehow intrinsically connected. It is painful to get your abuse dragged up again and again in a context that has no actual connection to what was done to you. I wish that child abuse could simply be condemned for it’s own sake, and not randomly brought during discussions about whether or not loving, consensual relationships between same-sex adults should be condemned. There’s just something dismissive and minimizing about that.

    I wish I could say more about the actual topic at hand (like the fact that I feel that the Bible simply doesn’t directly deal with committed homosexual relationships at all one way or the other; there are only a few passages where it condemns promiscuous and unloving ones), but to be honest the whole child abuse thing kind of took the punch out of me for now, so I’ll maybe come back to that later. Peace for now.

  • Branson Parler

    Thanks for this, Scot. Would you see Acts 15:20 as also making reference to Lev. 18? It seems to me that it would.

  • scotmcknight

    Yes, for sure.

  • scotmcknight

    Kevin, that logic works both ways. We can’t be certain, which is a theme in my post, but that means we can’t be certain either way. It is not logical to say, “Can’t be certain, therefore Jesus didn’t talk about it, let’s move on.” Nor is it logical to say, “Certain, therefore he did.” What is clear is that there are some texts that are suggestive, and porneia — if a reference to Lev 18 — is more than suggestive.

  • scotmcknight

    The term homosexuality includes same-sex relations and orientation.

  • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

    I ask in honesty: Does anyone here who condemns homosexuality also condemn having sex with a woman who is menstruating? Do they condemn having sex with a woman who is menstruating with the same force as they condemn homosexuality? Do they think, for example, that it should be illegal?

    Because I had kind of assumed that this whole, “Don’t have sex with a woman who is menstruating” was one of those laws that Christians had disregarded (like not eating pork), but perhaps this is not so?

  • disqus_9xDKwRFcht

    It seems that in order to say Jesus was pro-same-sex relationships the pressure would be to find him saying something positive about same-sex relations. In his silence, I would suggest that Jesus being a first century Jewish man is more than likely in agreement with the already existing prohibitions within Jewish law/custom.

  • Jon Altman

    If one infers that Jesus condemned the sexual abuse of male slaves, one can (and should) infer also that Jesus equally condemned the sexual abuse of female slaves.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I’ve heard all these same arguments before, and they are really stretching it. The basic argument is “well, Jews in the 1st century were generally against homosexuality, so passages referring to sexual immorality may generally have that included under that umbrella.” While the passages in question may be referring to the prostitution of children, pagan religious acts, or something having absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality. Not only are the arguments, weak, but the very exercise is searching biblical texts for “laws” that can disenfranchise others, which is not only against the whole “big picture” of the Good News but not a very sound use of the Bible. Supporters of slavery had MUCH stronger biblical support for their views.

    The question is, what is the Godly response to people with ingrained same sex sexual orientations, who wish to pursue faithful loving relationships, in light of what we know about gender and sexuality in 2015? Not 1st century views of pederastry (of course religious conservatives for decades have claimed homosexuals are out “for your children”) or ancient Levitical laws that contained a whole heap of things no-one gives any heed to anymore.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Ha, so said Jewish Christians who didn’t believe in extending fellowship to Gentiles.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Scot, why not prioritize the larger directives of Jesus’s ministry focusing on acceptance of outsiders, mercy, the Great Commandment, God being in places least expected etc. instead of trolling the Bible for esoteric passages that “may” have a particular interpretation. That strikes me as treating the Bible like the Quran and not the Bible. Again, slavery supporters had much clearer support on their side biblically.

  • Kevin McKee

    While I respect your opinion and the work that you have put into this blog, I am deeply concerned that we are focussing energy on a minor issue in comparison to the deeper issues, that are far more prevalent in the Christian church, materialism and related to it, libertarianism, which I think are far more damaging and subversive activities within the Church. Even if porneia, and Leviticus is behind Jesus reference, I think personally this is in reference to ritualistic activities even in the context of Leviticus and does not refer to loving committed relationships of any form. I would rather focus on Jesus words of welcome to all, including homosexuals. I fear that when a pastor and theologian of your status spends effort on these minor interpretations, this will be abused by some in the Church who are motivated by fear and a desire to deflect issues from their own sin. Ultimately, each of us must answer to God for our failings and our actions in rebellion to God, so perhaps we are better served in focusing on those failures, rather than the failures of others, in particular when the failures of many Western Christians are in relation to issues that Jesus did speak directly on, poor, the weak, the marginalized and Jesus challenged us about our failures in this area. Again, just my opinion, but one formed after years of opposition to gays in the Church, which was the splinter in others that I wanted to focus on more than the plank in my own eye.

  • Larry

    Scot – Leviticus only refers to male/male sexual activity. It never prohibits female/female sexual activity. Isn’t it imprecise to generalize that to “homosexuality”? If Jesus’ words on porneia assumed Leviticus (which is plausible) aren’t lesbians still in the clear?

  • Right, thus my question. The explanation of eating pork is pretty straightforward… for a (perhaps overly) simplistic explanation, check out Peter’s dream in Acts 10. So that’s probably not an effective comparison.

    But it’s a weird question. Part of what you’d have to figure out is why the law was there in the first place. Most common answer is that it’s specifically tied to occult practices: that there was a specific practice of having sex with women during their period because of the interplay of life/death/sex/blood during that time. IE if you want to worship Ba’al, then sex during period lets you check both the “sex” box and the “blood” box. But if so (and I find it likely), then are you relegating all of Ch18 to occult practices? It makes for an interesting question.

  • Hi Scot,
    I’ve just read chapter twelve and still find my question unanswered. You speak of the Third Way being that of redemption. But it seems you’re view of redemption for gay people excludes the possibility of covenantal partnership. You seem to be making the same claim that others such as Mark Yarhouse did several years ago: those gay Christians who believe in the sanctity of gay partnerships have chosen not to make their identity in Christ. Therefore it would follow that you would exclude Christian couples who are gay from the fellowship of differents.

    Am I tracking you correctly?

    I actually like the so-called third way as it is commonly understood; it is a legitimization view that allows the sanctity of gay relationships to be considered a disputable matter. Would you endorse this approach within you Fellowship of Differents framework?

    FWIW, in my life, my marriage has been a part of the redemptive work of the Spirit. The cruciform nature of marriage has enabled spiritual growth. I think encouraging the church to reject and exclude gay couples runs counter to the idea of redemption.

  • itpromike

    So in this logic it would be OK to sleep with your mother outside of a ritualistic observance?

  • I think Scot’s done this pretty regularly. Asking why he’s not doing so in this case ignores his larger body of work.

  • itpromike

    Because God’s acceptance to outsiders and mercy etc… were never disconnected from the reality of sin, it’s destructive nature, God’s utter disdain of it, the ultimate judgement of it (death), and Gods call to repent from it. The message of the gospel isn’t just come as you are – and any attempt to leave it at that would be wicked or at least nearsighted at best. No, the message of the gospel is Come as you are BUT DON’T stay as you came. Come for sure, everyone is welcome to come… but be changed and that means honoring the Lord by progressively changing our thoughts, actions, hearts, and minds.

    Essentially if we just focussed on the “acceptance of outsiders and mercy” we are condemning people to hell because we aren’t letting them know what is expected of them by God to honor the Lord in their lives. Which is directly connected to God’s mercy… God is so merciful that he gives us the tools and opportunity to honor him with our lives instead of just giving us the full measure of His wrath. And that my friend is the key. Coming full circle, God’s mercy is never disconnected from his wrath. Without his wrath, what would He need to be merciful about?

  • Yeah, I don’t think the argument is that homosexuality is being explicitly forbidden, but rather included as one kind of sexual immorality that was common at the time and forbidden by Jewish standards.

  • itpromike

    Hi Scot, great article – just had a further clarifying questions to the above question and your answer. When you say the term homosexuality includes same-sex relationships and orientation (I hate this word, it’s so misleading and confusing) would you also say that it is possible to be have homosexual desires (however strong they are) but also be a genuine believer who did not act on those desires because they dishonor the Lord?

  • Kevin McKee

    Not necessarily, there would be other restrictions that might apply. My point is why are we focusing so much on such a small issue, when there are far greater ones to be addressed.

  • I think here we’re taking about something that has more to do with Jewish concerns about blood than immoral sex.

  • Verle Brubaker

    Does Jesus’ discussion of marriage iand eunuch n Matthew 19 have anything to add this discussion? Does Jesus’ affirmation of God’s intention of one man one wife speak to this?

  • Aussie Mum

    1 Cor 6:9 as stated above says that sodomy is wrong. Doesn’t that mean that male-male homosexuality (at least) must therefore be wrong, regardless of whether conducted in a “committed, loving relationship”, due to the nature of their sexual relations?. Due to environmental and genetic factors we can’t always choose who we are attracted to or who we fall in love with, but the type of sexual relations and the sex of the person we have sex with (same/opposite) can be controlled by personal choice. (and the further away in time we get from the fall in the garden of Eden, the more errors will occur in our DNA). I was tempted many times in my singledom to have sex, but chose to wait until I got married, it wasn’t easy to abstain from sex until I was 40, but I managed it, and in retrospect I am glad I honoured God by doing so. My Bible taught me it was wrong to have sex outside of marriage. Unfortunately it is too easy to choose to do what we want/what feels good, then try and split hairs and have deep theological discussion later to try and salve our consciences, to try and change God’s laws on what we have done to make it “right”. Actually, that conscience, is actually the Holy Spirit telling us we are wrong. Imagine how wonderful the world would be if we all listened to God’s instructions instead of doing what felt good to us!

  • In fairness, I don’t think this is an issue that Scot has given undue attention. I’ve rarely seen it addressed in this blog over the years (and never uncharitably), but regardless, this is an issue that is tearing churches and denominations apart right now. I agree with you about libertarian and other threats (I’m working on a post on that now), but this deserves some attention as well. And where else can we discuss it with greater hope of sensitivity to the scriptures and people?

  • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

    That’s . . . actually a pretty hardcore passage to try to try to live up to, even if one reads it like that. I mean, do you really think you can live up to it? That you aren’t, for example, covetous?

    1 Corinthians 6:9 have ye not known that the unrighteous the reign of God shall not inherit? be not led astray; neither whoremongers, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor sodomites, 10nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, the reign of God shall inherit.

    I don’t know about you, but I’d feel pretty uncomfortable trying to stand head to head against a sodomite before God on judgement day and say, “I lived up to that passage and he didn’t.”

    I also can’t find what arsenokoitai/sodomite means in the original language, so I don’t even know what that’s condemning. -sigh-

  • Richard

    “As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? [en malakois] No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.”

    Wouldn’t this passage seem to suggest that the greek for “soft” shouldn’t be automatically assumed to be sexualized? Isn’t that presuming on the text and possibly the reason Loader doesn’t include it in his work? I mean, if we’re talking about excluding 2-4% of the population from the gospel, shouldn’t we be doing it on a stronger case than, “This word may mean this…”? Especially when “dandy,” etc are only insults in strong patriarchal hierarchies where women and children are inherently inferior to men – not really the Gospel route in my opinion.

  • Richard

    I would also affirm with Eris that highlighting how charged the 1st century conversation was with pederasty is shaky ground for condemning contemporary same-sex actions and I question the relevance of those passages to this conversation. It is our duty as Christians to draw a sharp and distinct line between that conversation and the conversation around the LGBT community if for nothing less than the reality that the majority of child abuse is neither heterosexual nor homosexual (pedophilia is in a category unto itself in modern psychology) and the remainder that is isn’t “fixation,” is “regression” by predominantly heterosexual individuals. To conflate the two is dangerous and harmful to the LGBT community and promotes long-standing myths in the vein of “black men wanting to sexually assault white women.” Aside from those concerns, noting the prevalence of pederasty seems to undercut the traditional application of these texts to contemporary same-sex, monogamous relationships between adults (as noted by Sarah Ruden and others).

  • But I don’t think we want to argue, do we, that because perfect obedience to this (or other passages, like the Jesus Creed) are impossible, we should give up and give in as an embraced direction and pattern of life? I’ll gladly admit I covet, but I would hesitate to settle on and defend coveting as a path. Does that difference matter here?

  • itpromike

    Yeah I just don’t see sexual depravity or immorality being a small issue anywhere in scriptures. I don’t see sexual sins of any kind treated as non-issue in the Bible. So in this regard I guess we can agree to disagree. I just haven’t been shown or read in all my years of reading through the Bible any scriptures asserting sexual sin wasn’t a very significant issue.

  • I think the argument is not that this is definite by any means, but that the culture may have used the terms in that way. But more, I’m sure no one here is arguing about excluding anyone from the gospel. The question Scot poses is worth asking, don’t you think? But I agree about the strength of this passage. I don’t find this passage as strong as others he mentioned in any event.

  • itpromike

    So the logic would be no one is perfect so why try to honor the Lord with our lives at all? Or since no one is perfect, we get to pick and choose what things we attempt to honor the Lord with our lives in?

  • Andrew Dowling

    Your point illustrates why going to picked out Bible passages on this topic is a fool’s errand.

  • Richard

    Aside from “sodomite” being incorrectly associated with homosexuality, your response seems to reinforce the point: “I’ll gladly admit I covet, but I hesitate to settle on and defend coveting as a path.” The passage isn’t regarding whether we defend or justify an action, it’s whether we participate in it. If we use such passages to condemn others, aren’t we forced to also hold ourselves to such an exacting principle in the other categories Paul identifies?

  • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

    Ah, but that’s the problem: you freely admit you covet, but homosexuals are not allowed the freedom to be in same-sex relationships*, even ones that are committed and loving. You are allowed to falter, they are not allowed to do the same. They are expected to be perfect in their abstinence of sexual relationships, you are not expected to be perfect in your abstinence of covetousness. That is the difference, and that is the terrible, terrible issue.

    *assuming arsenokoitai means something to do with homosexuality, which I can’t currently confirm as it may be a made up word.

  • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

    No, the logic would be don’t hold others to a higher standard than you hold yourself.

  • Scot, what do you think of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 19 (and Mark 10), in which he seems to affirm the created order of “male and female.” Obviously, the context was responding to divorce, not same-sex relations, but do you think it is relevant to this discussion?

  • PaulB

    Scot your points about the 1st century Jewish context for understanding sexual immortality in Leviticus 18 is well taken and pretty unassailable. It seems this obvious point has met in comments on this blog with strident denials from many Christians – as it goes against the new secular orthodoxy infiltrating the churches. Kudos for sticking to the truth against the zeitgeist.

  • Richard

    But the passage is being cited to say Jesus discussed homosexuality (which is a great question to pose and very relevant). As far as excluding anyone from the gospel, you’re correct that Scot isn’t doing that here and I should have communicated more accurately that many in the evangelical church seem to using these passages and others for exclusion from the gospel (not to mention broader society). My apologies for careless phrasing.

  • Dale

    I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but there is a significant social, cultural and ecclesial conversation happening on these issues right now, are we to remain mute about them because you feel there are bigger things to talk about?

    I think that it’s at times such as these that we most need to hear clearly from people like Scott who are able to speak rationally, calmly and intelligently in the midst of all the noise and chatter with which we are constantly bombarded.

  • Aussie Mum

    You are right Eris, as sinners we are broken people, we can only come before God in humility with our sins washed clean by Jesus’ blood that was shed on the cross for us. I can only listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and ask for forgiveness when I slip up, and put on the Armour of God (Ephesians 6) to claim a victory over Satan. You can add to the list of sins we must avoid by reading Galatians 5. I like the positive verses, however they are challenging too – The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. I am answerable to God for what I do. I try not to be legalistic and tell others what to do, I have enough work to do just concentrating on my own heart! God bless you!

  • Andrew Dowling

    1) I hear this point often, but Jesus NEVER demands repentance before allowing people to become his disciple or extending table fellowship. It’s not in the Gospels. People today, like those in the 1st century, have serious problems with this sort of radicalized display.

    2) When Jesus makes moral condemnations, its against hypocrisy, greed, and how we treat others. Esoteric notions of purity and “holiness” (the only avenue by which one could claim a monagamous same sex relationship could be immoral) are not found in the ministry of Jesus.In fact, all 4 Gospels have Jesus going to the ultimate center of purity codes being associated with God and pretty much trashing the place.

    3) When I said mercy, I meant God being found in acts of mercy done by people. Not the mercy of God not smiting everyone because we’re so sinful.

  • Dale

    You missed the point quite nicely there.

  • mjk

    This line of reasoning is exactly that which Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 11 to justify head coverings for women and in 1 Timothy 2 to justify submission of women in the churches. Both are teachings I believe to be demonstrable as cultural arguments, rather than universally binding on the church today (with which Scot, also, agrees), despite being “grounded” in the creation myth.

    Why not with this text too?

  • I’m just asking a question, MJK. I’m not trying to assert anything myself. 🙂

  • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

    I’m never sure why people make posts like this. It’s not like they actually tell me anything. Alright, so you think I missed the point. In what way? What do you feel was the point? Do feel free to expand.

  • Richard

    “No, the message of the gospel is Come as you are BUT DON’T stay as you came. Come for sure, everyone is welcome to come… but be changed and that means honoring the Lord by progressively changing our thoughts, actions, hearts, and minds.”

    Isn’t it more accurate to suggest that it is the Holy Spirit that progressively heals and transforms us and that us resolving to changing our minds/actions/hearts can often lead to a superficial change rather than a transformation from the inside out. It seems to me that the failure of “ex-gay” therapy ministries seems to only reinforce this point. (and I’m all for synergy between us and the Holy Spirit in this but let’s be clear that me opening myself up to the work of God is different than me doing the work of God on myself).

  • itpromike

    Of course not, I don’t think anyone here is advocating condensing someone for sexual sin while we engage in sexual sin of our own. I don’t think anyone is advocating (at least from what I’ve read) condemning anyone at all… The standard is Jesus and the standard is the gospel… The standard isn’t what I do, or you do, but the scriptures. We are all held accountable to the scriptures. That fact however doesn’t negate my responsibility as a brother in the Lord to help another brother who’s struggling with a particular sin – to do that however you must first agree what sin is. The Bible said first take the log out of your own eye before you point out the spec in your brothers… it did NOT however say don’t take point out the spec in your brothers eye. Its not advocating to not address areas in others lives who aren’t honoring the Lord, it just advocating doing so with a humility because there are aspects of your own life where you could stand to honor the Lord better as well.

  • mjk

    Sorry if that sounded accusatory. 🙂

  • I’ve not said anyone is not allowed to falter. What I’m saying is that faltering is different from a path one commits to and asks God and others to bless. I think the I Cor. passage is best interpreted as condemning patterns of life and conduct rather than isolated, even repeated mistakes in the midst of a life headed in a different direction. I don’t consider a marriage as a general matter, faltering. I don’t expect people with homosexual desires, orientation, or even just curiousity to be perfect in their abstinence (or in anything else). I’m saying that the issue that Scot raises is relevant to a larger question as to whether homosexual marriage is something that God blesses or forbids.

  • Right, that’s reasonable and makes sense given the cultural context, but it is right in the middle of the section regarding sex.

  • itpromike

    I think you’re missing the point. The point is not that he isn’t expected to be perfect covetous free… Sin is sin is sin. He’s expected not to sin, but there is grace when he falters and does… however if he ditches the gospel and actively pursues sin that is where the issue is. If he says “I know what the bible says but I’m going to purposely keep on doing it anyway without regard for honoring the Lord in my life i.e.. praying for forgiveness and aggressively trying to change and grow to not give into my desires or habits to covet” then that would be a major issue.

