Reading Gagnon: Tony’s Wrap-Up

Reading Gagnon: Tony’s Wrap-Up April 9, 2012

Last week, Scot Miller blogged about Robert Gagnon’s book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, which many readers of this blog are sure will convince Scot and me that we’re wrong about the gays. Here’s my summary of Scot’s posts. -TJ

Day One: Hermeneutics Is King

Scot made the Gadamerian move of proclaiming his prejudices up front. In other words, how one reads the Bible vis-á-vis homosexual practice has everything to do with hermeneutics, and hermeneutics has everything to do, according to Gadamer, with what prejudgements one brings to the task. Scot claims his, which is a great benefit to readers. Gagnon, alas, does not. Here’s Scot’s first prejudice:

First: Fidelity to the biblical message is important to me. I am a Christian, and how I understand God and salvation and sin and grace have been mediated to me through the Bible. I am interested in the Bible as a participant, not as a detached observer.

Day Two: Let’s Claim Some More Prejudices

In fact, Scot thinks that hermeneutical prejudices are so important — and I agree with him — that he spent another post explicating his. They are:

Second: I am aware that the Bible can be misread in dangerous ways.

Third: I am better trained as a philosopher than I am a biblical scholar.

If you don’t see what’s coming, it’s this: Scot claims his prejudices, Gagnon does not. Thus, readers can read Scot’s posts with these in mind, and they can judge his conclusions with this knowledge. Gagnon’s entire posture in his tome is one of absolute certainty — he writes as though he is capable of complete objectivity. He objectively looks at the evidence in the Bible, and objectively determines that homosexual practice is definitively rejected.

But, of course, Gagnon is not objective. As Scot makes clear in his later posts, Gagnon’s blindness to his own prejudices is the fatal flaw in his book. He bends all evidence — even scientific evidence — to his pre-determined conclusions.

Day Three: Gagnon Is Not an Inerrantist

Scot expresses appreciation for Gagnon’s biblical hermeneutic. Gagnon doesn’t, for instance, think that the Pentateuch was written by Moses. He acknowledges deutero-Pauline authorship of some epistles. In the end, Scot has a beneficent conclusion:

Without a doubt, Gagnon makes a logically consistent and coherent argument that the biblical texts hold homosexual practice to be a sin. His argument is supported by knowledge of the ancient literature and languages, and he offers lengthy rebuttals to scholars who argue, for example, that the Bible is really concerned with the sin of abusive sexual practices by male temple prostitutes, and not the “loving relationship” of a same-sex couple.

Day Four: Overreaching

However, as coherent as Gagnon’s biblical hermeneutic is, he seems to leave the land of rationality with his conclusions about homosexual practice. That is, he finds points of complexity and nuance in other areas of biblical interpretation, but he affords no such gray area when it comes to his pet issue. For example, Scot writes,

Nevertheless, after making an eighteen-page argument with numerous comparisions of ancient texts, Gagnon claims, “It is self-evident, then, that the combination of terms,malakoi and arsenokoitai, are correctly understood in our contemporary context when they are applied to every conceivable type of same-sex intercourse” (p. 330). A claim like “2+2=4” may be self-evident; the translation of a pair of obscure ancient Greek words, not so much… especially if it is only self-evident after an eighteen-page argument.

Day Five: Jumping the Shark

Where Gagnon comes off the rails altogether is in the last chapter. Therein, he “attempts to refute as many arguments as he can think of which attempt to ‘override the Bible’s authority’ by appealing to ‘general theological principles or contemporary scientific knowledge and experience’ (p. 37).”

And, according to Scot (and several commenters), Gagnon fails at this. And he fails big:

While the first four chapters of Gagnon’s book could be read as an important contribution to biblical scholarship on homosexuality and sexual ethics, I’m afraid that the last chapter reads more like partisan talking points that can be used to attack and dismiss interpretations which differ with Gagnon’s particular interpretation of the Bible. Instead of seriously engaging the theological and modern scientific challenges to the Bible’s apparent position on homosexual practice, Gagnon’s mind is clearly made up, and he will come up with any argument he can, good or bad, to defend what he already thinks.

