The Bible and Homosex
Sexual truths for a modern society!
DR PEET H. BOTHA
Copyright © 2014 by Ex-gay Advocacy
All rights reserved Permission is hereby granted to any church, mission, magazine or periodical to reprint or quote from any portion of this publication on condition that the passage is quoted in context, that due acknowledgement of source be given and a copy of the article be emailed to email@example.com
This book is presented as a fusion of two books by Dr Botha: The Bible and Homosex – Sexual truths for a modern society and The Empty Testament – Four Arguments Against Gay Theology. Every effort was made to eliminate repetitions and some parts were exchanged between the two books in order to present a flowing order with minor revisions where it were deemed necessary. The first nine chapters explore the Bible exegetically and hermeneutically for its views on homosexuality while the later chapters are mainly concerned with the four arguments against gay theology. The reader is also encouraged to read the Noteson each chapter as it provides in many instances more valuable information. The three appendixes are written by André Bekker, founder of Ex-gay Advocacy (www.LearnToLove.co.za).
Video presentations on the material covered in this book can be viewed in the Media tag under the following topics:
- Ancient Cultures and Homosexuality.
- The Bible, Early Church and Homosexuality.
- Contemporary Times and Homosexuality.
- Science and Homosexuality
Complementary to this book, I highly recommend the reader to obtain Dr Robert Gagnon’s very important book: The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics and to read his many valuable online articles (http://www.robgagnon.net/ArticlesOnline.htm).
PART ONE: THEOLOGICAL HERMENEUTICS AND EXEGESIS
CHAPTER 1: Homosexuality In Theological Hermeneutics
- Old Testament sexual morality
- Graeco-Roman sexual morality
- Jewish sexual morality
- New Testament sexual morality
- Contemporary sexual morality
CHAPTER 2: Sexual Immorality Defined
- The concept πορνεια (sexual immorality)
- Analysis of πορνεια
CHAPTER 3: Sexual Purity In The First Century AD
- The Jewish Community in Corinth
- The Graeco-Roman community in Corinth
- The Christian community in Corinth
- The probable understanding of the concept sexual purity by the first readers of Corinthians
CHAPTER 4: A Social-Historical Perspective On Homosexuality In The First Century Ad
- Chronology of periods
- Graeco-Roman culture
- Jewish culture
- Early Christian culture
CHAPTER 5: The Old Testament Texts
- The Ancient Near East
- The creation stories: Genesis 1-3
- Noah and Ham: Genesis 9:20-27
- Sodom and Gomorrah: Genesis 19:22-25
- The Levite’s Concubine: Judges 19:22-25
- Homosexual cult prostitution in Israel: Deuteronomy 23:17-18
- Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13
CHAPTER 6: Exegesis Of Romans 1:18-32
- General background
- Interpretation of the relevant Greek phrases
- Μετήλλαξαν τὴν φυσικὴν χρῆσιν εἰς τὴν παρὰ φύσιν (they exchanged the natural use for what is against nature)
- Ἐξεκαύθησαν ἐν τῃ ὁρέξει αὐτῶν εἰς ἀλλήλουσ (burned with passion for one another)
- Ἀρσενες ἐν ἀρσεσιν τὴν ἀσχημοσύνην κατεργαζόμενοι (men committed shameless acts with men)
- Conclusion: Romans 1:26-27 and Biblical sexuality
CHAPTER 7: Exegesis Of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
- General Background
- The meaning of ἀρσενοκοιτης and μαλακός(‘arsenokoitês and malakós)
- Analysis of ἀρσενοκοιτης (‘arsenokoitês)
- Conclusion: 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Biblical sexuality
CHAPTER 8: Exegesis Of 1 Timothy 1:3-11
- General Background
- The meaning of ἀρσενοκοιτης (‘arsenokoitês)
- Analysis of ἀρσενοκοιτης (‘arsenokoitês)
- Conclusion: 1Timothy1:9-10 and Biblical sexuality
CHAPTER 9: Conclusion: Towards A Biblical Theology Of Homosexuality
PART TWO: CHANGING THEOLOGY
CHAPTER 10: Changing the theology of sexuality
- The Bible and sexuality
- Gay theology of sexuality
- A biblical theology of sexuality
CHAPTER 11: Changing the theology of sin
- The Bible and sin
- Gay theology and sin
- A biblical theology and sin
CHAPTER 12: Changing the theology of marriage
- The Bible and marriage
- Gay theology and marriage
- A biblical theology and marriage
CHAPTER 13: Changing the theology of the family
- The Bible and the family
- Gay theology and the family
- A biblical theology and the family
PART THREE: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- Which sexual orientation is valid? Homosexual, heterosexual or bi-sexual?
- What were the early teachings on homosexuality?
- Is it possible to accept the authority of the Bible and at the same time practice homosex?
- What did Jesus say about homosexuality?
- Is homosexual marriage a tolerable option?
- Is heterosexual marriage and homosexual marriage the same?
- Are homosexual families acceptable?
- What about homosexual people in the church?
- Are there not examples of loving, monogamous homosexual relations?
- Why should homosex be compared to bestiality, incest and prostitution?
- Should we not reject promiscuity in both hetero- and homosexual relations?
- Is the cause of homosexuality not a homosexual gene?
- The whole body is holy unto the Lord. Why not the anus as well?
- Can homosexual orientation change?
- Can a homosexual orientation be morally innocent if it is indicative of an inclination to conduct that what is sinful?
- Aren’t some people born gay?
- Can sexual orientation change?
I don’t think that anyone would choose to write a book on the topic of homosex1 unless some sort of impetus to do so exists. In my case the impetus came when the 2004 Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa acknowledged that theological confusion on the issue of homosexuality and the Bible reigns among their ranks. This did not come as a surprise as the DRC had been drifting towards a pro-homosex stance since 1998 when they first undertook a new theological and anthropological study into sexuality in general. The results of that study culminated in the pro-homosex decisions taken at the DRC’s Hartenbos Synod (2004) meeting.
The warning lights came on; the DRC was in the grips of a paradigm shift in line with the other mainline denominations in South Africa with regard to their theology on sin, the family, marriage and sexuality. Self-affirming active (practising) homosexual ministers from the gay-churches were co-opted as advisors onto some of the committees of the various Regional Synods and active homosexual people were invited to share their stories at the General Synod Meeting, the committee meetings and with congregations of the DRC. After the 2004 Synod meeting two members of the Executive Council of the General Synod apologised in person to a predominantly gay congregation in Pretoria on behalf of the DRC, this apology was symbolically meant for all homosexual people and their family members within and outside of the DRC who had been spiritually and emotionally hurt in the past by the DRC.
The above situation gave me enough reason to speak out against what I believed to be a fatal theological error on the part of the DRC Synod. My first book (in Afrikaans), Die sinode en homoseks: ‘n Kritiese evaluering van die homoseksualiteit-debat in die NG Kerk in Suid Afrika (The Synod and Homosex: A critical evaluation of the homosexuality debate in the DRC in South Africa), directly addresses the situation in the DRC but is also meant to be a resource for the other Reformed denominations in South Africa.
Issues relating to homosexuality are hotly debated in all the denominations and in the secular newspapers in South Africa. There are indeed fierce disagreements on whether homosexual conduct is sin or not, the status of active homosexual Christians in the church, their relationships and their ordination as office bearers in the church. Speaking (and writing) one’s mind can be perilous especially when one not only questions the morality of same-sex intercourse but accuses a meeting of the stature of the DRC Synod as being theologically unsound. Yet, I put forward my convictions as best I can, fully knowledgeable of the risks involved.
Within the politics of character assassination, the first risk is to be labelled a hetero-sexist. This carries with it the additional labels of being misogynistic and homophobic. These are labels which convey the impression of a psychiatric disorder. Within academic circles today these personal tags are meant to ensure personal destruction as is the case when someone is labelled a Bible fundamentalist. It is meant to take one out of the debate or at the least make one’s voice conditional to the tag applied. Further to the above there is the risk of being regarded as intolerant, exclusive and holding onto outmoded sexual mores.
It is neither pleasant being involved in the homosexual debate nor inwardly satisfying to speak out publicly against homosexual conduct because it positions one against the prevailing secular cultural norms in most of the media, academic and secular establishments. This leaves one in quite a vulnerable situation especially when one’s own church denomination is inclined to revisionism and relativism and very few other ordained ministers in the church are taking a similar public stand.
The debate forces one to uphold standards of holiness and righteousness which are no longer regarded as such by the majority of people inside and outside of the church. Proclaiming these standards leaves one with an acute awareness of one’s own imperfections and need for grace and forgiveness. However, it compels one to proclaim and defend the boundaries explicitly implied by such standards and sometimes forces one to unintentionally bring personal pain to gay people who are already struggling with guilt feelings and who are also prone to feelings of self-loathing. I want to state it publicly that I am neither against nor do I hate homosexual people. I am, however, very much against their theology which, as far as I am concerned, brings false teachings into the church. Gay theology is to be resisted and exposed for what it is, namely a false theology.
Of particular concern to me is the manner in which the biblical witness is minimized in the debate. This is done when arguments focus erroneously on the supposed exploitative nature of misogynistic and patriarchal attitude of the Bible; the perceived absence of any knowledge about an innate homosexual orientation in antiquity; the assumed lack of direct references to homosexuality or homosexual orientation in antiquity and the Bible. It is done when arguments focus on the superior scientific knowledge of our own time. It seems to me that slowly but surely the Bible as the primary revelatory source of authority in the debate is being replaced by a secular humanist theological manifesto in which non-negotiable principles have already been secured at the cost of the biblical standards.
An empty testament!
That is all that would remain of the Old and New Testaments in the Bible when pro-homosexual liberal theologians, revisionists and activists are finished with it. An empty testament, “detoxified” from condemnation of the unrepentant sinner and sin. Indeed, an “empty testament,” written for our time and deliberately cleansed of all that could keep us from heaven or the coming wrath of God.
Our culture is saturated with the idea that homosexuality is a normal, proper and accepted expression of love between persons. This notion is strengthened by the affirmation of homosexual marriages in courts of law as well as by constitutional legalization of such marriages, for example the constitutional laws of the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain and South Africa.
Today we are witnessing a desperate and insistent effort to reinterpret the Bible’s proscription on homosex as a culturally imbedded, non-applicable and time-biased prescript not meant for our time, which is known for long-lasting, committed, loving and caring homosexual relationships. We are told in no uncertain terms by the media and so-called progressive churches that homosexuality – in either deed or orientation – is something approved by an ever loving and gracious God and is therefore consistent with biblical morality. Thus, for them, the Bible rightly interpreted, understood or translated, does not condemn homosexuality. The loving relationships of Jesus and John, David and Jonathan, as well as Ruth and Naomi are cited as examples of loving, caring long-lasting and committed homosexual relationships within the pages of the Bible.
The diabolical call to receive homosexuality as a gift from God and therefore as a morally acceptable belief and behaviour, is now being heard in magazines, bookstores, legislation, TV programs, in the church and by the church. Not only are many members of the church confused but even the highest policy making bodies or church councils are undecided. The floodgates are open and the proliferation of literature teaching this new revisionist morality under the guise of correct understanding of the relevant biblical portions is resulting in the twisting of the Bible truths, enhancing the confusion of many and the weakening of the mainline church.
Today, homosexuality and homosex, which at one time were regarded as morally unthinkable, are on parade before a cheering and applauding post-Christian world and church as normal, acceptable and unquestionable good. The morally unthinkable has become thinkable and the morally unacceptable of previous times has become the certainty of contemporary time. Thus the social and moral acceptance of homosexuality in both orientation and conduct, in both desire and act, is presented as quite thinkable and certain.
God has been relegated to the periphery of man’s existence and man’s theology of experience has taken the place of God’s theology of grace. Instead of man becoming more and more like the image of God, God is recreated in the image of man, designed and molded by the experiences, wants and longings of the deceitful and sinful heart of man. The authoritative and absolute standard of God is redefined into a new morality, contextualized by our own time so that God’s eternal pronouncements become temporal and optional, void of biblical authority and Holy Spirit inspiration. Strangely the people making this claim appeal to the very Bible they break down to assert that a homosexual lifestyle is perfectly compatible with its teaching as well as with the character of a loving and caring God.
What is good for the goose must also be good to the gander. The heterosexual marriage and family are under fierce attack by homosexual activists. In many countries homosexual partnerships have almost the same legal rights as married heterosexual marriages, although not the title marriage. Homosexuals want the title because the title would not only mean that the same rights have been granted, but that their homosexual lifestyle is affirmed by society and the church. Speaking of a homosexual partnership (Norway), civil solidarity pact (France), legal partnership (Germany) or domestic partnerships (USA) is not what the homosexual fraternity wants. It must be marriage because marriage presupposes family recognition. Thus marriage must be redefined to make provision for basically any possible constitution thereof. Veith summarized the envisaged consequences if marriage continues to be redefined when he writes:
Under the emerging framework, there will be no difference between a married couple, a homosexual couple, or a couple in a temporary sexual relationship. As many advocates are putting it. ‘What difference does it make to the government or an employer who you are having sex with?’ This sort of reductionism – a spouse is nothing more than a sex partner, so a sex partner is the same as a spouse – misses the point of what marriage is and what its role in society amounts to…..So far, governments are resisting same-sex marriages. But instead marriage is being defined down. As marriage becomes unnecessary – not just for job benefits but for adopting children, inheriting property, and being socially acceptable – the whole nation will be ‘living in sin.’2
One does not need to be a prophet to realize that we are on the verge of the destruction of marriage as we know it. The redefinition of marriage would impact concepts like sexuality, marriage and the family and change the kind of future we currently envisage to leave for our children and grandchildren. It also has vast implications for the church. The theologies of sin, marriage, sexuality and the family will be severely impacted.
The revisionist approach to reinterpret these theologies from a same-sex perspective will destroy what we are familiar with and put in its place monstrosities which are the creation of sinful man and not the pure and holy God. It is widely recognized by radical homosexual activists, pro-family supporters, pro-marriage supporters and conservative Bible scholars that same-sex marriage will eventually destroy the institution of male-female marriage. It should be realized that the redefinition of marriage is a means to eventually realize a much more sought-after outcome, the reordering of society.
I have written this book with the following objectives in mind: First, I hope to communicate anew to the church the biblical witness regarding homosex. Second, I hope to resist the spirit of revisionism in the church that reinterprets the biblical truths to suit 21st century liberal theology. Third, I want to reiterate the biblical sexual standard proclaimed by Scripture. Fourth, I want to defend the biblical views of sin, marriage, sexuality, and the family. Fifth, I want to support and strengthen those who believe and feel as I do.
It is my prayer that this book will furthermore give much needed information about same-sex marriage to those who desire to stand in the gap and defend the biblical concept of marriage. This book is not only meant to give information but also to encourage all those who are fighting for the status quo of the traditional marriage, not to give up and not to compromise but to prevail against the continuous pressure from the same-sex activists to compromise and accept a dubious sexual lifestyle. Same-sex marriage is not God’s will for mankind; it is and always will remain a sin, notwithstanding its legalization by secular governments. May we never forget this biblical truth.
The Bible has been tried, judged and sentenced to silence by secular humanism. Will the strong arm of secular governments stretch right into the pulpit of God’s church? Will secular humanist constitutions and humanist bills of right override the Bible’s authoritative prerogative to state what human conduct God regards as sin? Will the kingdom of God be required to bend the knee before the kingdom of the prince of this world? To my mind it is clear: the Bible will not compromise its standard and not shift its boundaries. It will remain a stumbling block to those who intend to pass it by or revise its message.
In Part One, Theological Hermeneutics And Exegesis, chapter one to nine the Bible is explored for its views on homosexuality.
In Part Two, Changing Theology, I will highlight the contemporary situation with reference to the same-sex controversy. We need to take note of the role-players in the debate as well as the agenda informing their efforts. Same-sex marriage will impact four very specific theologies and in chapter ten I will discuss the changes brought about and envisaged for the theology of sexuality. There is a concerted effort to change the church’s attitude towards homosex; it is in actual fact an effort to change the traditional definition of sexual sin. In chapter eleven the impact of same-sex marriage on the theology of sin will be considered at length. An in-depth look at same-sex marriage and the implications thereof for heterosexual marriage follows in chapter twelve whilst the logical effects on the traditional family will be discussed in chapter thirteen.
Part Three, Frequently asked questions answers 14 frequently asked questions.
Peet Botha (PhD)
THEOLOGICAL HERMENEUTICS AND EXIGESIS
This study emerges from concern about a theology of human sexuality. The aim of this chapter is to bring together some of the multitude of sources regarding human sexuality in general but then especially those concerned with homosexuality. The debate on homosexuality has challenged the church and indeed also the Bible to give credible answers to questions regarding same-sex relationships.
The problem of homosexuality is no longer just the problem of the world1 outside of the church; it has become the church’s problem. The state of theological research on homosexuality reveals confusion in the use of the Bible in Christian and secular debates about the acceptance of homosexuals into the Christian faith community. This confusion is enhanced by the presuppositions, theological points of departure, emotional experiences, superficial reading of Bible portions, inadequate hermeneutical methodology, et cetera. There have been a number of studies of the Bible portions usually quoted with regard to homosexuality. Whilst most studies are exegetical they do not explore the wider societal contexts.2
It is assumed within many churches that homosexuality in the time of the New Testament must have been the same as it is now. This is taken for granted. But, to uncritically assume that the phenomenon an ancient author opposed is the same phenomenon that exists in our own time is invalid. This study therefore views the exegetical process as unfinished until the construction of the context within which the texts originated, has been done as well.
I agree with Van Unnik3 that one should first research the meaning of words and phrases from the New Testament in their contemporary context for their most probable meaning before one could understand their meaningfulness within the New Testament. The contemporary context represents a dynamic society and not just décor against which early Christianity is presented.4 Early Christianity had a Jewish history and found itself being influenced by contemporary society which was non- Christian in thought, religion and politics. Thus it can be assumed without contradiction that the New Testament not only originated in cultural and social circumstances different to ours, but that it also shows the influences of these cultures and societies. I further agree with Malherbe5 that the main sources for the social construction of early Christianity are literary sources.6
This book is written with a specific theological perspective7 in mind. The New Testament is much more than a product of man alone or a product of evolving global social circumstances.8 God uses (inter alia) the social phenomena to reveal his perfect will for mankind. Codes of conduct thus established may supersede time and culture, to be authoritative also in contemporary situations, such as the post-modern age in which we are living.
I view the text of the New Testament as not merely a product of human endeavour or manipulation, but as the product of organic divine inspiration.9 The relevant Bible portions are therefore studied – not only to determine the meanings of the Bible portions, but also what the Bible portions (as used by the Holy Spirit) actually do or are supposed to do (as intended by God) in the lives of the first Christians as well as Christians today.