  • Dale

    The point is that that while Mr. Freeman may admit to covetousness, he recognizes it as sin and seems to be grieved by it and struggle against it. I have not often come across homosexuals with similar mindsets, they simply don’t see what they are doing as sinful. So it isn’t a matter of one group getting away with sin while another isn’t allowed the same grace, it is a matter of the heart and a recognition of sin being sin.

  • itpromike

    All words are made up… all words are made by people to communicate a meaning….

  • mlivingston

    Thank you for someone bringing this up.

    If porneia referred to the Levitical sexual code, then sex during periods is just as wrong as some people feel homosexuality is?

    How do you then parse out that some of the Levitical sexual code is still in force, but not all of it?

  • mlivingston

    Exactly, pederasty Is not equal to same sex relationships.

  • Kenton Slaughter

    But, the first thing he proclaims is, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”; and later, “Unless you repent, you will also perish.”

  • JES

    No, he (we) don’t get a pass either. Repentance is required. Are you suggesting that SS activity also requires repentance?

  • I could be wrong, obviously, but I tend to think that’s because we’ve got an offense with blood, that’s made via sex. Plus, we know that sex (with one’s spouse) is not forbidden generally, so this seems to carve out an exception for a specific reason, which most logically, as you say, seems to be the blood.

  • Andrew Dowling

    You seem to be reading that passage as affirming something juxataposed “against” something, rather than something that was just assumed. Jesus brings up Genesis in relation to a question about divorce, not to a modern question of “so Jesus, is marriage only between a man and a woman?”

  • mwkruse

    “Along with my commendation of his historical research must come this: (1) he thinks the Bible and Judaism of that time are uniformly and unequivocally against same-sex relations and (2) he is personally progressive about the topic, which means this: he thinks the Bible is against it but he thinks the Bible got this one wrong.”

    Precisely! Having been around these debates for decades now, I find it hard to take seriously a position that does not acknowledge his first conclusion. Quibble back and forth on specific passages all we want, the trajectory of Scripture is toward sex within the context of a covenant relationship between a man and a woman. The process of looking to individual passages as though trying to parse out the legislative intent of a law passed by a legislature that was written for a time and place is poor use of Scripture. Scripture was written for us, not to us, and we are listening on a conversation that happened within a particular place and time, with particular cultural constructs.

    I keep returning to William Webb’s redemptive-movement hermeneutic. The seven-fold vengeance was practiced in the ancient world but God steps in and says “but I say to you, an eye for an eye.” Responses are to be proportional. Then Jesus comes along and says “you have heard it said and eye for an eye, but I say to you, turn the other cheek.” There is a trajectory of ethics happening as God shapes God’s people.

    You see this with many issues. Women are chattel and treated poorly in the Ancient Near East but the God’s law adds provisions the elevate women. Then Jesus comes and says no divorce except for infidelity. Jesus elevates the role of women higher, even to the level of Mary as the evangelist, of Junia as apostle, or of Phoebe as deacon. The move is toward mutuality in male and female relationships, not hierarchy.

    Traditionalist see a culturally transcendent mandate to continue a trajectory toward fidelity between heterosexual partners. Others see that something has happened with our understanding of homosexual orientation and behavior that is new – unavailable to past generations – that helps us see them in a new perspective (as with human dignity with slavery or the dignity of women in terms of teaching and leading.) They see the trajectory as toward fidelity and mutuality within a covenant relationship but see homosexual relationships as a possible expression of this trajectory. (And good and decent people are in both of these camps, as well as in other more nuanced camps not mentioned.)

    It may be interesting to quibble with particular passages. It is appropriate to do so. But for me, I’m with Loader on his first conclusion: The Scripture and the people of God have unequivocally opposed same-sex relations. So the big question is has something changed in our understanding of homosexuality and what does that mean ethically?

  • As I said to MJK, I’m just asking a question here. I’m curious to hear Scot’s take on these passages.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Unfortunately for many the Bible becomes this “divine conversation” for topics they are uncomfortable with adhering to and a rulebook when it conforms to their own personal biases and predilections.

    I’m awaiting with baited breath the national conversation among American Christians on the “biblical ethics” of lending money with interest (crickets . . .crickets)

  • mjk

    I.e. Can everyone just shut up and let Scot answer?? LOL!!

  • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

    I don’t believe “SS activity” is a sin, so I don’t think it does. ^_^

  • Andrew Dowling

    What makes homosexual sex in a committed relationship immoral?

  • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

    Of course. The problem is that I don’t know what that particular word means.

  • jeffcook

    When speaking of Jesus and homosexuality scholars on all sides are missing the forest for the trees. Jesus ethic is where one ought to focus first, not specific verses—and the question ought to be, “Given Jesus ethical theory as a whole, ought we to object to monogamous gay relationships?”

    On Friday, Preston Sprinkle and I will begin a month long internet discussion on the topic (on his blog: Theology in the Raw).

    As a foretaste I will defend (and would defend here), the following argument:

    (1) The moral life displayed in Jesus’ teachings is the virtuous life (one focused on character), not the rule-following life of the scribes and pharisees (a deontological ethic).
    (2) Monogamously committed homosexuality does not violate any of the Christian virtues.
    Therefore, Jesus’ ethic does not prohibit monogamous gay relationships.

    I’d love thoughts here. Peace.

  • Kenton Slaughter

    Scot’s point seems to be that Jesus, by using the term in an unqualified way, accepted the Levitical referent, which definitively banned same-sex acts because they were same-sex acts, not because of potential exploitation. This is the thing, though. Jesus always affirmed the Torah’s relevance, even when he declared that he was bringing something new and greater. So if Jesus who upheld the Law’s validity, did not overturn that ban, and if Paul, who dismissed the Law’s validity, also accepted that ban, then it stands to reason that the Bible on whole maintains a consistent stance on this and other sex-related issues.

    Now, we can debate all day whether or not the Bible is relevant for Christian belief and practice, or applicable to democratic laws. But one thing you cannot do is claim to both believe the Bible and dismiss it as irrelevant.

    As to the “ingrained same sexual orientations” and “what we know about gender and sexuality”, Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick”, and Paul says, “God gave [humans] up to dishonorable passions.” Yes, same-sex desires are ingrained, but they are yet sinful. This is the most evident biblical truth: humans are woefully flawed, morally corrupt, and thoroughly distorted. And this is the welcome of the gospel, that Jesus accepts all those who acknowledge their deep-seated sickness by repenting of their sins and turning to him for forgiveness and freedom.

  • Andrew Dowling

    1) Your whole first paragraph is an attempt to make broad proclamations based on silence that is simply not good exegesis, sorry. And Jesus overturned the Mosaic law on divorce and worked on the Sabbath; not exactly “upholding all of Torah.”

    2) Your appeal to total depravity (a doctrine absent from Christianity until the Middle Ages) is not a sufficient out here. If all of ingrained human sexuality is so depraved we might as well join the Shakers and stop procreating for the glory of God.

  • brad

    “with the term porneia same-sex relations are undoubtedly entailed if the term is general and refers to Leviticus 18.”

    Scot: Gagnon makes a much more certain connection between Jesus’ use of ‘porneia’ and Leviticus 18 than you do so in this post. In your mind, how big is the “if” in the quote above?

  • theogeek

    A few of things though:
    1. Look at the severity of consequences tied to the various prohibitions. There are differences that point to the deeper seriousness attached to violating some of them.
    2. We have to ask what prohibitions the NT ratifies, rather than discards (for whatever reason, e.g., fulfilled in Jesus; or the principle remains the same even though the rule changes; etc.).
    3. We have to ask what principles and basic theological convictions lie behind the prohibitions. Then, are the particular rules listed there still the best way of living out the former? Read in light of Gen 2 and the overarching narrative of Scripture on sexuality, these particular rules against homosexual activity still stand and make perfect sense.

    People often assume that the problem for the progressive position (in favour of homosexual unions) is the so-called problem texts. It isn’t. The larger ‘problem’ is the over-arching narrative in which these texts make perfect sense. Often Scripture has narratives and counter-narratives with respect to issues in tension or still being resolved (e.g., violence and peace, monarchy vs. anti-monarchy, patriarchy vs. gender equality). One narrative can be seen as undermining and deconstructing the more oppressive narrative (we know what is and isn’t ‘oppressive’ in light of the coming and teachings of Jesus and the NT writers, though their thoughts might not be as complete as we’d like in finalizing the ethic – e.g., slavery). In the case of homosexual activity or unions, we don’t have anything like this. No counter-narratives, no positive examples, no ‘precedent-setting’ cases.

    Perhaps a new paradigm will emerge to provide a positive, Scripture-based argument for homosexual unions, one that better accounts for all the evidence and deals more effectively with its own ‘problem texts’. I haven’t seen this yet though (personally). Brownson’s re-reading of the Genesis texts, if successful, could be one way of initiating that shift. I don’t think Brownson succeeds in his argument though.

  • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

    I have to run off to class, but I’ve always liked Mark 2:27 (Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath) in relation to the whole homosexuality debate.

    So, before I go, I’m going to ask a question: what is the purpose of condemning homosexuality? The law is made for man, and not man for the law, yes? The law should serve some objective good, correct? It should not be some arbitrary rule that harms people and we simply have to follow it anyway because God just mandated it for no reason, right? So could someone explain to me in what way a law against homosexuality would be made for man? And please, don’t cite, “And gays can’t have kids;” I’m a single woman without kids, and no one insists that I’m violating God’s law by being single with no kids, so it’s clear that not having kids is not in and of itself an evil.


  • itpromike

    My apologies, I thought you were trying to infer something else. The word arsenokoitai is actually a word Paul is the one credited in using the first time or making up. Essentially he made up his own compound word. Arseno means man (or men), koitai means lying together. Before Paul used it as a compound word in that passage, those words were used together in (in Greek) Leviticus chapter 18 and 22, that were right beside each other “Arseno Koitai” and used to reference homosexuality. What Paul did was make them into 1 word instead of 2 separate word. So instead of “Arseno Koitai” He said “Arsenokoitai”.

  • mwkruse

    I hear ya. And yet, the fact that we have changed on one set of issues doesn’t justify a change on any other particular issue. Each has to be considered in its own context. That is what is what makes it messy.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Hi Jeff,

    I’m in agreement. The only morality that could rationally be against a committed SSR is one based on notions of ingrained codes of “holiness” and purity. Whereas one reason people disliked Jesus so much was that he basically overturned those ideas on their face; he ate with unwashed hands, he traveled with prostitutes and tax collectors, he even rubs his spit in the eyes of lepers. Not only that, but he goes into the Temple, where God is supposed to accept offerings based on this purity ethic, and creates a near riot.
    What does Jesus speak against? Morality based on treatment of others and effects on others . . exploitation, hypocrisy, greed, being unmerciful, lacking empathy etc. Adultery is sinful because it’s betraying another’s trust and hurting them, not because it involves sex.

  • Andrew Dowling

    This is why even conservative judges are laughing at the arguments of SSM ban advocates . . there is simply no rational argument (with solid evidence) that committed same sex relationships creates any net social negative whatsoever.

  • theogeek

    So, are you suggesting that Jesus’ teachings on divorce are cultural arguments? Do they point to anything transculturally true about God’s intent for marriage? If so, why in this case but not in Paul’s? I’m not convinced that Jesus is doing the same kind of thing that Paul is here.

  • theogeek

    Micah – this is a good question. I responded below (Eris asked a similar one).

  • mjk

    My point wasn’t to draw conclusions about the enduring nature of Jesus’ prohibitions of divorce. It was to merely illustrate that arguments from God’s Creational Ideal aren’t the slam dunk arguments people sometimes assume they are. Just because creation is used as the starting point, doesn’t mean that we believe the injunction to be enduring. We need to bring other considerations to the table.

    On the issue of divorce, you’d have to choose which one of Jesus’ several, differing opinions you find to be the authoritative one. And you’d have to explore, with David Instone-Brewer among others, what “kind” of divorce Jesus is talking about in his various prohibitions. The divorce question itself is not as cut-and-dried as we sometimes assume it is.

    Because of that, I wouldn’t jump straight from Jesus’ reference to Genesis to the conclusion that the only marriage Jesus would recognize marriage is that between a man and a woman. That may (or may not) be true, but it is not determined by this quote, in my opinion.

  • Eric Weiss

    Re: Gagnon:
    At the end of the following essay / blog post I wrote a couple years ago:


    are links to:
    1. a critique of Gagnon by classical philologist Jean-Fabrice Nardelli, as well as
    2. Gagnon’s response to Nardelli, and
    3. Nardelli’s reply to Gagnon’s response.

    I don’t post each link because 3 links in my post would probably get this comment hung up in some filter.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Repent meaning “renew yourself/change your life-seek the Kingdom of God” not “bow down on your knees for forgiveness you miserable sinner; God finds your ingrained humanity a dishonor to Him”

  • theogeek

    Jeff – the potential problem with this (as with all virtue based ethics) is: what are the virtues and what practices best fit the formation of those virtues? More to the point, what specific quality do those virtues take on within the narrative? Virtue ethics requires an over-arching narrative framework in which the virtues “make sense” and form the person according to some telos. It’s not good enough to identify virtues in a general sense and pursue them; we have to ask: what is the nature of the ‘game’ in which those virtues operate? E.g., courage in love and courage in war both point to the virtue of courage, but simply focusing on courage as an abstract quality is insufficient.

    In the case of Christian ethics, we can’t just focus on Jesus’ ‘virtues’ and practices as if they are not already part of an overarching narrative that gives those virtues and practices coherence.

    A key question still remains: is gender complementarity part of the ‘rules of the game’ (not in the sense of legalistic rules, but in terms of how the game is framed so as to operate according to its intended purposes)? If so, then it is relevant to specifying the specific content and directionality of the virtues we are seeking to be formed into as sexual persons.

  • scotmcknight

    I’ve been off on an errand… back in time to discover 94 comments! Yikes.
    I don’t think that text is talking directly about same-sex relations, but the idea of marriage being between Male-Female in the created order is at work — at least behind the scene — in Romans 1:18-32. Inasmuch as my post was about possible texts with a more or less explicit connection, I’d say this one would be much further down the list… he’s talking about marriage and divorce.

  • Thanks, Scot!

  • theogeek

    Fair enough, but neither can you casually dismiss it by pointing to what Paul (another writer in a totally different context) does with the creation story. That’s my point.

  • scotmcknight

    Larry, that’s a fair observation. Yes, it incorporates rather than delineates, though perhaps Rom 1 would support that incorporation.

  • theogeek

    I don’t think Kenton’s appeal was to “total depravity” as a doctrine (that was your interpretation of his comments). He simply cited Scripture to the effect that we all have ingrained desires that need to be directed and channeled properly (my interpretation of his point). The same goes for Paul in Romans 1. Would Paul be surprised by recent scientific observations about homosexuality, that some may have an ingrained homosexual orientation? No! His argument seems to suggest that we would expect disordered desires in a sinful world (given a traditional reading of Romans 1, such as Richard Hays’, which I know is open to debate).

  • Phil Miller

    I’m hesitant to even comment on these posts, because in my experience they generate more heat than light. I think your comments have come across as very sincere though, and I appreciate the spirit in which you’ve made them. As far as God’s reasons for condemning homosexual practice, I don’t know – I’d be hesitant to venture a guess. I think historically, though, homosexuality has been tied to broader social issues – promiscuity, violence, etc. Some of it is warranted, some is not.

    I think one reason there is an automatic disgust from some people when it comes to these conversations has to do with the type of homosexual practices that are highlighted by media. Many people simply think of homosexuality being what happens in a gay pride parade. And to be honest, I don’t think many in the gay community are helping their cause in that respect. My band played at the local Pride festival two years ago, and walking around the festival grounds I was struck by a few things. First, some of the booths were simply businesses who were there letting the attendees know they wanted their business. There were roofers and plumbers there, for example. In with these businesses, though, were all kinds of S&M, kink and other, shall we say, not family-friendly booths. They weren’t cordoned off in a hidden corner. So I think there’s this perception that exists that homosexuality is promoting promiscuous behavior more so than the culture at large. I don’t think that perception is necessarily true. The culture-at-large promote promiscuity in other less in-your-face ways, which are probably more dangerous in the long run. But I think that sort of counter-cultural part of homosexuality makes it a struggle to even have rational discussion with people about these things.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “The culture-at-large promote promiscuity in other less in-your-face ways”

    Someone’s never been to Bourbon Street or Vegas . . .

  • Dan Carlson

    Hi Scot,
    Thanks for this post. I was in the midst of reading your Fellowship of Differents book so jumped to ch. 12. I also feel like I am still uncertain of how you see the pastoral implications of this issue playing out. I fully understand your with, for and unto concepts. As you seem to be sharing a Third Way of seeing this issue it seems to me you are encouraging with and for before we jump to unto. Is this perhaps just a delay of say a first way of just unto…we want to change them? If you are with and for an individual but they at some point feel strongly that unto for them is to continue and pursue a same sex marriage wouldn’t the response then look like the typical response, exclusion/discipline?

    Wondering if you are familiar with Ken Wilson’s book, A Letter To My Congregation? He also sketches a Third Way and there are some things I sense that you line up with and others that I can’t really tell. Do you have any thoughts on his book? Do you see and difference between what we can know through scholarship and then what we are called to do as a community or pastors? Would genuinely love your thoughts. I am really seeking for God’s direction on this issue.

  • Phil Miller

    Actually, I have been to both… I think the difference with those is that they’re both areas with a certain reputation. The Pride festival that I was talking was at public park in the middle of Minneapolis, and it’s advertised as a family-friendly event. Frankly, I’m sure that many of the gay folks I’m friends with would have been uncomfortable with a lot of what was going on there.

    My comment wasn’t about me defending prudishness. I’m just saying that movements have public faces, and unfortunately those faces get stuck in the public’s mind. It’s the same reason Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell represent evangelicals to many people.

  • Andrew Dowling

    If sexual orientation is largely determined by biology, and gays are a definitive small minority of the larger population, then your larger point about “gender complementarity” is not really relevant.
    Nature is much more complicated and sticky than traditional “natural law” assumptions often give it credit for.

  • Richard Klaus

    This article may be relevant to the discussion: ἀσέλγεια in Mark 7:22 G. THOMAS HOBSON in Filologia Neotestamentaria vol 21, 2008, pp. 65-74.



    The article argues that Jesus euphemistically refers to homosexual behavior and similar sexual offenses against the Jewish law by use of the term ἀσέλγεια on his list of sins that “defile the human heart” in Mark 7:22-23. The article examines the use of ἀσέλγεια by Jewish, pagan, and NT writers, and uses the Syriac translation to attempt to identify the original Aramaic word used by Jesus in this verse and what he may have meant by it. Jewish writers use ἀσέλγεια to refer to what they considered to be shocking violations of the sexuality taught in the Torah.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Is heterosexual promiscuity not “in your face” there?

    Clearly, there is a gay (not really lesbian) subculture that has long been “heavy” on explicit sex. But there are lots of heterosexual subcultures that are as explicit.

  • Andrew Dowling

    There can be no “recovery” of the Aramaic Jesus spoke. The Gospels are not literal translations.

  • Jeff (& Andrew D. below and others),

    As much as I normally am the first to start with Jesus’ (central) ethic, I don’t know if that’s all that is relevant in this case. Ethics spring from and are shaped by the underlying reality and ontology and the present and future purpose, if any. In this case, there is at least a question as to whether Jesus’ ethic assumed a creation of “male and female” that would create and necessitate a certain ethic for marriage and sexual conduct generally. Certainly a case can be made that the ontology doesn’t matter to marriage and/or sex or that it does matter, but that the male and female parts of ontology don’t matter for purposes of the ethic for sex and marriage (and that only mutual commitment matters), but that, to me, seems to be unconvincing in light of not just particular biblical commands and pictures and stories, but of the whole of the narrative. I have a hard time buying that the ontology of male and female isn’t relevant to the ethic of sex and marriage.