Day Six: Theology Matters

Regardless of Scot’s protestations that he is more of a philosopher than a theologian, I think he’s done a great job of clearing ground for theological reflection on the issue of homosexual practice. His final post, I submit, is one that you MUST read. It it humble and important. He writes,

The question for believers is not finished by asking, “What did the Bible say?” This is at best a trivial question about a historical document. (And it is a naive question, for it disregards the fact that we cannot escape the historically conditioned prejudices we bring to the text. The historical question hides within it prejudices that can obscure the meaning of the text.) The more significant question for a believer is, “How am I to understand what the Bible says?” This question opens up the possibility of theological reflection.

He goes on to argue, convincingly, that his view of sin differs from Gagnon’s, and that both can be supported by scriptural evidence.

I’m telling you, read it.

In the final analysis, what do you think of Scot’s interaction with Gagnon’s book?

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  • jay

    ‘ The more significant question for a believer is, “How am I to understand what the Bible says?” This question opens up the possibility of theological reflection.’

    The biggest problem I have with most “Biblical” arguments supporting same sex marriage is they don’t go far enough, that is they refuse to admit that the argument that allows a progression of understanding in the Bible that will accommodates same sex relations also opens up the possibility to accept a whole range of other “taboo” sexual expressions. I am always a bit amazed at how one can argue that same sex behavior can be accepted within the right interpretation of the divine revelation but that most of those same people will still reject the marriage between a sister and brother or polyamorous marriages.

    • Curtis

      Why are you amazed that people reject the recognition of harmful relationships?

    • Because, as anyone familiar with Lot’s family history knows, the Bible self-evidently frowns on incest.

      • Frank

        As he bible frowns on homosexual behavior!

        • Obvious irony is obvious. Or not.

          • Frank

            You got me! Good for you. I missed out on your irony.

  • Charles

    I think Scot was courageously honest in this series. As a strident supporter of same sex marriage and a Christian, I was challenged. But the bottom line for me is still God gave a heart and a brain – when both are engaged love wins out. People’s well-being trumps religious dogma every time! Thanks Scot and Tony for an important discussion.

    • Troy

      I think you got it, charles! I agree

  • Frank

    So now that it’s perfectly clear to even the doubters that homosexual behavior is a sin according the scripture what does acceptance and love look like for those Christians in an active homosexual sexual relationship?

    • It’s perfectly clear that Gagnon gives a good argument in favor of his reading of the Bible. That’s not the same thing. Your entire framing of the question is an exercise in question-begging.

      • Frank

        No one has been able to show that the bible does not condemn homosexual behavior and no one has been able to dismiss the text that clearly shows it.

        The intellectually honest thing to do would be to move forward with that truth which opens up a whole other conversation. Lets see who has the courage and honesty to to do that

        • JoeyS

          So you, again, didn’t read the posts? Or, if you did, how is this not exactly what Scot was attempting to do?

          • Frank

            Based on the evidence homosexual behavior is sinful.

            So now the conversation must move on. All Scot did was respond to Gagnon with nothing new. Unlike everyone one else he failed to show that the bible condones homosexual behavior. Like everyone else he failed to discredit what the bible does say about homosexual behavior.

            So no Scot is not moving the conversation forward. He, like others, is trying to keep the conversation stuck. An intellectually and theologically dead end. That of course is the best the pro-homosexual Christian crowd can achieve.

        • Carl

          Exactly Frank. Now we know that the God-haters here recognize that homosexuality is sin according to the Bible, but they just think the Bible is wrong. Finally some honesty.

          • Frank

            There it is. You do think the bible is wrong. Thanks for your honesty and thanks for letting us know that you strictly speak from an opinion formed by elevating yourself above scripture and therefore above God..

            Well done!

