Why Did Paul Object to the Arsenokoitai?

My own beliefs about Biblical teaching on homosexual acts are relatively simple: the Jewish Law prohibited any sex between two men (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13). Paul renewed that prohibition in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10) and taught that such acts are “contrary to nature” (Romans 1:27). The Church has always regarded homosexual acts as serious sins. Thus, for me, the primary questions are, “How do I obey this teaching?” or “How does this teaching harmonize with the importance of loving and being loved in the Gospel teaching more broadly?”

However, the range of possible controversies behind those relatively simple beliefs is vast. I wrote a little about this in my recent post on Pederasty and Arsenokoitai, and @ladenheart, a friend who knows the classics much better than I do, has written a thoughtful response. His post is rich, well worth reading, and raises too many questions for me to address here. I will make at least a partial response, however. Near the end of his post, he offers the following tentative conclusion:

My general sense – although I do admit, it is a work in progress – is that what the Judeo-Christian tradition is condemning when it speaks negatively of sexual acts between men are, demonstrable in most cases, acts that are based on exploitation, unequal status, or excess.

I agree with him that, if we really want to understand what the Apostle Paul and the subsequent Christian tradition were trying to say, we need to understand the cultural context that he was writing in. However, we also need to understand the mind with which he judged that world. My concern with @ladenheart’s post—and I raise this as a concern needing further discussion, not a conclusion—is that he focuses heavily on the historical details of ancient paganism, but then judges what he finds with largely 21st century eyes.

Complexities of Cultural Context

To begin with, it’s important to acknowledge that one of the exegetical difficulties we face, as we try to read Paul’s letters, is that he was speaking to a very different cultural context. I addressed some of these differences in a post from a couple of years ago. As I pointed out in that post, Paul seems to assume that his claim that homosexual acts are “contrary to nature” or that the Jewish Law prohibits men having sex with men will not be controversial for the Christian readers of his letters.

However, whatever attitudes Paul inherited from his Jewish background and training as a Pharisee, and whatever assumptions he may have expected to share with his early Christian readers, the broader culture of the ancient Greco-Roman world in which he preached had attitudes toward sex which are quite foreign to us today.

Consider the following scenarios:

  1. Adam and Steve, who are both third year law students, have fallen in love, had a commitment ceremony, and moved in together. Their relationship, including their sex life, is organized to be as egalitarian as possible.
  2. Brian, who is in his thirties and married, is secretly sleeping with his business partner’s son.
  3. Charles, a married slave owner in the antebellum south, who forced his male slaves to sleep with him.

Most Americans and Western Europeans would find Brian and Charles’ situations repugnant, but would condone or celebrate Adam and Steve’s situation. Even those, like me, who believe that there is a moral problem with Adam and Steve’s relationship would regard Charles and Brian’s behavior as much more seriously wrong.

The surprising thing, however, is that the broader pagan culture in which Paul preached was much more tolerant of pederasty and sex with slaves than it was of sexual relationships between adult citizen males (though pederasty was more tolerated in Greek than in Roman culture). So if I had presented the scenarios above to the average pagan of Paul’s time, he would have found Charles and Brian’s behavior relatively unremarkable, but would think Adam and Steve’s behavior was shameful and a disgrace.

@Ladenheart suggests that, when the Apostle Paul condemned the arsenokoitai, he was reacting against the kind of same-sex relationships that were common in the surrounding pagan culture—for example, sex between adult men and adolescent boys, or masters forcing slaves to have sex with them—and that his condemnation was directed toward the age and power differences he found in ancient same-sex relationships. Thus, he suggested, Paul may not have intended to condemn committed, monogamous same-sex relationships.

This seems—at least superficially—a plausible way of reading the text. But we might want to stop and ask ourselves: how much of the plausibility of this reading is derived from the way we in contemporary Westerners think about sexuality? And how much do contemporary Western attitudes reflect deep engagement with the Christian faith?

As I argued in Pederasty and Arsenokoitai, Paul doesn’t use the common language for describing pederastic relationships, and, instead of focusing on the age or power differences in the relationships he saw, focuses on the fact that they involve two men.