My interpretation of the message of the relevant portions concerning
homosexual conduct will be shaped by
a couple of factors which will impact the application of the message for
believers today. In the first place there are factors concerning my own
personality, my general and scientific background, theological tradition,
philosophy of life and worldview, my Sitz im Leben, my relationship with God
and personal experience thereof, the authority of the Scriptures as the Word of
God – all of these
factors will fundamentally influence my interpretation and what I understand the outcome or message to be. Secondly, the intended readers of this study will in some ways influence the process of interpretation.
Ancient social conditions should be taken into consideration when doing biblical interpretation. This is important for the study of the Bible portions on homosexuality because of the relation between the social background of the Bible and the theology of the biblical authors. The Bible portions did not originate within a vacuum, and the social-historical construction of the biblical milieu10 is vital for grasping the meaning of a portion or even a word, idiom or phrase.
Old Testament sexual morality
The Bible reflects an exotic and fascinating world. A world far removed from the contemporary world we are living in and yet our world is to some extent directly under its influence. Matthews & Benjamin11 introduce the reader to this world in a rather comprehensive work and unlock the time and culture of ancient Israel to the understanding of the modern reader.12 Culture, society and religion were coextensive in the biblical world.13 The religion of the ancient world inspired its culture, and handed it on from generation to generation.
Stories involving sex and violence in the Bible were, in opposition to the stories within the surrounding pagan religions, not fundamentally romantic.14 Irregular sexual practices went counter to the inherent decency and good sense of God’s people, and violated the national conscience of Israel. They were deeds that ought not to be done (Gn. 20:9). The high sexual standards in Israel stood in marked contrast to those of the nations around it.15
With regard to homosexuality we find that only the male form is addressed and the female form is treated as if it is non-existent.16 Same-sex intercourse as a sexual misuse has earned itself the name sodomy through association with Gn. 19:5-7.17
Any attempt to uncover the roots of the Old Testament’s view of sex must take into account the question regarding the nature of humanity. The distinction between the sexes is a creation by God since there is no such distinction on the divine level; the polarity of the sexes belongs to the created order and not to God. It exists because of the creative initiative of God and not because of the request of man (Gn. 2:18). Sexuality is, therefore, an element in human life over which man does not have control.
Not only is dominion granted to humanity over the rest of creation but also over the personal world of man, which includes sexuality. Sexuality must be seen as an intended part of human creation in the image18 of God and, because God intended it from the beginning, it is an essential part of human existence. From the beginning mankind was created only as male and female, a fact that will be important for our interpretation of the New Testament understanding of sexuality.19 It is also clear from Gen.2:18b that man by himself is less than human and that he needs an other in order to reflect the totality of God’s image and to fulfill God’s purpose. This other is woman, the only companion fit for him. She was the doorway into community.20
The command to exercise the created sexuality is depicted by the
word know21 – to signify
coitus in all its complexity (Gn. 4:1). The choice of the word to denote sexual
intercourse has deep psychological overtones.22 It should therefore
not be dismissed as merely an euphemism. Exercising sexuality means much more
than mere intellectual comprehension or
Knowledge involved entering into a relationship with that which is known.
Heterosexual coitus (intercourse) conveys
knowledge of which one is, in his or her most fundamental nature, as male or female. In their sexual life they discover the deepest possibilities of human companionship and mutuality. Thus the word know in the Old Testament signifies coitus.
Baily, however, does not agree with this interpretation for yada in Gn. 4:1 and Jdg. 19:22. although he grants that it is used at least ten times in the rest of Scripture denoting coition (intercourse), he interprets the use of the word in the abovementioned Bible portions as such that it may mean no more than to get acquainted with. Although few commentators render a non-coital meaning for yada in these texts, it is frequently assumed to be the case with non-academics supporting the pro-homosexual cause. A non-coital interpretation may be based on linguistic considerations alone, cultural considerations or a combination of both.24
Old Testament sexual morality with regard to homosexuality is directly addressed in only a few Bible portions25 and assumed to be the case in a few other Bible portions.26 There is no evidence that the Israelites ever approved of homosexual practices. The attitude towards homosexual practices, as reflected in the Old Testament, is certainly not one of approval or even toleration. Homosexual acts between females are not mentioned at all, but when committed by males were punished by death. The Old Testament does not differentiate between kinds of homosexual acts; the law terms the offense of homosexual acts simply as lying with a male as with womankind.27
The impression from the Bible is that homosexual acts were perhaps relatively uncommon in Israel, but were regarded as deeds, which merited the severest penalty. Whilst the Law condemned male homosexual practices and punished them with death, the method of execution was not prescribed. However, the Mishna and the Talmud prescribed stoning. Although the Law took cognizance of homosexual acts between females, the Talmud regards lesbianism as obscenity, which disqualified the women from marriage with a priest. The Old Testament prohibited an adult28 male from committing any homosexual acts.
In summary, given the Hebrew understanding of yada, knowledge necessarily involved entering into relationship with that which is known; in a sexual sense such knowledge is not available or possible to males entering into a sexual relationship. Sexuality provides the opportunity for the most complete, most accurate and most fulfilling knowledge available to humans, but only in the context male and female, never in the context male and male.
Maleness or femaleness can only be comprehended when exercised in the deepest and most intimate relationship possible with someone of the other sex. Therefore, coitus, as well as other heterosexual experiences, conveys knowledge of who one is, in his or her most fundamental, given nature as male and female. This standard is faithfully upheld throughout the Old Testament in stark contrast to Graeco-Roman sexual morality.
Graeco-Roman sexual morality
Homosexuality in classical Greek society is richly documented,
although all Greek art, literature and archival material, with the exception of
a little poetry, were the work of males. Female homosexuality is sparsely
documented. The five most important sources of material on homosexuality are
(1) late archaic and early classical homosexual poetry; (2) Attic comedy,
especially Aristophanes and his contemporaries; (3) Plato; (4) a speech of
Aiskhines, the Prosecution of Timarkhos;
(5) homosexual poetry of the Hellenistic period.29
The Greeks were aware that individuals differ in their sexual preferences. The Greek language has no nouns corresponding to the English nouns homosexual and a heterosexual. Dover adequately demonstrates that the Greeks assumed that mostly any individual responds at different times both to homosexual and to heterosexual stimuli and that hardly any male both penetrates other males and submit to penetration by other males at the same stage of his life.30
From about the sixth century onward, the Greeks regarded homosexual desire by a man or youth for a boy, or by a man for a youth, as almost natural. The Athenian adolescent growing up in the time of Plato, took homosexuality for granted because his father’s and grandfather’s generations took it for granted. It was neither unnatural nor effeminate if he experienced homosexual desire for younger boys. Pederasty31 is generally used to describe the sexual attraction of an adult to an immature child, but to the Greeks it signified the love of a man for a boy who had passed the age of puberty but not yet reached maturity. Homosexuality in the modern sense, between two adults of the same age group is seldom attested to in ancient Athens.32 The Greek love for boys was regarded not to be hostile to marriage, but supplemented it as an important factor in education33 and denotes a decided bi-sexuality among the Greeks. The rape of boys also existed.34
In vase painting, homosexual relationships are shown with very few exceptions in one of two ways. There are a number of examples of anal intercourse, in which the participants are members of the same age group but more often what is shown is inter-femoral connection. The older person is usually shown as making the advance and there is little suggestion of education.
Pederasty was not regarded as an abnormality in ancient Rome and neither was it regarded as a weakness of the personality. Pederasty was no longer a means employed by the state in the education of the young, controlled by the highest authorities and an obligation for the older men to take upon themselves. It was not institutionalized as was previously done in Greece. In the late Hellenistic period pederasty is to be regarded as an erotic35 phenomenon. In the state religion of Rome, phallic worship did not occupy an important place. However, images of phalli were common and can still be seen today in Pompeii.
Greek and Roman texts are full of homosexuality in action. Catullus boasts of his prowess and Cicero celebrates the kisses from the lips of his slave-secretary. According to taste and preference some chose women, some boys and some both. Horace repeatedly relates he adores both. Virgil preferred boys only and the Emperor Claudius, women only. Hadrian’s catamite, Antinous, was honored by an official cult after his death. The plays of Plautus are full of homosexual allusions. In Roman society sodomy was regarded as merely licentious, no concealment was necessary and lovers of boys were just as numerous as lovers of women. In Rome the favorite male slave took the place of the freeborn ephebos.36 Legislation in place, meant to suppress homosexuality was, in fact, meant to stop freeborn citizens from being ravished like slaves.37 This protected freeborn youths and girls alike.
It is clear that in the Graeco-Roman world one’s behavior was judged, not for one’s preference for boys or girls, but by whether one played an active or a passive role. To be active was male. To take one’s pleasure was virile, to accept is was servile. The freeborn male who was a homosexual of the passive kind was looked upon with utter scorn. The passive homosexual was not rejected for his homosexuality but for his passivity, a very serious moral and political infirmity.
Jewish sexual morality
The views of Hellenistic Jewish authors were shaped, not only by contemporary views of Graeco- Roman philosophers, but especially by their own Scriptures. Gagnon concludes that the number of texts38 that attest directly to the issue of homosexual intercourse are numerous enough and unanimous, allowing for an accurate assessment of Judaistic views on the matter. Evidence is primarily from the writings of Philo and Josephus.39
Other references40 also exist and echo the stance of Philo and Josephus. Over and above the texts, which explicitly address homosexuality, there are many other texts which allude to homosexual intercourse, including those which broadly forbid sexual immorality (πορνεια – porneia). The Qumran community did not expressly forbid same-sex intercourse, but did provide punishment for a member who even accidentally exposed his genitals to other males.
No Jew in antiquity would argue for a pro-stance towards male-male sexual intercourse given the severe stance against homosexual intercourse in the Leviticus laws. The Leviticus laws were recognized and applied to all male-male intercourse, regardless of the relative age, status or active/passive role of the participants.
Apart from the obvious fact that the Leviticus law forbade same-sex intercourse, Jews, like Greek and Roman critics of same-sex intercourse, rejected homosexual conduct on the grounds that it was contrary to nature or against nature (παραφύσιν – parafúsin).41 Evidence for their stance was drawn from the creation narratives where God intended heterosexual42 intercourse and they understood and argued for anatomical complementarity of fittedness of the male and female sex organs.43 Gender- transgressing feminization of the receptive homosexual partner evidenced and demonstrated homoeroticism’s misdirection.
In conclusion one can summarize that Judaism regarded homosexual behavior as a sin and a crime and that Jewish tradition assumes that such behavior is not the result of anything else.44 Created as a male, a man must remain pure and unblemished in his nature as maleness. To surrender it sexually by assuming the role of the opposite sex is a desecration of the divine order of creation. Same-sex sexual relations are forbidden. Sexual relations must be conducted within God-given boundaries.
New Testament sexual morality
Jesus made no direct or explicit comments on same-sex intercourse, just as He made no direct comments on many other important topics. The collective body of the Jesus tradition includes, therefore, no statement to the effect that same-sex intercourse is good or bad. However, Jesus was not silent about same-sex intercourse in as much as the inferential data clearly outlines Jesus’ perspective.45
Nothing in the Jesus tradition suggests that Jesus abrogated the Torah. Although Jesus does not explicitly refer to same-sex intercourse, implicit references do exist.46 The impression one gets from Mt. 5:27-32 is that Jesus took sexual sin seriously. He regarded all sexual activity (thoughts and deeds) outside of lifelong marriage to one person of the opposite sex as unacceptable. Jesus’ encounters with women who were considered sexual sinners do not support the conclusion that Jesus was soft on sexual sin. Jesus forgave sexual sin, like all other sins, in the expectation of transformed behavior. What is clear from the evidence that the Bible portions do offer, is that Jesus is no defender of homosexual behavior. In what he says and in what he fails to say, He confirms the
authority of the Old Testament witness against same-sex intercourse and the Old Testament is unanimous in its rejection of homosexual practice as are the Jewish authors in the centuries just before and after Jesus’ birth.
The key Bible portions in the New Testament47 are Rom. 1:24-27 and the vice lists in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 and 1 Tim. 1:9-10. Rom. 1:24-27 is central for the understanding of the New Testament attitude towards homosexual conduct and on which Christians must base their moral doctrine. It makes an explicit statement not only about same-sex intercourse among men, but also about same-sex intercourse among women. Here we need to come to grips with Paul’s thoughts if we want to reach a valid understanding of sexuality and especially same-sex sexuality.48 Paul clearly relied heavily on the Hebrew Scriptures for his understanding of God’s will for man.49 In general on none issues on sexuality did Paul deviate substantially from the traditions which he had spent a large part of his life learning, living and protecting.50
Paul, unlike Jesus, did not spend his entire life in Palestine. He was a cosmopolitan, a world traveler who spoke and wrote Greek. Furnish51 will have it that the Judaism that Paul learned was neither pure Old Testament nor Palestinian Judaism, but Diaspora Judaism, which was substantially influenced by Hellenistic thought and language.52 It is essential to the understanding of Paul to realize that, although he may have used some of the same language as Hellenistic philosophy, this does not mean that he intended the same content or meaning. Paul condemns only sexual immorality (πορνεια – porneia) and not sexuality properly expressed.
As with the Old Testament and Jesus, Paul’s concern is with the misuse of sexuality per se. He denounces both male-male and female-female sexual practices as contrary to nature. Both the arsenokoites (ἀρσενοκοιτησ – active homosexual or sodomist) and the malakós (µαλακόσ – passive homosexual or catamite)53 are threatened with spiritual retribution by disinheritance from the kingdom of God.
Contemporary sexual morality
Historically Christians have taught that people do not have the right to do with their bodies as they please. Such a view is undermined today by the defenders of three discernible and outspoken factions in contemporary culture: feminists, abortionists and homosexuals.54 Questionable assumptions (sometimes most unscientific) in ethics, the human sciences and political thought presuppose a society tolerant of homosexuality in personal, ecclesiastical and civil spheres.
There can be no doubt that the visibility of homosexuality today is high and the organized pro- homosexual movement to dignify homosexuality and to have it recognized as normal sexual practice has infiltrated every area of culture: from the church to the television, from education to legislation.55 The growing number of proponents of this view is of the opinion that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality and that it even contains examples of loving, committed homosexual relationships56 within its pages. The call to recognize homosexuality as morally acceptable behavior is now being heard in ecclesiastical circles and by the church at large. Theologians are calling for the reinterpretation of the Bible portions historically taken to condemn homosexual acts and appeal to the church to normalize homosexuality as an acceptable variant of sexuality.57 White & Neill understands the same-sex controversy over the authority and interpretation of the Bible.58 Schaeffer, in his discussion on relativism and the denial of absolutes in current society, says that some current forums of homosexuality are to be seen as a philosophic problem referred to as philosophic homosexuality.59
Much of the current debate centres on sexual and gender identity. This is reiterated by Keen60 in reference to sex and gender confusion as the underlying problem within alternative human sexuality. The priest Fr. Oraison states that a man who is homosexual is not responsible for his situation; it is not a chosen condition but a condition ordained by God. This leads to a quite recent development: the distinction between homosexual and homosexuality.61 The defense of homosexuality can be summarized in Corvino’s arguments against the three most common objections: that homosexual relationships are unnatural, that they are harmful and that they violate biblical teaching.62
Much of the focus in the current debate is on the subject of nature. From this follows the appeal for a third category.63 Bahnsen is adamant there can be no third natural sex or alternative sexual orientation in God’s diverse world.64 The appeal to textual data in the contemporary debate brought about two major categories of exegetes: the traditionalists and the revisionists. Pronk65 concedes that the majority of exegetes come to the conclusion that these texts unanimously reject homosexual behaviour. The minority report may be summarized in the words of Boswell: There is only one place in the writings which eventually became the Christian Bible where homosexual relations per se are clearly prohibited (Leviticus) and the context in which the prohibition occurred rendered it inapplicable to the Christian community, at least as moral Law. The New Testament takes no demonstrable position on homosexuality.66
Scroggs comes to a similar conclusion when he states that biblical judgements against homosexuality are not relevant to today’s debate. What stand out in the current debate are the contrasts between the presuppositions Paul had about homosexual relations and the presuppositions with which we approach homosexual relations today:67 Homosexual relations per se are not to be condemned, but with Paul, the condemnation of exploitive forms of homoeroticism (pederasty and prostitution) should be affirmed. Contrary to this, Bahnsen argues that tolerance of homosexuality is based on doctrinal premises that deviate from biblical teaching. This deviation constitutes an antipathy to biblical revelation. Scripture is to be understood to condemn both homosexual orientation and homosexual acts, for there is no need in ethics to distinguish between them. Bahnsen is strongly supported by Gagnon in his arguments that the Bible unequivocally defines same-sex intercourse as sin, inasmuch as same-sex intercourse constitutes an inexcusable rebellion against the intentional design of the created order.68
The different schools of thought represent various approaches to the Bible. Pure humanism sincretistically forces itself onto biblical truths and systematically erodes biblical truth into an acceptable and digestible format for contemporary society. Distinctions like sex, gender, sexual orientation and sexual acts are finely tuned to the detriment of biblical truths. Acceptance of rejection of biblical authority seems to be the obvious distinction between the different approaches highlighted above. However, the authority of the Bible supersedes and reaches beyond the theology and doctrinal premises of modern scholars. Contemporary society is tolerant toward homosexuality.
It is clear from the above that the current debate on homosexuality in ecclesiastical circles and secular community is far from over. All the aspects of the debate are well attested to in the available literature.
The thrust of my argument is theological by its very nature. It
recognizes the involvement of God in the social circumstances of man and man’s
reaction thereto. This involvement is expressed in the relevant Bible portions
referring to homosexuality. Understanding ancient social conditions helps to
interpret Bible portions and bridge the distance between ancient and contemporary societies. Old Testament sexual morality is closely linked to the concept of the nature of man. With regard to homosexuality the distinction between male and female should not be obliterated.
The Bible pictures this distinction as a creation by God. Whereas Old Testament sexual morality is defined by heterosexual conduct, the Graeco-Roman sexual morality is defined by homosexual conduct. Pederasty was the most obvious homosexual conduct in Graeco-Roman times. Judaist and New Testament sexual morality are closely linked because of the common Old Testament background, and both unanimously reject homosexual conduct as a normal expression of sexuality. This stance is vigorously opposed by the so-called revisionists of today – whose efforts are focused on normalizing homosexuality as a variant of created sexuality over and against biblical doctrine on homosexuality.
In the rest of this book I will mainly take cognizance of the theological aspects of the debate, although much has been written about the ethical, biological, psychological and psycho-physical aspects as well. The next chapter researches the various first century cultures and social phenomena in those cultures with special regard to sexuality.
SEXUAL IMMORALITY DEFINED
A socio-historical overview of the sexual ethical codes within Judaism, Hellenism and early Christianity shows that very definite codes were in place.1 Early Christianity inherited its sexual ethics from Judaism and reinterpreted it in the light of the Gospel. The Christian community originated and existed within a Gentile world within which sexual immorality was rife.