        • Scot Miller

          Frank, can you admit that the Bible’s explicit tolerance for slavery (especially Ephesians 6:1-9, where Paul gives rules for Christians slave-owners treating their slaves well and for Christian slaves obeying their masters) means that God thinks that slavery is a permissible social institution? Where does Paul tell slave-holding believers that they need to give up their slaves in order to be a follower of Christ?

          And can you admit that the Bible’s explicit calls for infanticide and for killing non-combatants must be morally good because God commands these actions?

          I hope you will admit that slavery and infanticide and genocide must be morally good because God says so in the Bible (especially since God Himself orders Israel to kill babies in war.)

          Don’t you think the Bible really means what it says about slavery and infanticide and genocide, or are you just going to weasel out of believing what you claim to believe?

          • Frank

            Scot I have been through this before but I will try again:

            Racial based slavery is not the slavery in the bible. So we need to clarify that. Also much of what is called biblical slavery today was actually just willing servitude or debt servitude. So there is your first straw man! The rest of biblical slavery was around the spoils of war. Not too mention that we are all slaves to something but that’s a whole different trajectory. Therefore servitude is moral but that does not mean we have to participate as a society or culture. Once again we are NOT talking about racial based slavery.

            Secondly God does at times in the OT called for infanticide. He does not call us to do that. It was never a command to believers but was a situational decision that God made at the time within the current circumstances and context. God, as God, has a purpose in that which I am comfortable trusting him with. So no moral imperative for us to do the same. So there is your second straw man.

            So are you going to weasel out what you said about the biblical text being against homosexual behavior?

          • Scot Miller

            So, Frank, I guess you don’t really believe the Bible means what it says. I might have guessed.

          • Right, so there you have it. Frank LIKES slavery, as long as you’re not holding slaves based on their race. And Frank would HAPPILY commit infanticide if he believed God were commanding it. I think we should all be glad he doesn’t think God has, but he does believe God WOULD. If this doesn’t totally discredit everything Frank ever writes or has ever written, I don’t know what else could.

          • Frank

            Scott there is no reason to get into hypothetical. We have enough reality to deal with.

            Scot no you are incorrect once again. I believe the bible means exactly what it says. So where does it say that God condones homosexual behavior again?

            You all have jumped the shark long ago and seem to be the only ones who do not realize it. Oh well!

          • Casey

            1 Timothy 1:8-10 — 8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.

            From what I can tell, this appears to be Frank’s concern:
            Every time homosexual behavior is mentioned in the scriptures, it is condemned. The Bible is not homophobic, but it clearly treats heterosexuality as normative (1 Corinthians 7; Ephesians 5; 1 Peter 3; etc.). Scot’s unsuccessful attempts to reinterpret the Bible’s teaching on the subject raise an even more crucial question: What Scripture can be presented that legitimizes homosexuality?

            Frank believes there are none and that settles it for him.

            Scot believes that the scriptures explicit prohibit homosexuality, but sees the issue of slavery in the NT as a hermeneutical problem for “Frank-types”.

            Frank sees no analogy between slavery and homosexuality in the NT that causes hermeneutical problems.

            Scot does.

            Some thoughts for Scot:
            a) In the NT there is no scriptural mandate to enslave others, nor does one incur a penalty for releasing slaves. It appears just the opposite (1 Tim. 1:8-10). There is, however, a scriptural mandate to limit sexual unions to heterosexual ones, with a severe penalty (in this life or the next) imposed on violators. Gagnon has adequately demonstrated this.

            b) The canon of Scripture shows considerable discomfort with the institution of slavery. Setting parameters for already existing master-slave relationships does not equal enthusiastic support for master-slave relationships. On the contrary, there is not the slightest indication anywhere in the canon that same-sex intercourse is anything other than a detested practice to be utterly eschewed by the people of God, Jew and Gentile believer alike, in all circumstances. Frank seems clear on this and his objection is valid.

            c) Scripture nowhere expresses a vested interest in preserving slavery (clearly seen in Philemon & 1 Tim. 1:10), whereas Scripture does express a clear countercultural and creational vested interest in preserving an exclusive male-female dynamic to human sexual relationships.

            d) Your questions to Frank regarding infanticide, slavery, and genocide demonstrate a lack of understanding regarding the relationship of the covenants and their fulfillment in Christ. More time needs to be spent on hermeneutics and exegesis [rather than loaded questions], Scot, because your interpretation appears to be the one that is too “literal, wooden, and flat.” I don’t say this to sound demeaning, but would really ask you to consider representing the approach you oppose in the best possible light, rather than building straw men to burn them down.