  • I’m not using “immoral sex” as euphemism for homosexual sex. I’m saying that, in the context of this Leviticus passage, it seems to me that the passage is prohibiting various sexual activities on moral or similar grounds, but one of the exceptions seems to be the odd command about sex with a woman on her period. Here, I think the text is concerned more with the interaction with blood than sex.

  • Phil Miller

    Bourbon Street, yes… Vegas, not so much anymore… It’s pretty Disney-fied nowadays. It’s going to have to change its nickname pretty soon. 🙂

  • JES

    Therein lies your problem.

  • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

    Well, I don’t think it’s a problem.

  • JES

    That’s something you & God will work out.

  • theogeek

    I’m not referring to natural law assumptions, but biblical revelation about God’s intentions for human beings.

  • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

    But I don’t feel anything needs to be worked out in that regard. For me there is no conflict. I only have trouble when I try to convince myself that God could be so unloving as to declare homosexuality a sin.

  • Ben Dubow

    Scot, curious what you think about the Gospel passages about eunuchs and also the healing of the Centurion’s “pais” — do you think these are teachings/references about or relevant to homosexuality?

  • JES

    But why wouldn’t that be true for any issue that is classed as sin?

  • Andrew Dowling

    “Certainly a case can be made that the ontology doesn’t matter to
    marriage and/or sex or that it does matter, but that the male and female
    parts of ontology don’t matter for purposes of the ethic for sex and
    marriage (and that only mutual commitment matters), but that, to me,
    seems to be unconvincing in light of not just particular biblical
    commands and pictures and stories, but of the whole of the narrative.”

    ? So what is the point of this supposed ontological ethic? I guess the big question is are some things bad simply “because” or do bad things need to have a rational basis for why they are bad? (ie are divine laws rational?) I am firmly in the latter camp . . .I think declaring something against God due to it lacking some preordained essence or structure is medieval gobblygook logic. You can end up declaring anything “against God” running with that argument . . .slavery was God’s “preordained structure of man as a result of the Fall” . . I’m hearing a lot of the same language in this debate.

    The Bible doesn’t have much to say on homosexuality because homosexuality as understood today was unknown to the biblical authors. Yes, relationships and marriage are portrayed via a man and a human in the Bible. The wide majority of relationships then AND today are heterosexual.
    But we do know now that there are a minority of people who are attracted to the same gender, and that this is likely rooted in developments in utero. We know gay sex occurs often in nature and in other mammals; we know that homosexuals are not all “deviants” with abused childhoods and that they can live completely normal, fulfilling lives in monogamous relationships.

    Knowing all that, how is the “Jesus ethic” not relevant? Why deny them a seat at the table just like anyone else (letting them make their own decisions regarding who they love)?

    The alternative simply makes no sense.

  • Eris, I don’t like the way some have interacted with you in this discussion. Thanks for interacting. I hope we can all discuss this (or anything) with respect and kindness.

    I wonder what the difference is b/n declaring homosexual sex a sin and heterosexual sex a sin outside of marriage. What I mean is, I know several young(er) people who would like to have sex, and some others who are not so young. They are not married and may never be. Is it cruel or unloving of God to tell them to abstain? Why? or Why not?

  • Andrew Dowling

    I could easily say the Bible clearly articulates that slavery is God’s intention for some human beings via the Bible (and many many did) Or that woman should not be able to hold managerial positions or public office.

  • Spence Spencer

    The interest conversation has largely been hashed out by the Reformers, this is why it isn’t a major concern right now. The arguments have been summed up in a dissertation: http://www.amazon.com/Reforming-Morality-Usury-Differences-Protestant/dp/0761827498/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1428345621&sr=8-1&keywords=david+jones+usury

    There is certainly still room for debate if someone want to analyze the topic, but I have found the historic arguments satisfactory.

  • Andrew Dowling

    If you mean the Reformers used extremely creative exegesis, taking passages out of their historical/cultural context, to let the Bible give them the authority to lend money with interest , . . then yes.

    The Bible is pretty darn clear on this issue, as is Jesus.

  • theogeek

    Now that’s just sophistry. Sure you could easily say it . . . proving it is another matter. You can’t “clearly” prove either of those assertions. There are strong counter-narratives for both of those issues within Scripture; none for homosexuality.

  • Andrew

    I actually think that with some historical insight, there is a better exegesis of those texts that would have Paul not justifying submission of women in the churches – so I don’t think it’s as easy as saying “this was a cultural thing, we can disregard it”.

  • scotmcknight

    I don’t think so, Ben, and if they are they are remote or beyond.

  • Jeff, thanks for giving us a glimpse into what will surely be a great discussion. Since you invited us to give our thoughts, I’ll give some of mine.
    In regards to (1), I agree that Jesus taught a virtuous life focused on character. But I would argue that he didn’t necessarily teach against rule-following, as he said to the Pharisees about tithing and mercy, “You should have kept the latter [mercy, justice, faithfulness] without neglecting the former [tithing on literally everything].” Even more explicitly, in Matthew 5 he taught, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. …For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The problem with the Pharisees wasn’t rule-following as such, but that they took rule-following to an extreme of rooting their identity and hope in their rule-following, while also neglecting of the issues of the heart. But Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, came along and said rule-following extends to matters of the heart. As he says elsewhere in Matthew 12:34, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” As I understand him, Jesus taught that character and virtue are matters of both practice and desire. He focused on hearts and desires because he knew that this was the driving force of human action. True obedience is both desiring to do right and doing right.
    Therefore, in regards to (2), if it can be shown that homosexual practice violates the rule of Scripture, then no matter its context, it cannot be virtuous in a Christian sense. Christian virtue and character exist within a context, and Jesus seems to indicate that that context is within the Law and the Prophets as fulfilled by himself.
    Anyway, I’m sure you’ve heard all of this before, but I’d love to read your thoughts.

  • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

    Eris, I don’t like the way some have interacted with you in this discussion. Thanks for interacting. I hope we can all discuss this (or anything) with respect and kindness.

    Thank you for your kindness, and I apologize if I get a little wonky from time to time (I have a migraine that is coming and going and it’s making me a little weird, heh).

    I wonder what the difference is b/n declaring homosexual sex a sin and heterosexual sex a sin outside of marriage. What I mean is, I know several young(er) people who would like to have sex, and some others who are not so young. They are not married and may never be. Is it cruel or unloving of God to tell them to abstain? Why? or Why not?

    As a 30 year old, unmarried virgin (meep!) I get what it is to want to have sex and abstain because you’re not in a situation to do so within your moral boundaries. For me, the difference is that I have the possibility of gaining an entrance into a situation where I could have sex within my moral boundaries (I could fall in love and get married) whereas many people forbid homosexuals this very avenue (they insist that homosexuals may not fall in love and get married). Yes, it is possible that I won’t fall in love and get married, but it’s the the goal, whereas the goal of homosexuals is supposed to be alone forever. And I think it’s too cruel to ask that of someone, to ask that they make ultimate goal be being alone. It’s one thing if that’s what they end up willingly choosing, but to tell someone that is is what they must choose . . . no, I can’t do that.

    This would be especially horrible to ask of a person who met someone whom they fell in love with, to them tell that person that they must turn away from their love, that their love was wrong, that they must abandon it, that marriage was not an option, and knowing that this would be the case not just once, but every time that this person fell in love because the person was a homosexual. That seems horrible beyond all bearing.

  • Eris, elder daughter of Nyx

    I’m afraid I don’t really understand what you are asking. (I’m sorry, I have a migraine and am not terribly quick mentally right now).

  • Andrew Dowling

    Both have 1000+ years of historical backing, so yes I’m not going to play bible proof-text 101 with you.
    Any argument that the Bible has an overarching “narrative” on homosexuality is relying on sophistry. You can’t “prove” that either.

  • Andrew,

    There’s a lot there. But first, I didn’t say that Jesus’ ethic was irrelevant. I said I’m unconvinced that the ontology of male and female is irrelevant to God’s ethic regarding sex and marriage. Certainly Jesus’ ethic (of love) is also relevant (to everything), but so is, it seems to me the ontology of male and female.

    It seems as though you are saying that the general ontology of male and female is irrelevant. All that matters is individual ontology and mutual commitment/love. In other words, it doesn’t matter what male and female means in general, it only matters (along with the Jesus Creed) how a given individual is made (through nature or nurture or both) for determining what kind of sexual and marital activities are desired and, thereby, appropriate.

    Maybe. It’s just hard to reconcile that with the biblical narrative(s), IMO. If we remove the ethic from the biblical narrative’s ontology for male and female, and leave it only to mutual desire and commitment, I see no reason for the monogomous element either, or for love and commitment of shorter duration than lifetime. Why can’t marriage be multiple men and women who are committed to each other? Why can’t it be a committment shorter than lifetime? Those “rules” seem much more arbitrary and less grounded in ontology of mankind than the male – female distinction.

    FWIW, one of the things I always think about with these things is how too many Christians (regardless of sexual preference) view sexual fulfillment as an entitlement of being human, or as something we don’t give up to Christ for him to satisfy or deny as he sees fit. That the scriptures do not present human life this way, and, further, present the single life, in many ways, as superior to married life (though both are gifts), strikes me as important to help all of us, regardless of sexual preferences, to adjust how we think and act. I am glad, for instance, that neither Jesus nor Paul were married, although Peter and Moses were. The orientation of the Christian to give up to God all of one’s life, desires, rights, etc. to be continually transformed and directed in Christ is of greater priority than our dreams of marriage or sexual experience. Some will be given the gift of marriage, others the gift of singleness. Either is not an end in itself. Further, its necessity to a given person’s mission or destiny is within Christ’s wisdom and care and sovereignty to determine. In a nutshell, we “need” a spouse not only because we feel we do, but because God agrees, and it clearly is not the same answer for all. Further still, I don’t believe God’s first and last hope for sex is that it is inside marriage and heterosexual. Many married heteros desperately need to allow God to completely renovate their sexual thoughts and practices.

  • Andrew Dowling

    That was a very mature and insightful answer.

  • I have often heard the idea that “Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, so he therefore must not have been against it.” But, personally, this is not the type of argument that would hold up in regards to any other topic of morality. Jesus never gave an exhaustive moral list of do’s and don’ts…that’s not why he came. However, I think that we too often miss the fact that he clearly emphasised the importance of traditional marriage in exclusion to others in Matthew 19. Jesus may have never explicitly condemned same sex acts, but he certainly demonstrated the way that God designed sexuality to function. There were many times that Jesus did not overtly condemn a person. That’s not why he was here! But he did, many a time, show them a better, God designed way of living.

  • Matt Edwards

    But Jesus’ halakhah clearly had prohibitions. He prohibited divorce, for instance. While I think you can argue that Jesus encouraged a virtue ethic, you have to have room for prohibitions within that ethic to make sense of all of the data.

  • Andrew Dowling

    T Freeman,

    First, just want to say I applaud the respectful tone this convo has had; one reason I like this blog so much is usually the regular posters can have differences of opinion without resorting to the type of behavior one sees so often on the Internet, so thanks.

    I still don’t see how homosexuals denigrate the larger male-female ontology you’re describing. You could say the ontology of the human body is to have two arms and two legs, yet there is nothing depraved or disordered about a person born with only of these. They are simply different. The fact that some people are gay doesn’t “affect” the relationship I have with my wife, nor could it in any way I could imagine.

    Monogamy makes more sense than the alternatives because humans are naturally jealous creatures, and men generally have a longer “shelf life” than woman, making polygamy inherently patriarchal and repressive. As for lifelong, same type of thing. It would be the men dumping the old women for younger ones (this was not uncommon as infertility was fair grounds in Jewish law for divorce). So those both go back to how people are treated.

    Your last paragraph . . I guess I’ll have to say I disagree with the general premise. I don’t think repressing one’s sexuality is ultimately healthy in the long-term for the wide majority of people. If people feel celibacy is their path, that’s fine, but it shouldn’t be construed as some Godly ideal, although historically many have.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “I think that we too often miss the fact that he clearly emphasised the importance of traditional marriage in exclusion to others”

    You are throwing presuppositions onto the text. The scribes weren’t asking about gay marriage . . it didn’t exist in Jewish society. There were no “others” . . it was just marriage.

  • Thanks. I’m confident we can have a good conversation. I hope your migraine is gone quickly.

    “Yes, it is possible that I won’t fall in love and get married, but it’s the the goal, whereas the goal of homosexuals is supposed to be alone forever. And I think it’s too cruel to ask that of someone, to ask that they make ultimate goal be being alone. It’s one thing if that’s what they end up willingly choosing, but to tell someone that is is what they must choose . . . no, I can’t do that.”

    Okay, but I don’t think that God sees the gift/call of singleness as giving someone the ultimate goal of being alone! It certainly wasn’t how Jesus or Paul understood themselves or their call. Part of the problem is that, for way too long, the Church (especially the American Prot. Church) has held up marriage (as opposed to singleness) as superior. Paul says the opposite! And he doesn’t equate singleness with being alone. I’ve known married people who were as lonely as anyone I’ve ever met and single people who truly enjoyed community and love. Shame on us for making singleness (in Christ!) into “being alone.” And people are asked by God to go the single route all the time. Romantic love is often not returned. Or it is returned, only to be betrayed and broken. And others lose spouses (or even fiances!) to long illnesses, unavoidable physical separation, and death. My point is that no one is entitled to marriage (of any particular quality or length) in this life. It is God’s call what we need and for how long, even in marriage. But the alternative to marriage isn’t subhuman and/or loneliness by any stretch. Not at all. Not in Christ. Not unless Jesus and Paul were slighted.

  • mjk

    I absolutely agree, Andrew, and believe that Gordon Fee and others in the “egalitarian” camp have adequately demonstrated so. I hold to neither a head covering ethic. nor a “complementarian” ethic. I was merely attempting to demonstrate the weakness of the “appeal to Creation” argument. It does not necessarily resolve the issue.

  • “When a man goes to buy a pickup truck, he is to buy a GMC.”

    I think it’s pretty safe to say that that guy doesn’t think that anyone should buy a Ford…it doesn’t matter what the initial question was. You know where that guy stands…

    The fact that there were no others makes little difference to the fact that Jesus was still emphasising the importance of it. If Jesus was so accepting of it then would he not have made a qualifying statement? The argument that “he didn’t say anything” could be used on both sides of the discussion. Maybe Jesus didn’t directly say anything because he assumed that people should know.

  • mjk

    I fail to see any distinction between Paul’s appeal to
    creation and Jesus’ appeal. Both are using the creation story in support
    of derivative conclusions (justly so in the exegetical contexts of their
    day). I just don’t see how these conclusions are *necessarily* binding
    today, when on two occasions (for Paul) some exegetes are satisfied that
    they are not.

  • Matt Edwards

    There are a lot of ways of betraying your spouse’s trust, but adultery is in a category by itself. I think you are underestimating the significance of sex in adultery.

  • JES

    I can relate to the migraines; hope you have a good remedy for them handy. Feel better soon.

  • Not to make light of a serious topic, but in one ninth century copy of the Gospels (Δ 037) Jesus explicitly prohibits same-sex remarriage in Mark 10.11: “and if she divorces her husband and marries another woman, she commits adultery” (καὶ ἐὰν αὐτὴ ἀπολύσασα τὸν ἄνδρα αὐτῆς γαμήσῃ ἄλλην [feminine] μοιχᾶται).

  • And I appreciate you and this blog as well. Thanks much!

    I think you’ve got a tough road to hoe on monogamy, though, given what you feel you need to accept requirements such as male/female, lifetime commitment, etc.! Yes, we are naturally jealous, but we are also naturally attracted to many people! Plus, using your approach, I hope you see it would not be a challenge to argue for doing away with monogamy on many other “biblical” grounds as well as natural desires, whether of a majority or minority of willing adults: (i) we can prevent disease in so many other ways now than in ancient times, (ii) we can certainly have more children and multiply more with multiple partners (as Jacob/Israel did!), (iii) polygamy is often practiced (even by the patriarchs! And David!) and never completely forbidden in the scriptures, (iii) if anything, now, there’s no need to make it limited to just one male with many females–we don’t live in male dominated patriarchies anymore! etc. etc. Women have many more opportunities to be self supporting today, or even be the main provider. In any event, why couldn’t people (even if it’s a small percentage) who do want multiple partners who are all committed to each other (and won’t follow any ‘general’ patterns of the ancient world anyway) be married? More kids, More love, no repression? Nothing in Jesus’ ethic would prevent it!

    And as for life-long requirement, again, for some people (small percentage is okay!) they get along with their ex-spouses much better post-marriage. And they parent better. And, again, economics aren’t as patriarchal anymore. With divorce rates so high, why make the bar of “til death do we part” at all? Many social scientists would argue that, at least for a small percentage of the population, this will be better.

    If you need culture and time specific scientific rationale for each requirement of “marriage” you’re going to have a hard time justifying permanent and maybe even temporary monogamy.

    And referring to health of singleness, I’m more concerned that hyper-sexual expression and dependency is as much a danger (regardless of sexual preference) as singleness. Sexual practice has been elevated from something we may enjoy in marriage to part of our identity and right as people. I’m not trying to glorify singleness (or life without sex) beyond what it’s due, but we can’t take the witness of Jesus and Paul (especially given their change from the Judaism of the day) as anything short of a boon for the viability and beauty of the single life.

    Thanks again. I do think this is a conversation worth having, and any conversation worth having is worth having with respect and kindness. Thanks for making that explicit.

  • Daniel Fisher

    A more pertinent question might be, “did Jesus talk about sexuality?” Answer to this is an obvious yes. And where he did speak about it, is there any serious doubt that he presented a man and woman together in marriage, fleeing adultery, lust and unjustified divorce, as his Father’s intent and normative pattern for sexuality and marriage?

  • theogeek

    Who is proof-texting?

  • theogeek

    I think Jesus’ point is more direct and clear from the original context (if God joined them together, as he did in Genesis 2, then they should not be separated). What exactly Paul is doing in a passage like 1 Tim 2 is mystifying to me (the logic in the comparison doesn’t seem to follow).

    So, I think it’s not fair to rule out appeals to creation logic just because Paul takes them in certain directions in passages that NT scholars think are less than fully clear (understatement).

    In any case, I don’t advocate pointing only to creation texts, but would point to the consistency of all Scripture with these texts on this issue. The so-called problem texts are only problems for those rejecting the overarching narrative with respect to sexuality. If Gen 1-2 includes gender/sexual complementarity as God’s intent for human beings, then the problem texts are not problems but make perfect sense.

  • Richard Klaus


    Perhaps your comment could be nuanced a bit. Might it be better to say that the recovery of the Aramaic Jesus spoke is difficult and can only attain a measure of probability far from certainty? Your statement about there being “no recovery” seems a bit overdrawn. Consider Hobson’s comments on page 71. He attempts to delineate his reasoning behind his reconstruction.

  • jeffcook

    All Jesus’ “prohibitions” emerge from the virtues he affirmed. Moral Rules are always a ladder to climb but against the virtues, as Paul wrote, “there is no law.”