In this chapter a word-exegesis is done by means of the componential analytical method. The data from the Louw & Nida Lexicon is exploited for this purpose. The word porneía (πορνεία – sexual immorality) is studied to provide background to the view on homosexuality as expressed by Paul in Rom.1:26-27, 1Cor.6:9-10 and 1Tim.1:9-10. The meaning and intention of porneia as the bedrock for Paul’s view on homosexuality is socio-historically determined according to the method employed by Malherbe (1989) which, in essence, is a literature study. I will show that Paul’s view on homosexuality is inseparable from his stand on sexual immorality (porneia). Paul’s view on abnormal sexual behaviour like homosexuality (Rom. 1:26-27), is informed by his convictions regarding sexual immorality (porneia). A clear understanding of the meaning of the word will substantiate the arguments put forward in the following chapters.
The concept porneía (πορνεία)
Research shows very clearly that various forms of sexual immorality were performed in the era in which the books of the New Testament were written. This includes adultery, homosexuality, paedophilia, pederasty, cross-dressing, polygamy, fornication, prostitution, cult-prostitution, abortion and masturbation.2 Sexually speaking it was the world which the first century Christians knew and lived in. Some of the members of the church in Corinth, for example, were Jews and they knew the Torah. Most of the members, however, were non-Jewish converts and they, on the other hand, knew the cult religions. The letters to the Corinthian church presumed knowledge of these divers origins (1Cor.5:1; 6:11; 7:18) for entire congregation. There was thus no pure Christian sexual morality.
Paul provided the Corinthians and Romans with answers to their questions that occurred due to the confrontation with the customs and cultures of their time. A new ethos and ethics were established in the context of their world. The cooking pot was the congregation and the catalyst was the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which was proclaimed by Paul in the city of Corinth. Based on the gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul reinterprets the ruling standard of sexuality (Jewish and non-Jewish) for the congregation. The key to the question on how the readers probably understood the idea of sexual immorality is concealed in the words, and especially the idiomatic phrases used by Paul.
Paul does not discuss sexuality as such, but abnormal sexual acts and desires (Rom.1:26-27; 1Cor.7:1-
2) which, according to him, are always potentially dangerous. Porneia for Paul always had the meaning of defilement. Premarital intercourse with someone outside of the church is defilement of the temple of God (1Cor.6:19). Within the church it would have been a case of deceiving your brother (1Thes.4:6).
Hence the advice that sexual desire should be under control at all
times. In the light of 1Cor.5:1; 6:13, 18, it can be assumed that Paul was
concerned about the integrity of the body of believers and the body (church) of
Christ. All the issues which were raised, the
man sleeping with his stepmother, men who frequent prostitutes and fornication,
are included under porneia. Sexuality
implicates the whole person and not only the sex organs. Paul stresses that
sexual intercourse results in the man and woman uniting so that they become
part of each other, their bodies become one
Paul’s uses of the phrase to burn with desire (πυροῦσθαι – pyrousthai)3 must be understood in similar vein. The first hearers/listeners most probably would have understood it to mean sexual passion or sexual lust. In brief, it refers to a passion and desire in sexual context. There is sufficient evidence from the classical Greek to place pyrousthai, sexual desires, passion or lust, all on equal footing.4 This contrasts use (χρησις – chrésis) in Rom.1:26-27.
The pericope 1Cor.6:12-20 shows clearly Paul’s viewpoint that the body is not meant for sexual immorality. It must be seen in the light of the total rejection of porneia in the New Testament. As such the following in the New Testament are judged to be sin: sexual intercourse outside marriage (Jn.18:41), sodomy and homosexual relationships (Jude 7; Rom.1:24-27) and prostitution (1Cor.6:12-7:40). When Paul, therefore, speaks of porneia as the counterpart of virgin (παρθένος – parthénos), the first hearers would have understood it in terms of sexual immorality in general – which brings about impurity and defilement. Sexual relationships outside of marriage were, in Paul’s understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, not at all acceptable. Several times Paul uses the question: Do you not know? This question, time and again, implies that the Corinthians indeed knew and had the knowledge concerning the issue being discussed. It is a reproachful question, which places the responsibility for an answer on the congregation and makes in unnecessary for Paul to answer it. Nevertheless, he answers the congregation and teaches them concerning several issues.
In 1Cor.7:1 Paul uses an idiom, a Corinthian proverb: it is good for a man not to touch a woman (καλόν ἀνθρώπῳ γυναικός µῃ ἄπτεσθαι – kalón anthrópó gynaikós mê aptesthai). How would the first hearers have understood it? It is not completely certain. Some commentators understand it to mean: it is not good for a man to marry a woman. Others understand it to mean: it is good for a man not to have sexual intercourse with a woman. Paul uses aptesthai (ἄπτεσθαι) and not aptein (ἄπτειν). The word in both instances means to touch. Here, however, a proverb is under discussion in combination with the word gynaikós (γυναικός – woman) and this determines the meaning. The proverb gynaikós mê aptesthai (γυναικός µῃ ἄπτεσθαι) means: it is not good to have sexual intercourse. The medium ‘aptesthai’ is therefore used here with a sexual meaning.5 It seems to be a Corinthian proverb, and Paul used it very specifically within the context of his argument.6
One could ask now: How did the first hearers understand porneia in the light of 1Cor.6:12-7:40? All sins classified under this concept would be sexual immorality. Included within the sphere of sexuality, immorality is among other things homosexuality, bestiality, pornography, paedophilia, polygamy, fornication, any sexual indulgence, masturbation, cult-prostitution and physical contact between unmarried people. Porneia can occur in or outside the marital affinity (Gal.5; Col.3; Rom.1:12). Sexual immorality is emphatically condemned.
It is understood that sexuality’s place is within marriage. Sexuality is expressed between two people who are married (1Cor.7:2). No sexual contact before marriage is anticipated because marriage is a Godly institution where the Godly gift of sexuality is expressed. Marriage is, among other things, given as a protection against porneia. Therefore, sexual purity before marriage is a life free from porneia and also a life free from situations that could cause pyroûsthai (to burn with sexual passion) – which could lead to porneia.
The word porneia in the
context of 1Cor.6:13 points to a sexual urge which competes with the Lord Jesus
Christ for the possession of man’s body.7 To give in to this sexual
urge is to give in to harlotry. The gift of self-control is needed to live a
life free from porneia. People who
had not received it and who could not remain celibate should get married.
Sexual immorality is not lightly regarded in the Old Testament. Laws and rituals were in place and rigorously applied to give some uniformity of conduct between the sexes.8 Westermack9 showed without doubt that in all communities some or other restriction governed sexuality. Such restrictions regulated for example the age and qualification before a person could marry, the spectrum for the selection of a spouse and the sexual conduct of engaged and married persons. In the Old Testament sex is seen as a gift from God (Gen.1:27, 31). So important was the man’s sexual power that castration was regarded with aversion (Dt.23:1). Homosexuality and bestiality were condemned in strong language.10 These practices were judged as the misuse of a gift,11 which in its proper usage had a sacral function.12
For the Jew in the Diaspora, it was not primarily about the creed of a specific religious conviction, but to be part of a certain nation. Yahweh chose their nation, and their religion gave them a comprehensive and unique identity. Because belonging to a family, tribe, nation or city formed the whole identity, there was no possibility of belonging to another religion. The whole of their human existence in a foreign country was determined by religious traditions accumulated over centuries. The basic significant aspect of this religious tradition, the essence of being a Jew, was their intense focus on purity.13 This fundamental focus on purity caused Israel, even in the Diaspora, to be separated from other nations.14
To understand the concept of sexual immorality (impurity) within the context of Judaism, one should note the description by the cultural anthropologist Mary Douglas.15 She says impurity is essentially a substantive disorderliness. Impurity is substance (dirt) out of place with what is normal. In the application of this definition, it can be said that impurity is substance out of place within human relationships. Douglas uses the word substance to express the same meaning with which Countryman struggled many years after her.
Countryman sees this substance (dirt) as impurity, because homosexual theology reasons in terms of a religious framework and not on grounds of anthropology. In Judaism there existed a dualistic sexual ethic. One part thereof was an ethic of the right of possession. The inherent sin in this regard was covetousness. The second was an ethic of purity. The inherent sin here was impurity, spiritual dirtiness.16 Countryman sees and understands sexual ethics in the Bible in terms of this division. Early Christianity also inherited this ethic from Judaism and reinterpreted it in the light of the Scriptures.
The surrounding non-believing world of the first century church was predominantly described as being filled with sexual immorality, including homosexuality, which in many instances had a religious flavour.17 Phocylides wrote during the first century and warned his readers against quite a number of sexual atrocities which deprive one of sexual purity, namely adultery, prostitution, incest, homosexuality, abortion and castration of juveniles. The New Testament displays a harsh reaction to not only the sexual impurity18 of the Hellenistic world, but also to the Manichean’s opinion that a woman is innately corrupt.
Sexual permissiveness, porneia in all its manifestations which was so prevalent in the Graeco-Roman era, is briefly though decisively, rejected in the New Testament. Sexuality is seen as God-given and good when used in agreement with God’s will. Consequently marriage is seen as the intended restriction of space in which sexuality may be practiced. It is the improper use of sex that is disapproved of.19 Therefore, sexual abuse (1Cor.5) is strongly rejected in no uncertain terms.
The New Testament does not provide much direct
information on sexual immorality. It is, however, very clear that it condemns
it. The pious Jews were shocked at the sexual immorality amongst the
non-Jewish people. One of the conditions for a non-Jewish convert to be allowed into the congregation was that he had to abstain from porneia (Acts 15:23-29). It is thus clear that the early Christians rejected abnormal sexual behaviour, which included all sexual intercourse outside of marriage.
Thus, wherever homosexual intercourse is mentioned in the Bible, it is condemned. Paul is adamant that the body is not meant for sexual immorality (1Cor.6:13). Porneia (sexual immorality) is rejected in no uncertain terms as a sin against the self as well as sin against the Lord. Porneia robs the Lord of that which belongs to Him (1Cor.6:15) and is in essence anti-Christian. Porneia is the enemy that aims to destroy marriage. Therefore, Paul gives the advice to flee from porneia as one would flee from a mighty enemy in a war situation (1Cor.6:18). Porneia replaces the focus on eternity with a focus on the temporal (1Cor.6:19).
1Cor.6:12-20 is the prelude to 1Cor.7. After Paul has defined the essence of porneía (1Cor.6:12-20), he writes (1Cor.7:1): it is good for a man not to touch a woman (καλóν ἀνθρώπῳ γυναικóς µη ἄπτεσθαι – kalón anthropo gynaikós mê aptesthai) Touch is used here with sexual intention. In 1Cor.7:9 Paul formulates a principle regarding sexual purity. Not only is porneía rejected in totality, but also all situations that could give rise to sexual desire must be avoided.
Where it becomes impossible to avoid sexual desire, the couple must marry so that (πυροῦστθαι – pyroústhai) can be quenched within marriage between husband and wife. This portion (1Cor.6:12-20) defines porneía in terms of its essence. Paul’s whole argument is meant to define porneía as a rejectable sin, which has eternal consequences. Porneía undermines God’s intention for humans with regard to sexual purity. The person who practices porneía ignores and denies that God’s purpose with regard to sexuality is localised. It is meant to be realised within the constraints of marriage.20
Paul shows clearly that sexual contact outside of wedlock is sin and needs to be classified as porneía. It is regarded as sin against the physical body, the temple of the Lord. This correlates with you are not your own (1Cor.6:19), therefore glorify God in your body (1Cor.6:20) and the body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body (1Cor.6:13). There can thus be no uncertainty regarding the intention of Paul. Sexual contact outside marriage is porneía and is to be rejected.
Componential analysis of πορνεία
The componential analysis positions porneía (πορνεία) within the general context of sexual misbehaviour. It will also clearly show the relationships between arsenokoítês (ἀρσενοκοíτης – active homosexual) and malakós (µαλακóς – passive homosexual). This mutuality presupposes interdependence for understanding Paul’s attitude towards homosexuality.
The New King James Version (1993) translates porneía with sexual immorality. The New International Version (Life Application Bible, 1997) also translates with sexual immorality, as does the Amplified Bible (1987). Louw & Nida give as possible English equivalents sexual immorality, fornication and prostitution. Fornication is defined by the Collins Dictionary as voluntary sexual intercourse out of marriage. Prostitution is defined as rendering or presenting oneself to engage in sexual intercourse for money. Sexual immorality is described as immoral behaviour in especially sexual matters, licentiousness, profligacy, promiscuity or sexual confusion.
Sexual immorality is part of a word group that includes: porneía (πορνεία – the act of sexual immorality, active
prostitution), pórnos (πόρνος –
immoral person, adulterer), pornê (πόρνη
– prostitute) and porneía (πορνεία – sexual immorality, licentiousness). This word group describes
illegitimate, out of wedlock or extramarital sexual conduct inasmuch as it deviates from acceptable social and religious norms. The following judgement of Demosthenes is significant for the understanding of porneía: The hetaerae (prostitutes) we have for our pleasure, the concubines for the daily care of our bodies and our wives so that we can have legitimate children and a true guardian of the house.21 On the one hand these circumstances then led to an extended and widely ramified system of prostitution. On the other hand these circumstances encouraged the married Athenian women of ca. 450BC to have sexual relations with the slaves and to indulge in lesbian (homosexual) love.
The word group pornê (πόρνη – prostitute) is used fifty five times in the New Testament. Porneía as such is used twenty five times. Paul uses the word twenty one times, especially in the Corinthian letters (fifteen times). Within Pauline literature the word group pórnê represents any form of extramarital sexual intercourse. The information in Louw & Nida Lexicon leads to the conclusion that the word porneía, found in 1Cor.6:13 is used in the New Testament in only one semantic domain, which is domain 88. Louw & Nida categorises semantic domain 88 as moral and ethical qualities and related behaviour. Domain 88 is thematically divided into two sections: firstly the positive moral and ethical qualities (88.1-88.104) and secondly negative moral and ethical qualities (88.105-88.318). The sub-domain sexual behaviour is distinguished from sub-domains impurity (88.256-88.261), Licentiousness and Perversion (88.262-88.270). These three sub-domains reflect sexuality.
From the viewpoint of the New Testament, adultery was normally judged with reference to the married status of the woman involved in any such act. Sexual intercourse of a married man with an unmarried woman would be regarded as porneía (sexual immorality, fornication), but sexual intercourse of either a married or unmarried man with someone else’s wife was regarded as adultery, both on the part of the man as well as the woman.22
Porneía (sexual immorality) is rejected in the Bible (Gal.5:19; Col.3:5) Porneía is all extra-marital sex. It is also clear that pre-marital sex is to be regarded as porneía (1Cor.7:1). This does not only refer to the sexual deed, but includes all actions which would give rise to sexual desire or passion (πυροúσθαι). Sexual purity implies not only the avoidance of physical contact, but also the avoidance of porneía in one’s thoughts (Mt.5:28). There is a total incompatibility between porneía and the Kingdom of God (1Cor.6:9; Eph.5:5).
It would seem therefore, that God’s revelation through Paul
regarding sexual immorality is quite clear. All sexual relationships outside of
marriage are porneía. Therefore, all
sexual relationships outside of marriage are wrong and in terms of biblical
evaluation thereof, it is sin. In the chapters following, I will endeavour to
show that homosexuality in Paul’s understanding belonged clearly within the
concept of sexual immorality. That is, a deviation from sexuality as intended
SEXUAL PURITY IN THE FIRST CENTURY AD
The meaning and purpose of sexual purity in the First Century society has been interpreted in this chapter for the communities in the city of Corinth, namely the Jewish community, the Greek-Roman community and the first century Christian community in general. It has been done according to the socio-historical research method because the purpose of the socio-historical study is to establish what the first readers’ apparent understanding was of the concept of sexual purity. A contrast of the ethical codes of the three communities in the first century AD brings informative results to the surface and these results may be regarded to be the general situation for similar situations in other cities of non- Jewish character.
Corinth, so it seems, had a relatively large church (Acts 18:8, 10) free from any immediate danger of persecution.1 The congregation consisted of Jews, but the greater majority were non-Jewish converts. Non-Jewish customs (1Cor.6:15), non-Jewish clubs (1Cor.8, 10) and meals with non-Jews (1Cor.10:27) were aspects that influenced Christians. The social structure of the Christians covered a broad spectrum. Even though the majority was not of noble descent or highly literate (1Cor.1:26), there are signs of intelligence.2 It seems as if the Christians busied themselves with superficial rhetoric (1Cor.1:20), compared their ministers with one another (1Cor.3:4) were haughty (arrogant, 1Cor.4:10) and conditioned Paul’s teachings to make them more acceptable (1Cor. 15:12). Out of the above, it seems as if the Corinthian Christians behaved like the world from which they had come and this caused tension in the congregation. It is, therefore, important to take note of the categories from which the believers had come, in order to form a single Christian group.
Since 27BC, Corinth was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia. During the time of establishment of the New Testament, Corinth was a modern, commercial city. As a trade centre it was sought after, because the city was strategically positioned on an isthmus. Commodities were transported across the isthmus on paved roads (diolkos) from the two Corinthian harbours Lechaeum and Cenchrea.
In addition to the Greek-Roman inhabitants, there was a large Jewish contingent in the city. Aristotle, Strabo, Pausanias, Horatius, Apuleius and other classical authors, as well as recent excavations sketch a clear picture of the city-life in Corinth. The city had a large market place, temples, theatres and baths. The arable land surrounding the city of Corinth was very fertile. This, together with its commercial (trade) importance, made the pre-Roman Corinth a very wealthy and prosperous city. It is also possible that temple prostitutes served in the well-known temple of the city, the Temple of Aphrodite.3 Temple prostitutes were prevalent in the worship of the Phoenician equivalent of Aphrodite, namely Astarte, but uncommon in the other places in Greece. As a result of this, Corinth had a reputation of being an immoral city. In this immoral city were different groups of people who maintained their own identity.
The Jewish community in Corinth
The ethnic construction of Corinth included a significant group of Jews. Du Toit is of the opinion that the population was extremely cosmopolitan and that the original Greek inhabitants were no longer the dominant group. Acts 18:4 suggests that there could have been a notable Jewish community.4
The status of the Jews in the city of Corinth was dubious. This was,
strictly speaking, true of any foreigner living in a polis (town) but even more so in the case of the Jews. This was on
the grounds of their consistency of religion, customs and symbols. This gave
them their own unique identity. Circumcision, avoidance of work and business on
a recognized Sabbath day each week, refusing to
eat pork, their absence at every public ritual or feast that had to do with sacrifices made to or recognition given to any other god other than Yahweh, all caused the Jews to constantly see themselves as a nation separated from other nations. What was true about the Jews in the Diaspora in general, was also true about the Jews in Corinth.
A dualistic sexual ethic existed in Judaism. One part thereof was an ethic of the right of possession. The inherent sin in this regard was covetousness. The second was an ethic of purity. The inherent sin here was impurity, spiritual dirtiness. Early Christianity also inherited this ethic from Judaism and reinterpreted it in the light of the Scriptures.5
During the beginning of the first century, the Jews regarded their traditions with high priority.6 On the basis of their traditions they lived separated lives from other ethnic groups. Most of the ethnic groups Hellenised to such an extent that their gods were integrated with those from the Graeco-Roman society, that they accepted the Greek language as their dominant language and that customs of the Greek Roman culture were adopted. Although the Jews also adopted much of the Hellenistic culture, they kept their distance in the case of religion. It was of unequalled standard in comparison with other ethnic groups during that time.