            For the record, I don’t know Frank or Scot.

          • Curtis

            “Every time homosexual behavior is mentioned in the scriptures, it is condemned”

            Every time homosexual behavior is mentioned in the scriptures, heterosexual behavior is condemned. I could reach a lot of conclusions from that fact, but overstated arguments can be deceptive.

          • Casey


            Don’t confuse my words. Sexual sins of all kinds are repeatedly condemned in the scriptures: adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, fornication, and on and on it goes. Heterosexuals who commit such sins and live in unrepentant sin are under the just condemnation of God, as are homosexuals who do the same.

            But you are leaving out exactly the wrong thing: There is a way of sexual conduct that is holy and pleasing to God and which is never condemned in the scriptures.

            If the argument was overstated, thank you for your clarification.

            If you believe it is still overstated, then I would encourage you to bring more clarification.

    • Frank, you ask this question repeatedly, but I for one would be quite interested to hear what you have to say. If it’s so important to you to discuss, why don’t you begin by sharing your own views as one who believes ” that homosexual behavior is a sin according the scripture” and answer your own question:

      What do YOU think acceptance and love look like for those Christians in an active homosexual sexual relationship?

      Please stop beating us over the head with your repetition and contribute to the discussion – enlighten us, if you will. Then allow us the courtesy of using our God-given brains and Holy-Spirit-filled hearts to discern an appropriate response.

      • Frank

        Fair enough Becky.

        I believe that as sinners we are welcomed into the body of Christ as sinners. We are all accepted if we believe. We are to be taught from scripture and study on our own. We are called to give up the customs and behaviors of this world. We are offered complete forgiveness with repentance. We all recognize that we will all still sin and be imperfect and not follow Gods will completely for our lives and should be held accountable with a massive dose of grace.

        In other words it looks the same for everyone.

        • Thanks, Frank, that’s helpful. To clarify, what do you mean when you say sinful Christians “should be held accountable with a massive dose of grace”? Held accountable by whom – God (later) or fellow believers (now)? And if it’s the latter, what does that look like (the accountability and grace parts)?

          It is an honest question, but I guess what I’m getting at is the fact that many or most Christians (myself included) have such a double standard regarding which sins they choose to “hold people accountable to” and which they choose to regard as personal (that’s between “between him and the Lord”) or of a lesser degree (her fiery temper isn’t as serious as his adultery).

          • Frank

            I agree Becky that many Christians have self-categorized sins as being “acceptable”, “moderately acceptable”, and “unacceptable.” Its human nature to want to classify sins and minimize the sins that you yourself commit.

            As far as accountability goes the bible says that we are to hold each other accountable. Yes God is the only judge but we certainly cannot shy away from calling a sin a sin. We do not have to beat people up with it nor should we ostracize people in anyway but certainly we must not either lie to or completely abdicate responsibility to our brothers and sisters, even if its painful at times.

            For example if someone lies, the loving thing to do would be to hold them accountable to what they say and point out that God desires us to be truthful at all times at the same time understanding that there have been times where we lie too. If they continue to lie that is their choice and at some point we can only pray for some change to take place. That’s truth with love and grace.

  • Isn’t it somewhat disingenuous to criticize a Biblical scholar who’s written a book on his area of specific study for having “his mind made up”? That seems to assume that agnosticism on the issue is the desirable end position one must arrive at.

    Oh, and Jay’s comment above is spot-on. Consensual polyamorous relationships and consensual adult-incestuous relationships which don’t produce children are no more harmful than same-sex relationships. It would be much better if proponents of same-sex sexual relationships extended the same tolerance to such consensual adult sexual relationships that they believe they should be afforded. Consistency is respectable despite disagreement, I would argue.