Age Differences

Regarding age differences in general, the outlook of the ancient world was very different from our own. If I were writing a book on the subject, I would provide a general survey of ancient attitudes toward marriage of teenage girls to adult men. For a blog post, one example will have to do. The 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia cites an apocryphal story about Mary and Joseph which, though it is quite unlikely to be true, gained some popularity and influenced some older religious art:

When forty years of age, Joseph married a woman called Melcha or Escha by some, Salome by others; they lived forty-nine years together and had six children, two daughters and four sons, the youngest of whom was James (the Less, “the Lord’s brother”). A year after his wife’s death, as the priests announced through Judea that they wished to find in the tribe of Judah a respectable man to espouse Mary, then twelve to fourteen years of age. Joseph, who was at the time ninety years old, went up to Jerusalem among the candidates; a miracle manifested the choice God had made of Joseph, and two years later the Annunciation took place.

In the modern world, the story of a 90-year-old man being espoused to a 12- or 14-year-old girl would be a source of scandal and would lead (except, perhaps, in New Hampshire) to prosecution. But, to ancient Christians, this was the sort of thing that could become a popular legend about two of the most revered figures in the Church’s origin story. In that religious context, it is unlikely that, if they vehemently objected to a man in his twenties or thirties having sex with a teenage boy, their primary objection was the age difference.

Master-Slave Relations

This touches on an even more difficult cultural disconnect. As disturbing as it is to modern consciences, Paul was much less concerned by slavery than we are. He was not a strong supporter of slavery, but he did not denounce it as unambiguously evil, either:

Every one should remain in the state in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Never mind. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 So, brethren, in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God. (1 Corinthians 7:20-24)

He encouraged slaves to obey their masters, and when he gives advice to masters, it strongly suggests that there were Christian slave-owners in the early Church:

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ . . . . Masters, do the same to them, and forbear threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. (Ephesians 6:5, 9)

On the other hand, when he returned the slave Onesimus to his master Philemon, he instructed Philemon to receive him “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 16). This is encouraging, though I would have liked to see Paul speak much more unambiguously against slavery, which I believe is always wrong (see Gaudium et spes 27, 29).

Paul’s ambiguity on slavery is, for most people in the contemporary west, a challenge for his moral authority. Those, like me, who still respect Paul’s moral authority, but oppose slavery, have to admit that this makes it more challenging to read Paul’s letters and make simple, direct application to contemporary problems. (Readers interested in a more in-depth study of Christian debates about slavery in the Antebellum United States should consult Mark Noll’s The Civil War as a Theological Crisis.)

However, if we are just trying to understand Paul’s own moral views, it seems that the power difference between slave and master bothered him much less than it does us. It is therefore less likely that if he objected to masters having sex with their male slaves, he was primarily objecting to the power differential inherent in slavery. Although this would be the most serious source of evil for us, it seems unlikely that this would be such a serious concern to him.


As I said at the beginning, my own beliefs are relatively simple. @Ladenheart and others have argued that those who hold beliefs like mine are naive about how very different the ancient cultural context is, and thus miss the nuance of what Paul kinds of behavior has in mind when he speaks of the arsenokoitai.

Up to a point, I agree: I’ve been learning about the way ancient societies understood human sexuality for over 20 years now, and I still learn new and surprising things on a regular basis. But this very fact makes me skeptical when an exegete presents me with an Apostle Paul whose moral judgments are those of a typical 21st century man. Such a Paul will be plausible to 21st century readers. But he strikes me as being unlikely to be very like the author of the Pauline epistles.

If we want to move beyond merely obeying a prohibition, and attempt to understand why Paul prohibited same-sex relationships, we do need to carefully study the cultural context in which he wrote. However, this is only half the battle. If we learn the historical context, but then judge it with our own 21st century categories, we aren’t really trying to understand Paul’s reasoning.

ron50Ron Belgau is completing a PhD in Philosophy, and teaches medical ethics, philosophy of the human person, ethics, and philosophy of religion. He can be followed on Twitter: @RonBelgau.

50 thoughts on “Why Did Paul Object to the Arsenokoitai?

  1. I also doubt he was that concerned with egalitarianism even within heterosexual marriages, given “wives obey your husbands.”

    At the same time, I do wonder whether he even considered that homosexual expression could attempt to be marital-esque rather than hedonistic. Was the idea of committed partners even on the radar?