For the Jew in the Diaspora it was not primarily about the creed orientation of a specific religious conviction, but to be part of a certain nation. Yahweh chose this nation and their religion gave them a comprehensive and unique identity. Because belonging to a family, tribe, nation or city formed the whole identity, there was no possibility of belonging to another religion. The whole of their human existence in a foreign country was determined by religious traditions accumulated over centuries. The basic significant aspect of this religious tradition, the essence of being a Jew, was their intense focus on purity. This fundamental focus on purity caused Israel, even in the Diaspora, to be separated from other nations.7
The roots of the purity regulations of the first century Jews go far back in history. They are contained in the Torah. The Torah was constantly read and applied in the community. The two most fundamental compilations of purity regulations are found in Leviticus (chapters 11-16 and 17-26). The first compilation is mainly concerned with the aspects of impurity, and coupled with the purification regulations. The second, also called the law of holiness, does not as such include the individual as much as it does the whole tribe.
The tribe as a whole is called upon to cleanse themselves by removing the transgressor from their midst. According to Douglas’ interpretation, purity for the author(s) of Leviticus meant comprehensive Gestalt, a wholeness and completeness. It is a substantial unity. The wholeness is not only wholeness in God, but also wholeness in God’s creation. It is evident from the arguments of Countryman and Douglas that the purification system implicitly bears the view of what a perfect man and woman shall be like. If the practice does not correspond with the general expected ideal, it is impure. Substance or dirt is something abnormal, and must be dealt with.
Inside the framework of sexual purity, imperfection or impurity is
defined in terms of menstruation, childbirth, sex with family members,
adultery, divorce, homosexuality, the wearing of men’s clothing by women and
women’s clothing worn by men. These items are all substance or dirt out of
step with what is regarded as normal. Deuteronomy prohibits Israel to allow
children, male or female, to be cult prostitutes (Dt.23:18-19). The Torah has
no explicit prohibition on masturbation. Even the death of Onan (Gn.38:1-10)
was as a result of disobedience and cannot be interpreted in terms of
Within the Jewish purity system, adultery is defined as a man who has intercourse with a married or engaged woman. The man who commits adultery does not harm his own marriage, but the marriage of the woman and her husband. The purity law condemns adultery as impure and both the man and woman must die. Here Countryman makes a meaningful remark when he says that in Israel the ideal woman was the one who was a virgin when getting married and who remains faithful to one man.8 Countryman speculates that the underlying reasoning is perhaps the expectation that the perfect woman (including the betrothed) would only receive her husband’s semen. Receiving the semen of another man makes her impure in her relationship with her husband. This purity code was the basis of the purity system, which was applied amongst the Jews during the time of the beginning of Christianity.
Within first century Judaism, likeminded religious Jews grouped together. The way in which they practised their national religion, their unique customs and other socio-cultural factors, distinguished various groups of importance during this period, namely: the Sadducees, Essenes, Pharisees and the fourth group known as the Fourth Philosophy.9 The opinions on sexual purity of these groups are briefly mentioned below. It is important to note their respective viewpoints, since these groups were representative of the Jewish society of the time.
Little is known of the Sadducees, but it is accepted that their attitude towards sexual purity was close to that of the Torah.10 There was one law for the whole of Israel, namely the Torah. The Sadducees were priests and therefore this law would apply to them in particular. A higher standard was expected of them.
The Essenes’ writings dealt with purity consistently and it was of central importance everywhere. The purity system as contained in the Torah was fully mandatory to the community of Qumran, but as interpreted by the Essenes. The Damascus scroll reaffirms the Torah’s rules on incest. This rule prohibits immorality (which included polygamy). The Damascus scroll, however, goes beyond the Torah. A man was prohibited from having sexual intercourse with a woman before the age of twenty years. All sexual intercourse was prohibited within the boundaries of the City of Holiness. The same rule appears extensively in the Temple scroll, in which this city was identified as Jerusalem. However, the Damascus scroll identified this city as Qumran.11 The Essene group committed themselves to a much higher standard of purity, even beyond what is prescribed in the Torah.
The information regarding the third group, namely the Pharisees, is based on three sets of writings: The Old Testament, the work of the first century Jewish historian Josephus and the Mishna. The purity law of the Torah was in force. Purity and impurity was a simple discernable fact: play with mud and you will get dirty. In reality, their viewpoint on sexual purity was close to the viewpoint held by the Essenes. The Pharisees however, did not isolate themselves in their own colonies as did the Essenes, but they deliberately isolated themselves from the Jews amongst whom they lived.
Josephus12 mentions a group called the Fourth Philosophy. It includes the Zealots and other rebellious groupings. Here it can be accepted that their nationalism was the motivation for their existence, but their religious beliefs did not differ much from that of the Pharisees.13
It is clear from the above that the lives of the Jews in Palestine
and in the Diaspora rested upon a common foundation – the Torah. For the Jews
in the Diaspora, purity and especially sexual purity, functioned as a means to
distinguish them from other nations.
The Graeco-Roman community in Corinth
The moral status of Corinth was the logical result of the city’s religious and social history. The cult of Astarte, the goddess of fertility, was practiced in the temple on the Acropolis. A thousand prostitutes served in the temple. The riches of the new Corinth,14 the metropolitan community and the unrestrained immorality caused the city to be a favourite resort for pleasure seekers. The city had a liberal atmosphere and the constant commercial influx caused an increase of wealth. The population of the city was large and the inhabitants lived financially above average. Some of the Christians in Corinth were also financially independent (2Cor.8:14).
According to Stambaugh & Balch the population of the Graeco-Roman world can be divided into two main groups,15 namely those with influence and those without influence, the so called high-minded and the humble, those who ruled and those who were ruled, those who owned property and those who did not. This division was made in terms of power, influence and money.
In the first century Graeco-Roman world, the patriarchal system was practised. The marriage ceremony, which was concluded in the presence of witnesses, placed the woman and her belongings under the authority of her husband. As head of the house, the husband had to see to it that his children and other dependants learnt everything that was necessary to live in the polis. The husband as head of the house was also responsible for the education of his wife, whom he typically would have married at an age between 12 and 15 years. The purpose of the education was to teach her to manage her household. Within the Graeco-Roman culture it was expected of the women (mothers, married women and daughters) to maintain a modest and discreet lifestyle.
Marriages were often arranged to suit the needs of the family. The custom of giving young girls, normally at approximately the age of 12, to a man in marriage, forced them to live discreet lives. This discreet lifestyle included the wearing of a veil outside the house or when male visitors came. It was also expected of a girl who was engaged not to have contact with men. She mainly stayed in and around the house.
At the beginning of the Christian era, the engagement was arranged by the two fathers of the families. As already indicated, it was done when both the children were still very young. The engagement was a contract without force of law. From the East, the West adopted a custom regarding the engagement, namely the arrha. It consisted of a promise (arrha), which in many cases took the form of an engagement ring. According to Carson the ritual focus of the marriage ceremony was aimed at the protection of the female’s sexual purity.16
During the marriage ceremony, the veil was lifted and the bride
looked at the bridegroom. The unveiling was the highlight of the ceremony and
the bride was regarded as married after the veil was lifted. Hereafter the
bridegroom presented gifts to the bride. These gifts were called ta diaperthenia (τά διαπαρθενία – the
unveiling gifts), because they were presented in exchange for the bride’s
virginity.17 The moment the bride lifted the veil and the bridegroom
saw her face, she was no longer a parthenós
(παρθενός – virgin). She had been touched.
Sissa discusses the meaning of the word parthenós
(παρθενός – virgin) and suggests that parthenós
must not only be defined as virgin,
but may also have the meaning young
unmarried woman.18 Phocylides, quoted by Countryman,19
wrote during the first century and warned his readers against quite a number of
sexual atrocities which deprives one of sexual purity, namely adultery,
prostitution, incest, homosexuality, abortion and castration of juveniles. Over
and above the fact that it causes impurity, it deprives the parthenós of her/his virginity.
The Christian community in Corinth
Facets of the early history of the church in Corinth are broadly recorded in Acts 18. In approximately 50 AD Paul visited Corinth. He stayed with a Jewish couple, Aquilla and Priscilla. Paul’s stay in Corinth lasted for approximately 18 months (Acts 18:11). Other teachers continued with Paul’s initial ministry. There were followers of Peter (1Cor.1:12), Appolos went from Ephesus to Corinth. There were false prophets (2Cor.11), and 1Cor.4:15 implies that there was no shortage of teachers.
Malherbe points out that the attempts to establish the social level of early Christians, depends mainly on Paul’s account of the converts in Corinth (1Cor.1:26).20 Wuelner, however, is sure that, based on 1Cor.1:26-28, the Christians in Corinth were mainly from the affluent middle class and that a reasonable percentage represented the upper class. The farmers and slaves were as a rule mostly untouched by the message of Christ. Early Christianity was an urban phenomenon.21 Du Toit convincingly argues that the brief reports in Scripture makes it difficult to construct the social level of the congregation in Corinth. Yet it is not in essence contradictory to the observations from the other social sciences.22
The surrounding non-believing world of the first century church in Corinth was predominantly described as being filled with sexual immorality, including homosexuality which, in many instances, had a religious flavour.23 The New Testament displays a harsh reaction to, not only the sexual impurity24 of the Hellenistic world, but also to the Manicheans’ opinion that a woman is innately corrupt.25
Sexual immorality (porneía – πορνεία), in all its manifestations, so prevalent in the Graeco-Roman ear, is briefly though decisively rejected in the New Testament. Sexuality is seen as God-given and good when used in agreement with God’s will. Consequently, marriage is seen as the intended restriction or space in which sexuality may be practiced. It is the improper use of sex that is disapproved of. Therefore, sexual abuse (1Cor.5) is strongly rejected in no uncertain terms.
There were some Christians who used the Corinthian idiom: it is good for man not to touch a woman to teach that sexual intercourse was to be avoided at all costs.26 They presented sexual abstinence as the ideal for all believers. Paul rejected this view (1Cor.7:1). Paul did not agree with the extreme views of some Corinthians. On the one hand, there were those who saw sexuality as wicked and sinful and, on the other hand, those who saw it only morally and just shrugged their shoulders.27 Paul brought a balance in the practice of sexuality. He gave advice to the congregation on dealing with sexuality within the framework of God’s will for the unmarried, the married and the widowed. Sexuality is a gift from God and it must not be abused.
The probable understanding of sexual purity by the readers of Corinthians
The Jewish, Graeco-Roman and Christian communities lived together in the well-known region of the city of Corinth. Each of these groups endorsed a code of conduct of sexual purity before marriage. Corinth was a Roman city. The moral status of Corinth was the logical result of the city’s religious and social history.28
Research shows very clearly that all forms of sexual immorality were
performed in the city. This includes homosexuality, paedophilia, polygamy,
fornication, prostitution, cult-prostitution, abortion and masturbation.29
Sexually speaking it was the world which the first century Christian knew and
in which they lived. Some of the members of the church in Corinth were Jews and
they knew the Torah.
Most of the members, however, were non-Jews converts and they, on the other hand, knew the cult religions. The letters to the Corinthian church presumed knowledge of these diverse origins (1Cor.5:1; 6:11; 7:18) for all in the congregation. There was thus no pure Christian sexual morality.
Paul provided the Corinthians with answers to the questions that occurred due to their confrontation with the customs and cultures of their time. A new ethos and ethics were established in the light of the world out of which they came. Based on the gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul reinterprets the ruling standard of sexuality (Jewish and non-Jewish) for the congregation. The key to the question on how the readers probably understood the idea of sexual purity is concealed in the words – and especially in the idiomatic phrases – used by Paul.
The word parthénos (παρθένος) is translated with the word virgin. The parthénos (παρθένος) was no unknown entity within the Jewish and non-Jewish cultures. The parthénos (παρθένος) had never had any sexual intercourse. Paul does not discuss sexuality as such, but sexual acts and desires (7:1-2) which, according to him, are always potentially dangerous. Hence the advice that the sexual desire should be under control at all times.
In the light of 1Cor.5:1; 6:13, 18 it can be assumed that Paul was concerned about the integrity of the body of believers and the body (church) of Christ. All the issues which were raised – a man sleeping with his stepmother, men who frequent prostitutes and fornication, are included under porneía. Sexuality implicates the whole person and not only the sex organs. Paul stresses that sexual intercourse results in the man and woman uniting so that they become part of each other, their bodies become one (6:6).
Paul’s use of paroûsthai (παρούσθαι) – to burn with desire) must be understood in a similar vein. The first listeners would most probably have understood paroûsthai as sexual passion or sexual lust. There is sufficient evidence from the classic Greek to place paroûsthai, sexual desires, passion or lust on an equal footing.
The pericope of 1Cor.6:12-20 shows Paul’s viewpoint clearly: that the body is not meant for sexual immorality. Sexual immorality must be seen in the light of the total rejection of porneía in the New Testament. As such the following are to be judged as sin: sexual intercourse outside marriage (Joh.18:41), sodomy and homosexual relationships (Jude 7; Rom.1:24-27) and prostitution (1Cor.6:12-7:40). When Paul, therefore, speaks of porneía in contradiction of parthenós, the first hearers would have understood it in terms of sexual immorality in general – which would have resulted in impurity and defilement. Sexual relationships outside of marriage were, in Paul’s understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, not at all acceptable.
Thus it seems that parthenós carries
the meaning of both virgin and young adult woman (Jungfrau). The
meaning of young adult woman could or
could not have been understood as virgin. The question, however, is how the
first hearers in Corinth would have understood it according to Paul’s use of
the word parthenós. The New Testament
uses parthenós in the general sense
of young adult woman (Acts 21:9) and
in the sense of sexual purity (Rev.14:4). There is, however, consensus that
Paul uses parthenós in terms of a
girl (daughter or Jungfrau) who is
sexually pure.30 The Corinthians probably understood it as such.
It is clear that the codes of conduct with regard to sexual purity for the three groupings in Corinth were basically the same. Virginity was essential, particularly for girls. The difference between these groups is to be found in the requirements for the preservation of virginity. The Jewish and Christian societies were inspired by their religion, while in the Graeco-Roman society virginity was just a cultural occurrence without religious motivation.
Therefore, the Jews and Christians stood against the influences of the Graeco-Roman culture. Compromise with the Graeco-Roman culture was indeed syncretism and not merely the accommodation of cultural traditions.=
A SOCIO-HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE ON SEXUAL PURITY IN THE FIRST CENTURY AD=
In the first century AD textual data, authors and subjects embrace and express cultural contexts and social phenomena that are not limited to one religious tradition or any one specific period of time. Interdisciplinary discussion is currently shaping research in biblical studies, religion, anthropology, cultural studies and other fields of study. This interdisciplinary discussion is important because Jewish and Graeco-Roman culture cannot be regarded as mere background for Christianity.1
Scroggs gives substance to the preceding when he writes: I want to convince the reader, in fact, that Graeco-Roman culture decisively influenced New Testament statements about homosexuality, and that this in turn, informs us about appropriate and inappropriate use of such statements in our present confrontation with homosexuality in the church.2 Meeks ponders on the question of historical understanding of textual data, but then settles for a bottom up approach. To understand the moral formation of the early Christian communities, we must understand their world. To understand their homosexual world we will, in this chapter, look at the various cultures/communities that existed side by side with Christian communities.3
This chapter will endeavour to identify the main trends in the Graeco-Roman, Judaic and early Christian cultures concerned. We need to come to an understanding of the prevailing codes regarding homosexual conduct. A social-historical overview of the prevailing code(s) on homosexuality within Judaism, Hellenism and early Christianity will identify the main trends. It is of importance for the evaluating of the impact of this culture, to visualise the periods and high points of these cultures on a chronological time line.4 Because this book is concerned with homosexual conduct, the focus will mainly be on researching and describing this form of sexuality.
Christianity originated from the bedrock formed by many cultures. One needs to orientate oneself with regard to these cultures and their chronological period of influence.
The main purpose of this section is to describe the practices of and attitudes towards homosexuality in the Graeco-Roman culture as a combination culture.
It could be added that the attitude towards the male-male relationship from the Dorian world of the seventh century to the predominant attitude to pederasty in archaic and classical times, in the period from 750-300BC, was on the whole very positive.5 Pederasty was cultivated by heterosexually normal men in ancient Greece where it did not presuppose an inversely homosexual type of personality. It was meant as a central factor in the upbringing of boys and youths. Homosexual relationships provided to a youth, for whom marriage lay some years ahead, the opportunity for the seduction of a partner on the same social level as himself.
The Athenian youth growing up in Plato’s time took homosexuality for granted and he was not taught that he was unnatural or effeminate. Men seem to have fallen in love not with effeminate-looking boys, but with boys of well-developed masculine physique, distinguished for their success in athletics.6 In pederasty, literally the love of boys, one partner, almost always the older, assumed the role of the active partner, and the other almost always the younger, that of the passive.
Many boys, youths and adult males voluntarily entered into a primarily romantic relationship in which the older partner expected to and did receive sexual gratification.7 However, the picture that the youth was always the passive eromenós and on the receiving end cannot be substantiated, and various authors attest to the fact that the roles varied.8
There are numerous passages from Greek authors, proving that boys and youths were to be had for money or presents or for both.9 Scroggs describes the so-called effeminate call-boy. He believes this practice to have had profound influence on the New Testament textual data concerned with homosexuality. This aspect of homosexuality was widely assessed in very negative terms and this category of homosexuality was simply referred to as pomoi, the call-boys, who were free (i.e. non- slave) youths or adults who sold themselves to individuals for purposes of providing sexual gratification.
When such youths decided that the practice was attractive and
remunerative enough, they could make their living in this way by being taken
into someone’s house as mistress.
They even perfumed their hair, removed body hair and wore feminine clothes.10
In 120AD Antinous, at twenty years of age, drowned in the Nile, and became
famous. He had been the eromenós (beloved)
of Hadrianus. Hadrianus had been one of the greatest emperors of Rome. This
exemplifies the fact that pederast relationships in late pre-Christian
Hellenism, and in the lives of the Greeks many centuries earlier, were not regarded
as an abnormality or a kind of weakness of the personality.11
In Greek antiquity there were strong repudiations of the idea of the love for boys. The seduction of boys was unreservedly repudiated.12 Women on the whole objected to everything that had to do with this love of boys. Safeguards were implemented to protect youths.13 The law prohibited any male prostitute from holding city offices or participating in official civic affairs.