  • Hi Scot,
    I’m sincerely looking for clarification (see my earlier comment). Your book doesn’t even touch on Christians in covanental gay relationships. So I’m trying to understand if your framework would allow for the inclusion of gay couples, and why. Sincere thanks in advance for your help in understanding your perspective.

  • jeffcook

    Good Thoughts, Andrew.

    Normative ethics (i would argue) cannot be a “both/and” as you are interpreting Mt 23. I would argue Jesus method is to affirm virtues which come first and give definition and substance to any law.

    The righteousness that surpasses the Scribes and Pharisees is that of the good heart outlined in Mt 5 (which you say), but notice the good heart = good character = christian virtue.

    You wrote, “if it can be shown that homosexual practice violates the rule of Scripture, then no matter its context, it cannot be virtuous in a Christian sense.”

    You are assuming number 1 is false here, and thus you are able to flip the order. I would reject this move and say it doesn’t conform to Jesus normative stance.

    You wrote, “Christian virtue and character exist within a context, and Jesus seems to indicate that that context is within the Law and the Prophets as fulfilled by himself.”

    We ought to expect that Jesus ethic is revolutionary. He gives a virtue ethic based on function “be perfect as your father is perfect,” and defines perfection through the virtue of love.

    **This is a massive ethical paradigm shift.** It is not simply adding to the law and prophets but making better sense of what it means to reflect the image and likeness of God.

    Commenting on Jesus ethic, Paul wrote, “The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder’… and whatever other
    commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “love your neighbor as yourself.” Why? Because “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13.9-10).

    Law is always subservient to virtue–and the christian virtues do not on their face seem to prohibit Monogamous gay relationships.


  • jeffcook

    T, you wrote, “Jesus’ ethic assumed a creation of “male and female” that would create and necessitate a certain ethic for marriage and sexual conduct generally.”

    (1) Why does this hold?
    (2) I think virtue proceeds from function and the Christian Virtues do not on the face of it seem to prohibit monogamous gay relationships.

    What say you?

  • jeffcook

    theogeek. You said, “Jeff – the potential problem with this (as with all virtue based ethics) is: what are the virtues and what practices best fit the formation of those virtues? ”

    The virtues are the character traits which God reflects. Matt 6 is in large part a teaching on becoming Perfect as the Father is perfect.

    You wrote, “It’s not good enough to identify virtues in a general sense and pursue them; we have to ask: what is the nature of the ‘game’ in which those virtues operate? E.g., courage in love and courage in war both point to the virtue of courage, but simply focusing on courage as an abstract quality is insufficient.”

    War does not trump the beauty of courage. Killing another in battle maybe a foil for love, faith and hope. Virtues always build and propel one another. Some vices may take good virtues and uses them for illicit purposes.

    You wrote, ” In the case of Christian ethics, we can’t just focus on Jesus’ ‘virtues’ and practices as if they are not already part of an overarching narrative that gives those virtues and practices coherence.”

    What you are suggesting is that moral goodness is relative (to the narrative). Paul wrote “Love never fails.” I would suggest the NT at least holds to some moral absolutes. In line with your claims, however, the function of human life emerges from the narrative–we are made to reflect God’s image and likeness. This narrative is where Jesus and the NT writers derive the Christian virtues. I stand by the claim that those virtues are primary, normatively, and they do not prohibit monogamous gay relationships.

    You wrote, “A key question still remains: is gender complementarity part of the ‘rules of the game'”

    Paul said, “there is no male or female” in Christ.


  • jeffcook

    To the point at hand, the question in my mind is about prohibition. Can one prohibit monogamous gay relationships through the NT focus on virtue?

  • Matt Edwards

    Perhaps. But what we know from Matt 5:31-32 is that: (1) Jesus prohibited divorce, and (2) Jesus had a sexual ethic that included the category “porneia.” We can speculate about Jesus’ moral reasoning, but our conclusions have to account for the data, including prohibitions and the category “porneia.”

  • I’ve long seen a reference not to gay sex, but rather to gays here: “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (Mt 19) The idea is that this is part of his general teaching about marriage. A “eunuch” is someone (for whatever reason) not suitable for marriage. A person with only same sex desires, who can’t change or adapt to marriage, would be unsuitable, whether born that way, or somehow made that way by himself or others. Of course, a person might also be a “eunuch” just by taking on a task that is not compatible with marriage, as is the case with Paul. And of course there are those with genital defects, and literal eunuchs. But it is clear that he’s talking about more than literal eunuchs here, as Origen learned the hard way!

  • jeffcook

    Data is always interpreted by theory.
    Jesus prohibitions emerge from his affirmation of the virtue of faithfulness.

  • Hi Scot, thanks for the excellent article. I agree with your analysis entirely but I am concerned that such arguments are so frequently being needed within Evangelicalism. Up here in Canada a few years ago there was a mini-scandal because the pastor of the largest Evangelical church in the country preached a sermon series which essentially contended that the only ultimately authoritative part of the Bible was the 10 Commandments and the Red Letters – the “God-breathed” parts. Everything else was “useful”. The Old Testament was “useful” in providing historical background and the New Testament letters were “useful” in providing a snap shot of early Christian understanding. This has contributed to a preponderance of conversation within Canadian Evangelicalism about “the Red Letters”. Did Jesus ever talk about that? If not, then it must not matter. You answered this very well, but it concerns me that you needed to. It is sheer nonsense to pit one part of the New Testament against the other as though the first half gives us the perspective of Jesus and the latter half gives us the perspective of the Apostles. Nonsense. Read the titles. The Gospel of Matthew. Matthew was an apostle. He wrote down his recollection of Jesus; His words; His miracles; His death; His resurrection. You don’t get “unfiltered Jesus” anywhere in the New Testament; you get Jesus as Matthew remembered him or Jesus as John remembered Him or Jesus as Peter remembered him. We need only quote from one passage to make that point. In the famous “Sermon on the Mount” Matthew records Jesus saying:

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3 ESV)

    However, a quick comparison with Luke’s Gospel reveals that Matthew did some interpretation in his translation:

    “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20 ESV)

    Which was it? Poor? Or poor in spirit? The answer of course is neither. Jesus likely gave this sermon in Aramaic, the particular words he used are unrecoverable. Matthew translated whatever Jesus said with “blessed are the poor in Spirit” (makarioi hoi ptochoi to pneumati) while Luke translated it more simply as “blessed are the poor” (makarioi hoi ptochoi). Scholars agree that the versions of the Sermon on the Mount recorded in the Gospels are merely summaries. Matthew’s version could be read aloud in 17 minutes; there is no way Jesus preached for only 17 minutes. Given the standards of the day it was more likely that he preached for 1-2 hours at least. What we have in the Gospels are sectional summaries and chapter divisions at best. In all likelihood Matthew added the words “in spirit” because the rest of the sectional dialogue indicated that Jesus was focused more on an attitude of helplessness and humility before God and not on material poverty only. Therefore he added the words to provide clarity, but in doing so he interpreted Jesus for us; of that there can be no debate. In Matthew 5:3, most famous of the Red Letters, what we really have is an apostolic, Spirit guided recollection. We have black letters remembering and testifying to Jesus.

    Why then do we pit one part of the Apostolic Gospel against another? It makes no sense at all. All of the New Testament is the Apostolic testimony to Jesus – from Matthew 1 to Revelation 22. To say: “I accept this part of the Apostolic testimony but reject that part” is irrational. To pretend that one part is pure Jesus while the other part is human mixture is incomprehensible and is verifiably inaccurate. From front to back and start to finish the New Testament is nothing other than the Apostolic Gospel.

    This was Jesus’ idea. He said:

    40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. (Matthew 10:40 ESV)

    Whoever receives me as presented by you is received by the father. Modern day evangelicals need to reengage with that thought. No one living today has direct, unmediated knowledge of the life and death of Jesus Christ. Whatever we know comes to us via the Holy Spirit inspired witness of the Apostles. The church has never taught anything different. The Apostles spoke of Jesus as being “the cornerstone” of the church and they spoke of themselves as filling out the foundation. Peter in Acts 4 said:

    This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. (Acts 4:11 ESV)

    Paul in Ephesians 2 said that the church is:

    20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20–22 ESV)

    The Apostles understood Jesus Christ as the authoritative centre of Divine Revelation – this is why John referred to Jesus as “the Word” in John 1:1. Jesus is what God wanted to reveal about himself. Jesus is God revealing so whenever you see God revealing, Old Testament or New Testament you are seeing Jesus. Jesus was the forward focus of the Old Testament prophets and Jesus was the backward focus of the New Testament apostles; he was CORNERSTONE. The job of prophets and of the apostles was to be square to Jesus, our job is to be square to them in relation to Jesus. That’s why the Apostle Paul could say:

    I urge you, then, be imitators of me. (1 Corinthians 4:16 ESV)

    We follow Christ according to the authorized understanding of the Apostles. We believe that the Holy Spirit of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophesy. He guided the prophets of the Old Testament just as he guided the Apostolic Prophets of the New. Jesus said that the Apostles, by means of the Holy Spirit, would extend his teaching beyond the things he actually said while physically present with them.

    12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12–15 ESV)

    Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would speak FURTHER WORDS OF JESUS after his death and resurrection through the mouths and pens of the Apostles. That statement eradicates any meaningful difference between the so called “Red Letter” and “Black Letter” portions of the New Testament, just as fully as John 1:1 eradicates any difference between the authority of the Old Testament as compared to the New. We must understand what has been fulfilled and what will be fulfilled, but we must never pit the Words of Jesus against the Word of God. Jesus IS the Word of God according to John 1:1 and Jesus is the Spirit of Apostolic Prophesy according to John 16:12-15. What that means, and what that has historically been understood by all orthodox Christians to mean, is that quite simply, when the Bible speaks, Jesus speaks. Its all Red Letters. Or its all Black Letters. Whichever you prefer, the Bible speaks with a single voice and that voice is God’s Voice and God’s Voice is Jesus.

    Thanks for the article – sad that we needed it.


    Paul Carter

  • Andrew Dowling

    I think I maybe was not clear .it’s not that the sex doesn’t matter, but that the sin is in the depth of betrayal as exemplified by the act of sex.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Augustine was technically at the onset of the Middle Ages. And yes Augustine’s interpretation of Paul is NOT gospel although many Christians seem to think his hermeneutic is the last book of the Bible.

  • Brian Fulthorp

    It’s also interesting the connection between PORNeia and PORNography…. It’s not just immoral, it wickedness.

  • scotmcknight

    You are not the only person who thinks there might be something to Matt 19 for this discussion; I have not thought this way but will rethink what this text says.

  • Jeff, thanks so much for your thoughtful reply.

    I agree that agape love is the fulfillment of the law, that Jesus came to fulfill the law and prophets, that God is agape love, and that this love is most clearly seen at the cross. I agree that agape love is the highest Christian virtue, and against it (and the other virtues) there is no law. But I’m not sure how to take your statement, “law is always subservient to virtue.” If what you mean by virtue is “agape love,” then isn’t that itself a part of the law, albeit as the pinnacle of it? (“Love YHWH your God…; Love your neighbor…) The summation of the law cannot serve as a negation of certain elements of the law. As I understand it, the highest virtue (agape love) is not distinct from the law, but rather the ultimate obedience to it. As Jesus said to his disciples, “If you [agape] love me, you will obey what I command.” Agape for God and neighbor does not promote dissonance with or negation to the Law, except where God has issued a new command negating the old one (e.g., Peter and the sheet of unclean animals).

    You said, “the christian virtues [and by this I’m assuming you mean agape love most of all] do not on their face seem to prohibit monogamous gay relationships.” I would argue quite the opposite, in fact. If, as Paul says in the Romans passage you cited, every commandment, including Lev. 18:22, is summed up in “agape your neighbor,” then the virtue of agape (the fulfillment of the law, not the negation of it) would contain certain sexual prohibitions, among all kinds of other things. If agape love is the container of the law, or the lens through which we understand the law, then that doesn’t change the contents or nature of the law, but rather it changes how we see it and obey it. The law itself is unchanged, but we are changed – you might even say that we are given new hearts, new minds, and a new spirit.

  • Every ethic has a setting to which it is directed and from which it is derived, no? The idea of SSM is, at best, an anachronism to Jesus’ Jewish culture. It is more likely, to a Jew of Jesus’ period, an oxymoron or anathema. I think the author Scot references in the post has done the work to show this is the case. And there are several aspects to this. One is the narrative(s) that involve marriage, while they often are polygamous, they always involve a man and a woman. So, how can we say that Jesus’ teachings (or any of the NT) assume something other than this aspect when they speak of marriage? Another part though, and this makes analogies to our change of ethic involving slavery especially difficult, is that when homosexual acts are ever mentioned, they are mentioned as taboo. At least slavery had the benefit of mixed endorsement/condemnation. On this point, I find the argument unconvincing that says “But all homosexual activity was promiscuous then, and now we have homosexual monogamy, which is totally different.” Just as Wright has noted that people have been dying and staying dead for much longer than the last 200 years, I don’t think we are just now in history witnessing the first committed homosexual relationships.

    So, when you say “the Christian Virtues do not on the face of it seem to prohibit monogamous gay relationships” you are being selective in choosing and/or defining the virtues a priori. The virtues (and vices) are themselves at issue. Your argument is circular.

    Further, you are choosing your subset of virtues without any reference to the notion that male-female ontology has any bearing on the appropriate ethic (or virtues) for sex and marriage. That is a huge leap to make from the biblical narrative(s) for which you give no justification, other than a circular argument based on Christian Virtues. Frankly, given the biblical narrative and tradition of tying male-female ontology to sex and marriage ethics, the burden, for me at least, is squarely on those who would seek a separation of these things which God has joined together in the scriptures. I’m open to seeing an alternative, but I’m doubtful.

  • But Jeff, that’s an assumption to say that Jesus’ prohibitions emerge (only) from his affirmation of the virtue of faithfulness. There could have been a great many things from which his prohibitions arose, including many of the things the Jewish scriptures valued about marriage. On what basis do you say his teachings emerged only from his affirmation of the virtue of faithfulness?

  • theogeek

    Thanks Jeff. Good thoughts.

    On the Galatians quote, Paul isn’t talking about sexual relations. And he’s not saying there’s no such thing as the categories ‘male’ and ‘female’ (and he certainly is not talking about marriage). I do think that the passage has social implications, i.e., against privileging one person over another according to social status.

    The point I was making about courage is that the meaning of the virtues must be defined according to context, within some framework that orients it. Alasdair MacIntyre uses the example of a chess game. Virtues are those qualities, formed through practice, that make one a good chess player. Being a good chess player is defined by the rules of the game and the telos of the game, to which the player by virtue formation conforms. Without talking about the “rules of the game” in detail the virtues are just platitudes (I mean ‘rules’ not in a legalist sense, but in the sense of the rules which are part of the essence of the game without which proper play cannot take place; to switch analogies – we obey the “laws of physics” not because we are legalists but because this is how things work and are oriented). So, the point of all this is that, YES, virtues are primarily – I totally agree. But virtues only make sense within a framework that defines the good and orients us toward it. The virtues function within the “rules” of how things work. Aggressiveness (as opposed to defensiveness) is a virtue in both chess and hockey, but the virtue looks very different depending on which game one is playing. Which brings us to metaphysis and ontology (T Freeman’s point). We need to full corpus of Scripture to know about the nature of the kind of ‘game’ we’re playing and what its rules are.

    The traditional view holds that male-female sexual complementarity is part of the nature of how things are (ontologically), how they are meant to function.

    Of course, we can argue against the traditional ontology . . . but we have to do just that. We have to see, in detail, how the virtues work in Scripture in relation to the ontology and telos of human persons.

  • theogeek

    It depends on one’s understanding of the ontology and telos of humans. If this includes (ontologically) male-female sexual complementarity (as the good toward which we are moving, aided by the virtues) then homosexual activity is a practice that moves us away from our telos.

    if human ontology does not include male-female sexual complementarity, then we are free to focus on what we might see as the ultimate “point” of the virtues: forming us through intimate covenant (perhaps monogamous, though I don’t know why this would be necessary in this view) bonds with other human persons.

    The tricky metaphysical question remains: how do we know the answer to this question about ontology and teleology?

  • scotmcknight

    The most I can see here is that Jesus would be advocating celibacy. Are you suggesting, then, that he’s advocating celibacy for same-sex oriented persons?

  • jeffcook

    T, you wrote, “Every ethic has a setting to which it is directed and from which it is derived, no?”

    Why think this? If human beings have something like telos, then “no.”

    On culture, notice, my claims are about Jesus’ ethic as a virtue based ethic. Love, faith, hope, wisdom, courage, etc describe the character traits of human being thriving. The question I have is, are there any reasons to object to monogamous gay relationships from the Christian virtues. I’m not sure the ethical opinions of Jesus culture trump the question.

    You accused me of “being selective in choosing and/or defining the virtues a priori. The virtues (and vices) are themselves at issue. Your argument is circular.”

    Really?!? A brief examination of the NT has uniformity of opinion here. Love is consistently the highest virtues. The fruit of the Spirit are elevated and do not contradict each other. Is this really selective or circular? If you need a non-circular argument for virtue ethics, Aristotle and Aquinas do good work here (May not be space in a blog post 🙂

    You wrote, “Further, you are choosing your subset of virtues without any reference to the notion that male-female ontology has any bearing on the appropriate ethic (or virtues) for sex and marriage.”

    Why ought this be a primary consideration? Again it seems the NT displays strong uniformity when picturing what it looks like to reflect God’s likeness and character.

    If you reject my elevation of the virtues, I’d have a question for you: Are God’s laws arbitrary? Why does God command one thing and not another? If its not to promote virtue (Jesus and Paul’s answer), what is the reason?

    Much love.

  • jeffcook

    TG – You wrote, ” virtues only make sense within a framework that defines the good and orients us toward it. The virtues function within the “rules” of how things work.”

    True. God’s creation and the specificity of a human person are the content of the game, then, ya?

    You wrote, “The traditional view holds that male-female sexual complementarity is part of the nature of how things are (ontologically), how they are meant to function.”

    ‘Meant to function’ does not mean ‘must function otherwise its immoral’. I can celebrate the beauty of male/female union without saying its immoral not to be in a monogamous relationship. If male-female union was part of our function celibacy would be immoral too, ya?

    You wrote, “We have to see, in detail, how the virtues work in Scripture in relation to the ontology and telos of human persons.”

    Give me any example or argument from the virtues against homosexuality (yes with ontology and telos in mind)…

    That’s been my point. Faith, hope, love, self-control, generosity, courage have nothing to say here.

    Much love.

  • jeffcook

    T – That’s was too brief.

    I’d argue the divorce passage is primarily about faithfulness, honesty and love (the virtues elevated through Mt 5).

    If Jesus teachings do not emerge from virtue, what would you suggest ties the seven “you have heard it said… but I tell you together.” And how does that relate to Matt 6 and 7.

    In mind, virtue is an elegant answer that works all the way through the sermon on the mount.


  • jeffcook

    Or it could be the case that the target of Paul’s teachings in Romans are not monogamous gay relationships, but pederasty, using sex to dominate others, temple prostitution, etc.

    It is enormously difficult to see how monogamous gay relationships are antithetical to agape love, and this observation has hermeneutical power.

    Regarding your last few lines: are you obligated to follow all the law?

    Much love.