    • Curtis

      “consensual adult-incestuous relationships which don’t produce children are no more harmful than same-sex relationships.”

      How can we be certain that consensual adult-incestuous relationships will not produce children? What is the affect of consensual adult-incestuous relationships on other members of the family?

      While the social impact of homosexual couples is still heavily debated, decades of intense scrutiny have be unable to produce any documented harm caused by consensual adult homosexual relationships. If you are going to suggest that consensual adult-incestuous relationships are analogous to adult homosexual relationships, you better be willing to face the same level of scrutiny that homosexual relations have weathered and survived.

      • jay

        Voluntary sterilization is a very simple solution to avoid possible birth defect risks for those wishing to have an incestuous relationship. I don’t know why there need be any negative emotional affect on other family members, unless there is some presupposed ethic imposed upon them that makes them uncomfortable. Besides, in the Bible we see that God on occasion blessed incestuous relationships even with promised offspring.

        • Curtis

          Well, the moment adult-incestuous couples want to get organized and start petitioning the church or the state for marriage rights, let me know. I might show up and carry a picket sign for them or something if I agree with them. As a fellow human I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. And besides, there is plenty of Biblical support for their lifestyle. But I reserve the right to form a judgement after they actually start asking for something.

        • Curtis

          I doubt a court would buy the argument that sterilization done to fulfill the requirements spelled out in some hypothetical civil law is voluntary. Maybe we can figure something else out?

    • Scot Miller

      JM Smith, I can’t let this comment go without a response, because I think you’re making a big mistake, especially in your second comment.

      First of all, you need to read my
      first two posts about prejudices. Not only do I think everyone has prejudices, I think prejudices are part of the human condition. Gagnon’s problem is that he has an unquestioned, unadmitted prejudice for reading the Bible as if it were a rule book for Christian behavior, which he then projects on his interpretations. So, no, I don’t think the Enlightenment prejudice against prejudice is a desirable goal at all.

      Secondly, and more significantly, in an previous exchange I had with Ancius, he wondered in a thought experiment whether my position could forbid bestiality. I offered an answer to him that may be relevant to your concern.

      Of course, Ancius wasn’t trying to refute my argument by making the false claim that my position necessarily entails bestiality. That would have been the slippery slope fallacy. Instead, he offered a thoughtful question to test the limits of what I was arguing.

      Unfortunately, you don’t avoid the fallacy here. You and Jay seem to want to refute my argument by saying it’s just a slippery slope to incestuous adult relationships (or, there’s nothing to stop my position from embracing incestuous adult relationships). This is the slippery-slope fallacy, because you don’t really demonstrate that my position inevitably or logically entails such a nonsensical position.

      My argument depends on the idea that moral consent means treating oneself and one’s parter as a rational moral agent and not merely as a means to an end. It is hard to see how a rational moral agent would fail to recognize the psycho-social damage of even in the case of childless coupling. In all likelihood, any adult incestuous relationship would be one where at least one party is using the other as a means to sexual gratification, and where both probably disrespect themselves as rational moral agents.

      But even if you don’t buy that argument, the “moral community” part of my argument would accept the prima facie presumption that incestuous relationships of any kind are wrong. This social recognition, of course, is not arbitrary, but follows from the observation that such relationships are unhealthy for society.

      I am just glad that you didn’t try to find a moral equivalence between homosexuality and pedophilia, rape, or incest, a mistake Gagnon makes in several places. There is a huge moral difference between homosexuality and the other three acts. Pedophilia, rape, and incest all have victims, where someone in power exploits or coerces or violates someone else. Consentual same-sex practices between morally responsible adults lack a victim. Actions that create victims are morally objectionable; actions that do not involve victims, but amount to expressions of love and sexual intimacy, are not inherently objectionable. (If you think marriage is morally significant, then that seems be a reason to argue for marriage equality: why legally prohibit some loving couples from the privileges and responsibilities of marriage?)