    But then, again, in turn…it seems pretty clear given his rather sober attitudes towards the whole thing which prioritized celibacy that Paul didn’t accept any notion of “sex as an expression of love, and a psychological necessity for intimacy” which is a rather modern idea too. He seemed to imply that carnal urges were a weakness to be “contained” in heterosexual marriage.

    I imagine that if two men were to explain their romantic love to Paul and use that as a plea for sexual expression he might have said something like “but why on earth do you think that justifies sex acts with each other? If you need an outlet for physical release, marry a woman. But why must your mutual affection and friendship be sexualized?”

    Then yet again, while apparently seeing marriage, in part, as a mere remedy to contain concupisence rather than let the weak be tempted with fornication…he also has this profoundly sacramental view of marriage. He doesn’t talk much about procreation being the reason marriage can be justified, he talks about Christ and the Church, and about how the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit that should not be made one flesh with a prostitute (though why prostitutes are impure is not explored, much like homosexuality it seems to just have been taken for granted).

    And yet again it is true that he had no notion of a “gay person” who had a comprehensive psycho-emotional orientation towards the same sex. Then again, the notion that marriage had to be some romantic venture involving the right (and erotic/romantic) interpersonal “chemistry” was probably foreign to him. And yet it’s not like romantic love of that sort didn’t exist or wasn’t idealized (see the Song of Songs!)

    And if part of the church’s explanation is indeed that all this (romantic love marriages, and the idea of a comprehensive homosexual subjectivity in relationality, and sex acts as the natural expression of those things) is a modern construct that is mistaken…does that mean we start discouraging marriages based on infatuation or which prioritize interpersonal chemistry? Do we, like some conservatives, reject the whole construct of gay? Do we emphasize a Puritanish view of sex as a duty like eating and pooping that isn’t to be romanticized or viewed as some supreme expression of affection?

    There are layers and layers here when we start trying to throw off our “presentism,” but I think the real question is how much we’ve already allowed very modern attitudes and paradigms to slip into Christian marital/sexual praxis, and whether this is ok, and if it is ok, then why it’s ok to allow some modern constructs in (as long as they superficially hue to the external rules, though with very foreign attitudes and presumptions), while remaining rigid about some others.

    But then we might ask the same about slavery and such too. Paul’s attitude toward slavery, to me, seems MORE radical for not being political. For saying “who cares about the powers and class structures of this world, we are all free and slave in Christ.” The “I think slavery is absolutely wrong” position, on the other hand, seems largely a product of enlightenment liberalism and a commitment to a particular (and perhaps quickly fading?) vision of worldly political “progress.” Or at the very least smug of moderns to say post-abolition, given that in 100 years you might hear everyone saying “not giving a basic income to all is absolutely wrong.”

    But at the same time, I certainly don’t want to bring back slavery, nor do I think that would represent any sort of solution in terms of de-secularizing Christianity (can you imagine, lol? “We don’t want to be like the modern liberal-democratic-capitalist Babylon…so we’re going to keep slaves to prove we don’t hold those modern values as absolute!” Reactionary nonsense, especially if the slaves thus had to be voluntary, rendering them ironic and a little BDSM).

    But what is the analogy in terms of sexual morality? I don’t want to throw out romance nor reject gay identity like the obfuscations of the “SSA” crowd. But I don’t want to absolutize our ideas of “love=sex=marriage=orientation” either or act as if that framework is anything other than worldly and very very contingent…

    • @ladenheart: I’ve enjoyed your exchange with Ron over this issue, and I don’t have any particular horse in this debate or view on what “arsenokoitai” means. I do have one thing to add to your post above, however.

      You quoted Rowan Williams to the effect that “the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts, or on a problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures.”

      If I recall correctly, what Archbishop Williams actually said was that the absolute condemnation of same-sex sex must rely on abstract fundamentalism “in a church which accepts the legitimacy of contraception,” This seems to me to be an important point in this debate (perhaps the point), especially as I suspect that as a Roman Catholic, Ron (he can correct me if I’m wrong here) would in fact agree with Williams that the legitimacy of same-sex sex and opposite-sex contraceptive sex stand or fall together. Catholics would of course differ from Williams in seeing both as falling short of the God’s ideal for sexual expression.

      • I guess that’s part of why I’m not Catholic 😉 – but you’re right, that is part of the original statement. I did link to the full piece.