  • Well, the subject at hand is the difficulty of marriage. But I think it would be a background assumption of his that sexual activity between persons was reserved for marriage. So I assume that would be his view. If for any reason you are not qualified for marriage, then you’re not qualified for sex with another person. I do not think that the ancient Jews assumed, like many of our contemporaries, that sexual activity was a necessary condition for a good life. Note that he is explicit that it is good to forego marriage for the sake of the kingdom. Well, why would not that apply even if something else already disqualified you for marriage? A different way to put it is that the three ways of being a eunuch here are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

  • Jeff Y

    It is true and a valid point that a person in favor of a committed same-sex, marital relationship is not arguing in favor of pederasty. However, that’s not the only discussion above. Nor is it – as is sometimes argued – the only concept in mind in NT writings. It’s also clear that the OT understanding of porneia as described by Scot is the same as Paul’s (which I think is ultimately in line with Jesus; as Richard Hays and others have indicated). Of course, there is much abuse on the right among conservative Christians on this matter and that should be exposed. But, same sex committed adult relationships were present in the ancient world and the NT texts are addressing that, negatively. I don’t think same sex sexual relations can be upheld. Yet, grace, patience, and more gracious family love must also be shown to each other as we walk together in all our brokenness and bent attitudes in sex and many other areas. Too many Christians condemn but do not lift a finger to lift the burdens they expect others to bear. That is deeply flawed.

  • Jeff Y

    “I could easily say the Bible clearly articulates that slavery is God’s intention for some human beings via the Bible (and many many did) Or that woman should not be able to hold managerial positions or public office.”

    Actually, Andrew, I don’t think you could say that and remain true to the tenor and trajectory of Scripture. But, that (slavery issue) is not handled the same as same sex relations are in Scripture.

  • Jeff Y

    What is curious to me is why we privilege what Mark, Matthew, Luke or John said that Jesus said, over what Paul says Jesus, in effect, communicated to him through the Holy Spirit? Any question about “what Jesus said” if we are going to take the gospels as – in their way – historical recordings, has to move beyond those four books; we also have to take with equal seriousness the statements of Jesus in John that he had many more things to say to them but they could not bear them. But, the Holy Spirit (The Spirit of Truth/Comforter) would disclose more to them (John 16:12-15). To say that what Jesus said, according to MMLK, is all that he every said, is against his own recorded communication and the communication Paul indicated was from the Lord through the Spirit (as Jesus promised); and Paul himself was regarded as an apostle of the Lord.

  • I totally agree that love is primary as the ethic, but the same letter that gives us the love chapter also gives us a fairly pointed pastoral correction on sexual / marriage ethics. My point is that in leaving the NT’s own ideas of the “virtues” and ethics of marriage out of your idea of Christian Virtues. The fruit of the Spirit which you mentioned are don’t contradict each other, but they do (or are supposed to) contrast with the works of the flesh, and the first one listed is sexual immorality, which begs the question. So, to me, even to understand fully the Spirit’s leadership and the virtues, Paul thinks we need to be able to see their counterparts. Which brings us to the topic of this post: is homosexual activity part of the sexual immorality that is a work of the flesh (which was also one of the few things the Jerusalem council also prohibited) or not? Just these few examples show us (along with the letter to Corinth) that, as much as I love pointing to how “love” sums up the law and prophets, we still need the particulars of Christ’s love (and clever forgeries) spelled out from time to time. That’s what I mean by saying your argument is circular. “Love” in the way of Christ isn’t just whatever we think it is or think it should be. It has particular content shaped by God for his purposes for people. Is the male and female ontology of mankind connected to God’s intention for sex and marriage? To me, the scriptures connect those very strongly.

    You and Andrew have asked for demonstrable (scientific? logical?) rationale for the male-female requirement for marriage. I asked Andrew why we should not also ask the same of the monogamy requirement, or the lifetime requirement. I mean this sincerely. “Love, faith, hope, wisdom, courage, etc describe the character traits of human being thriving. The question I have is, are there any reasons to object to [polygamous, not-life-long-sexual] relationships from the Christian virtues.” I don’t see how your list of virtues supports monogamy over mutually consensual and non-abusive polygamy (and not necessarily the type with just one guy), or necessarily life-long sexual relations (divorce to friendship). I’m not a student of Greek philosophers, but I’m guessing that at least someone in that long line thought the same way or something similar.

    I don’t reject your elevation of virtues as much as I say that the scriptures don’t just give us the virtues in pure theoretical form. Rather, they couch them in real flesh and blood lives and messy communities. In these interactions, we see plenty on marriage and sex and everything around them. I think in distilling these virtues, your trimming off the bits about the right use of our sexuality, and it’s unjustified.

    I’ll try to write some more tomorrow. Past bed time!

    I thoroughly appreciate your thoughts, both on this topic and on many others discussed here. Best to you.

  • “arguing from silence to what should be done today is a careless game to play”

    It all depends on your argument. If you want to make the case for Jesus condemning homosexuality his silence actually works for you (after all, he didn’t recant Moses’ prohibition). And if its about “what should be done today” then I can only presume we are not discussing the finer points of theology but translating Jesus words into a pattern for living. In that case, Jesus shouts with a deafening cry that we should cease arguing the finer points when our mouths are full of hypocrisy, our fingers are permanently pointed in judgement and our pockets are bulging with mammon.

    Why do we burst blood vessels over the dust on the window sill when there’s a stinking carcass on the carpet. Jesus hardly ever made finer points. He was blunt to the point of embarrassment when exposing double standards and self righteousness, I agree that, taken as a whole, the Bible supports heterosexual marriage as the norm and the model for the church but I’m convinced that God is very, very much more concerned with unfaithfulness itself than the sexual orientation it concerns.

  • Truthseeker4Christ

    God can save anybody from sexual sin.

    Luke 11:13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

  • What’s the difference b/n an NT focus on virtue, and an NT focus?

    I think that’s the issue I’m having with your approach. Whatever your distillation process is that produces that difference, you’re losing something in that process. What’s the justification for that?I’m reminded of Wright and others who have pointed out the value of the biblical narratives and the dangers of reductionist theology. It also reminds me of the modern reductionist approaches to theology that produced the gospel I grew up with. We think we’re getting the real essence, but we’re really just getting something less than the full counsel and wisdom of God.

  • The virtues, as you’ve defined them, are elegant, as are several systematics I’ve encountered over the years. But like those other systematics, they leave things out from the NT, even things the NT gives import. You’re right that all data is interpreted by theory. I’m having a hard time trusting your theory.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Not all of Christian theology concedes that God literally “spoke through” Paul. Being “inspired” by God does not mean getting literal marching orders. whether Paul himself believed so or not. But even Paul admitted some of what he stated was opinion.

  • Andrew Dowling

    It’s called Greek root words.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Because what was the issue at hand? It wasn’t reckless 25 year old Jews getting divorced to go on booze cruises; it was Jewish men divorcing Jewish women to marry younger ones. Jesus prohibiting divorce without exception would have been shocking because one of God’s primary wishes for the Jewish people was to “go forth and multiply;” to increase the numbers of God’s Chosen. But prohibiting divorce meant a man couldn’t divorce a woman even if she couldn’t bear children. That’s why it was a big deal/controversial; and the idea rests on Jeff’s notion of faithfulness in personal relationships and before God.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “Is the male and female ontology of mankind connected to God’s intention
    for sex and marriage? To me, the scriptures connect those very strongly”.

    T, this seems to be a crucial point for you. So let me say, do you not believe sexual orientation is determined primarily by biology? Or do we “choose” our orientation? I think the answer is fairly important in how one responds to the above.

    I think the evidence points to homosexuality being largely something a person is born with. So the male-female ontology for 95%+ of humanity remains. But do we just say “tough” for those 5%? To deny loving natural relationships to those 5% strikes me as capricious, and against the love virtue Jeff is talking about. How is God’s “intention” for 100%.of humanity straight relationships if 5% are born gay? That’s a cruel joke if true. The more I think about it, your points about polygamy/monogamy overall doesn’t fit n this discussion because a person isn’t “born” polygamous and having desires for multiple spouses from early childhood (if they did, I would like to meet them and get them help, haha) We are talking about a fundamental part of someone’s God-created nature here, not someone’s disposable proclivities.

  • scotmcknight

    The intent of this post was to say something about the very common claim that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality/same-sex relations. My intent was to provide evidence that he may have, in fact, said a few things that either are direct or implied. I list the claim by Loader that Mark 10 may have been heard that way, in which case, it was a statement by Jesus to protect children from become child prostitutes/slaves and pederasty. That was one form of same-sex relations in the Roman empire at the time of Jesus. I did not suggest or mean to suggest that same-sex relations are all pederastic or prostitutional. Greg Carey, a fine NT scholar, has called me out for that and I want this to clarify what I meant.

  • God & Culture

    Why is so much attention focused on what Jesus DID NOT say regarding homosexuality (and then speculating about what his view might have been) rather than focusing on what Jesus explicitly DID say regarding marriage/sexual union in Matthew 19: “He which made them at the beginning made them MALE and FEMALE, and said, ‘For this cause shall a MAN leave father and mother and cleave to HIS WIFE…” Can Jesus’s view of sexuality be any clearer than THAT? Jesus was opposed to any sexual union that was not heterosexual.

  • mwkruse

    I’ve often thought that it would be interesting to hold a conference on the Bible as it relates to homosexuality and to economics. What I find intriguing is that people who read take a traditionalist view on marriage often find capitalism (or at least proto-capitalism) taught in the Bible. People who find affirmation of homosexuality in the Bible – if by no other means than the Bible’s silence – often talk as Fundamentalists on economic passages (ex., “Acts 2 mandates communism.”) It would be instructive to press these camps to apply their hermeneutics consistently. 😉

    Time value of money – or even economic “value” more generally – is a fairly recent concept that only begins to be well articulated by thinkers like those in the School of Salamanaca in the 16th Century. Furthermore, human productivity was always perceived to be an essentially a fixed factor in the ancient world. Along comes applications of technology, energy, labor specialization and trade, showing that productivity can be radically altered.

    How do these discoveries shape our reading of Scripture written in a time before we had this knowledge? How do we apply what we now know about homosexuality to what is said (or left unsaid because of complete consensus on the matter) in Scripture? I’d love to attend a conference where participants have to address both topics. 😉

    (And thanks for the tip about the book. Looks “interesting.” 😉 )

  • jeffcook

    Hey man,

    I’d love to see you final thoughts, and do come comment on Sprinkle’s blog when we discuss this further.

    Couple thoughts

    (1) All the things Paul morally criticizes in 1 Corinthians can be criticized through a virtue lens.

    (2) You wrote, “[Love] has particular content shaped by God for his purposes for people. Is the male and female ontology of mankind connected to God’s intention for sex and marriage? To me, the scriptures connect those very strongly.

    Love in its fullest expression is shown on the cross. I do not see how cross shaped love can object to homosexuality.

    (3) Monogamy is expression of the virtues love, wisdom, moderation, self-control and faithfulness.

    (4) The scriptures don’t give us much of anything in “pure [modern] theoretical form”

    (5) My central claim is that the NT teaches a virtue ethic, and from a Christian virtue ethic it is very difficult to object to monogamous gay sex. I’m not trimming anything. I’m advancing a paradigm through which all moral claims are made.

    My best to you man!!

  • jeffcook

    Name something the virtue theory leaves out.

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    Scot, I want to send you a short 3 page paper on one way to faithfully interpret the so-called homosexual related verses that does not result in a slippery slide ( e.g., 1 Cor 5 is affirmed to be anti-incest) but claims that Paul could not be claiming that all homosexual acts were sinful. Please contact me if interested.

  • Guy Norred

    I agree that our culture (both in and outside of the Church) has elevated romantic pairing at the expense of singleness (and your reading of how this is problematic), but you open this statement with the implication that all homosexuals are inherently gifted/called to singleness which seems at odds with an understanding of a call being an exceptional case.

  • But God doesn’t say that marriage (and thereby sex) isn’t appropriate for 5% of people–it’s way, way higher than that, and it applies to many more folks with heterosexual desires than homosexual ones. So, is God being cruel by saying that for many, many folks, their best and most fulfilled life will be as single people who don’t marry? I agree that much of evangelical Christianity of my lifetime would have implied that the answer is yes! But that’s not the way our narrative describes it, especially in light of what the NT teachings and examples add. That gets us back to a point on which we disagreed elsewhere in this thread–marriage and/or sex isn’t the end all be all of human existence, not from a Christian understanding of human life and purpose. There is a mystery to all that the act of sex is and does beyond the physical forces and effects, which are dramatic by themselves. But the scriptures both highlight and revere this mystery and the power of sex, but also absolutely point to it as a shadow of something greater we can all have in and through Christ.

    And, I think we need to be clear on one or two related points. To say that I or someone else is called by God to live as a single person is not the same as “To deny loving natural relationships.” Is it only the married that enjoy deep, intimate and satisfying relationships? As I look over several of the comments in the thread, I am convinced this is a point that needs to be heard and pondered. If we take Paul, for instance, as living and teaching the viability of singleness (for people of all sexual orientations), are we taking him to be advocating a life devoid of deep and meaningful and fulfilling relationships? Because I see the exact opposite. So, what are we talking about here exactly? We’re not talking about whether God encourages deep, intimate and even eternal relationships for everyone (he has gone to great, even heroic lengths to facilitate the ministry of reconciliation). We’re talking about whether God permits and/or encourages specifically sexual relationships for everyone. In teaching and example, the answer is clearly “no.” From what I recall, the NT even discourages believers from marrying someone who is not a believer. But in any event, a call to singleness is not a denial of anyone’s humanity, unless Jesus and Paul were denied their humanity. This is a denial of one gift, or path of grace, in favor of another.

    And I’m not mentioning polygamy to say that one is “born with it.” I’m saying that the argument has been made that if we look, not at the whole of the scriptures or even the whole of the NT, but at certain chosen “virtues” (that leave out the definitions of sexual purity and/or contrasting immorality that include homosexual activity), then nothing in these virtues requires heterosexuality vs. homosexuality. As I’ve said elsewhere, that is circular. But in addition to it being circular because of how these virtues are distilled initially, there is also nothing in these virtues that will require 2 vs. 3 vs 4, etc. parties to the marriage, regardless of sexual preferences of the parties. There is also nothing in those virtues that makes it necessary for the sexual part of the relationship to be life-long. What in those virtues would preclude a relationship from going from friend-sexual to just friend, assuming the parties were both willing? You have mentioned that, if only 5% want to do something different, that poses no threat to the male-female ontology of the 95%. Personally, I think that depends on God’s purpose(s) for sex, marriage and the male-female ontology. But putting that aside for now, even if 90%+ don’t want polygamy or amicable end to sexual involvement, if some small percentage does, what threat does that pose to the 90%? What is there in the Christian Virtues, as defined, to require otherwise for those few?

  • Best to you as well. I will try to make it to Sprinkle’s blog.

    Since you’ve been so organized, I’ll try to follow suit and then wait for more at Sprinkle’s:

    1 – but at some point we have to make a call about whether Paul’s (or the Jerusalem Council’s or Jesus’) criticism of “sexual immorality” or of other more explicitly homosexual conduct includes (even) monogamous homosexual conduct. That’s the issue. If no, your point 1 holds. If not . . . it doesn’t. I have a hard time buying that we are just now in history witnessing homosexual monogamy.

    2 – The cross (by itself) doesn’t speak to this issue, just as the fruit of the Spirit don’t. But the NT doesn’t just give us the cross, or the bit on the fruit, but it also talks about (by way of contrast to illuminate the full meaning) the works of the flesh and of sexual immorality. If these inclusions are superfluous, then your point holds. If not, and they are meant to bring clarity and specifics to the general then . . .

    3 – Singleness or Polygamy can also be an expression of the virtues love, wisdom (Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.), moderation (3 is less than one-hundred right? and zero is less than both), self-control and faithfulness.

    I don’t see how cross-shaped love can object to polygamy.

    4 – Exactly. Your lens of Christian Virtue is elegant and clean–too much so. It is separated from what the scriptures actually say about marriage and homosexual conduct.

    5 – It does teach the virtues you’re saying . . . it just also teaches more (see point 1).

    My best to you as well. I really, really do appreciate both your work here and elsewhere. Your book on the beatitudes and the 7 deadly sins is, no lie, one of my favorite of the last several years. Keep on keeping on.

  • Guy Norred

    An enormous part of this is that “the culture” as you term it, has historically had to be a counter-culture. Promiscuity should not be surprising in a world where monogamy can be dangerous (not saying that promiscuity is without its dangers but you must see what I am saying). Also, much of what happens around Pride is the kind of huge reaction to long term suppression. I happen to live in a major gayborhood which has a huge Pride celebration every year (which is becoming increasingly heterosexual, but that is a different story), and yes, there a lot of people walking around in a lot less clothing than usual, etc., but the thing is, the great majority of people engaging in this are not locals or people who have been to these things many times before. These people are mostly people who are dazzled at the very thought of being able to publicly acknowledge their homosexuality, at the revelation that though they might be a minority, that minority is much larger than they have been able to imagine. Truthfully, while I usually make some appearance at something minor Pride related every year, the novelty has long since worn off and I would just as soon hibernate myself. That said, the call for solidarity that was the original intent of these (and usually is much more prominently so in places where it is newer), is every bit as important today than forty-five years ago.

  • I think the strongest example is if we ask why Paul follows the description of the fruit of the Spirit with a contrasting picture of the works of the flesh. Aside from this literary technique being generally helpful and common in Jewish wisdom literature, etc. we have to ask if the addition of the descriptions of the works of the flesh are actually helpful to seeing more fully what Paul is talking about with the fruit of the Spirit, or if they are just superfluous to his work. Assuming they are helpful (that in looking at the fruit on one hand and the works of the flesh on the other, we see all more clearly through the contrast) then we need to know if abstaining from “sexual immorality” (whether in Paul’s usage or Jesus’ or the Jerusalem Council’s) includes homosexual conduct or not. You make the conclusion / assumption that it does not, so you see nothing left out. Can we agree that that conclusion / assumption is against the grain of scholarship (Loader, above, Wright, Scot, etc.)? When Jews (Jesus, Paul, Jerusalem Council, etc.) use the phrase “sexual immorality” this is not an ink blot. It has historical meaning for them. That’s what I think you leave out. Your definition of virtues either concludes that the injunctions against sexual immorality don’t include (monogomous) homosexual activity, which I find strained, or are irrelevant altogether.

  • Andrew Dowling

    T, there’s a HUGE difference between saying a person must never have a chance at marriage regardless who they meet and then saying some people will due to various circumstances won’t find a marriage partner. If you can’t see the difference then we are just on widely different fields here. Your scenario would have a gay person finding their soul mate and still going, “whoops, too bad, can’t happen.”

    You also keep talking like the Bible has these wide exposes on marriage. The Bible really doesn’t say very much regarding marriage; all the passages could fit on a couple of pages ,if that. We are forced to look at and beyond the Bible for guidance on this issue.

    Case in point: democracy. According to the Bible, the American Revolution was sinful; we rebelled against God-ordained powers. Humans, in their sinfulness, cannot be expected to be good policy-makers on their own. Sound wacky? It has “biblical” backing and was justified for centuries. Ditto with slavery. Ditto with the status of woman. So now we have this topic on which ancient peoples not only knew little about but simply wasn’t a big issue for them, and we are making broad proclamations based off of essentially silence and inference.
    The better avenue is to go the more straightforward path Jeff is advocating . . what is Christian virtue, and are monogamous SSRs against those virtues? I am not seeing what should be a fairly simple answer to a simple question

  • Mike Armistead

    Good presentation, but you seem to totally miss an even stronger case. That’s the term “aselgeia” in Mark 7:22 – the list of inner motives that defile a man. It is even more indicative of homosexuality as “porneia” which is also in that list. Here is a brief summary of its meaning from a paper by G. Thomas Hobson, a Presbyterian Pastor with a PhD in New Testament:

    So Jesus never spoke one word about homosexuality?
    No. One can say that he actually spoke two. As we look at his sin list in Mark
    7, we find two words that arguably include homosexual behavior within the scope
    of their meaning. One is the term porneia
    (sex outside of marriage), a word which has been much studied and commented
    upon. The other is the word aselgeia,
    a word on which precious little study has been done.