As pure eroticism, homosexuality was a prominent and visual element in pre-Christian Hellenism. A vast network of homosexual prostitution existed. Homosexuality also formed part of the erotic many- sidedness of the emperors Caligula (37-41AD) and Nero (54-68AD). In the State religion of Rome, phallic worship did not occupy any important place. Roman life was marked by bisexuality, homosexuality, brutality and emotional caprice.14 Suetonius’ biographies of the twelve Caesars from Julius Caesar through to Domitian, is a catalogue of astounding psycho-sexual disease, from incest to transvestism.15 Homosexual behaviour in Rome spanned the total spectrum from occasional and casual indulgence through transvestism to permanent relationships. There was, however, none of the pedagogic rationalisation of the Greeks.
Female homosexuality existed, but is mentioned in extant literature rather less frequently than male homosexuality. The olisbos (artificial sexual instrument) was frequently mentioned in Latin literature, usually as used by women for masturbation, but sometimes for triadic intercourse. Seneca, Juvenal and Lucian mentioned lesbianism. Prostitution and homosexuality were common among the actors and mimes of Rome. Heterosexuals gathered at the baths, along with prostitutes of both sexes.
Of the twelve emperors mentioned, Paul’s life parallels those of the three most sexually immoral emperors (Tiberius, Caligula and Nero).
Pederasty as an erotic phenomenon, differed from the homosexual
practice of the Athenes of Socrates more than five hundred years earlier and
was now seen as a personal matter, respected by the society in which Plutarch
lived. Pederasty was no longer a means employed by the state in the education
of the young and controlled by its highest authorities. It was no longer
institutionalised, had no place in the cult and its symbols had ceased to be
generally presenting the nobles outcomes of society.
The common view that sexual orientation was not recognized in the ancient world is also problematic. Dr Thomas Hubbard, in his source book Homosexuality in Greece and Rome, page 2 writes:
Close examination of a range of ancient texts suggests, however, that some forms of sexual preferences were, in fact, considered a distinguishing characteristic of individuals. Many texts even see such preferences as inborn qualities and thus “essential” aspects of human identity: the earliest philosophical account of male sexual passivity, from the pre-Socratic philosopher Parmendes (10.5.134-35), traces it to a failure of male and female seed to blend properly at the moment of conception. Other medical writers consider effeminacy in men and masculinity in woman to be genetically determined (5.15). Aristotle (5.13) and his followers (5.16) believe that the desire to be penetrated anally arises from physiological deformity, either a congenital defect or something occurring through “abuse” as a child. Similarly, physiognomic writers (10.6-7) hold that effeminacy and sexual passivity be betrayed by visible physical traits, implying that the behavior stems from an organic etiology. Later astrological texts (10.38-41) consider all manner of sexual preference to be determined by the position of heavenly bodies at one’s birth. The Roman fabulist Phaedrus (9.5) and the Greek comic poet Aristophanes (as recorded on Plato, 5.7.189-93) both produce mythological accounts explaining the origin of different sexual orientations in the prehistory and creation of the human race. In the context of these theories, it should not surprise us to see the late Greek novelist Longus introduce a character as “a pederast by nature” (10.19.11).
Scroggs poses the question as to whether Paul16 can only be understood from within the confines of the Graeco-Roman debate, or whether Jewish attitudes also inform the New Testament judgements. In line with the socio-historical approach a study of Judaism contemporary to the early church, is necessary. Such a study has to cover both Rabbinic Palestine and Hellenistic Diaspora. These two Jewish trends held much in common due to the common heritage of the Torah. These two forms, however, interpreted the Torah in similar and divergent ways. The first observable difference between the two was the translation of the Torah into the local language. For the Palestinian Jew this meant Aramaic, called Targums. As far as it concerns the Hellenistic Jew, the Torah was translated into Greek, the Septuagint (LXX).
The second level of difference has to do with expression, i.e. the interpretation of the Torah. For Palestinian Judaism these traditions of interpretation are largely extant. They comprised a very large and complicated corpus of legal and theological traditions gathered together under the common denominator, rabbinic literature. Here the Laws of the Torah were defined, refined and expanded.
Hellenistic Judaism’s literary expressions are quite different. While Palestinian Judaism built up its traditions by the accumulation of individual judgements and sayings by a vast number of rabbis or scholars, the corpus for Hellenistic Judaism is limited to a few authors who wrote entire tracts of books.17
As the Old Testament is not the focus of this study, I will only highlight the conclusions regarding Bible portions pertaining to homosexuality in the Old Testament. This would enable us to trace the influence (if any) on Paul.
The phrase cult prostitute (Dt.23:17)
is regarded by some to refer to heterosexual acts while others see this
reference as male prostitutes who performed sexual services for males. Two
portions of Scripture in Leviticus deal with homosexuality in general. The
prohibition in Lev.18:22 is stated clearly and
without ambiguity. This textual data constitutes the only legal traditions about homosexuality in the Torah.18
There are two pieces of narrative in the Torah (Gen.19; Jdg.19) which refer to homosex. The keyword in these narratives is the word to know. The interpretation of the sexual connotation has been called into question but the arguments for a sexual interpretation are overwhelming.19
The Palestinian Targums translate the word in Leviticus with shamash, a word that frequently meant to have intercourse with. Scroggs shows adequately that, in their treatment of Dt.23:18, Neofiti translate the prohibition to refer to secular male as well as female prostitution. The rabbinic discussions also take the verse in Deuteronomy to refer to male homosexual activities. The Targums translate the narrative of Sodom and Gomorrah as found in the Torah.20 Male homosexuality is prohibited in the Torah. In the primary law code of this period, the Mishnah, male homosexuality is included among the crimes punishable by death. Aligning with the Graeco-Roman cultural context the rabbis made a distinction between active and passive partners, although acknowledging that the same man can be both. They also seemed to clearly identify the male prostitute with the passive role in a homosexual relationship.
The narratives of Sodom and Gomorrah as well as the Levite and his concubine are translated faithfully from the Hebrew. The common Greek word ginósko (γινώσκω – to know) is used and can (as is the case with its Hebrew counterpart) have the meaning to have sexual intercourse with. In the Gen.19:5 passage the translators chose sungínomai (συνγíνοµαι), which literally means to keep company with, both for homosexual as well as heterosexual acts. In the Hellenistic Jewish discussions on the above Bible portions, the two types of homosexuality addressed are pederasty and male prostitution.21 Neither Philo nor Josephus elaborates on the Levite and his concubine. In his reference to the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative Josephus interprets it as pederast rape.
With both Philo and Josephus, on the subject of homosexuality, there is a silence regarding such practices in the Jewish community. There is no clear evidence to the contrary. There was a great divide between the sexual purity of the Jews and the impurity of the rest of the world.
Hellenistic Judaism is closer to the New Testament churches than Palestinian Judaism. Hellenistic Jews seem to have been the authors of most of the New Testament material. Hellenistic Judaism is itself the result of two cultures combining – which presupposes a mixing of language and content. As stated above, the Hebrew Scripture was translated into Greek, called the Septuagint (LXX). Lev.18:22 and 20:13 are translated faithfully from the Hebrew.22 Dt.23:18 apparently not only prohibits prostitution but also any Israelite from participating in foreign cults.
Early Christian culture
In comparison with the large corpus of material about pederasty in Graeco-Roman culture, the New Testament has little to say. There are only three references23 to homosexuality in the New Testament. These Bible portions are found in passages addressed to churches located in the Graeco-Roman world where pederasty was especially rife and homosexual relationships of all kinds were practised. Paul speaks of the non-Christians, but actually it is a warning to the Christians in Rome and Corinth.
These words further indicate that not everything with them was kosher by the standards of the righteous
Jew. The congregations he addressed comprised not only Jews, but also Greeks
and non- Greeks and to them the piety of the religious Jewish attitude was
quite alien. Not only was ordinary immorality (porneía) to be fought against within the congregations, but extreme
also.24 Paul had to remind the congregations to live, keep and protect God’s standard for sexual purity in a world where traditionally homosexuality, and pederasty in particular, had been regarded as a matter of course, not morally condemned and even, in some circumstances, had been regarded with respect.
The Christians of the first century had to define their stand on issues of sexual immorality. It must be remembered that most of the issues pertaining to sexuality had been settled in the Old Testament and had been accepted as such by the New Testament authors. Schoedel regards the new concept of the family within the early Christian communities as perhaps the instigating factor for rejecting same-sex relations. The man could no longer express his authority by penetrating at will not only a wife, but also his male and female slaves or a young male favourite.25
Jesus did not overturn prohibitions against immoral sexual behaviour in Leviticus or anywhere else in the Mosaic Law. Being a first century Palestinian Jew from Nazareth it is highly unlikely that He would have secretly harboured acceptance of homosexuality. On the matters of sexual ethics, the family, divorce and adultery he did not adopt a liberal position at all, but seems to have been very conservative in his overall stance on these matters, demeaning more than the Torah proposed. In line with Jesus’ teachings, early Christianity would not accept mere outer conformity to rules of moral behaviour. Christianity marks the full transformation from a shame orientated culture to a guilt culture, in which prohibitions are fully internalized and man is ruled by conscience rather than by disapproval from others.26 The early church set herself against the libertine attitudes and practices of the Graeco-Roman world, at the same time also opposing the dualism and extreme asceticism which characterised Gnosticism. The Christian community grew out of Jewish soil, this heritage informing the theology of the early missionaries to the Gentiles.27
It is clear that Christian societies and their beliefs and practices did not arise in a vacuum. Love in Rome was lusty, exuberant and unclouded by the sense of sin, yet strangely blended with obscenity, depravity and hatred. Relationships were flagrantly unfaithful.28 But through Christianity a new ideal appears: virginity for both men and women, sexual purity in the face of sexual immorality, and loyalty in marriage to just one partner.
Reflecting on homosexuality in the first century AD, one can state that the New Testament church was not overly concerned with homosexuality as a problem. Female homosexuality gets even less attention than its male counterpart. Homosexuality is discussed as a male vice. Pederasty is seemingly said to exist only among Gentiles.
The attitude to homosexuality is overall uncompromisingly negative. Like the textual data in Lev.18 and 20, the judgement in Rom.1 is negative and in general the indictment is on both female as well as male homosexuality. The Jewish traditions, in their negative judgement on homosexuality, put forward three reasons: it is against nature; it denies pro-creation; and as it is a vice unique to pagans, homosexuality is related to idolatry. This is stated in stark contrast to the Graeco-Roman culture that was very positive in attitude and practice to male-male relationships, especially pederasty.
Not much is said about homosexual practices in the Jewish
traditions. Where it is addressed, it is prohibited in no uncertain terms. The
New Testament has only three direct references to homosexuality (Rom.1:26-27;
1Cor.6:9-10; 1Tim.1:9-10). It seems to be clear from these references that the
early church set herself against accommodating homosexual practices in her
In the next chapters the Bible portions and other associated
concepts in the New Testament will be scrutinised. The general attitude
forwards porneía (πορνεία – sexual immorality) forms the bedrock on
which homosexual practices are vilified. An understanding of porneía (πορνεία – sexual immorality) is most important to grasp Paul’s condemnation
of homosexuality. Sexual immorality will be studied in some detail in the next chapter.
THE OLD TESTAMENT TEXTS
There are more verses in the Old Testament on the theme of homosexuality than people think. The focus in the current debate usually rests on two sets of texts: first, the intended homosexual rape of the visitors to Sodom and Gomorrah in Gen.19:4-11 and, second, the legal proscriptions of the Holiness Code in Lev.18:22 and 20:13. To really get to grips with the Old Testament view on homosexuality we need to look at the rest of the textual data as well. This includes the creation narratives in Gen.1-3, the curse of Ham in Gen.9:20-27, the Levite’s concubine in Judg.19:22-25, the issue of homosexual cult prostitution and the relationship between David and Jonathan. Other references may be ignored as they would not have any noticeable influence in the debate.
The Old Testament originated against the backdrop of the ancient Near East. It might therefore be a worthwhile effort to examine the writings of the ancient Near East first before discussing the Old Testament texts pertaining to homosexual conduct. The results of the studies of texts from Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Hittite Empire and Canaan will be summarised in short.
The Ancient Near East
Some excellent studies and summaries are available which can be utilised to describe the incidence of, and attitude toward, homosexuality in the ancient Near East.1
It is not easy to assess Egyptian attitudes to homosex because very few texts are available to us and the evidence is somewhat conflicting. It does seem that the overall tone of the texts reflects negative connotations and feelings. The most significant text (1160BC) is the myth about the power struggle between two gods, Horus and Seth.2 Seth abuses Horus sexually by anal intercourse, while the latter is asleep. Seth’s objective is to show his overall superiority by forcing Horus into a position reserved for a defeated and raped enemy, thus making him unfit for the status of leader and king.
Seth, however, fails to some extent as Horus manages to get some of Seth’s ejaculation in his hand. Nevertheless, Seth reveals to the gods that he had played the male role with Horus, successfully ejaculating his semen between Horus’ buttocks while the latter was asleep. The gods then screamed aloud, and belched and spat on Horus’ face. This account indicates that shame is associated with being a receptive male partner. This fact is to be kept in mind as it seems to run like a thread throughout religious history. Homosexual desire on the part of Seth cannot be ruled out. Springett3 quotes a papyrus fragment which reads: The Majesty of Seth said to the Majesty of Horus: How beautiful are your buttocks!
The evaluation of available Egyptian texts reveals that four types of homosex were practiced:
First, as metaphor for fearlessness or power over another person or even a god. In a coffin text it is stated: [the god] Atum has no power over me, for I copulate between his buttocks.4
Second, in homosexual relationships. There is an account of Pharaoh Neferkare (Pepi II-ca. 2400 BC) who made secret nightly visits to an unmarried general, Sisene, for homosexual intercourse. A tomb for two manicurists and hairdressers of Pharaoh Niuserre (ca. 2600 BC) pictures them as holding hands, embracing, and touching noses.5
Third, homosexual incest is also
attested. Among the gods it is said that the earth god Geb’s phallus is between
the buttocks of his son and heir.6 Pharaoh Ikhnaton (1370 BC) is
intimate scenes with his son-in-law and probable co-regent, Smenkhare (nude and stroking under the chin of his son-in-law).7
Fourth, homosex with under-aged boys (pederasty). The Book of the Dead (ca. 1500 BC), in which the dead account their affairs during their earthly lives, contain two confessions in which a deceased proclaims in his defence: I have not defiled myself… I have not been perverted; I have not had sexual relations with a boy.8 in a Heracleopolitan text a man declares: I did not wish to love a youth. As for a respectable son who does it, his (own) father shall abandon him in court.9
Overall approval of at least some forms of homosex is clearly lacking in the texts. Both adult-insertive and youth-receptive homosexual acts are viewed as reprehensible. Aggressive penetration of another man was meant for an overpowered enemy or as proof of superiority. There may have been some tolerance towards homosexual relationships in earlier Egyptian dynasties. There is no evidence of homosexual cult prostitution.
The Hittite Empire
Ugaritic writings (ca. 2000 BC) contain only one text in which reference is made to homosex. Hittite law forbids sexual relationships between a father and his son.
Both the Levitical Holiness Code (Lev.18:1-5. 24-30; 20:22-26) and the Deuteronomistic History (1Ki.14:24) refers to homosex as one of many abominations for which God drove out the Canaanites and other nations before Israel. If, as discussed later in this chapter, the story of Ham (the father of Canaan) seeing his father’s nakedness refers to homosex, then the Yahwist was also of the opinion that homosex was a typical practice of the Canaanite nation.
Information may be gleaned from some literary works (epic stories) and law codes. Anal intercourse was part of the sexual repertoire. It is shown in figurative art from Uruk, Assur, Babylon and Susa as early as 3000 BC. Zimri-lin, king of Mari and Hammurabi, king of Babylon, both had male lovers. Zimri-lin’s queen refers to them in passing in a letter.10
Laws 19 and 20 (tablet A) from the Middle Assyrian Laws undoubtedly addresses homosex between two men:11
#18: If a man says to his comrade, either in a private or in a public quarrel: Everyone has sex (ittinikkû) with your wife, I can prove the charges, but he is unable to prove the charges and does not prove the charges, they shall strike him 40 blows with rods; he shall perform the king’s service one full month; they shall cut off (his hair? – igaddimus) and he shall pay one talent of lead.
#19: If a man furtively spreads rumours
about his comrade, saying: Everyone has
sex with him (ittinikkûs), or in
a quarrel in public says to him: Everyone
has sex with you (ittinikkûka), I can prove
the charges, but he is unable to prove the charges and does not prove the
charges, they shall strike him 50 blows with rods; he shall perform the king’s
service one full month; they shall cut off (his hair? – igaddimus) [also: they shall
castrate him] and he shall pay one talent of lead.
#20: If a man has sex with his comrade (tappasu inik) and they prove the charges against him and find him guilty, they shall have sex with him and they shall turn him into a eunuch (innikûs ana sa resen utarrûs).
Laws regarding sexual acts between men follow laws regarding adultery. Punishments are severe and unconditional. The laws apply the principle of talion (lex talionis), that is, analogous punishment (they shall) have sex with him] and to prevent the man from doing the same crime, he is castrated. Both punishments include disgracing the offender.
Both laws reiterate the fact that it was regarded as degrading and shameful for a man to be penetrated like a woman, regardless whether the passive partner was a forced or voluntary participant to the act. It is assumed in both laws that no self-respecting man12 would want to be penetrated by another man. It was a disgrace for one man to lie on top of another where they were of equal status. It was indeed regarded as a criminal act. This is so because the penetrating partner effects a change in the other partner’s role from active (male) to passive (female).13 There was something wrong, disgraceful and humiliating about any man being penetrated as if he were a woman.
Penetrating a male was reserved for a defeated enemy or someone of lower status who did not belong to the social circles of the penetrator (for example, a foreigner, a resident alien or non-resident alien, prisoner of war or a slave). The passive partner was subjected to the authority of the active (penetrating) partner. Sexual subjection involves surrender, loss of power and a change of gender. Raping a man was the ultimate act of disgrace. This is borne out by the Babylonian omen text which says: If a man copulates with his equal, from the rear, he becomes the leader among his peers and brothers.
Male cult prostitution, the role of the assinnu, kurgarrû, or kulusu, was institutionalised. They were treated with great disdain and said to have been created from the dirt under the god Enki’s nails. They were also labelled dogs.14 They dressed like women and it was believed that the goddess Ishtar had transformed such men into a man-woman or even a dog-woman, with dog denoting a disgusting transformation from male to female and possibly also intercourse in doglike fashion.15 Homosex with male cult prostitutes was a reality in ancient Mesopotamian society.16
Some scholars interpret the Gilgamesh Epic as depicting a homosexual relationship between Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, and Enkidu, the wild man created by the gods as a suitable partner for the oversexed Gilgamesh. Although homoeroticism is not the central theme in the Epic, the text suggests several erotic associations. Enkidu is portrayed in terms that liken him to a female prostitute by virtue of the subordinate sexual role he played after being defeated by Gilgamesh.17
The above demonstrate that homosex in all its manifestations was a known phenomenon in ancient times. The Old Testament paralleled most of the above empires and time periods. The Old Testament, therefore, did not originate in a vacuum and its authors would most certainly have taken note of the other surrounding cultures, their legal codes, myths, religious rituals and sexual mores. Moses, for instance, was brought up in the household of the pharaoh and would have known the Egyptian culture, values, religion, sexual taboos and history in fine detail. He is also the original author of the Pentateuch.