      • Frank

        Sin always has victims Scot.

        • Curtis

          You realize you just drew a circle, don’t you?

          • Of course he did. His worldview is self-contained. That’s what allows him to support slavery and infanticide.

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  • Stephen

    I have to be honest. Some of the rhetoric being expressed here totally loses me! SO many words.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love words. I am a voracious reader of all things, but so many of the words I read here tire me out. Why? Because they fail to touch at the very heart of this whole debate. And that heart is those people who struggle with being gay because they’re Christians, and the heart of Jesus who loves and accepts them as they are. The endless amount of words fail to show forth the ‘face’ of this struggle. I hope you don’t mind if I take a few moments while I share “my face”…my story.

    As a Christian man I spent 30 years attempting to be “heterosexual” and to rid myself of the homosexual “tendencies” I knew I had.
    I joined ex-gay groups in various countries in which I lived while being a missionary.
    I attended seminars, conferences, and was part of closed-group sessions for months on end as we tried to become free from same-sex attraction.
    I spent hundreds of hours in counseling over many years with qualified and sometimes unqualified counselors.
    I spent hours in prayer sessions with pastors and teachers who I believed to be qualified in handling the Word of God.
    I shared with my Christian leaders over the years of my struggles and set up accountability relationships with them.
    I allowed myself to be the subject of demonic deliverance sessions.
    I spoke out my healing “in faith”.
    I married and had children.
    …and it didn’t make me heterosexual!

    I matured in all sorts of other ways but remained gay.

    During those years I also attempted suicide, I used to cut myself, felt worthless and alone. I didn’t just hate my feelings but hated myself and experienced the disgust of others who thought homosexual tendencies were the worst of sins. I was spoken to without love from pastors and Christian teachers who should have known better and lived with shame and anxiety year after year because of what I lived with. In the end I was totally empty and used to see my life as being like a house, viewed from the street, which had lights on inside but no one was at home.

    My release came when God spoke to me one day in 2003 and said he was going to show me a different way. And so began my totally unexpected journey from bondage into freedom as I searched and read and prayed and cried out to God for understanding about continuing to be a Christian while also accepting myself as gay. There were many people and groups along the way who God put there to help me and guide me. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for them. I read extensively and looked into the original languages of the gay “clobber” passages. I challenged myself about my relationship with God if I continued towards accepting myself as gay, and many more things besides.

    There is now much theological debate that I could embark on to defend the place in which I now stand but I won’t do that. Instead I want to say this…what finally counts after all this debate is what happens in our lives as people who live this reality (me) and those who discuss it (many of you). Do our views produce good fruit and freedom in our lives? Does our relationship with Jesus deepen? Does love grow in our hearts towards God and others?

    I experienced truth and freedom when I didn’t expect to. I grew in love for Jesus and others, when I didn’t know it was possible. I came to understand the Word of God and God himself in a deeper and more meaningful way when others told me that I was deceived and on a totally wrong path.

    I had struggled against my homosexual orientation for over 30 years and yet in 2003 when I started a new journey, I began to grow in ways I didn’t consider possible. I was SO sure I was on the right road to finding freedom from being gay. I was SO convinced that the road I was walking was the only TRUE way to finding God and freedom. But I was wrong.

    This is my story. My face. And it is also the face of thousands of other gay men and women who also love God and serve him while accepting that they love others of the same sex.

    Thank you Tony for your blog. I discovered it “by accident” and now follow what you say with great interest and respect.

    • Thanks, Stephen, for sharing your story and putting flesh to the ideas being discussed here. God’s shalom to you on your journey with him!

    • Thank you for sharing this. There must be so many on similar journeys.

  • Michael Jordan

    I have to admit–I don’t really understand this post from Tony. I’ve been following this series with great interest because Gagnon’s book was quite pivotal in shaping my understanding of this issue. So Tony is saying that Gagnon’s book ultimately fails because he doesn’t include a chapter on the prejudices he brings to the text? I think you’re asking too much of this particular book. (Although Gagnon does do something like this anyway when he talks about how we especially need to treat Scripture as authoritative when it is univocal, countercultural.)