    The great Bible commentator William Barclay
    considers aselgeia to be possibly the
    “ugliest word” in the list of New Testament sins. He capsulizes the word’s
    meaning as “utter shamelessness.” It is variously translated as
    “licentiousness,” “wantonness,” and “lasciviousness.” It’s a word that Jesus
    (through Mark, his translator) might easily have enlisted as a euphemism or
    synonym for homosexual activity and other similarly shocking behavior forbidden
    by the Jewish law.

    Here is a link to that article if this website allows links:


  • Craig Wright

    After reading two of your books, and having you reply to me on a previous blog post, I am encouraged to see that we agree with each other on the issue of virtues and homosexuality. I taught a class on that in my church. I am looking forward to your interaction with Preston Sprinkle. He has a good reputation with those who disagree with him. I’ve seen him be honest and open minded about his position on hell. I also had a talk with a pastor, last Saturday here in southern California, who has experienced nation wide rebuke for his affirming of same sex relationships. This pastor said that Sprinkle is a loving person.

  • scotmcknight

    Mike, I’m glad you passed this on to me … the term is used for extreme violations of moral standards, and can be used for a number of specifics — like arrogance and sexual deviance. Porneia is more exclusively sexual sins (with prostitutes, general sexual immorality), while aselgeia can spread its net even wider.

    Again, I would ask this question of the term: What would a Jew have had as specifics when this term was at work (it’s a Greek term after all)? It appears to me it, too, could apply to the list of sexual sins in Lev 18, though it would not be reducible to those sins.

  • scotmcknight

    Mike, does Hobson ever say aselgeia is a synonym of toevah?

  • We may be on different fields; that’s part of what I mean by sex not being the end all be all, and not synonymous with deep relationships. And I don’t even believe in soul-mates (!). I believe that God can and does guide us, in marriage choices and elsewhere, to be with people who will help us become whom he has in mind for us to become. I believe in love b/n imperfect people more than perfect matches.

    A while back I did a series on Wesley’s Quadrilateral. I ended up talking about how Wesley had a “prima-scriptura” approach to theology and practice. I agree with that. Scripture isn’t and can’t be the only source for our theology, but I do try to give it primacy. I don’t feel like we do that when we bless same sex marriages, including under the virtue approach that Jeff outlined here. Thanks again for discussing these things so well. Best to you.

  • Zach Waldis

    I’m curious about a comment about Matthew 19. It’s clear to me that Jesus is a good Jew (Evangelical? :)) when he goes back to Genesis in his response to marriage and divorce. How can anyone claim that, based on this response (which I believe even the Jesus Seminar would say is authentic!) that Jesus had nothing to say about marriage and, indirectly, same sex marriage? I just don’t get it.

  • Mike Armistead

    Hobson does not link aselgeia to a Hebrew word, but does link it to an Aramaic word. This is from the longer version of Hobson’s paper:

    “What Aramaic word could Jesus have used, that Mark would have translated into Greek as ἀσέλγεια? Our best guess could be made by consulting the Syriac version. The Syriac version of Mark 7,22 uses the noun tzachnutah, meaning “harlotry, licentiousness, immodesty, or lewdness” (also translated by the Latin impudicitia, a word with strong homosexual overtones)14. Tzachnutah is used in the Syriac NT only here, and in Gal 5,19 and 1 Pet 4,3 (in all three cases, it translates ἀσέλγεια).

  • Mike Armistead

    Hobson has a section on ancient uses of the term, and this paragraph is especially telling:

    “Jewish writers almost always use this word in its sexual sense. In his comments on Gal 5:20, J. B. Lightfoot writes, “A man may be akathartos [impure] and hide his sin; he does not become aselgēs,
    until he shocks public decency.” The term may have been used to refer to what were regarded as the most shameless violations of the sexuality taught in the Torah. For instance, in T. Levi 17:11,
    the Jewish writer lumps “licentious persons” directly together with “the lawless, pederasts, those who practice bestiality.” Philo (Spec. 3:23) uses the word to describe the “lewdness” of marriage to
    one’s own sister.”

    Aselgeia is often paired with porneia (as in Mark 7) to emphasize the egregious nature of the sexual offenses. A third term, moixeia, is frequently added as well to be a regular trio of sexual vices. All of these would have pointed back to Leviticus 18 in the world of ancient Judaism. Matthew may have removed aselgeia from his list of vices because it was not an issue among his targeted Jewish audience, where it was common among Mark’s general and Gentile target audience.

  • Nate

    It seems that the ‘virtue ethics’ unnecessarily posits an antithesis between law and love, or perhaps code and motivation. Why can’t the two form a unity? Sure, one can be a legalist, but it does not follow that every ethic that posits specifics is vulnerable to the charge. There seems to be an emphasis on the vertical AND the horizontal even within the ten commandments, so no need to have an absolute antithesis. Intrinsically, love is not opposed to concreteness.

    This was a long – but helpful!! – exchange, and I may have missed it, but neither did I see how the virtue ethic defended itself against the claim that such would open the doors to all guideposts that came within the parameters of a ‘do no harm’ effect. We could take monogamy (why not polyandry?) and faithfulness through time (why not purposeful plurality?); all could be done from the vantage point of ‘virtue ethics’, no?

    I think the challenge is to identify fundamental cross cultural concrete expressions. With seeming ZERO trajectories that could, if present, ameliorate covenant faithful SSR, I don’t understand how silence is a good start for a trajectory wedge – and this, in the presence of complementarity running throughout the text from cover to cover. Deep entrenched desires do not create licitness (wouldn’t we have an is/ought problem here?), and in the end, it seems the lack of biblical trajectory would keep Christians from affirming SSR as licit expressions intended by God.

  • James

    Read the 1972 Gay Platform, which is a list of demands by the gay lobby on federal and state levels. One of their demands on a state level is to get rid of all age of consent laws. In the U.K., gay groups tried to get the age of consent lowered to 14. Go to Amazon, and check out some book selections categorized under “Gay and lesbian.” A number of them are books on “boylove.”

  • scotmcknight

    Thanks Mike, I’ve now read his sketch and the article. I don’t see he connects it to toevah, but his language about aselgeia evokes what is said about toevah.

  • So…I suppose as a (non-bible-scholar) Christian man married to a man, in you paradigm, I’m shameless. I’m ok with that. Gay Christians are here. We’re queer. Get over it.

  • Hi Theogeek. What biblical revelation? If celibacy for gay peopke were truly obligatory, I think the bible would say “it’s not good for man to be alone unless you’re gay.” And Paul would say “it’s better to marry than burn with passion unless you’re gay”

  • Ben Dubow


  • Your comment ignores the multitudes of Christians who *do* affirm the sanctity of gay relationships and affirm the full humanity of gay people. The most cogent theological argument I’ve ever read is A Time To Embrace by William Stacy Johnson. He doesn’t rely on trajectory theology. He makes a case for a consecrationist perspective based on Romans.

    Ultimately, though, the sanctity of gay relationships is revealed in the lives of gay people. Whatever theology you choose to subscribe to, it must withstand the scrutiny of the evidence. Considering the bitter fruit born from traditionalist doctrine, and the flourishing that’s happening in revisionist communities, it’s abundantly clear that anti-gay theology is causing harm. Further, when looking into the lives of gay couples, we see the virtuous nature of marriage not the destructive nature of sexual sin – further casting doubt on theology that says the world would be better off if these couples didn’t exist.

  • Your comment illustrates a sweeping generalization and common (though incorrect) assumption that does not apply to the gay population in general, either in 1972 or today. There are heterosexuals as well as homosexuals who want the age of consent lowered. Homosexuality and pederasty in the modern age are two completely different things.

    The 1972 “Gay Platform” would be almost half a century old; times have changed. Many (most) gay people (including myself) would not agree with the statements made therein. There are a multitude of more recent examples that completely contradict this point.

  • Jeff Y

    Right. But, Paul did so only in certain places and in other places expected his readers to view his words as from the Spirit of God and authoritative (the entirety of 2 Corinthians is painfully arguing that – while simultaneously seeking to downgrade his place as a person). But, the point is there’s no reason to view Mt, Mk, Lk, and Jn as having a greater or lesser weight of divine speech than Paul. Paul and Luke are very closely connected as well – and then there is the text of 2 Pet. 3 on Paul. There still is no real argument that indicates one (the gospels) is more from Jesus than the other (Paul). If Jesus was raised from the dead and did send the Spirit to reveal more of what he had to say (and there’s no reason to discount those words) – then, Paul has to be taken as seriously as what Matthew tells us Jesus said. If Jesus wasn’t raised – we’re wasting our time.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I’m not sure how this isn’t being understood, but in the passage, Jesus alludes to the Genesis passage in a question about DIVORCE. Same sex marriage is not in the discussion, or even on the radar. These people had no conception of faithful monogamous gay relationships; they didn’t exist in 1st century Judea. Jesus cites the passage to support his assertion on divorce . .the question wasn’t “so Jesus, tell us exactly what will be the only acceptable marriages in God’s eyes for all eternity.”

    Way too many Christians read the Bible like it was directed to them in 2015. It was not. Historical and cultural context is key. I blame pastors, mostly. Searching for the proper context and meaning is hard; inventing allegories for current situations is easy.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “But, the point is there’s no reason to view Mt, Mk, Lk, and Jn as having
    a greater or lesser weight of divine speech than Paul.”

    Sure there is. The Gospels, particularly the Synoptics, showcase oral tradition of Jesus’s sayings and ministry going back to before Paul. Sure Paul did believe Jesus gave him ‘special revelation’/visionary experiences. So have may other Christian preachers after Paul. I take their claims with a grain of salt. Doesn’t mean they have nothing of importance or useful to say.

    “Paul and Luke
    are very closely connected as well – and then there is the text of 2
    Pet. 3 on Paul”.

    Well, if you accept traditional attestations. I don’t believe the author of Luke was a companion of Paul, and II Peter is from the mid 2nd century.

  • Jeff Y

    I don’t agree that 2 Peter was mid 2nd (there are debates; but I don’t think it can be that easily deconstructed; nevertheless, that’s a secondary point / issue). But, while it’s true about the tradition of Jesus’ sayings, there is a strong case for Luke-Acts as a single unit and the author to have been connected with Paul. Paul was accepted in the early church and read before the synoptics were written (though I accept that the stories and traditions were already there). The resurrection is still deeply significant to this whole enterprise, including Paul (as well as the promises of John 16). I don’t think Paul was in contradiction with Jesus – Jesus just did not speak to particular church community issues; he spoke to a limited set of questions, in a limited setting, with a self-proclaimed limited mission. Which is why the maxims “Jesus never addressed … X” with respect to any subject are rather meaningless. I don’t see any reason to discount Paul as speaking the words of Jesus through the Spirit, given the promises / guarantees of the Spirit from Jesus; the integral work of Paul in the gospel; and how the community generally viewed Paul. Of course, reading/interpreting Paul is not aways very well done – including by many conservatives.

  • ElrondPA

    You mean the parable of the talents, where the owner rebukes the third servant for not at least earning interest on the money he was given?

  • Andrew Dowling

    “But, while it’s true about the tradition of Jesus’ sayings, there is a
    strong case for Luke-Acts as a single unit and the author to have been
    connected with Paul.”

    Strong case for canonical Luke and Acts to be a single unit; yes. Strong case for the author being associated with Paul; I disagree. No connection made to the author being “Luke” until the late 2nd century, and Paul in Acts has significant differences from the Paul of the authentic epistles.

    “I don’t think Paul was in contradiction with Jesus – Jesus just did not
    speak to particular church community issues; he spoke to a limited set
    of questions, in a limited setting, with a self-proclaimed limited

    ? Your talk of limited set of questions and a limited mission is pure theological conjecture. Jesus’s “mission” wasn’t any more limited than Paul’s.

  • Nate

    Hi Ford (for lack of not knowing),

    Thanks for your response. You are correct I did not address “the multitudes of Christians who *do* affirm…” I mainly dealt with the ‘virtue ethics’ within this thread, which does lay claim to the licitness of SSR. I have not read Johnson’s work. You have been a contributor on behalf of LGBT for as long as I’ve been engaging on this medium, and I appreciate the recommendation. I’ll check my shekels and see what I can do, and this, based largely on your strong recommendation. Thank you. I try to keep an open mind, but always within the framework of what I think is true, and I would aver that is quite normal.

    I think one of the challenges is to find ‘departure points’; it’s easier said than done. Take for example your chosen phraseology of “affirming the full humanity”. It seems that those who would disagree with you on SSR, would ‘not’ affirm LGBT’s “full humanity”, but this kind of reasoning is wrapped up in definitions. I assume “full humanity” for you means that one’s sexual desires (gay or straight) are to be given the status of licitness; whereas, I would unequivocally affirm their “full humanity” but would not affirm SSR as licit. One is personhood; the other is behavior. They need to be separable, for Scripture itself separates them. I would define our full humanity with no imposing stricture. Once this is done, LGBT’s full humanity can be, and is, unequivocally affirmed.

    I would agree with you on the inclusion of “the multitudes of Christians who do affirm” as part of the data to consider. This, in part, is how we rightfully interpret Scripture. Nothing is understood in an abstract vacuum, so, yes, I agree – include them. This hermeneutic would also include the “bitter fruit” purportedly caused by the traditionalists; that claim too should be included. And one must not leave out, either, the claim that gay couples exemplify every virtue as complementary couples, with the exception of their biological otherness. And most certainly your summary that all claims “must withstand the scrutiny of the evidence” needs to be the overarching principle of licitness. No disagreement here; indeed, I gladly give a hearty affirmation!

    However, I would be hesitant to affirm:

    “Ultimately, though, the sanctity of gay relationships is revealed in the lives of gay people.”

    I would be hesitant, in part, because I do not know what you mean by “ultimately.” Jesus gives prominence to LOVE when he says that the world would know you are my disciples by the love you have for one another. Without doubt, then, love is prominent in terms of an apologetic, but even beyond this, love itself is basic to God’s identity; God is love (1 John 4:8). But the converse is NOT true: Love is God. One will not find this anywhere in Scripture. The latter falters on an impersonal abstraction, and Scripture will never affirm the impersonalness of God, either as a first cause (Aristotle) or as an ethical principle (love).

    But there’s more – Love cannot be divorced from the imperatives in the text pertaining to the moral life. One cannot say I love God and hate one’s neighbor. There’s a challenge from both angles – love AND behavior. Love of God comes from being enveloped by God, and this envelopment corresponds to biblical imperatives. It goes without saying as a general principle, identifying, admitting, and dealing with all sin, can cause various and sundry contortions within us; indeed, if I was to say that traditionalists suffer from marginalization from the various tactics of some, I’m sure you would respond by saying that one’s unwillingness to deal with their own prejudice carries with it, its own harm, which is not to say that all harm is the result of sin, but only that SOME harm results from sin. The presence of harm, then, does not prove anything by itself, right?

    So now we have come full circle. Are SSR licit? The long history of the church shows a consensus, in terms of how they have understood the text, and the answer is no; SSR are not to be affirmed. Now neither tradition’s practise nor their understanding of the text is to get a free ride, but it deserves deference. The claim that the church has had it wrong from its inception, along with its prior roots within Judaism, must be clearly established before one should affirm SSR as licit. This will no doubt be the general category of where most of our departure points will reside. When I read some major players who affirm SSR as licit, but also affirm the ‘illicitness’ of the SSR from the perspective of the text (as Scot referenced), then I must conclude that the issue is one of ‘progressive revelation’, e.g., women and slavery, but in those areas, the text is replete with trajectories. Unfortunately, none exist for SSR; indeed, the text is so forceful, the best route is to impose (yes, my perspective operating here) a stricture that neutralizes all the moral denunciations from Genesis to Revelation. I can’t go there; it seems arbitrary at best.

    If you’ve made it this far, sorry for the lengthy reply!

  • Zach Waldis

    I guess we have a difference in method. I do believe that Jesus tells us what is acceptable for all eternity. Certainly, context makes a world of difference, but I’m always curious why liberals champion Jesus’ teaching on money and possessions as trans-cultural (often not advocating individual giving….) and make his comments on marriage and divorce time bound. I don’t the know the answers to these questions, but methinks the tail is wagging the dog.

  • jeffcook

    Nate – any time we say something is immoral we must have a basis for the claim, a normative stance n what makes something wrong. My claims have been that the NT begins with virtue and being made in God’s likeness. Laws are helpful only insofar as they help us toward that end. Laws are subservient than to virtue. If virtue does not prohibit an act, then we ought not embrace laws that prohibit the act.

    Does virtue have anything to say about polygamy/polyandry. Yes. One cannot be faithful and a polygamist. Polygamy can not be squared with an agape love or moderation and therefore it does not make one more like God.

  • Adam “Giauz” Birkholtz

    It does not seem to get treated ll that significantly in the David and Bathsheba incident. That should have gone a lot differently, but authoritarianism seems to trump any (recognizable) showing of love, mercy, and justice by (supposedly) Jesus.

  • Aaaaaaaaaaaargh

    There is at least one interpretation of that parable (by Ched Myers, a liberation theologian) that flips the North American evangelical reading on its head. You can read it here starting at the bottom of page 4: http://www.kacw.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Towering-Trees-and-Talented-Slaves.pdf But the summary: first-century audiences would have regarded the thought of doubling an investment as deeply unethical, given the OT prohibitions on usury. Thus the master’s punishment of the third servant marks him as a rapacious and immoral individual, not as a God analogue. Take it or leave it!

  • Andrew Dowling

    Neither liberals nor conservatives take Jesus’s teachings on money seriously, since neither give away all of their possessions and live as hermits for the Kingdom, Also, conservatives get divorced as much as liberals.

    Please show me where liberals ever not advocate “individual giving” . . believing collective society ie government should play a role doesn’t equate to being against individual charity.

    Again, you don’t seem to comprehend Jesus alluding to Genesis is not making a statement on gay marriage, since such a thing didn’t exist. Freedom of slaves didn’t exist in their world either, and Christians for centuries used the Bible’s passages on slaves to justify slave-holding. I always hear conservatives say “well look at the passages in their historical context” for slavery . . but not with homosexuality. Complete inconsistency.

  • But you realize (right?) that the parable isn’t even about how to manage money, just like the parable of the sower isn’t actually about farming (or the parable of the dishonest servant about how to run a business!).

  • Andrew Dowling

    “God is love (1 John 4:8). But the converse is NOT true: Love is God”

    This is nonsensical. If God is love, how is love not infused from/with God?

    “When I read some major players who affirm SSR as licit, but also affirm the ‘illicitness’ of the SSR from the perspective of the text (as Scot referenced), then I must conclude that the issue is one of ‘progressive revelation’, e.g., women and slavery, but in those areas, the text is replete with trajectories.”

    Replete with trajectories? You must be joking. What trajectory against slavery does the Bible have . . several of the Epistles near the end of the have exhortations for slavers to obey their masters, and that the powers (emperor) are God-ordained. Ditto with women . . if anything you see the progressive trajectory shown by Jesus revert back in I Peter and the Pastorals. Since you respect the historical consensus, the consensus was that slavery was God’s natural order and that women are intrinsically inferior to men (over 1500+ years, you have surprisingly few exceptions to this consensus). I could retrieve boatloads of quotes from the Church Fathers and other church leaders over a 1000 year time-frame affirming this.