The Old Testament
The Old Testament texts that speak directly and indirectly on the issue of homoeroticism are enough to know what the Old Testament teaches and sufficiently widespread to put forward a consistent and pervasive viewpoint. The position of the Old Testament on homosex provides an important backdrop to the New Testament and all of what was settled on the issue of homosex in the Old Testament, was accepted as such in the New Testament. The Old Testament did not originate in a vacuum, and the Hebrew monotheistic faith clearly had to position and expresses itself within the religious framework of its time. The severity of the judgement on homosex in the Levitical Laws goes well beyond the judgement of any other religion of its time.
The creation stories: Genesis 1-3
The creation stories present indirect references to the issue of
homosexual practice. The stories do not speak of homosexual conduct or of
heterosexual conduct. We should, however, understand that they do provide us
with a general understanding of sexuality. This implies that we can deduce from
the creation stories that certain principles pertaining to human sexuality were
laid down as man and woman were being created. These principles hold true
within the broader context of God’s creational intention and purpose for
mankind even today.
We find two versions of creation in the Bible: that of the Priestly (P) and the Yahwist (J) writers. Gen1:1-2:2:4a is attributed to P and Gen.2:4b-3:24 to J.9 I will assume this suggestion as valid for the purposes of discussing the creation of humans as male and female. Both authors suggest a biblical norm, namely heterosexuality although this term is modern and in use only since modern times. P’s view of sexuality is linked to receiving and carrying out God’s commands in relation to ruling creation. Filling and populating the earth with humans is a divine precondition for ruling the earth. Procreation is a precondition for filling the earth.
- Then God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.
- So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
- And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.
For P the complementarities of gender differentiation are secured in the divinely sanctioned command of governing creation. It is quite clear that God’s intention for human sexuality, that is, complementarity as man and woman, is firmly embedded in creation. Male and female he created them has definite implications for human sexuality. It is also clear that verse 27 is stating a mere fact: man was created male and female.
Man, unlike God, is characterised by sexual differentiation. God created in his image a male ‘adam and a female ‘adam. Both share the image of God. This image is to be understood in the light of the one-ness of God. This emphasizes man as a unity whilst being biologically differentiated. The oneness of God is reflected in both the male ‘adam and a female ‘adam in their sexual otherness.
Sexuality is not an accident of nature, nor is it simply biological differentiation. Instead it is a deliberate, intentional and functional gift of God. While sexual identity and sexual function are foreign to God’s person, it is nevertheless displayed as a part of his will for his image bearers. Only man and woman in a sexual relationship, not a man with another man, or a woman with another woman, can portray God’s image and unity. Both the portrayal of God’s image in the sexual complementary otherness and the procreation purpose, avoid a detachment of sexuality from God’s male-female intend.
In Gen.2:4b-3:24, humanity is much in focus, more so as in Gen.1.
- And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept: and he took one of the man’s ribs (or side), and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
- And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made He a woman, and brought her to the man.
- And the man said: This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
- For this reason shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh (Gen.2:21-24).
In this, the Yahwist’s narrative of creation, God did not create
another ‘adam as an independent creation,
nor a replica of the first ‘adam, but
He made a complementary being from the ‘adam
because no suitable helper was to be found for him in the creation up to
that point in time. None of Israel’s neighbours had a tradition
of the creation of female.10 Note that it was not the woman herself
but simply the raw material that was taken from the ‘adam. The ‘adam does not emerge before the creative divine act on the dust is completed; in similar manner the woman does not emerge until a creative divine act is done on the raw material taken from the side of ‘adam.
Only a being thus created from ‘adam can and ought to become someone with whom ‘adam could reunite in sexual intercourse (…they will become one flesh; (Gen.2:21-24) and in marriage.11 A Man by himself is not one flesh. A woman by herself is not one flesh. Another man cannot be one flesh with another man. Only the man and the woman can become one flesh. Masculinity and femininity unite into an oneness, sexually and in marriage, and this creates wholeness. This is impossible where masculinity and masculinity or femininity and femininity unite as one flesh; the very coition or marriage is void of wholeness.
The same argument holds true for two women. The woman is not just like himself but from himself (… bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh (Gen.2:21-24) and thereby qualifies to be the only possible complementary fit to his original wholeness. In v.23 it is stated that she shall be called woman (ísha) because she was taken out of man (ísh). These two words, which are so much the same, emphasize their common identity and mutual dependence as man and woman.
The Yahwist does not focus on the procreation goal (childbearing) as does P, but rather on the relational goal as complementary beings (male and female). The man does not leave one family, his father and mother, to start another family. The very inclusive nature of the relationship (…a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife…), excludes relationships of people of the same sex.12 Male and female in their complementary otherness, witness God’s intent and design for human sexuality. God’s intent for human sexuality is imbedded in the material creation of gendered beings and the fullness or wholeness of God’s image comes together in the one flesh – the union of male and female in marriage. A composite being, created through sexual union of man and woman – two complementary beings – in marriage, displays God’s image. It will not do to argue that homosexual marriage will do the same. Homosexual relationships are not intended nor envisaged in the creation narratives. Male and female are perfect fits by divine intention, design and blessing. Male and male, or female and female, are not.
This is borne out by Romans 1:26-27, that the natural proclivity of man is not for other men, but for women.13 The natural function of which Paul speaks, is clearly that designed by God as described in the Genesis narratives and the unnatural function is man’s design, a perversion of the male-female norm laid down in Creation.
Noah & Ham: Gen.9:20-27
In Gen.9:20-27 the Yahwist tells the story of an incident between Noah and his sons, Ham, Shem and Japhet.
- And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.
- But Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it across their shoulders, and walked in backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.
- When Noah awoke from his wine, and found out what his younger son had done to him, he said: Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.
Was Canaan cursed just because his father Ham literally
saw his grandfather Noah’s nakedness (genitals)? The curse of their ancestor
Canaan was disastrous for the Canaanites. As Wold and
others18 would have it, there is much more to the story than just a literal seeing of Noah’s nakedness and a convincing case has been put forward for an interpretation as an instance of incestuous, homosexual rape. The whole of the debate on the issue will not be repeated here. It suffices to say that Ham was in his father’s tent, he went out to tell his brothers, Noah found out what his youngest son had done to him, and because of this Noah cursed Canaan.
The language of uncovering and seeing the nakedness of corresponds with similar phrases denoting sexual intercourse. In Leviticus the phrase is used to denote incest (Lev.18:6-18; 20:11, 17-21) and in Lev.20:17 the phrase is used more specifically to describe sibling incest. This interpretation is supported by the Egyptian myth of Horus and Seth and the Mesopotamian texts sited above. His attempt to emasculate, disgrace and show dominance over his father through homosexual rape fails and his son Canaan is cursed. The punishment (lex talionis) fits the crime. Ham trespasses with his seed (sperm), and so too the curse befalls his seed (son, descendants). Nissinen points out that the story does not speak of Ham’s homosexual orientation but of his hunger for power.19
According to Lev.18:24-30; 20:22-26, incest and homosex were the reasons why God decided to vomit out the Canaanites from their land. Their participation in these acts was an abomination to God. Gagnon summarises the situation as follows when he says: The Canaanites deserve to be dispossessed of the land and made slaves because they are, and always have been, avid practitioners of immoral activity. In the new post-diluvian (sic!) world, it was their ancestor who committed the most heinous act imaginable – not rape but incest; not just incestuous rape, but rape of one’s own father, to whom supreme honour and obedience is owed.20 In this story then, homosex was an important compounding factor that, among others, gave rise to the curse of Canaan.
Sodom and Gomorrah: Gen.19:4-11
Scholars today, especially the pro-homosex group, easily reject the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative as having nothing to say on the topic of homosexuality,21 the reason being that in the revisionist’s view, this narrative speaks only on inhospitality and rape. The passage, according to this interpretation, condemns rape and not relationships of mutual consent. However, as we saw with the story of Ham’s incestuous, homosexual rape of Noah, the inherently disgraceful and degrading character of homosex plays a definite part in the author’s intention to show it as a compounding factor in the whole incident.
We take up the story where all the men, young and old, surround the house of Lot after the visitors joined Lot’s family in his house. The men from Sodom called to Lot:
- Where are the men that came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them.
- And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him,
- And said, No, my friends, do not do this wicked thing.
- Look, I have two daughters who have not known (have never had sex with a) man; let me bring them out to you, and do what you like with them; only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the protection of my roof.
- And they said: Stand back. And they said again: This one fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play a judge: we’ll treat you worse than them. They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. (Gen.19:5-9).
There is no doubt that the Sodomites wanted to have sex with the
visitors. The revisionist view that they only wanted to know (yada’) to get
acquainted with the visitors, is not plausible at all.22 The
overwhelming support in the immediate context presupposes a sexual
interpretation for know (yada’).
It is used in a sexual sense only three verses later: Lot offers his daughters who have not known men (have not had sex with men) to the men of Sodom. The same verb is used in Judg.19:22-25, where the meaning again is unmistakably sexual. Very few scholars today, even among supporters of homoerotic behaviour, adopt a view of a non-sexual connotation for the verb to know (yada’).
It is a false distinction to separate inhospitality from sexual sin. The perversion of homosex appears to be an integral part of the story, along with the other factors mentioned as the story unfolds. Homosex is an active, aggressive form of inhospitality. This is why the name Sodom became a byword for inhumanity to visiting outsiders in later Jewish and Christian contexts, a word equated with homosex (to sodomise is to partake in homosex; to be a Sodomite is to indulge in homosex ), because inhospitality manifested itself as homosexual rape.
The Levite’s concubine: Judges 19:22-25
The story of the rape of the Levite’s concubine closely correlates the incident at Sodom and Gomorrah. After the old man invited the Levite and his concubine into his house, we read:
- Now as they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about, and beat at the door, and spoke to the master of the house, the old man, saying: Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him.
- And the man, the master of the house, went out unto them, and said unto them: Nay, my brethren, nay, I pray you, do not so wickedly; seeing that this man is come into mine house, do not this folly.
- Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you: but unto this man do not so vile a thing.
- But the men would not hearken to him: so the man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her, and abused her all the night until the morning: and when the day began to spring, they let her go. (Jdg.19:22-25).
There are a few things mentioned in this portion which are undisputedly vile in intention and action, namely the intended homosexual rape of the man, the rape of the woman and the inhospitality and utter wickedness of the men of Gibeah. The story clearly marks the theme of inhospitality as a compounding factor. This theme is, however, overshadowed by the sexual atrocities intended for the Levite and sexual rape of his concubine. These acts supersede the theme of inhospitality precisely because heterosexual rape and homosex are abominable violations of God’s standards for human sexual expression.
The aversion to and loathsomeness for male penetration (same-sex intercourse) must have been a significant factor in bringing the old man to the point of being prepared to give up his daughter and the Levite’s concubine to the mob. The threat of homosexual rape is a vivid symbol of a cultural, inhuman and uncivilised behaviour. As is the case with the Yahwist’s story of Sodom, the author here describes evil acts as they manifest themselves as homosex and heterosexual rape.
Homosexual cult prostitution in Deuteronomy 23:17-18
prostitution existed in the period of the divided monarchy in Israel. A number
of texts relate the existence of qedesîm
(holy/sanctified men, consecrated men, men dedicated to a deity (Dt.23:17-18;
1Ki.14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2Ki.23:7; Job.36:14). This word is mostly
translated to denote male temple
prostitutes engaged in homosexual prostitution. The command of God against
detestable practice clearly brings to the fore the despised, degrading and debilitating lifestyle that characterised the lives of the qedesîm. God does not beat about the bush in stating his sexual standard for Israel’s men and women when He says:
- No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute (qedes-male and qadesâ- female).
- You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute (kelebh – of a dog : כלב) into the house of the Lord your God to pay a vow, because the Lord your God detest them both.
All the other references display the same negative attitude of Deuteronomy towards male prostitutes. Job.36:14 relates that the qedesîm were thought to live such miserable lives and were rejected to such an extent that they could only find solace in their own kind. Their miserable existence led to an early death:
14 They die in their youth, among male prostitutes (qedesîm) of the shrines.
2Ki.23:7 reports that king Josiah tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes (qedesîm), which were in the temple of the Lord and where women did weaving for Asherah. This is a graphically honest point being made by the author. These reforms of Josiah were the direct result of his discovery of the book of the law/covenant in the temple in 622 BC – a book that most scholars identify with Dt.12-26. This would mean that Josiah’s action against the qedesîm at the temple was probably taken as a direct result of Dt.23:17-18.
The existence of homosexual cult prostitutes in Judah was a recurring problem, from the start of the reign of Rehobeam to the start of his great-grandson Jehoshaphat’s (922-843BC) reign and including the period that led to the Josianic Reform in 622 BC. This phenomenon in Judah reminds one of the assinu, kurgarrû or kulusu of Mesopotamia. The men-women (male cult prostitutes) devoted to Ishtar, who feminised their appearance and for a fee allowed themselves to be penetrated anally by other males. Given the existence of the assinu, kurgarrû or kulusu, there seems to be little reason to doubt the accuracy of the reports of qedesîm in Judah.
It is clear that the biblical authors were utterly disgusted by the phenomenon of male cult prostitutes in Israel. When the biblical authors rejected homosexual cult prostitutes, they were in fact rejecting the whole phenomenon of homosexual practice. Consensual homosexual practice would have received the same treatment because homosexual practice in whatever form was detestable to God.
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13
In Leviticus we do not find narratives (stories), but commands. These commands occur in the larger compilation of laws known as the Holiness Code (H). The Holiness Code proscribed to all of Israel, not just the priests, to keep the land and not just the sanctuary unpolluted through holy living, the eminent result of obedience to the commands. It stated:
Do not lie with a man as with a woman; that is detestable (Lev.18:22).
If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads (Lev.20:13).
Revisionists in general argue against the relevance of
the prohibitions of homosex in Lev.18 and 20 on the grounds that it rendered
the partakers unclean but not inherently evil, and because the Gospel
released believers from their part of the Jewish law. Lev.18 and 20 list the forbidden sexual partners for a man. These lists are given to guide men in sexual holiness. It is very relevant even today because only the command not to have sex with a menstruating woman is no longer adhered to. The fact that this proscription is no longer valid today, shows the disrespect men have for menstruating women and cannot be used to invalidate the rest of Lev.18 and 20. Lev.18:22 occurs in the larger context of general, forbidden sexual relations. These proscriptions forbid incest (18:6-18), adultery (18:20), child sacrifice (18:21) and beastiality (18:23).
These prohibitions continue to have universal validity in contemporary society. If one abrogates the proscription against homosex, why then keep the rest? On what basis is one proscription abrogated but the rest universally applied? The proscription of homosex is unqualified and absolute.
All forms of homosex, not just oppressive forms, are forbidden and neither party to the act is excused, whether active or passive in the sexual act. Not even the ages of the parties to the act are specified. One can only conclude that the act was regarded as especially loathsome, something detestable and utterly repugnant and, therefore, universally condemned in all its manifestations.
The word tô’ebâ (abomination, something detestable or revolting) is used to describe God’s feeling about homosex. Homosex violates God’s established boundaries set against the practices of defilement characteristic of the godless. Although all of these practices are collectively renounced as abominations (18:24-30), only homosex is singled out in particular as an abomination (tô’ebâ) in the list of specific commands. Also in Lev.20:13 the word is applied specifically only to sexual intercourse between males. In the whole of the Tetrateuch the word abomination (tô’ebâ) is only used in connection with homosex.
The relevance of the proscription of homosex for today is further established with the prohibition being carried over into the New Testament. The same God, who gave the Holiness Code, continues to regulate conduct through his Spirit in believers. A very substantial case must be made to abrogate a law and affirming conduct that was regarded with such revulsion and loathing.
The creation of the woman, Ham’s incestuous, homosexual rape of his father, Noah, and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah all fall within the Yahwist’s tradition. The Yahwist regarded homosex as an act that brought great shame on particularly the man being raped. Heterosexual intercourse is justified on the grounds that the woman was formed from the man. The man and the women are bodily and psychologically complementary to one another. Heterosexual intercourse creates one flesh – a reunion with the sexual other and brings man to his original oneness.
The positions of the Priestly writer (P) and the writer(s) of the
Holiness Code are also sufficiently clear. Same-sex relationships find no place
within the structures imbedded by God in creation. P’s stance on procreation
and the boldness to declare that God created male and female for sexual union,
precludes any acceptance of homosex or same-sex unions. P makes it abundantly
clear why God vomited the Canaanites from their land; their participation in
homosex, male cult prostitution at the shrines and incest warranted such action
by God. H simply proclaims that homosex was essentially incompatible with the
creation of male and female as sexually complementary beings. The sexual
perversion of the heterosexual intention of God for mankind violates God’s
design for the created order.
The Ancient Near East is predominantly negative about homosexual conduct. The instances of possible appreciation are reserved for visiting male cultic prostitutes and sexually dominating men of lesser status and conquered enemies. Against this backdrop the Old Testament takes a severe and comprehensive stance against homosex, representing an unparalleled level of revulsion against homosexual conduct in all its manifestations. This unequivocal position of the Old Testament provides the backdrop to the New Testament.
EXEGESIS OF ROMANS 1:18-32
It is to Paul we now turn and, in particular, the key Bible portion Rom.1:26-27. With good reason, Rom.1:26-27 is commonly seen as the central Bible portion when it comes to the issue of homosexual conduct. Next to Lev.18:22 and 20:13, this Bible portion is the most substantial and explicit discussion on homosexuality in the Bible and it is furthermore located in the New Testament. This Bible portion is not only concerned with same-sex intercourse among men, but also with same-sex intercourse among women.
In this chapter a focussed exegesis of Rom.1:24-28 is done according to the grammatical-historical method. The data from the Louw & Nida Lexicon is once again utilized for a word-exegesis of the relevant phrases according to the componential analytical method, as was the case in chapter 6. The outcome of this should bring us to a valid interpretation of Paul’s pronouncements on homosexuality in Rom.1:24-27.
An overview of the general background of the epistle to the Romans highlights the current moral trends within which the Roman Christians found themselves. It also brings to the fore the continuity between the two civilisations that formed the Graeco-Roman culture. The Romans took over Hellenistic civilisation and fostered its spread in Western Europe. The Romans were the only ancient people who came into contact with Greek civilisation and went on to make major advances. From her earliest days Rome had been affected by Greek culture.