    It seems to me Gagnon’s book is written to put to rest the idea that the Scripture is somehow silent, neutral or mixed on the issue of homosexual practice and thus steer the conversation in a new direction: in short, if you’re going to believe that homosexual practice is OK, you’re going to need to rely on a different source of authority than the Bible. Throughout the book, he provides a clear and compelling case that properly read, the Bible is not supportive of same-sex relationships–and not merely in a few clobber passages, but even Jesus’ own sexual ethic develops from the idea of sexually differentiated genders merging into a sexual whole. It is meticulously researched and Gagnon has read broadly in both ancient and modern sources. So if you’re going to defend same-sex sexual practice, you’re going to have to appeal to a different source of authority, because it is patently violent to the Bible as a text to read it in this way.

    What Gagnon is trying to accomplish–and I think he has succeeded here given the begrudging acceptance of his argument in these comments–is to point out that to accept same-sex behavior mandates a very different approach to the Bible than Christians usually use. Gagnon didn’t need to talk about how HE personally understands the Scripture as authoritative for faith and practice because that’s just not the point of the book. He also likely didn’t need to talk about it because it is far more common among Christians than the approach espoused by Scot and Tony in this series.

    Two other quick points–1. Gagnon does not treat the Bible as a simple rule book. He deftly defeats the shellfish argument by arguing that we need to take Scriptural prescriptions as binding when they are counter-cultural, unanimous across Scripture and treated of great consequence wherever they are mentioned. Gagnon did not conveniently become a fundamentalist here and this is not a fair critique of his book.

    2. Articles on Gagnon’s website deals extensively with why Jennifer Knust’s reading of Scripture ultimately fails (and for that matter, William Stacy Johnson’s A Time To Embrace as well–though I haven’t yet read that so I may disagree with him on that text once I get to it).

    • ben w.

      Michael Jordan – baller comment (pun intended)! I do think you’ve clearly described what this discussion is truly about.

      Like you, I find Tony’s comment about Gagnon’s “fatal flaw” unconvincing. Scot mentions 3 rather generic assumptions (the Bible’s message is important, the Bible can be misinterpreted with grave effect, and I’m a philosopher not a biblical scholar). Surely we all recognize that Gagnon would affirm 1 & 2. Only one who assumes 1&2 would actually embark such a thorough, meticulous study of the Bible! For 3, well he *is* the biblical scholar with more experience in ancient texts than any of us – probably by a long shot. I think Tony and Scot find Gagnon’s *confidence* to be his “fatal flaw”, not a lack of self-awareness about his assumptions. If Gagnon provides sounds exegesis, he can rightly be confident about his conclusions. If his biases cause him to misinterpret the text or overlook possible valid readings – point these out. Otherwise, the guy who’s done his homework, and who hasn’t been refuted, gets to be confident about his conclusions.

      Michael I can expect the rebuttal though (it’s been about the only rebuttal since the beginning): “No one reads the Bible as “authoritative for faith and practice” in the way you describe. The Bible has patriarchs committing polygamy and infanticide, and Paul gives slavery regulations. No one follows the Bible on these issues, so why homosexuality?”.

      Would you give a response?

      • Michael Jordan

        thanks ben w. I think Gagnon’s reasoning here is pretty solid, and I alluded to it above. The reason he thinks the proscriptions against homosexuality are binding whereas things like polygamy and infanticide and slavery are not is that the injunctions against homosexual behavior are:
        1. unanimous. The Bible does not appear to modify its attitude toward same-sex behavior as it does toward polygamy and slavery (I’m not sure infanticide was ever cool).

        2. severe. Whenever homosexual behavior is mentioned, it is proscribed with serious consequences: death (in the OT) and excommunication (in the NT). Compare this with food laws which are ambiguous at best and thus not binding for Christians.