    Appealing to tradition is not an ‘out’ here if one is going to be consistent and honest.

  • Nate – thanks for the thoughtful response. There’s much is like to add to the discussion, but don’t have the time to digest your comment and consider it properly. I’ll be sure to circle back if you’re game to continue the discussion.

  • How many centuries was it before God changed his own law on divorce (Matt 19). Jesus said the Jews were not ready for Gods absolute truth because their hearts were hard. As hearts softened, the law was changed to become more just for women.

    As the hearts of the Church soften toward people who are gay, I pray we are open to God’s revelation (which I believe is happening now – the movement of the Spirit has been absolutely astounding to watch).

  • Nate

    Hey, Jeff, thanks for the response. In one sense I think it is against virtue 🙂 to weigh in on concepts in your book which I have not read. If you will grant me permission though, then I would just want to prod around a little as to how monogamy is a necessary compliment to faithfulness. I see no logical necessity, apart from the witness of Scripture. However in allowing Scripture’s witness, then I would say Scripture includes complementarity as well as monogamy. I don’t know where we would diverge on this, so I just mention it in passing.

  • Zach Waldis

    Arguments from silence work both ways, and as Scot and I are arguing, this may not even be the case. My point is that just as sexuality was different in antiquity, so were economics and poverty. You eventually just resort to ad hominem, so it’s pretty evident how strong your arguments are. If I was God, I would probably be okay with same sex marriage (and a lot of other things!). But I’m not. Sorry about that.

  • “What trajectory against slavery does the Bible have . . several of the Epistles near the end of the have exhortations for slavers to obey their masters, and that the powers (emperor) are God-ordained.”

    I think the injunctions to ‘masters’ as to how they treat slaves (and how they will be judged by Christ for it) is quite a move. The slave is not the property of the master, but a brother in Christ. The letter to Philemon is one of my favorite passages in all of scripture. Traditional cultural rights would give Philemon a go ahead to have the returning run-away slave severe punishment. Paul now says to put whatever Philemon is owed “on his account” and welcome him as a brother. This underlying familial bond in Christ that elevates slaves to family and cancels debts is . . . hard to fully take in. It is no surprise that this dynamic in Christ didn’t outlaw slavery from above, but eroded the ground on which it stood. Awesome.

  • Nate

    Andrew, thanks for your response, and getting right to the point. I hope to return the favor. You say:

    //If God is love, how is love not infused from/with God?//

    Andrew, I would affirm your statement, but that is not what I said; rather, I simply stated, “Love is God.” There’s a huge difference in your statement and mine, which is probably why you thought it nonsensical.

    In terms of trajectory, I guess I would agree (descriptively) with how western civilization proceeded, but I was not referring to church fathers, but rather to scripture. Btw, I do not think a trajectory is some counter ethic in full dress, but rather ‘hints’ at an ethic with implications for social redress. For instance, Paul argued for the freedom of Onesimus on the basis of his new status of ‘beloved brother’ (Philemon, v. 16). Additionally, Paul, impelled as he was by his eschatology, encouraged believers to remain in the station wherein they were called, BUT, if a slave could obtain freedom, he/she should do so (1 Cor 7:21). That is huge given Paul’s advice to those in common stations! Slavery was so antithetical, that he encouraged movement out of it; and this, when he simultaneously discouraged it for others.

    I could do the same for women’s issues, but I take it we may be coming from different understanding as to what and how a trajectory is affirmed. Your position is seen in your quote,

    //if anything you see the progressive trajectory shown by Jesus revert back in I Peter and the Pastorals.//

    I would demur. My understanding is rather: We see trajectories in Jesus AND Paul (with Paul they are more explicit, so I don’t agree with your regressive viewpoint), but within a heavily ladened tradition. You seem to be conflating descriptive tradition with an absence of trajectory. I see both, but definitely with movement toward a new social order. I am not aware of ANY trajectory for SSR.

  • wolfeevolution

    Also, in his class on the exegesis of Revelation back in the day, Allan Dwight Callahan (a black scholar, it seems relevant to add) pointed out that the end of Revelation 18:13 may best be read as a critique on slavery. The ESV and RSV follow this line of thought in translating the kai as epexegetical: “slaves, that is, human souls.”

  • Andrew Dowling

    That, because he’s a Christian, he should be treated with mercy. Not that he should be freed. That’s a huge difference.We are talking about human beings in bondage here. Conservative evangelicals are in complete denial about the Bible’s justification for slavery and how it was used for 1800 years . . the majority of Christendom was not all insane. They had very solid ground. But conceding that means the Bible is not some book of rules that can be looked to for whatever clobber text you want to extract to justify XYZ position.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Fred Clark has written several (what I’d consider) devastating blog posts on this very issue (see .http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2014/07/09/whatever-happened-to-the-clobber-texts-for-slavery-unlearning-the-lies-contd/)

    Paul’s advice is to people who are slaves. What about PEOPLE WHO OWN SLAVES!!???! Why not set them free? DId the spirit of God not know Paul’s words would be read for centuries thereafter? I love how Paul’s epistles become all about historical context on the issue of slavery or woman (“well, it was progressive for the time”), but become binding rulebooks straight from the mouth of Yahweh on the issue of monogamous gay relationships, which are never even mentioned.

    Paul never says anything negative about the INSTITUTION of slavery. Not one thing. To the contrary, he issues Godly commandments on how slave relationships should transpire. No clever hermeneutical tricks can erase that fact.

  • wolfeevolution

    Not meaning to extrapolate from slavery to sexual orientation in my comments here, but I responded to T Freeman’s comment with one other possible passage critiquing slavery. I just wanted to bring it to your attention as it’s easy for things to get lost when wading through a thread of 240-odd comments. 🙂

  • I’m not saying that the majority of Christendom was insane for 1800 years. I am saying that the reality that, to quote one of my favorite hymns, “the slave is our brother” does much more than require showing mercy. It changes the relative status of the parties. When our mutual Lord views us both as brothers, the slave status is undermined. Even if it technically remains in place, for the Christian, it is hollowed of its oppression and overwhelmed with Christ’s values. He took the form of a slave. He washed our feet. What do we do with that? It’s not that people in the past are crazy; it’s, as you argued with teachings on money, people in power prefer the existing human arrangements and structures. We don’t want the slave to be our brother. So the seeds of the kingdom (especially ones that effect our bottom line) grow slowly and are often resisted. The NT doesn’t require that slavery be abolished. But it does, for adherents, make one ask, “what’s the point of keeping my brother as a slave?”

    This isn’t to make the Bible into a book of rules. Quite the contrary. Nor am I trying to clobber anyone with this or other texts. I’m just trying to observe how the gospel actually affects ethics; both immediately and over time.

  • Nate

    Andrew, you write:
    //Paul’s advice is to people who are slaves. What about PEOPLE WHO OWN SLAVES!!???! Why not set them free? //
    Well, even if that were true (more on that in a moment) that would be sufficient to extrapolate for a new social order. If he told the slaves to go free, then it stands to reason there are implications for the slave owners, no?

    But there’s more. Paul’s advice was to the slave owner, i.e., Philemon, and not to the slave. Paul argued that brothers would seem to abrogate the status of slave and equality was now envisioned. Again, these are trajectories, not full blown social reconstructions, so to press the text for such is to project somewhat docetic views upon scripture. Inspiration does not negate cultural realities.

    Furthermore, Christianity could operate within a master/slave environment, because the eschatological realities superseded the human master/slave realities; indeed, the call to redemptive suffering radically transformed the master/slave environment; it shocked the institution because believers were filling up what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ ‘by choice’ (though paradoxically by necessity insofar as the human institution is concerned). To choose suffering negates its demeaning – not totally (the system is still evil), but sufficiently to the extent that it made the human master/slave subservient to the divine, and laid the groundwork for later reflection that no human ought to enslave another.

  • bluelove

    Yes, something changed, in the history of homosexuality. It was taken out of the psychiatric manuals, where it was listed as a mental disorder(year?) This happened, as a lot of things do, in these modern days,with a lot of monies and lobbyists. And so the world gets more evil, with each passing day. Just like scripture tells us it will. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

  • chris

    What about the virtue of self-control? You say monogamous committed homosexuality, but this presumes that it is authorized by biblical authority. For those of us who are not convinced of this, self-control would be the virtue practiced in relation to homosexual behavior (I don’t say this lightly, of course, dismissing the burden). Both Paul (fruits) and Jesus (sermon on mount, lust, anger, etc.) point to self-control.

  • jeffcook

    I would say the normative question comes before the applied question. What makes an act right or wrong precedes which acts are right and wrong. My claim is that the NT normative ethic is virtue so any assessment of moral behavior will have to proceed from that. As such, if one objects to monogamous gay relationships, they will need to do so from virtue. Self-control does not tell you which activities ought to be avoided. It says, the good person avoids what wisdom, love and faith tell us are destructive.

  • ElrondPA

    This is another example of how liberation theology, in its overriding desire to make everything fit its Marxist presuppositions, twists Scripture out of all recognition. Occasionally, Jesus’ parables feature an ungodly person seemingly in control; the unjust judge and the persistent widow in Luke 18 comes to mind. Yet Jesus clearly distinguishes him from God, saying that God is even more willing to respond to us when we petition him. To suggest the parable of the talents somehow teaches that it’s wrong to be successful in business, or that the servant who does nothing is the hero, is so ludicrous as to be worthy of nothing more than a derisive snort. (By the way, the doubling on investment by the first two servants wasn’t from putting the money in the bank, but from putting forth serious effort, so usury prohibitions would be irrelevant. If the master only wanted to have the money put in the bank, he could have done that himself before he left.)

    If you have any doubt that the parable intends for the master to represent God, look at the variation on the parable in Luke 19:11-27, including its preamble.

  • ElrondPA

    I partially agree. The parable teaches three lessons: 1) use what you’ve been given (whatever that may be, tangible or intangible) to build your master’s estate (which, for Christians, means the kingdom of God), 2) those who do #1 will be rewarded, and 3) the accounting may come at a time you’re not expecting, so always be about your master’s business.

    My point, though, is that suggesting that all charging of interest is always condemned by Jesus is not consistent with this story.

  • wolfeevolution

    There are instances where polygamy is not prompted by greed but by a desire to care appropriately for widowed, disabled, or barren women, especially in economies where women have no earning power. It’s a different sort of faithfulness from a one-husband-one-wife scenario, but one can be faithful to two wives by abstaining from sex outside of this arrangement.

    I’m not actually arguing in favor of polygamy, but from a global perspective — considering issues faced by polygamists coming to Christ from traditional or Muslim cultures — this part of the conversation could perhaps benefit from more nuanced consideration. (By the way I say this as one sympathetic to the trajectory of your argument! Trying to help, not shoot down.)

  • jeffcook

    Yes. Good times.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “If he told the slaves to go free, then it stands to reason there are implications for the slave owners, no?”

    Paul doesn’t say that. He’s basically saying “if you happen to become free, use your prior experience as a slave to be Christ’s slave.” This is no inkling of “slaves should go free.”

    “Paul’s advice was to the slave owner, i.e., Philemon, and not to the slave. Paul argued that brothers would seem to abrogate the status of slave and equality was now envisioned.”

    Paul says to treat him better because he’s a Christian; he never says to free him. And even if I accept your argument for trajectory here in Philemon, it still says nothing about the millions of human beings enslaved who were not Christian. Indeed, the Church in the colonial era was against taking Christians as slaves; “infidels” were fair game, however.

    “To choose suffering negates its demeaning – not totally (the system is still evil), but sufficiently to the extent that it made the human master/slave subservient to the divine, and laid the groundwork for later reflection that no human ought to enslave another.”

    I’m afraid Christianity was not the first religion to make this argument for enslavement (‘accept your sufferings, for the gods will reward/bless your stoicism’) or general inequality.

    Again, the larger point being, Christendom accepted slavery for 1800 years. A clear trajectory you’re arguing doesn’t take almost two millennia to figure out. Hence, citing “well, look at Scripture” when discussing homosexuality doesn’t work.

  • chris

    Where do I get wisdom?

  • This parable has nothing whatsoever to do with charging of interest on money borrowed. Or even investing in banks. Nothing at all. The more you look at either Jesus’ overall (actual) teaching on money, or at what is going on in Jesus’ ministry at the time of this parable (the context of this passage/chapter), you will see this parable is intended to teach us about charging people interest as much as the parable of the sower is intended to teach us about farming: zero. It’s just not what Jesus is concerned about here at all. The focus is the judgment in the coming kingdom. Even on that score, it’s not about how we did or didn’t earn more money with the money God gave us. No one reads this chapter and (rightly) will walk away and conclude, “I need to get a better rate with my brokerage!” Complete missing of the point. Complete and total.

    If you’re going to hear what the the NT’s actual concerns and teachings are about money (and it does have them), you will need to look at the passages in which money is the actual intended topic. To use this as a passage that supposedly shows Jesus’ blessing on charging interest is a complete misuse. It’s the opposite of taking it in context.

  • FWIW, I’m not saying this passage fits any Marxist ideas either. It’s just not about money or usury or any of that at all.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Same place anyone has ever gotten it from . . knowledge, introspection, experience etc.

  • Nate

    Andrew, thanks for this. I think I overstated my case. ‘Replete’, was an overstatement, and when pressed, e.g., I Cor 7:21, has been interpreted differently to mean the very opposite of what I had put forth, e.g., Barrett, but even if my take is correct, which I think it is, there simply was no option to remain in slavery if you were freed (Fee). In other words, it was a passive event in which a believer found himself. Not a strong trajectory there. Your point is well taken.

    I do think the Philemon/Onesimus example is a trajectory, but the church was not primarily interested in changing the social order; rather, the new humanity transformed the old order, first on an internal level, and then an overflow into the social. A human slave is paradoxically the most free human alive, if he/she is a Jesus follower. Because of its transformative realities, such is not dependent upon one social order over another, and I think this explains why Christianity was not initially, nor primarily now, a social movement per se; rather, when hearts are transformed by the forgiveness of sins and its transformative power, such leads the church to seek the well being of ‘the other’. Indeed, Christians often thrive in situations where shalom is most lacking, which is not to say that given the right framework, Christians never have anything to say; that would be silly and historically inaccurate, e.g., James, Wesley, Wilberforce Red Cross, hospitals, etc.

    In summary, I would not say that trajectories are abundant. They are not. More could be inferred rather than explicit, i.e., the image of God, etc, and when the right environment presents itself, e.g., democracy, then social contributions should be seen. In saying they are not abundant, however, is to acknowledge they are there! SSR, however, have zero trajectories; indeed, unless one imposes certain strictures, there seems to be a categorical denial that SSR could ever be sen as licit.

  • This is a peculiarly forced and strained argument, and ends up referencing Leviticus, which is about as far from the teachings of Jesus Christ as you can get. BTW, I am someone who finds anal sodomy, not to mention pederasty (which seems to be irrelevant to the argument), to be completely repulsive, so this is certainly not personal.

    More to the point though, this is another of many issues where the Old and New Testaments (the Jewish and Christian bibles, respectively) are not only at odds with one another; they’re diametrically opposed. One not be a follower of Marcion to see that they were (and are) bound together in colossal Error.

  • Essentially why you should bake them two cakes when they want one. Not to mention baking two is slightly snarky 😉

  • Jeff Y

    There is significant scholarly disagreement as to whether the differences between the Paul of Acts and Paul of the epistles are that significant or not. I think those differences are negligible. There are a few historical conundrums but none that are of a grand theological nature nor even reaching the degree of difference between the four gospels. And several scholars are in line with this general harmony between Paul in Acts and the Paul of the Epistles – including J. Green, Gorman, Winter, Hengel, Longenecker, Wright, among others.

    (My point here is that the differences are more along the lines of different angles on the same person – one that was evolving to be sure but the same; complementary vs unresolvable conflicting elements).

    On conjecture about mission – I don’t see it as conjecture to say that Paul indicated, as well as the author of Acts, that his mission was to the Gentiles. Jesus stated plainly that his principle mission while he walked in Palestine was to Israel, though he regularly reached out to the marginalized. But it’s clear his mission and teaching were centered in the Judean region and principally directed to the Jews; particularly those propagating the Jewish system that was rejecting justice and YHWH. And would fall under judgment via Rome. His teaching was a thoroughgoing mission to “the lost sheep of Israel.” But then Jesus used apostles and prophets to address particular issues related to gentile and more Greco-Roman cultural and social settings. And that is right in keeping with how God universally works in scripture – within particularized religious and cultural settings, often not addressing universal ethics but creating trajectories from within those settings – as within Tribal and Kingdom Israel.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I strongly disagree that Jesus’ s teachings are somehow restricted to the Jews. This is a standard soterian argument for those who want to privilege the teachings of Paul over Jesus, often because they’re uncomfortable with what Jesus had to say. Yes, Jesus only traveled/ministered to Jews . . because he was a 1st century Galileen Jew in the middle of Judea. He was concerned with highlighting issues he saw with the religion he grew up with and reforming it. There was nothing to “convert” to so why would he go to Gentile communities? Jesus never intended to start a new religion. Neither did Paul really, but Paul believed the parousia would come in his lifetime and that he should gather as many under the fold, both Jew and Gentile, as possible before Jesus returned.

  • jeffcook

    I think your observation is worthy. And your answer pushes into virtue not away from it. There are disparately complicated situations in our world that “law” by itself is impotent to resolve, but which virtue gives us stability and justification in our actions. Grace and Peace.

  • disqus_8WWcZAybA8

    I don’t think that in these references Jesus is talking about “homosexuality,” even if he is using words that in cultural context could refer to pederasty or Leviticus 18. The category of “homosexuality” as we understand it today didn’t exist in Jesus’ time. Certainly, at the very least, Jesus is referring to practices and not merely to an orientation.

    I would agree that Jesus’ use of “porneia” references Jewish cultural ideas about sexual morality, but I don’t see there any specific allusion to Leviticus 18. In any event, you can’t make that simple 1:1 comparison here, much less make a move directly into ethics based on that simple 1:1 comparison, because of our distance from the text’s cultural location (Richard Hays makes this point superbly in his book on NT ethics). Nevertheless, I agree that Jesus’ overall ethic of sexual purity must be central to any Christian sexual ethic, including any Christian ethical discussion over homosexuality.

    I have noticed before Jesus’ use of the word “malakoi” in Matt. 11, and I think it actually complicates the use of the term in 1 Corinthians, not the other way around. If in fact Jesus is referring to some sort of character — a palace male prostitute of sorts? — then perhaps 1 Corinthians is also not making a generic reference to “homosexuals,” but rather is referring to a particular kind of cultural practice / institution associated with public civic life (temple and palace).

    None of the foregoing is to argue one way or the other regarding the precise outlines of a Christian ethic of sex and marriage (and I still end up with Hays, ultimately), but I don’t think you can appeal to the words of Jesus in the Gospels to settle the modern question of gay marriage definitively one way or the other.

  • disqus_8WWcZAybA8

    You could say the same thing about slavery — and many did around the time of the civil war. Just finished reading Mark Noll’s excellent study of this topic. It’s fascinating, and unsettling, to see how the rhetorical strategies and theological moves were precisely the same then as they are now. (Which isn’t to say the underlying ethical issue is precisely the same — it isn’t _precisely_ the same, I think — but still, this history seriously problematizes the simplicity of your conclusion).