      • Yes, I agree with Rowan Williams that if Christians endorse contraception, then objections to same-sex unions will lack any intellectually defensible basis. But that is no reason to challenge the traditional exegesis of the Apostle Paul.

        Elizabeth Anscombe made the same point in 1972, in her essay on “Contraception and Chastity“:

        If contraceptive intercourse is permissible, then what objection could there be after all to mutual masturbation, or copulation in vase indebito, sodomy, buggery (I should perhaps remark that I am using a legal term here – not indulging in bad language), when normal copulation is impossible or inadvisable (or in any case, according to taste)? It can’t be the mere pattern of bodily behaviour in which the stimulation is procured that makes all the difference! But if such things are all right, it becomes perfectly impossible to see anything wrong with homosexual intercourse, for example. I am not saying: if you think contraception all right you will do these other things; not at all. The habit of respectability persists and old prejudices die hard. But I am saying: you will have no solid reason against these things. You will have no answer to someone who proclaims as many do that they are good too. You cannot point to the known fact that Christianity drew people out of the pagan world, always saying no to these things. Because, if you are defending contraception, you will have rejected Christian tradition.

        Williams at least agrees with Anscombe’s logic, if not with her conclusion.

  2. I don’t understand. I wonder which one of you believe the Holy Spirit guided/guides and will always guide the Church… It has been 2000 years since Paul… In all of those years it was clear to the Church, guided by the Spirit, what Paul was referring to. So, if you want to change the interpretation, you either believe that the Chruch was wrong all along (was unable or unwilling to listen to the Spirit) or that the Spirit was actually not there to guide the Church…

    • Well, ” the Church” at one time accepted slavery, forbad Galileo to say the earth moved around the sun, and per Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas that abortion, while a sin, was not murder until the fetus was ensouled–40 days for a male and 80 days for a female. I say this not to criticize the Church; I could cite other ways it was in advance of its time (eg. Monks keeping alive classical literature in scriptoria, charity hospitals, some Spanish clergy insisting that Native Americans had souls and that their marriages must be respected–unlike chattel slavery in North America–and the desegregation of Catholic schools in the South before the public ones. My point is that we didn’t know about DNA in the time of Aquinas, and have changed our ideas on slavery and how to interpret astronomy. We learn. Now we’ve learned that (particularly exclusive) homosexuality is probably a result of intrauterine (timing of testosterone surges) and perhaps genetic influences. Where did Jesus say the Church was infallible? I thought He said, “The gates of Hell shall not prevail against it,” rather a different thing.

      • The Holy Spirit is God. It doesn’t make mistakes and He leads the Church. The Church did not endorse slavery. It told salves to remain so to avoid bloodshed but She also advised them to purchase freedom if they could. It is a horrible thought that the Holy Spirit would abandon the Church and her hosexual children for two thousand years… It is an impossible thought.

      • From a biblical perspective, the causes of homosexual orientation are irrelevant. The desire results from the fall, along with all sorts of other genetic/hormonal conditions. Such relationships are still out of accord with god’s will.
        Moreover, the notion of exclusive, inborn homosexual orientation did exist in the ancient world. The precise mechanisms were less thoroughly conceptualized, but the crux of the idea was there.
        The heliocentric example is a bad analogy; no moral rules with such a major impact on the lives of people related to it.
        It is interesting that you refer to Jesus. Gay advocates often cite his silence on homosexuality to make their case, yet his silence suggests precisely the opposite. Jewish culture rejected homosexual relationships, while Greco-Roman culture was much more accepting. There would seem little reason not to whip Jewish culture into line with Greco-Roman on this.

      • Hypatia…I know your educational credentials, having seen them elsewhere on this site, I believe. As a physician and a colleague, myself, can you refer me to these studies that you frequently reference for the statements you make about biological origins of homosexuality? While I THEORIZE, myself, that it is the result of a combination of something resulting from the Fall which influences the genetic make-up of individuals AND environmental factors, I have not yet seen any studies that point to the conclusions that you have mentioned several times now. Please point me toward those studies for my own educational benefit. Thanks!

      • Dave, there is a summary of the studies–at least through 2010–in a book called “Gay, Straight, and the Reasons Why” by LeVay published by Oxford Press. It cites relevant studies and summarizes then. You can check out the original sources which he gives.