        3. countercultural. The Bible can hardly be said to be a “product of its culture” when it comes to its bias against same-sex behavior. This is why Gagnon goes to such great lengths to argue that Greco-Roman culture DID understand something like modern homosexual orientation. No doubt at many times the Bible does appear to be a collection of human documents filled with the same prejudices of the surrounding culture: it is a collection of largely patriarchal documents, for instance, which is why many Christians don’t read it as a rulebook on gender roles. But when it comes to same-sex behavior, it did not merely reflect the biases of the surrounding culture, but actively challenged them. This makes it all the more important to treat it as authoritative in our times.

        Gagnon may have had another point thrown in there (it seems to me as I remember it that there were 4 points, not 3), but I think the 3 suffice to make the point.

        • Curtis

          “This is why Gagnon goes to such great lengths to argue that Greco-Roman culture DID understand something like modern homosexual orientation… [W]hen it comes to same-sex behavior, [the Bible] did not merely reflect the biases of the surrounding culture, but actively challenged them.”

          A couple of problems with this analysis.

          First, the Levitical laws regarding homosexual behavior, by far the most severe laws regarding homosexuality in the Bible, were written around 600 years before the dawn of Greek culture. Levitical laws were not created to actively challenge an existing Greco-Roman culture. To explore what Levitical laws were challenging, we would have to examine the culture of the Israelites during the great exodus. Greco-Roman culture has no relevance to the original Levitical writings.

          Second, I’m not sure how far one can run with the argument that the Bible (and God) actively challenged the presence of homosexuality in Greco-Roman culture, when Jesus is so silent on the topic. Jesus directly and unequivocally challenged many aspects of Greco-Roman culture, including economic injustice, prostitution, mistreatment of the disabled, orphans and widows, adultery, and much more. Nowhere is Jesus found to directly challenge homosexuality with the same clarity.

          • Casey


            To your first point:
            The Levitical laws are harsh, but so is the [Greco-Roman-Hellenistic-Jewish] NT in regards to homosexual practice/sin. The wrath of God is a pretty nasty thing and it is clearly said to be on the sexual offender in the NT.

            To your second point:
            Jesus is silent on many topics where we would prefer he speak. And you are right…though he did affirm the creation norm of heterosexual marriage, he did not condemn homosexuality. However, silence on the topic is not an argument for the practice. If that were the case, Jesus may said to affirm a strange many things. What is more, if Jesus words/teachings hold any authority over our lives, so must the apostles to whom he conferred his authority [and who penned the gospels/epistles by which we come to know this Jesus]. We shouldn’t unwittingly [or wittingly!] pit Jesus against his apostles.

    • Curtis

      “sexually differentiated genders merging into a sexual whole”

      Is God whole, sexually? Is Jesus God on Earth? How can Jesus be sexually whole if he is only male?

      • Michael Jordan

        I don’t remember Gagnon’s argument here, Curtis. I’m sure he has some version of this merger being God’s vision for healthy sexuality, not for being a whole healthy person. I think Gagnon of all people recognizes celibacy as a legitimate calling, being as Jesus and (apparently) Paul embraced it.

  • cdweb

    While for me Scots arguments are the more important (and generous in light of Gagnon’s attacks against those who have a different point of view, as seen in his book, website and in personal debates. There is an interesting reflection about this point by Daniel Helminiak’s.)
    The work by Mennonite scholar Ted Grimsrud concedes much less in the way of biblical studies to Gagnon (and caution, is also less generous) if anyone one is interested see

    • Michael Jordan

      thanks so much for posting this, cdweb. I really appreciate (and am trying to fully digest) Grimsrud’s take in particular. Most often when I hear critiques of Gagnon, they essentially boil down to, “I don’t like his tone,” or “he’s a big meanie,” and I think Helminiak falls into that trap. If the guy’s a scholar, I’m most concerned about him being right, not nice. But Grimsrud’s response is substantial and is going to take some work for me to think through and–gasp!–even amend what I think. This is why it would be very helpful to have these scholars in actual conversation with each other, Helminiak’s fear and ptsd notwithstanding–we could get closer to the actual issues that divide rather than the surface-y stuff.