  • Aaaaaaaaaaaargh

    It’s hard to tell who is replying to what here…ElrondPA, it’s interesting that both versions of the parable feature the line “you are a hard man, reaping what you do not sow,” which I guess you could metaphorize to God by some creative exegesis, depending on your theological views (and my own are admittedly biased by liberation/Marxist thought). I think our cultural biases may make us assume something is completely transparent at the literal level when there is actually more wiggle room; also my summary of the article above left out some important nuances that address some of your criticisms (though again, through a liberation theology lens, which seems much different than your own).

    However, I don’t want to debate the point further since I’ve already been dismissed with one derisive snort and possibly several more by the time you finish reading this comment 🙂 Happy Easter from Tbilisi!

  • mwkruse

    The parable of the talents is part of trilogy of stories at the end of the Sermon on the Mount of Olives: Ten Bridesmaids, Talents, and Sheep and Goats. Just prior to this Jesus says:

    “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming in at an unexpected hour. Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work at the proper time.” Matt 24:44-46

    The imagery is the oikonomos – the household manager, the master’s most trusted servant. You got this position by demonstrating you had the very mind of the master in every decision you made so that in his absence the master could trust that everything would go on just as if he were present. Jesus finishes chapter 24 (vs. 48-51) with the imagery of an oikonomos who does not behave with the mind of the master and then spells out the dire consequences.

    Jesus opens chapter 25 with, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this …” intending to elaborate on what he just said. We get the story of the ten bridesmaids, where five were inattentive and imprudent – without the mind of the master, while five have the mind of the master.

    Then the parable of the Talents. As the first two servants settle accounts, the master does not commend them on their profits. “Well done good and TRUSTWORTHY slave …” They had the mind of the master in what they did. They third slave is not condemned for not having invested. The charge is, “You wicked and lazy slave! YOU KNEW, DID YOU, THAT I REAP WHERE I DID NOT SO, AND GATHER WHERE I DID NOT GATHER? …” In other words, “you knew my mind on this and you did not act accordingly.” His fate (v. 30) is exactly the same (“weeping and gnashing of teeth”) as the bad oikonomos in 24:51 above who did not have the mind of the master.

    In v. 31, we move to separating of the sheep and the goats where some people have acted with the mind of the master without knowing it – and are rewarded – and other people who should have known the mind of the master but didn’t act that way – and are punished.

    The oikonomos, the five inattentive bridesmaids, and the goats are all worthy of punishment. The Text of Terror reading wants to flip the one talent servant as a hero who is punished. It makes no sense in the flow of Jesus’ oration. The Talents story is not at endorsement of the master or lending. Today you hear people advise “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” quoting the Godfather. They aren’t saying you should become the Godfather but merely acknowledging a nugget of truth from our cultural stock of stories and everyday experiences. I don’t think parable has anything to with economics one way or the other. The Text of Terror interpretation imports an agenda into the text and reads out a justification for the agenda.

  • Greg

    I am surprised Jesus’ response to the Disciples after the discourse on divorce is not noted: Matthew 19:11 He 12 said to them, “Not everyone can accept this statement, except those to whom it has been given. 19:12 For there are some eunuchs who were that way from birth, 13 and some who were made eunuchs 14 by others, 15 and some who became eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who is able to accept this should accept it.” Eunuchs born that way likely referred to homosexuals and precluded same sex marriage.

  • Greg

    I think Christ’s response to the Disciples not only refers to homosexuality (eunuchs born that way), but also addresses the fallacy of ss marriage.

    It is impossible for a ss couple to equate to the three most significant
    aspects of marriage:

    The complexity of an opposite gender relationship. The complexity of the
    union of a man and woman in body, mind and soul is capsulized in the
    title, ‘Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus’.

    The complementary union of a man and woman. It is the blend of masculinity and femininity. The wisdom of logic and intuition united. Strength and delicacy perfectly balanced. Protection and nurture combined as one.

    And most significant, the blend of a father and mother combined in a
    child. How disgraceful and demeaning to the role of a mother and
    father, the very birthplace of every single other relationship that

    It is outrageous to demand that society accept a lie as
    obvious as that! And why would any couple want to live a lie
    that establishes their relationship as inferior to marriage and counterfeit?

  • bluelove

    I am sorry Eris, that you were violated like you were. I can tell you that you are not alone. I was raped at the age of 15; but the reason I am responding is this: I can see your point, in a way. The thing is pederasty is related to homosexuality, in the sense that it is a perversion. Homosexuality is a perversion. So, the two can be grouped together, in that sense. I mean, a sexual perversion, is a sexual perversion. Period. Peace to you, and may God bless you, and heal those deep wounds that come from sexual abuse.

  • bluelove

    And Richard, I do not put much stock in modern psychology. I put all my hope in scripture. Every Problem that anyone has, or has ever had, can find a solution in the bible. And the Holy Spirit is our helper, teacher, and comforter. Peace.

  • ElrondPA

    I agree that the purpose of the parable is not to teach about economics. Jesus is setting a story in a context that people will understand, to get his message across. But my point is that he chooses to describe 1) successful wealth generation and 2) an option of getting interest which is better than nothing, with no indication that either is immoral. In other parables where he describes people doing wrong things (such as the unjust judge or the prodigal son) either the story or his own commentary on it makes clear that these are not actions to emulate. Jesus’ hearers, and we, can easily understand the idea of putting money to work and gaining a good return on it; they and we also can understand the idea of being rewarded by one’s master/boss for doing a good job. The idea that we are God’s servants is woven throughout the Bible, Old and New Testaments, and the application is clear–whether God gives us tangible or intangible gifts, we need to put them to use for his glory. That’s not limited to wise financial investing, but neither does it exclude that.

    An honest assessment of Biblical teaching on money would, I think, reveal that there’s enough to challenge just about everyone. There’s plenty of wisdom on building wealth (particularly in Proverbs), but strong condemnation on misuse of wealth, including closing one’s eyes to the needs of those around you. Barnabas is lauded for sacrificially giving all the proceeds of selling his land, but when Ananias and Sapphira are condemned, Peter specifically says they were under no obligation to give what they had; their offense was not in withholding money, but in lying about it, wanting the praise without making the sacrifice. Paul chooses to work at a trade much of the time while preaching, but defends the rights of other evangelists to be paid to serve God full-time. The rich young man is told to give away all he has, but there is no indication that is meant to be anything like a universal command; instead, Paul says the amount we give is between us and God, though he calls for it to be proportional to what one has (1 Corinthians 16:2), and he commends those who give sacrificially (“even beyond their ability,” 2 Corinthians 8:3).

    But of course, we’ve spent a long time on a tangent here…

  • Greg

    I think you cut the passage short. The Disciples return privately to ask about alternatives.

  • Greg

    Unless you believe homosexuality is only a cultural construct, then they most certainly were aware of homosexuality. They may not have named it such, and they most likely had as much confusion about it’s cause as our culture does.

  • disqus_8WWcZAybA8

    Not as an “orientation”

  • Greg

    Why not? It existed. It’s sexual expression clearly did. A eunuch ‘born that way’. Christ’s reply to the Disciple’s question about options to marriage in Matthew 19.

  • disqus_8WWcZAybA8

    Because they just didn’t. (Eunuchs were made, not born…)

  • Greg
  • disqus_8WWcZAybA8

    Dunno. Nothing to do with what we call sexual orientation, I think.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Lots of societies across the world don’t “recognize” homosexuality as a natural orientation. It simply does not exist in the cultural mind.

  • Greg

    I agree. But homosexuality did exist if it is an innate condition even though the society didn’t recognize it as such. Additionally, a “eunuch born that way” was a term used for men who had no desire for women in the time of Christ. While many Christians don’t recognize homosexuality as a natural orientation, I find Jesus did in Matthew 19 as a natural orientation, and he did so without condemnation for the orientation.

  • Greg

    I’m sorry, my briefness may be confusing. I am suggesting that Jesus did address not just homosexuality, but also the idea of ss couples being married. He did so in Matthew 19 immediately after the discussion about divorce when the Disciples asked him about options to marriage (v10-12). It makes sense in the context of the passage and it appears to be accurate in the use of the term ‘eunuchs born that way’ in the context of the time.

  • Guest

    Eunochs referred to asexuals/impotents/celibates. Some were literally castrated while others effetively castrated (due to medical conditions/sexual dysmorphia etc.) The term did not equate to homosexuality.

  • Greg

    Citation please.

  • Vance Marquis

    All scripture is God breathed, 2 Tim 3:16!
    Jesus is God, John 8:24.
    Jesus has definitely spoken about the sin of homosexuality!

  • Sean Emslie


    Lev 18:22 prohibits male homosexuality. This is also the interpretation by the Jewish Sages and Rabbis that the Biblical prohibition only applied to males. This makes for Paul in Romans 1:27 making a new Biblical prohibition on female homosexuality. How do you understand what Paul did in Romans 1:27?

  • disqus_8WWcZAybA8

    Greg, I don’t think Jesus addressed that issue. It simply wasn’t a possibility in his time. When he is speaking of “eunuchs” in 19:10-12, he is almost certainly suggesting that it is better for _anyone_ not to marry, that is, to remain celibate, or at least to remain celibate if the prospect of life-long commitment seems too daunting. I would agree that in Matt. 19:4-6, Jesus refers to creation as the grounds for permanence in marriage, and this reference to the male-female difference implicates the norm of marriage. But it is inaccurate, IMHO, to suggest that Jesus addresses the possibility of same sex marriage directly here.

  • Greg

    That still does not address the fact that Jesus defined three types of eunuchs in the context of an alternative to marriage. All three were restricted to celibacy. Homosexuality certainly existed as an orientation whether it was understood as such at the time. In fact Nero even attempted to exercise a ss marriage. I have also noted historical references to ‘eunuch born that way’ referring to homosexuality. With all respect, it seems your opinion borders on plain denial.

  • Jeff Y

    Well, I am not arguing that in order to privilege Paul over Jesus – nor do many scholars who believe the same about Jesus. I don’t think Jesus and Paul were out of harmony – nor that one should be privileged over another (but they spoke to different issues – as any individual does at different times). Nor am I just a soterian – I think that may be true for some but it is not the motivation of all scholars or students who see Jesus as focused in a particularized cultural setting. Nor do I think Paul believed for certain that Jesus would come in his life time (that he thought it was certainly possible, perhaps even probable, is true). That is a standard “take” on Paul but it’s not demonstrable as others have brought out. One could write the exact same things Paul wrote today without believing Jesus would absolutely come in our generation. But, I can’t get past that while Jesus’ teachings do have eternal relevance, they were focused in his day and in his culture. They were as culturally and theologically entrenched as Moses, or Paul, or Isaiah. (E.g., Mt. 23 to the Pharisees; Mt. 5 – “Leave your gift at the altar”; etc.). Leaving one’s gift at the altar has relevance today only by way of principle – it is indicative he’s speaking to a particular group of people in a particular historical-cultural-theological setting.

  • Reece

    Hi Andrew. A couple of things. First, it’s a straw man argument you make when you say “Neither liberals nor conservatives take Jesus’s teachings on money seriously, since neither give away all of their possessions and live as hermits for the Kingdom.” Jesus taught no such a thing.

    Second, you consistently speak against those holding to a conservative, traditional, orthodox understanding of marriage (i.e. man and woman) while never putting forward why you think it is now acceptable and good for it to be redefined as man + man or woman + woman.
    It would be good for you to present your own argument rather than simply attacking the thoughts of others.

  • scotmcknight

    A maiori ad minori?

  • scotmcknight

    copyrightman [dopderbeck], I think that issue is actually addressed in Plato and some Greek writers when they wondered about the etiology of same-sex practice and desire. If “orientation” is precise and “homosexuality” a construct, and both more modern, I’d say the Greeks, Romans and probably Jews had virtual equivalent constructs.

    Whether Jesus did or not is not as easy to see … but at least to me I give them/him credit for thinking about such things as an inevitable discussion about etiology. In other words, I find it likely they did think in their own ways about orientation and desire in terms of etiology.

    When reading Plato’s Republic that discussion — it is at times bafflingly odd and speculative and so pre-scientific — of etiology showed up and convinced me of the etiology/orientation idea.

    Over to you, brother.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “Jesus taught no such a thing.”

    Yes, he did. Mark 10, Luke 9-10; 14 . . .Jesus’s followers were expected to leave both their material possessions and their family, relying on charity and what God provided. In modern parlance they would have been called wanderers or less charitably “bums”, and probably derided by many for being smelly and lacking a work ethic. Of course I can hear the flip-flops coming “oh, that was meant only for the disciples, not for all time . .” that’s presupposing on the text; Jesus certainly never said that.

    “You consistently speak against those holding to a conservative, traditional, orthodox understanding of marriage (i.e. man and woman) while never putting forward why you think it is now acceptable and good for it to be redefined as man + man or woman + woman.”

    To me it’s not a redefinition at all, because marriage is a compact of love and faithfulness between two consenting adults. We now know a lot more about homosexuality than we did 30-50 years ago, let alone 2000, so arguments based on tradition to me are a dead end-tradition in and of itself is not a positive without a logical basis in light of new information. As I affirm that homosexuality is biological, being instituted primarily in utero, I find no Christian argument to prevent two men or two women from following their God-given sexuality into faithful relationships. Celebrating their relationships and their love isn’t “speaking out” against traditional marriages . . gay marriage doesn’t affect my marriage or any other heterosexual marriage. If anything, more people in faithful relationships is nothing but a net positive for everyone in society.

  • David,

    Good to hear from you. I hope you are doing well. Of course we always have to be careful not to just assume that ancient categories overlap with more modern ones in neat and tidy ways. But do you buy the idea that homosexual monogamy and/or inherited homosexual desire is such an exclusively modern phenomenon that neither the Jewish culture of Leviticus nor the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day had such in mind with their categories regarding sexual relations? Alternatively, how persuasive is the argument that inherited homosexual desire and/or monogamous homosexual relations are not only outside of ancient categories of sexual immorality (which merely places them outside of biblical taboos, but does not necessarily bless them either) but also are deserving of blessing in SSM?

  • Reece,

    Andrew overstates the case on money, but so does the proposition that Jesus “taught no such thing.” The overwhelming concern of the NT teachings on money is attachment/idolatry. It shouldn’t surprise you that we have turned a blind eye to that central thrust. Even the Lord’s Prayer, in its request for “our daily bread” is a reference to a prayer in proverbs, asking God for neither too little, which could lead to theft, nor too much, which could eclipse God, but only for “our daily bread.” This is to be a regular feature of our prayer life according to Christ.

    We’ve turned the NT central concern regarding money from addiction to stewardship, which has lead to us telling addicts to steward the object of their affection, without ever acknowledging the extent or even the possibility of our addiction or of money’s tendency to take our affections and loyalties.

  • Terri Main

    In spite of agreeing that same sex relations are against the word of God, I must sall all these “arguments” are like finding Elvis in a piece of toast. Only by torturouslly turning everything upside down and sideways, running it backwards at half speed with a high frequency filter can you even begin to see something faintly like a specific statement of Christ recorded in scripture concerning homosexuality. He may well have addressed the subject, but, if so, the gospel writers obviously didn’t see it as important enough to mention.

    In the context of Jesus statement about John, it is obvious he is talking about clothing. If you note the next verse clarifies by saying those who wear fine clothes are in a palace. It is obvious in the context that the discussion is about wealthy people who show off by wearing fancy clothes.

    In Mark, Jesus is obviously referencing the persons mentioned in the previous verses who are doing good deeds in his name. He says even if they do very small unexciting things like offer a cup of water, these little ones (ones of little influence, vulnerable ones) are of value and not to be harmed. In fact I can’t find a commentary that interprets this as pederasty. And I might add pederasty in that day also extended to girls used sexually. So, even that would not have been a reference to homosexuality.

    And porneia even as you point out here refers to the whole range of proscribed sexual acts including pre-marital sex, adultery, sex with animals and so on. You can claim homosexuality is included in that bunch and then referenced by him, but then that could be said of any time he spoke against sin in general.

    So, why should we care about twisting scripture to say what it clearly does not say if indeed our distorted interpretation of those scriptures represents Biblical truth found less ambiguously in other scriptures? Aside from basic honesty, it leaves the door open for anyone to do the same. For instance, claiming the sin of Sodom was lack of hospitality (ignoring the fact that God said they had all manner of sin including institutionalized rape). Or claiming that when Paul speaks about doing that which is unnatural that he must mean that homosexuality is only sinful when a heterosexual performs a same sex sexual act.

    Twisting scripture is very old. Satan did it with Jesus. Twisting it with good intent is no more valid though, than twisting it with evil intent. It’s still deceptive.

  • Sean Emslie

    Thanks for the reply Scot, your argument was how I understood it before my current inquiry that has had me seeing Paul creating a new sin of female homosexual acts in Romans 1.

    I see the import in that of all sins Paul chose homosexual activity by men and women as the representative sin showing man’s rejection of God as Creator and worship of the Creation which makes for Paul’s creation of a “new sin” of female homosexual acts of note.

    The one problem I see to your above reply is in the next verse (18:23) is the prohibition against bestiality for men and also for women. It would seem verse 23 could have just said men should not have sex with animals and not mentioned women for the sake of consistency with the previous verse that only prohibits men from having sex with men.

  • disqus_8WWcZAybA8

    I don’t really think so Scot. (BTW, it’s dopderbeck — Disqus has me as “copyrightman!”). I don’t think they had any notion of homosexual orientation as an ordinary, stable variant along the curve of human sexuality. Certainly they knew about homosexual desires, and obviously about homosexual practices, but they never had any notion that this was part of the normal pattern of human sexuality. They just didn’t think that way. I don’t think any of this settles the contemporary ethical question for us, but I also don’t think we should anachronistically attribute our questions about it to the ancients.

  • scotmcknight

    Have you taken a look at Plato’s discussion? If discussions of etiology emerge, then I would say they are getting very close to something they perceive as “naturally unnatural” (if I may invent). When we use terms like “orientation” or even “homosexuality” in the abstract, then we may have constructs they didn’t have… but in my judgment the concern with etiology broaches that topic. They are probing why some are one way and others another way.

    Yes, I agree… this isn’t a resolution to modern issues.

  • scotmcknight

    I mean Symposium, not Republic.

  • scotmcknight

    Just read that section again — it’s speculation of several types of sexuality and why some desire women, some men, etc.. I don’t know, but it sure sounds close to orientation to me, David.

  • scotmcknight

    Here’s a translation of Aristophanes’ speech in Plato:


  • Triston Dyer

    Jesus spoke against practicing homosexuality on three occasions:

    Matthew 5: Jesus said He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill. He takes the central morals of the Torah to a higher level.

    Matthew 15: Jesus says all sexual acts committed outside of marriage defile a human being.

    Matthew 19: Jesus says marriage, as God intended it, is the union of one man and one woman for life.

  • Reece

    Agreed thanks Freeman.

  • Reece

    Okay so we are off topic but are you serious? Do you mean that what was asked of the rich young ruler was an example of what was expected of ALL disciples?
    And again what Jesus’ commanded for a specific “mission” was expected of ALL time? And ‘hating’ family while advocating that husband and wives are to be exclusively
    committed to each other in marriage – Matthew 19:3­6?

    It is a redefinition because marriage has always been understood as a covenant of love and faithfulness between a man and a woman. Simply saying that we know that know more now than then simply doesn’t change that fact.
    This is not an argument from tradition unless of course you see Scripture simply as that – a traditional resource that we called on but that can now be ejected every time our culture clashes with it.