    • The Holy Spirit is God. I am not going to say the Church has never been guided by the Holy Spirit as I believe the Holy Spirit tries to guide all people to living Godly lives, but I am going to straight up say that the Church has simply been deaf to the Spirit before. Otherwise, how do you explain the crusades, the Malleus Maleficarum, and other mistakes or faltering along the way? There is no valid excuse for such atrocity.

      If the Church were always and unswervingly guided by the Holy Spirit then the Church would be Immaculate. It couldn’t not be; the Holy Spirit is God and God is Immaculate therefore anything 100% controlled by God would have to also be Immaculate, would it not?. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t force obedience, it merely whispers answers and requests. Humans still have the power to deny it, whether they wear a mitre or not is irrelevant to it for all have free will, priest and laity alike.

      That has come to be my view on it, anyways.

  3. Mat 11:25 At that time Jesus said in reply, I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.

    • I didn’t say the church endorsed slavery; I said they accepted it. The Holy Spirit may be God and hence perfect. The Church is at least partly a human institution and hence partly not perfect. Like humans it can err. We are not yet in heaven where all will be right; the Second Coming hasn’t happened yet. We, and the Church, can make mistakes.

      • You’re looking at the slavery question all wrong.

        Define slavery for me in such a way that is absolutely wrong.

        The most people can come up with is
        “it’s wrong to own people.”

        But the Church’s teaching has always been even more than this: it’s not wrong, it’s simply impossible. You can’t own a person because their soul is free. You have no power over their relationship with God or whether they end up in heaven.

        The Church, likewise, has always put moral limits on the body: you were never allowed to murder or rape a slave.

        Everything else is just questions about how labor and property are managed in society, and in this sense anyone under the age of 18 is still in many ways a slave of their guardian (not to mention how prisoners are treated!)

    • I’ve been thinking along these lines recently as well.

      Speaking as a Protestant, I’m not sure that the traditional conservative reading of Scripture necessarily forbids committed same-sex relationships. That reading of Scripture holds that there are certain opposite-sex sex acts that are unnatural. But we don’t forbid opposite-sex coupling merely because the couple MAY engage in acts that would run counter to the Bible’s sexual norms.

      Why should it be any different for same-sex relationships? Even if one accepts the traditional conservative reading, it’s hard to see that the Bible is referring to anything but anal penetration. So, it seems that one has to move 1-2 steps beyond the teachings of Scripture to arrive at the forbidding of same-sex coupling. Within Catholicism or Orthodoxy, authoritative church teaching takes those remaining 1-2 steps. But it’s not clear to me how the “sola scriptura” crowd gets there without reading extrabiblical assumptions into the text.

      • Of course the Bible doesn’t forbid committed same-sex relationships! They are called friendships, and they are celebrated in Scripture. They are not, however, presented as an alternative to marriage, nor as in any way similar to marriage.

      • Indeed, I agree. You might be interested to know that Conservative Judaism, which is the “centrist” wing between the Orthodox and the Reform, Renewal and Reconstruction denominations (who are extremely liberal) have ruled legally that same sex romance and marriage are permissible but homosexual anal sex is not.


  4. I think we need to call more attention to the issue of female homosexuality, which Paul refers to in Romans 1. The cultural context was quite different and did not involve nearly as much exploitation, pederasty issues, etc.
    In fact, much of it was quite monogamous.
    Yet, the Paul unceremoniously slipped the unqualified reference into Romans 1.
    Most likely, Paul meant to teach that homosexual relations are per se unnatual and transgress the creative order established in Genesis.

    • What makes you so sure that Romans 1 refers to sex acts between women. It’s just as likely, probably more likely, that it refers to “unnatural” acts between women and men, e.g., sexual acts between men and women that violate patriarchal gender norms.

      • I am not a patristics scholar, but my understanding is that the view that Paul was talking about heterosexual sodomy is the minority view among the Church Fathers. I think it would be more accurate to say that it’s possible, but not likely, that Paul was talking about heterosexual sodomy.

      • I cannot prove it, but I think Paul may have been referring to both. That would explain the lack of very clear specificity toward either meaning.
        That interpretation would mesh well with catholic sexual morality, under which opposite sex couples are ONLY permitted to engage in one very specific act and cannot even use contraception.