By the third century BC, Greek civilisation had passed into its Hellenistic phase which was more superficial, but far more attractive than the earlier Classic phase.1 Even so, the Romans were very suspicious of the Hellenistic culture.2 Much of what the Romans took from the Hellenistic East was on the level of entertainment and physical pleasure. Despite the efforts of Cato the Elder to drive out Greek philosophers, the great systems of Hellenistic philosophy became part and parcel of Roman culture. Seneca, Cato, Tacitus and others complained that civic corruption, religious mania, adultery and effeminacy were results of the loss of the original Roman spirit. They especially deplored the influence of the Greeks, which caused gravitas, pieta, simplicitas and virtus (grace, piety, simplicity and virtue) to be lost.3
Traditional ideas of class, morality and manners changed, and so did those of family and sex.4 The idea of a satisfying and fulfilled life centred no longer on family involvement, but on pleasure and passion.5 Upper-class children were raised by slaves and by Greek chambermaids, while parents pursued impermanent sexual satisfactions and laboured to climb the social ladder. Roman life was characterised by bisexuality, homosexuality, violence, brutality and emotional changeableness.6
Rome’s most popular diversion was the arena, a drastic change from the Greek theatre. In the arena men were buried alive, dismembered, flogged with chains, disembowelled, decapitated and torn apart by beasts. The emotions of the Roman people needed extreme stimulation. Ovid recommended the arena as a fine place for flirtations and the beginning of love affairs. Martial and his Roman audience, like the Greeks, equated masculinity with aggression and dominance; one could use a younger male as a passive sexual object without loss of maleness7 and slaves were employed to satisfy sexual desires.
Only a living norm can be violated and can create contradiction.
There must have been many people, a majority, who believed and maintained the
traditional values of the Roman society at large and utterly disapproved of such things.
There were poets, statesmen, bureaucrats, military officers and
private citizens who continued to work and live free from greed, brutality and causing social injustice.8 It was during the early years of Nero’s reign that Paul first came into contact with the Roman church. It is probable that the worst excesses of Nero, like the worst cruelty of Tiberius, did little harm to the mass of people even in Rome.9
But it was not only Nero, but Seneca also, who was active in Rome when Paul wrote to the congregation in Rome. Paul was at home in the Graeco-Roman world. He spoke the language. Lived and worked in its cities and knew its culture. Paul surely knew the Roman world inside out. He knew that there was a great deal of immorality, abortion and the exposure of children. Prostitution and the keeping of courtesans were equally common. Divorce was frequent and many married to get access to large fortunes.10
The Roman legislator promulgated legislation for the Roman world. Christian preachers from the east, on the other hand, proclaimed a moral law which purported to be valid for all mankind, including the Romans.11 The moral teaching of the Christians sounded like criticism of the private lives of the imperial family members, an attack on Roman law and on the morals of Roman society. In the sphere of sex, the Romans were invited to follow an unwanted code of sexual behaviour so foreign to their own. Marriage was to be for life, divorce was wrong. Marrying again after having been divorced was also wrong. The basic principles of this new sexual morality so foreign to the Romans were clear although not acceptable for many.12
But what about homosexuality? Rom.1:26-27 seems to clearly condemn homosexual relations between both men and women. It is also at the centre of the current debate about homosexuality. It is the core Bible portion to the issue of homosexual conduct on which Christians could base their moral doctrine with regard to homosexuality.
The exegesis of the relevant phrases in the next section should bring us to a clearer understanding of the meaning of Rom.1:26-27:
Interpretations of the relevant Greek phrases
A literal translation of the Greek text (UBS, 1983:531) of Rom.1:24-27 is as follows:
Διο παρέδωκεν αὐτους ὁ Φεος ἐν ταις ἐπιθυµιαις των καρδιων αὐτων εἰ
Therefore he gave up them God in the desires of the hearts of them to
ἀκαθαρσιαν του ἀτιµαζεσθαι τὰ σωµατα αὐτων ἐν αὐτοις
uncleanness of the – to be dishonoured the bodies of them among them(selves)
Οἵτινες µετήλλαξαν την ἀληθειαν του Θεου ἐν τῳ ψευδει, και ἐσεβασθησαν και
Who changed the truth of God with the lie, and worshipped and
ἐλατρευσαν τῃ κτισει παρα τον κτισαντα, ὁς ἐστιν εὐλογητος
served the creature rather
[one] having created who is blessed
εἰς τους αἰωνας, ἀµην.
Unto/until the ages, amen (=indeed/verily/surely!).
δια τουτο παρέδωκεν αὐτους ὁ Θεος εἰς παθη ἀτιµιας, αἱ
Therefore[because of thís] He gave up them – God to passions of dishonour the
τε γαρ θήλειαι αὐτων µετήλλαξαν την φυσικην χρησιν εἰς την παρα φυσιν
even for females of them (ex)changed the natural use to the(use) against nature.
ὁµοιως τε και οἱ ἀρσενες ἀφεντες την φυσικην χρησιν της θηλειας
likewise even also the males leaving the natural use of the female
ἐξεκαυθησαν ἐν τῃ ὀρεξει αὐτων εἰς ἀλληλους, ἀρσενες ἐν ἀρσεσιν
burned in the desire of them toward one another, males with/among males
την ἀσχηµοσυνην κατεργαζοµενοι και την ἀντιµισθιαν ἡν ἐδει
the unseemliness working and the penalty which was due
της πλανης αὐτων ἐν ἑαυτοις ἀπολαµβανοντες. of the error of them in themselves receiving back
They exchanged natural use for what is against nature
(µετήλλαξαν την φυσικην χρησιν εἰς την παρα φυσιν) They exchanged the natural use for what is the against nature
The key term for the understanding of Rom.1:26-27 are: use (χρησις – chrésis) and nature (φυσις –
physis) which occurs in both verses 26 and 27, and likewise (ὁµοιως – homoiôs) which introduces
v.27. In v.26 the natural use is exchanged for the unnatural. In v.27 the natural use with women is abandoned because men burned with desire (ὀρεξις – orexis) which resulted in unnatural practices. Use in v.26 and again in v.27 is connected by the term likewise. Exchanged (µετήλλαξαν – metêlaxan) is a rare term and in extant Greek literature is used for sexual perversion only in Rom.1.13
The noun use14
can be translated as use, usage or
usefulness and sometimes sexual
intercourse. We cannot understand use
to mean similar sexual activities engaged in by women in v.26 and men in
v.27 (e.g. non-coital penetration). This would give a too simple reading of
these verses. Such a reading will presuppose a single common category for
homosexuality in the mind of Paul and his readers, which transcends any
differences in practice. Some exegetes understand Paul’s denouncement to refer
only to pederasty15 which, in the non-coital sense, will have
reference only to intercural (interfemoral) connection. Use is perhaps best read as a reference to the sexual activities
themselves rather than an abstract category presupposed by commentators.16
The phrase the natural use of the male in
v.27 implies that the ellipsis in
v.27 is to be completed to read the
natural use (of the female).
Therefore, in both cases use is to be understood as regards sexual intercourse. Paul’s argument here assumes mutuality in the male-female sexual relationship in as much as use as sexual use is concerned. There is a natural use of the female by the male (Rom.1:27), but also a reciprocal natural use of the male by the female (Rom.1:26). Sexuality in Paul’s understanding has its function or use in the complementary sexual other.
Others, however, argue that use in Rom.1:26-27 should not be translated relation or intercourse because use generally refers not to mutual gratification but to the activity of the desiring subject, usually male, performed on the desired object, female or male, implying that Paul focuses on marriage and the husband’s use of his wife.17 It is the unnatural use of the female (wife) that Paul most likely alludes to in Rom.1:26.18 The assumption that use highlights the possibility of passion and its consequences, rather than the violation of the male-female form of intercourse, needs also to be addressed. This implies that the persons having sex lack self-control as experienced by the user of another’s body.
According to this argument Rom.1:24-27 is not an attack on homosexuality as a violation of the complementarity of the male-female physique, but a description of the human condition informed by the rejection of love in favour of excessive passionate love.19 The effort to show that love’s object was the body of another, with no specification of gender as implied by Xenophon (Symposium 8.2,13) does not withstand a closer examination. The outcome of this direction of thought is the denouncement of excessive sexual desire instead of homosexual acts. This argument postulates the possibility that Paul would be arguing for sex without passion within the context of marriage. In the context of 1Cor.6-7 this line of thought may be dismissed in totality.20
Use presupposes in the theology of Paul a natural use. Fredrickson contends that sexual activity between males is not portrayed in Rom.1:26-27 as the violation of a male-female norm given with creation, but as an example of excess passion into which God has handed over persons who dishonoured him.21 Rom.1:26-27 focuses on passion as the immediate problem, not on the gender of the persons having sex. Actually he argues that use is genderless in its application in Rom.1:26-27 or, at the least: neither the gender of the subject nor that of the object is material to the concept of use.
However, as being unnatural it is clear from the context of Rom.1:26-27 that the sex/gender of the partner does make all the difference in the definition of use (χρησις – chrêsis) of another in sexual intercourse. Sex with a member of the opposite sex in juxtaposition, is defined as natural, when exchanged for sex with a member of the same sex, it is here defined as unnatural. It is the gender of the persons having sex, and not sexual desire as such, which constitutes the problem. Excess passion in itself is not reason enough to warrant a given behaviour to be assessed as sin.
Exchange (µετήλλαξαν – metêllaxan) – The verses 1:23-32 have a structure built around the verb exchange on the part of man and woman and the verb, to give over /abandon (παρέδωκεν – parédoken) on the part of God:
And they changed (ήλλαξαν – êllaxan) the glory of God into an image (1:23).
Therefore God gave them up (παρέδωκεν) to uncleanness, to dishonour their bodies (1:24).
Who exchanged (µετήλλαξαν) the truth of God for the lie (1:25). Therefore God gave them up
(παρέδωκεν) to vile passions (1:26a).
Even their women…, likewise also the men exchanged (µετήλλαξαν) natural relations for unnatural ones (1:26b-27). God gave them over to (παρέδωκεν) a debased mind to do things which are not fitting.
Exchange (µεταλλάσσω – metallásso) – Rom.1:26 describes the result of the exchange of worship mentioned in 1:25 – by itself an intensification of to change (αλλάσσω – allásso) in Rom.1:23.
As the non-Christians perverted their worship with idolatry/the lie (Roman.1:25), so was also their sexual practice perverted.22 The phrase exchange natural use for what is against nature (µετήλλαξαν τὴν φυσικὴν χρῆσινεις τὴν παρα φυσιν) lies at the core of the argument in Rom.1:26-27. Sexual differentiation is justified by sexual union. This truth is defined in Paul’s usage of use. In creation man and woman fulfil a function of creative complementariness. Without her, the man is created incomplete and, without him, the woman is created incomplete. It is the woman who brings man to completion and the man who brings the woman to completion. The purpose of sex is not just satisfaction or fulfilment, but completion.
Paradoxically, sex also serves an opposite purpose. When it becomes an end in itself and enhances a completely separated and isolated individuality, a separateness where an exchange takes place and the male-female separates into male-male and female-female (Rom.1:26-27) relationships against nature, it is sin. Same-sex relations are not a valid mode of sexuality but a tragic maiming of the creation intention of male-female use. That is why same-sex is not an intended mode of sexuality for it affirms incompleteness. Completeness can only be affirmed in the other who is truly other and this fact is vividly noticeable in the created physique of man and woman.
God gave them over (παρέδωκεν αὐτους ὁ Θεοσ) – The words God gave them over in Rom.1:24-26, 28 can be understood in three ways.23 Firstly, in the permissive sense, which means God passively permitted men to fall into retributive consequences. Secondly, it can be understood in the privative sense, which means that God withdrew his restraining hand from evil and lastly, in the active judicial sense, meaning that God actively gave men over to retributive vengeance.24 The refusal to acknowledge God, ends in blind distortion of the created reality. The reversal of the created order in worshipping the lie rather than God is reflected in a reversal of the created order in sexuality. Both constitute instances of overturning God’s design. This is emphasized by the term exchanged which parallels rebellion against God with the outcome of that rebellion.25 There is a positive correlation between the sin and the retributive consequence which, by its very nature, is also sin.
Natural and/or nature (φύσικοσ/φύσις)
– phýsikós/phýsis): The words natural and unnatural can be used in different senses: the biological, the
moral and the religious senses. Biologically one can argue that natural means
the complementarity of male and female – a congenital predisposition – and conclude
that homosexuality in the biological sense is not natural, especially measured
against the norm of homosexuality and procreation – the traditional ground for the condemnation of homosexuality.26
The contrary to nature (παρα φυσιν – para phýsin) argument, however, is a
theological argument and not a scientific biological argument.27
Thus, the argument for congenital predisposition and procreation are, in the
first place, a theologically based argument with secondary support from the
other sciences. Hence nature is not
the result of empirical investigation, or speculative determinism, but a
theological norm determined by God. Therefore, natural and/or nature refer to one’s constitution as given by God,
the Creator. Nature may have the
figurative sense of a natural endowment of condition inherited from one’s
ancestors, when used in Rom.1:27.28
However, there is the literal sense of physical nature that is beyond heritage and is based on creational intent by the Creator.29 Not the male, but the female, possesses, because of creational intent, the complementary opening for insertion by the male member – a point confirmed by the procreative capacity of male seed when it enters via the vagina into the female womb. The point of contention is that same-sex intercourse is a transgression of natural boundaries, distinguishable in the way males and females are made and not in excess passion. This meaning is innate in Paul’s notion of sexual activity as use (χρήσις).
This is why idolatry is implicitly contrary to nature (παρα φυσιν), not because people are constitutional monotheists, because observation of the created cosmos presupposes a Creator, far greater than a god carved out of wood or stone in the image of one of God’s creations (Rom.1:19-23). Not the innateness of one’s passions, but rather the bodily design of humans themselves, should guide us into the truth about the nature of God and the nature of human sexuality.
Nature in this passage is used purposefully and in a moral sense. Actions could, therefore, be taken which contradict nature. To live contrary to nature or in accordance with nature (παρὰ φύσιν or κατὰ φύσιν) implies moral categories; it denotes how man (and woman) should or should not live. Evil practices in Rom.1:26-27 are, therefore, described as contrary to nature and Paul condemns the Gentiles on the basis of nature.30 Such actions ignore the realities of gender and reproductive capacity, reducing sex to pleasure only. Graeco-Roman and Jewish Hellenistic literature commonly employed contrary to nature to contrast same-sex practice with that which is in accordance with nature.
This phrase is crucial because it reveals the basis of Paul’s condemnation of same-sex relations.31 Thus, the context requires us to understand natural sex as being according to God’s creational intent. When man gives up the Creator (Roman.1:25), he likewise gives up the creation ordinances, which include the male-female relationship as the intended context for sex.32 The rationale of Paul to argue that homosexual acts are against nature can be summarised in his creationist orientation. The biblical creation narratives serve as a backdrop to the narrative in Rom.1:18-32. Paul’s reference to the sexes in Rom.1:26-27 as females and males rather than women and men follow the style of Gen.1:27 (LXX). The inter-textual connection between Rom.1:23 and Gen.1:26 (LXX) is unmistakable.33 For Paul both adultery and same-sex intercourse reject God’s verdict that what was made and arranged was very good (Rom.1:31). It seems that Paul might have argued in terms of sexual pairing of male and female in Gen.1:26-31.
The arguments for the anatomical and procreative complementarity of male and female are of importance in assessing what Paul meant when he contended that same-sex intercourse is contrary to nature (παρὰ φύσιν). Given the meaning contrary to nature (παρὰ φύσιν) and comparable expressions used by Jewish writers to describe same-sex intercourse, the meaning of the concept in Romans is clear. It seems from Paul’s argument in Rom.1:26-27 that he is referring to the anatomical and procreative complementarity of male and female. Gagnon34 is quite vivid in his discussion on Paul’s argumentation in condemning same-sex intercourse.35 That Paul thought of nature not as the way things are usually done (culture convention) but rather as the material shape of the created order can also be deduced from his illustration that idolatry entails the suppression of the knowable truth.36
(1997:87) makes the point that for Paul contrary
to nature (παρὰ φύσιν) meant atypical,
that is, not against nature but against culture. He contends that contrary to nature (παρὰ φύσιν) is a
Stoic technical term, which Paul used to impress
his Roman readers. Helminiak concedes that it is correctly translated to
mean contrary to nature or unnatural and then states emphatically
knew Stoicism37… but Paul did not understand Stoic philosophy and that Paul meant atypical. Within Stoic understanding it is to be understood as beyond the natural whereas for Paul it would mean beyond the typical.38 The translations beyond nature and contrary to nature for παρὰ φύσιν cannot be played off against each other. Beyond, the more common and general meaning of παρὰ with the accusative and contrary to (against, in opposition to – a specific sense of this general meaning) are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
No provision is to be made for an atypical translation for nature (φύσις – phýsis) with Paul. Paul’s use of nature is never abstract, but for a concrete nature, observable in its anatomical and procreational capacities and does not presuppose that nature should be understood to be atypical. Same-sex is beyond or in excess of nature in the sense that it transgresses or progresses beyond the boundaries for sexuality – both as established by God and being transparent in nature.
The capacity for pro-creation is by the very definition of same-sex eroticism annulled because of the separation of sexual interest from pro-creation.39 In same-sex relations contrary to nature (παρὰ φύσιν) means the isolation of the sexual act. This is so because, in one form or another, same-sex eroticism in conduct and expression, denies the goodness of God’s creation of male and female (Gen.1-2). Any deviation from this creation order by same-sex relations reiterates that humanity has deviated from God’s order.40 Same-sex is not only contrary to God’s creational intention and to nature itself, but also contrary to his divinely intended types, male and female.
What type of homosexuality is meant in Rom.1:26-27? Scroggs concludes that only in Romans 1 is there a negative judgement made on both male and female sexuality, which should be considered a general indictment. He continues: this general indictment about male homosexuality must have had, could only have had, pederasty in mind.41 Scroggs’ primary argument is that Paul only condemned pederasty in Romans 1 in its more dehumanising characteristics. The descriptions, however, of homoeroticism in Rom.1:24, 26-27 as the dishonouring or their bodies among themselves, dishonourable passions, contrary to nature, burned in their lust for each other, committing shameful acts, argues strongly for an understanding of a context of consenting males rather than male and child. Scroggs’ pederasty model as the sole focus, is excluded by the very wording of Paul’s argument in Rom.1:26-27. The structure of the model as shown previously, postulates that the younger person, the beloved (ἐρωµενος – eromenos) was passive, and did not desire, or at least did not expect, sexual gratification.42 If a youth did feel pleasure, he was considered a prostitute. There is no evidence that he was given the opportunity to be satisfied. His bodily activity was simply to provide sexual satisfaction for his lover (ἐραστής – erastês). Surely in the language being used by Paul, he implies mutuality43 contra to what Scroggs is arguing for.
Although pederasty might have been a major form of homosexual conduct in the first century, one has to conclude with Wright that Paul sees beyond particular forms of same-sex relations or same-sex relations in a particular contexts. Malik arrives at a similar outcome.44 But even if Paul’s awareness of homosexuality is to be regarded primarily as that of pederasty, it does not mean that his words must be limited to pederasty. As seen above, most of the terms Paul used in Rom.1 allow for more than pederasty, which includes adult-adult mutuality.