  5. I’ll say it again: The Holy Spirit guides the Church.

    The Church will make mistakes only if God allows it. In matters of faith and morals He doesn’t allow the Church to make mistakes. Why? Because it would be extremely cruel to allow the Church to teach that something is wrong (such as homosexual behavior/sex) when it is not. And I mean extremely cruel. More so if it has been 2000 years of teaching something is wrong when it is not wrong.

    Think about it: a whole set of people have been told that expressing their sexual desires is wrong. For 2000 years (not 2000 but since Leviticus was written!) this is what they have been told. If this sexual behavior is not wrong and just in the last few years the Spirit is actually teaching the Church that it is not wrong, then the Holy Spirit is a cruel God because he keep us in the dark. Because the suffering of a whole set of people is His fault, for allowing the Church to go astray in Her moral teachings.

    On the other hand, if, through the past thousands of years, He was teaching homosexual behavior is fine but the Church was making a mistake in listening to Him, then He is either a weak God because He has not power to keep the Church teaching what comes from Him or He is a cruel God because He allows such confusion and such a huge mistake.

    So what mistakes can the Church make? It can make mistakes on Her behavior. This is the freedom God allows us: to make mistakes, to sin, to go against His teaching. But in order to allow us to sin, to break His law, we ought to know with certainty what His law is. So he doesn’t allow us (the Church, His people) to make mistakes when it comes to faith or morals so that we may be sure to know what’s right and what’s wrong and freely decide to sin.

    • It is not so cruel as you might think. The Holy Spirit speaks to us too. I was confirmed a Catholic and I know that much. Even if a Church we go to is bogged down in the matters of the Flesh and worldliness all men have the Law written on the Heart. You know, deep down, what is wrong. You never needed a Church to teach you that. Does this Law Scripture refers to a reference to the Catholic Church as you believe? I have grown to doubt it. I think it is a reference to the formed conscience of people.

      The world has gotten better than it once was precisely because humankind is now abiding the Law written on the Heart. Wars no longer end with men collecting women as spoils and raping and murdering with abandon, breaking the law in most places is not punished as severely as it once was, and we have seen an explosion of empathy across the world that only grows with each passing year. Even the problems of today with narcissism pale in comparison to the narcissism of men like Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great.

      When I read reference to “the rock upon which He builds his Church” and the fire that sweeps across the world (eg Holy Spirit) I have come to see it as a reference to this transformation we are seeing now and less a reference to the rules and legalisms that stretch back thousands of years. That is not to say the Church is wrong or useless, but simply that it is one part of a bigger whole.

      I could be wrong, of course, but so could you. We are all throwing the dice on this but I am pretty certain of my views and grow more certain as I grow older.

  6. I will add to Rosa’s comment.

    For a gay equalist, the bible is an extremely offensive book. While it makes negative rules, it celebrates the potential beauty of heterosexual sex and marriage. But, it highlights homosexual activity exclusively in negative terms and never remotely hints the possibility it could be positive.

    It is farcical to suggest that the traditional reading of the bible is reading prejudice into the text. Based on the above, any uneducated person will get the impression that marriage is a male-female union and nothing outside that is allowed.

    Thus, I think most non-celibate gays will continue to reject Christianity rather than joining side A.

    God may not have spoken the exact words to the biblical authors, but he would have made sure they did not write anything so terribly misleading in an area with such major impact on people’s lives. The heliocentric universe issue has no meaningful impact on major moral rules. The bible may tolerate slavery to some extent, but never endorses it. But, it gives every possible impression of endorsing the rejection of homosexual behavior.

    It would not have been difficult to inspire some sort of positive depiction of homosexuality. Jesus had years to defend homosexual activity against its disfavor in Jewish culture, and give it the favor it had in Greco-Roman culture. Especially from gay activist premises related to the spiritual devastation and dehumanization supposedly inherent to the traditional teaching, it is inconceivable that Jesus would not have done so.

    I am quite convinced that marriage is a male-female union and can be nothing else. Side A is scarely even a possibility in my mind. I conclude that the only reasonable way to conclude that same-sex marriage can exist is to abandon Christianity.

    • I agree with you, which is why I have abandoned Christianity.

      To me a God that sentences me to a lifetime of unwanted celibacy just because what I feel doesn’t model what Christians claim were his original intentions for the human race is cruel, dismissive and infinitely hard-hearted. This is not benevolence as I understand it.

      • Ettiene,

        I’ll tell you this: the honesty you are displaying… That honesty may lead you back to Him… Eventually.

        Gob bless you

    • [I conclude that the only reasonable way to conclude that same-sex marriage can exist is to abandon Christianity.]

      You are predisposed to doubting that the Side A folks even have a cogent argument at all. You offer little in the way of rebuttal to the likes of Matthew Vines, Pete Enns, and the many, many other theologians who hold a differing view from yours and you proceed to call into question their own wisdom based on what? Speculative rules-lawyering and rationalizations fit for the finest dressed of Pharisees.

      The fact is, the Bible is only offensive to the Side A Christian if they go with your interpretation of the text. I have looked at both sides and am growing more convinces of Side A in the fight, if only because they don’t resort to making enemies out of the other side as quickly as people like you do. Wherever I go, i find posts like yours. People adamant that a homosexual who would dare to fall in love with someone else and not feel really bad about it or see it as an evil thing is “not a real Christian”. Posts that basically say in no uncertain terms “If you disagree with me then you are my enemy.” You don’t say it so blatantly, but the we get the jist of it.

      The continuous lack of charity and the constant, baseless assumptions about our motives have quickly solidified my view that your side is in the wrong. I suppose I should thank your side for giving me a degree of certainty where before I honestly came to places like this wondering if I was right or wrong.

    • Happiness, I asked you the following question on the blog, Sacred Tension. However,you implied you were going to stop following that blog, so you may not see it. So I’ll ask you here. I hope it is not too personal. Are you a cradle Catholic or a convert? And if the latter how old were you at your reception into the Church and how many years have you been Catholic?

    • The earliest Epistle we have was probably written around 50AD; the earliest Gospel around 70AD. So quite a bit of information about Jesus may have been lost. No mention was made of him having a wife, however. It was unusual for Jewish men not to be married–even now it is highly recommended that teacher/rabbis be married. The Essenes were a small group and a bit of an exception. Even with them celibacy was often temporary. Happiness, you say that Jesus had plenty of time to argue against the prohibition of homosexuality, but that he did not. Well, not in words that have come down to us. Maybe he taught more by example. Two books that may be of interest are “The Wife of Jesus” by Le Donne and “The Man Jesus Loved” by Jennings.

      • Hypatia, being unmarried would not exactly seem to have been the most unusual aspect of Jesus. 🙂
        It is always amusing to read various attempts to reinvent Jesus to fit one’s desires. Some say he was in a sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene, some say he was sexually active with apostles and/or other men, etc. I would love to see those two factions battle it out in a contentious symposium. LOL.
        Well, I guess one could say both are true. But, in that case, it seems a little improbable to say Jesus was god, doesn’t it?
        If you want an unbiased critique, read the link below:
        Really, I think the best piece that solves the whole issue is below:
        Furthermore, one would have expected Jesus to be so heteronormative (to borrow LGBT movement terminology) is Matthew 19, especially if he himself were homosexual! Especially considering it was well known among the Jews that some men wanted husband and not wives.
        I am not sure if you believe scripture is divinely inspired. If not, you can simply ignore what was written about homosexuality. It would be so much simpler!
        If you want to debate that, there are many more equipped to debate you than I. But, the whole point of the Vines-Brownson thesis is that it is possible to believe in the full inspiration of scripture and support some homosexual relationships. That is what I reject.

  7. Thanks, Ron.

    “…learn the historical context, but then judge it with our own 21st century categories…”

    If I remember rightly, this is similar to one of Richard B. Hays’ concerns about John Boswell’s exegesis of Romans 1.