A major flaw in the assumption for pederasty as the only focus or
Rom.1:26-27 is Paul’s inclusion of female-female homoerotic relations in his
argument. It would indeed be strange for Paul to begin with a reference to
women when pederasty, as the only focus, is by definition a male vice. Paul is
comprehensive in his theological statement, and that is why women are not
included in a figurative way of speaking.
As we have seen above, Paul is very concrete in his theology. The view that Paul is discussing pederasty in Rom.1 cannot logically and exegetically be determined as being the case. Male and female are necessary counterparts. Humanity is created male and female and the one is not above the other to be excluded from the effect of homoeroticism. For Paul to give a general indictment against homosexual acts, he has to include both male and female. Given his Jewish background, it is nothing but natural to include both.
As background to Paul’s comments on homoeroticism, Schoedel discusses the views of some ancient authors: Plato, Philo and Clement of Alexandria. Basically all three share a negative attitude and view on homoerotic practices.45 In the light of various ancient parallels it seems that, in Rom.1:26, Paul is concerned with female homoeroticism rather than women engaging in male homosexual practices46 or heterosexual women committing homoerotic acts.47 Paul treats same-sex intercourse among females as an issue in its own right, holding women to the same level of accountability as men. The language of natural use and the link likewise between Rom.1:26 and Rom.1:27 clarifies that both male and female homoeroticism are seen as evidence of the same dishonourable passions. It implies a departure from a divinely intended, deliberately created, originally heterosexual relationship between males and females.
Female homosexuality48 does not get much attention in the literature of antiquity, perhaps because the authors of the time were exclusively male. Little, in comparison with male homoeroticism, is said in the Graeco-Roman world about lesbianism. Rom.1:26-27 is also an only biblical passage referring to female homosexuality. However, it can be concluded from the evidence listed, that female eroticism was not unknown and perhaps, more important, it was practised along with its male counterpart in the Graeco-Roman first century world. The literature referred to below shows that female homosexual practices were known and attested to in Greek and Latin literature. The picture of female homoeroticism may be distorted because it is viewed through a male lens.
There are arguments that postulate a homosexual activity by heterosexuals rather than a hetero-homo perversion view.49 This argument is based on the phrases degrading passions (πάθη ἀτιµίας) and committing shameful acts (τὴν ἀσχηµοσύνην κατεργαζόµενοι). In his argument for a heterosexual interpretation, Boswell disregards pederasty as a focus area as well as the possibility that Paul’s polemical target is the practice of temple prostitution connected with idolatrous non-Christian worship.50 Against this argument it is contended that, although Rom.1:26 does not explicitly state that females had sexual intercourse with females, the parallel wording in Rom.1:27 strongly suggests it. The completion of the ellipsis pre-supposes the following understanding:
1:26 their females exchanged the natural use (of the males) for that which is contrary to nature.
1:27 and likewise also the males, leaving the natural use of the female, burned in their desire for one another…
The expression natural use of the female (as sexual partner) in Rom.1:27 suggests that the implied objective genitive of natural use in Rom.1:26 is the male as a sexual partner. The continuation of Rom.1:27 makes clear that the exchange for men is not that of coital intercourse for non-coital intercourse, but rather an exchange of sexual relations51 with women for sexual relations with men.52
Paul is describing, not individual actions, but the corporate
rebellion of humanity against God; one kind of behaviour indicative of this
rebellion is homosexual relationships. Same-sex relations are a specific
falsification of correct behaviour. Female same-sex intercourse is cited as
being unnatural or
contrary to nature.53 The fact that Rom.1:26 puts the blame squarely and solely on women indicates that it is not unnatural forms of heterosexual intercourse that are the issue.
From the context of Rom.1:26-27 it seems clear that Paul intended his denouncement to apply in a general way to all homosexual practices among both men and women. He censures homosexual activity in general terms, reaffirming the Levitical prohibitions in 18:22 and 20:13.54 The present judgement in Rom.1:27 is imbedded in the past record, this being the Old Testament.
The importance of three terms has been studied in this section. These terms are use (χρῆσις – chrésis), exchange (µετήλλαξαν – metêllaxan) and against nature (παρὰ φύσιν – para phýsin). The three terms are part of the phrase:
µετήλλαξαν τὴν φυσικὴν χρῆσιν εἰς τὴσ παρὰ φύσιν
they exchange the natural use for (that which is) against nature
In summary: the exegesis of these three terms points to the fact that same-sex intercourse is contrary to God’s creation intention for humanity as depicted in the distinctive modes of sexuality, namely male and female. Both use and exchange is informed by the intended nature. The hermeneutical arguments for understanding against nature to mean anything other than against or contrary to the intended nature of heterosexual intercourse based on anatomical, sexual and procreative complementarity cannot be substantiated from the textual data.
Burned with passion for one another
[ἐξεκαύθησαν ἐν τῃ ὁρεξει αὐτῶν εἰς ἀλλήλουσ
(they) burned in the passion of them towards one another]
In the previous section it has been shown that Paul argues that same-sex intercourse is unnatural and it is accomplished by using one’s body in an unnatural way. To be inflamed or to burn with lust or passion is to be dominated by an all-consuming desire, and mostly it is translated with desire, lust or passion.
Inflamed or to burn (ἐκκαίω –ekkaiô): The verb is translated and is used only here in the New Testament. It has the meaning of being utterly consumed by fire.55 This considerably stronger meaning is portrayed in the usage of the word in Hellenistic Jewish texts56 where often it is metaphorically used in connection with wrath and rage.57 With regard to sexual58 matters, it is used in Sira 23:17 in the saying: A fornicator will not cease until the fire utterly consumes him. The quoted phrase for Rom.1:27 relates to an idiom, which literally translates: to burn with intense desire. The idiom (ἐκκαίωµαι ἐν τῇ ὀρέξει) means to have a strong, intense desire for something – to be inflamed with passion, to have a strong lust for, to be inflamed with lust.59
There is an
opinion that regards homosexual
attraction and desire to be as entirely natural and unambiguous as heterosexual
attraction and desire. According to this viewpoint sexual desiring in and by itself is not disordered.60
This leads to the simple equation of lust and desire. Hence sex is looked upon
as being of no consequence morally beyond whatever meaning and consequence the
human agents choose to bestow upon it.
Not so with Paul. He uses three descriptors in his argument in Rom.1:24-27: desire (ἐπιθυµία – epithumía, Rom.1:24), passion (πάθος – páthos, Rom.1:26) and desire (ὄρέξις – orexis, Rom.1:27). In his discussion61 of these terms Helminiak concludes that all three terms as used by Paul are ethically neutral. The reason for this being that Paul apparently did not have sin in mind, but ritual purity. As with Helminiak, Countryman also argues that Paul carefully avoids his usual vocabulary for sin when describing homosexual acts in Rom.1:24-28.62
In vv.24, 26 & 27 desire/passion (ἐπιθυµία, πάθος and ὄρέξις) are used to denote the will that leads to same-sex relations. Schmidt argues very convincingly against the neutrality viewpoint of Helminiak and Countryman.63 Although Paul does not specifically use the word sin (ἁµαρτία – hamartía) in Rom.1:24-27, he nevertheless intends the connotation clearly and the description of sin is the outcome realised.
In his quest to show the thrust of Paul’s argument to be against passion and not same-sex relations, Frederickson on the other hand argues for a non-neutral understanding of the three descriptors.64 Each term by itself is shown to carry meaning (a key role) in the discussion of erotic love, not mere neutral terms in the usage thereof. The problem in Rom.1:24-27 highlights passion and its consequences.
Two further descriptors are added by Frederickson: inflame (ἐκαίω – ekkaiô; Rom.1:27) and error (πλάνη – planê; Rom.1:27) to complete a list of five erotic descriptors in the text. His discussion culminates in the fact that desire (ἐπιθυµία – epithumía) and passion (πάθος – páthos) stand in parallel phrases in Rom.1:24 and Rom.1:26 and justifies our attempt to interpret them together under the theme of excessive sexual desire. One may deny the thrust of his argument when it comes to the sin Paul has in mind, but the arguments for the excessive eroticism Paul is judging, are quite convincing.
Apparently Paul was familiar with the literary philosophical ways of speaking about erotic/sexual love (ἔρως – érôs), as can be seen in the phrase they were inflamed for one another (ἐξεκαύησαν εἰς ἀλλήλους; Rom.1:27). Fire imagery was the principal metaphor of sexual love in a broad range of literary genres and in philosophy. An interesting parallel to Paul’s is to be found in Dio Chrysostom’s (Discourse 4.101-102) depiction of the person devoted to pleasure, which brings together the themes of fire, insatiability and, as in Paul’s argument, the resulting movement from females to male as objects of male desire.65
Epictetus is an important source of understanding the role desire plays in the Stoic analysis of human action and ultimately in Paul’s argument.66 Examination of an individual’s desire (ὄρεξις – órexis) and its objects reveal whether he was effectual in his desires of continually wanting things over which he had no control. This parallels Paul’s argument in Rom.1:27 that they were inflamed in their desire/lust. In Discourse 2.14.21, Epictetus outlines the philosopher’s diagnosis of a person in such condition: your desires are feverish (αἱ ὀρέξεις σου φλεγµαίνουσαι), your attempts to avoid things are humiliating, your purposes are inconsistent, and your choices are out of harmony with your nature. So, the capacity/appetite (ὄρεξις) for getting what they want, has been inflamed to such a point where they exchanged the natural use for erotic love for unnatural use.
The power of Paul’s argument lies in the vivid simplicity with which
he describes the wilful wrong sexual expression. Many human emotions run
counter to God’s intended design for nature and cannot be pronounced good just
because of the affective experience thereof. In Paul’s opinion such sinful
impulses are depravity at its worst.
The noun desire (ὄρεξις – órexis) means (strong or intense) desire; longing; yearning; appetite; appetency. In isolation the word does not necessarily connote a negative desire; the context determines the alignment. It is used to denote the supreme goal of human beings as exercising desire in accordance with nature.
The only occurrence of the noun, here in Rom.1:27, clearly has a negative sense since the context speaks of desire for things against nature, especially desire for other males. Against Countryman’s contention the translation lust is not inaccurate within the context of Paul’s argument (Rom.1:24- 27).67
Men committed shameless acts with men
[ἄρσενες ἐν ἄρσεσιν τὴν ἀσχηµοσύνην κατεργαζόµενοι
Men with/among men the shameless acts they committed]
The recalling to memory of you shall not lie with a male as with a woman in Lev.18:22; 20:13 summarises perhaps the point of contention, namely behaving towards another man as if he were a woman, by making him the object of male sexual desire. The Greek word shameful (ἀσχηµοσύνη – aschêmosunê) used here (Rom.1:27) is also used in Rev.16:15. Cognates are also found in 1Cor.7:36; 12:23; 13:5.
To act shamefully (ἀσχηµονέω – aschêmoneo): Louw & Nida classify this word under the domain Moral and ethical qualities and related behaviour and then under sub-domain T, Act shamefully. The meaning of this word is defined as: to act in defiance of social and moral standards, with resulting disgrace, embarrassment and shame. English equivalents are: to act shamefully, indecent behaviour, shameful deed. 1Cor.13:4-5, Rom.1:27 and Eph.5:4 are quoted as illustrations of such usage.68
Paul uses three terms to describe sexual acts: against nature (παρὰ φύσιν –para phýsin), dishonour (ἀτιµία – atimía) and shameful act (ἀσχηµοσύνη – aschêmosunê). Nature (φύσις – phýsis) has been discussed in some detail in a previous section. In his consideration of dishonour (ἀτιµία – atimía), Helminiak concludes that the term means without honour, hence the possible translation degrading.69 For Helminiak dishonour clearly refers to a negative judgement in the arena of public opinion, a person’s standing or valuation in the eyes of others. The adjective (ἀσχηµοσύνην – aschêmosunên) translates as shameless or shameful. He suggests that dishonour (ἀτιµία) is a parallel to shameful because both indicate negative public opinion. In all its usage in the New Testament it involves something sexual. The crux of Paul’s argument according to Helminiak is that Paul did not mean to say those acts are wrong; he says that they are unusual and do not enjoy social approval.
Countryman’s analysis that Paul evaluated same-sex intercourse as dirty but not sinful, insists that the descriptions of same-sex behaviour in Rom.1:24-27 as uncleanness, the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, dishonourable passions, contrary to nature, burned in their desire for one another and committing indecency does not connote sin to Paul.70 But it is obvious that the stance of Countryman and Helminiak is not accepted within the academic fraternity, but meets with serious criticism.71 Males committing shameful acts with males is derogatory in its relationship to the previous phrase of being inflamed in their desire for each other. The first alludes to the language in Lev.18:22; 20:13 – which prohibits same-sex relations between males of all ages, not only pederasty.
The term shame was,
in addition to shameful act, also
used for sexual organs, of which the privacy was well accentuated in Ex.20:26
and Lev.18:6-18. The term shameful (ἀσχηµοσύνη
is clearly (in context) a euphemism for sexual intercourse of a shameful type. Paul’s language and obvious intent has as its aim to remove any vestige of decency, honour and positive attitude from same-sex relations. In this Paul seems to act in consistence with his Jewish cultural tradition.
The phrase men with men (ἄρσενες ἐν ἄρσεσιν – ársenes en ársesin) defines the sexual act by reference to a woman (Lev.18:22). This formulation emphasizes the inappropriateness of a male as the object of the sexual act between males.72 Seeing that the prohibition in Lev.18:22 does not appear to echo the creation account or emphasize the procreative function, it simply describes the normative pattern of sexual relations.
Paul wrote males with males73 and did not use a similar phrase to that of Plato (Laws, 3.836C: ἀρσένων καὶ νεών – men with boys). The words being used in Rom.1:26 are also indicative of adults. Lesbianism was usually understood to be between adults, thus arguing for adult-adult actions, not adult-child actions.74 The activity of adults rather than adult-child behaviour seems to be the intention of natural use of the woman (τήν φύσικὴν χρῆσιν τῆς θηλείας) as found in Rom.1:27. The phrases toward one another (είς ἀλλήλους), men with men (ἄρσενες ἐν ἄρσεσιν) and their error (τῆς πλάνης αὐτῶν) describe reciprocal activity with adults by choice.
Paul’s words males with males (ἄρσενες ἐν ἄρσεσιν, Rom.1:27) did not refer to men and boys, as did Plato. Paul compares male homosexuality to female homosexuality (ὁµοίος – likewise). Female homosexuality was simply understood in mutual adult terms and woman-girl relationships are not attested at all. The phrase natural use [function] of the woman (τήν φύσικὴν χρῆσιν τῆς θηλείας, Rom.1:27) describes the activity of adults. The phrases toward one another (είς ἀλλήλους), men with men (ἄρσενες ἐν ἄρσεσιν), and their error (τῆς πλάνης αὐτῶν) describe reciprocal activity with adults contra the pederasty model described by Scroggs.
In Rom.1:27 Paul uses the terminology of homoeroticism, perhaps more so in the case of males than females. The phrase males with males indicate adult male homosexual relationships. It is problematic to force the term males with males into a pederasty straightjacket. If the only pattern of male homosexuality that Paul could have known was pederasty, there is no counterpart on the female side as suggested in Rom.1:26. The unnatural relations of women with women are not pederasty, because there is no historical attesting to the fact of woman-(girl)child homosexuality in antiquity.75
Rom.1:26-27 and biblical sexuality
It is generally held that Paul wrote the letter to the Romans in the middle fifties from Corinth. In chapter one he addresses homosexual conduct and one may assume with some confidence that what he writes about was evident to him at Corinth and elsewhere.
The key words for understanding Rom.1:26-27 are use (χρῆσις) and nature (φύσις)
The natural use implies male-female
sexual relationships, which is inter alia
also the nature which is at
stake. This must also be read and interpreted against the larger section of
Paul’s exhortation (Rom.1:18-32), concerning God’s wrath toward the
non-believers who had rejected God. Thus, homoerotic terminology used for both
males and females, is based on an allusion to the prohibitions against
homosexual acts in the Hebrew Torah. The statement that such acts are against/contrary to nature (παρὰ φύσιν)
refers to the created order as reported in Genesis. These acts show a
disruption or confusion of the sexual intention of God for males and females.
This was ordained in creation.
Paul condemns homosexual acts per se, whether performed by heterosexuals, bisexuals or innate homosexuals. The homosexual act is indicative of the lust/desire (ὄρεξις) and represents homosexuality as a sin in God’s eyes. It is further an indication of rampant unrighteousness, which includes not only homosexuality but also sexual immorality (πορνεία) in general, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, murder, strife, deceit, etc. Those who practice such things, Paul says, are deserving of death (Rom.1:29-32).
The modern notion of orientation does not find any grounds in the letters of Paul. For Paul it is clear: the practitioners of such acts are excluded from the kingdom of God. The act defines the outcome. Boswell’s comments that Paul’s reference to homosexual activity is not to stigmatise sexual behaviour of any sort cannot be sustained.76 His argument that Paul says nothing about persons who are naturally homosexual is misleading because Paul’s condemnation of homosexual acts is all- inclusive.
The vocabulary used by Paul does not favour a particular homosexual style – pederasty or heterosexuals practicing homosexuality. It is stated in such a way so as to condemn homosexuality in general, making no allowance for exclusion based on age difference or other evaluative criteria.
Paul targets homosexuality in general as a movement away from God’s intention for and design of humanity, and thus a movement away from godliness. That is why the phrase He gave them over (παρέδωκεν, Rom.1:24, 26, 28) is not simply permissive or privative, but descriptive of a judicial act of God giving humanity over to judgement for turning away from the Creator. Homosexuality is, therefore, not a proper expression of sexual relationships but is a perversion of the created nature.
Although pederasty may have been a dominant historical activity in Paul’s time, the argument in Rom.1:18-32 needs not be limited to pederasty, because it is related to the creation account and God’s design for sexual fulfilment within a monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Movement away from this standard is sinful in intention and expression. Historical relations are a departure from heterosexual relations and, because of that, homosexuality is wrong. Homosexuality rather than a specific form (pederasty) is in focus because many terms used by Paul allow for more than pederasty. The idea of general homosexual conduct inclusive of adult-adult mutuality is supported in Paul’s choice of words.
Paul’s whole argument culminates in all are under sin (Rom.3:9), and to demonstrate that the Jewish Christians, and not just the non-Jewish Christians, are culpable before God. Rom.1:18-32 does not describe the origin of sin itself – it shows how sin runs amuck. God does not judge the Gentiles for their ignorance, but for acting contrary to the knowledge that they should have. The suppression of this knowledge shows itself in idolatry and same-sex intercourse. An absurd exchange of God for idols leads to an absurd exchange (µετήλλαξαν) of heterosexual intercourse for homosexual intercourse. Paul emphasizes this in his usage of the phrase against/contrary to nature (παρὰ φύσιν).
The context surrounding Rom.1:26-27, and the content thereof by itself, makes it clear that Paul regards same-sex intercourse as sin.