  8. Some thoughts:
    1. “The Church has always regarded homosexual acts as serious sins.”
    The Church condemned usury as a much more serious sin, at least in medieval penitential manuals, until the sin was justified by the School of Salamanca.
    2. “Paul renewed that prohibition in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10) and taught that such acts are “contrary to nature” (Romans 1:27).”
    Actually, Paul teaches that “men likewise gave up natural relations with women,” which seems to indicate taking on unnatural relations with women. I think it’s a stretch to stick the idea in Paul’s mind that the relations with men were unnatural. Whatever may be implicit in his teaching, it remains unsaid. To wit: οἱ (the) ἄρσενες (men) ἀφέντες (throwing off) τὴν (the) φυσικὴν (natural) χρῆσιν (use) τῆς (of the) θηλείας (women).
    3. Regarding age difference and the apocryphal story of Mary and Joseph:
    I think the key to interpreting this text is that “a miracle manifested the choice God had made of Joseph.” A miracle manifested God’s choice because men would not have made the same choice; men would have avoided such an age difference. It is worth comparing this selection of Joseph with the selection of David in 1 Samuel 16. Verse 7 reads: “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’” The purpose of the miracle in both the selection of Joseph and of David is to recall that “the Lord sees not as man sees.” Also, the unpredictability of God’s choice in the selection of Joseph and of course the divine intervention in the pairing of Joseph and Mary is typical of many early Christian writings that are more and more intent on the origin, especially divine origin, of Christ. This story survives not because it was one of many stories, but because it left an impression on the minds of men: God does the unpredictable and the seemingly impossible. Ultimately, I don’t think it was a helpful example to cite in support of your argument, Ron.

    • Can you elaborate on your question, Rosa? Sorry, I’m not sure exactly what you mean by it. I mention it as an example of something which passed from serious sin, to respectable Christian practice.

  9. Rosa, any condemnation of usury is today without penalty. We don’t hear bankers, brokers, and financiers preached against in homilies for their grave sin. The fact is, despite writing on paper, Christians and our hierarchs happily tolerate and employ usury. This might not make it right, but clearly our thinking, including theological and moral thinking, has changed. The question we must ask then is whether this on-paper definition of sin continues to be a sin in real life.

    • I don’t think you are right. Please refer to the Church’s Social Doctrine. Probably you are of the opinion that any interest charged on money is usury… But I believe that’s a subject for a different forum as the purpose of SF is different.


      • ‘Vix pervenit’ (1745) by Benedict XIV is quite clear that interest on a loan is usury and, in fact, instructs restitution must be made if a person charges interest. You might also reference Lateran Council II and the Council of Vienne. Unfortunately, Rosa, you are proving my point by accepting and promoting the new ideas of the School of Salamanca, which popularized the idea that usury is not any interest charged on money. The reason any of this is important is because of the historical relationship with morality. In the Middle Ages, any interest at all charged was considered more sinful than any sexual act, if we are to accept the witness of penitential manuals. Today this is not the case at all.

  10. It is important indeed. But as I said, it is my view that this is not the forum to discuss usury. If you want let me know what your email address is and I will email you.

    • My intention was not to discuss usury. As I’ve written repeatedly, it’s one, rather large, example of how something sinful passes to the realm of probably-not-simple. So this is not a conversation about usury per se, but about the shift it underwent. The same shift other sinful activities might make, such as enslavement, or perhaps even in the opposite direction, to become sinful. It is a historical reality we cannot deny.

  11. Yes I understand what you mean but what I’m saying is: I don’t agree with you. I think there is no shift related to where the sin really lies. The prohibition might draw the line at different spots (any interest rate or a loan shark interest rate) but the sin is always a sin of greed against charity. In this sense maybe the relationship to homosexuality is that, in this case, the prohibition might draw the line at either holding hands and hugging or actual full blown sex… But the sin itself is always a sin of lust against chastity. In any case usury as well as certain homosexual activity (whatever that is) is a sin. And where the line should be drawn is what is debatable. BTW I want to make clear that I don’t think holding hands is necessarily sinful.

  12. I need to add one more thing that I overlooked. In the case of usury it is a given that shark loans are a sin. In the case of homosexuality it is a given that full blown sex is also a sin. It is when we move towards other types of “lesser” activities where things get a bit more complex and the conscience of the individual comes into play. I am married and I know that if I were to “have feelings” for one of my coworkers and I held hands with him that will be problematic for my conscience would tell me that I am being unfaithful to my husband and that I may fall into further temptation if I continue that way. So the holding of hands for me under those circumstances is a sin. And of course having sex with my coworker is, of course, a horrible sin. So the Church can teach us what is wrong and what is right only so far. We must take over from there and live our lives facing God. After all Christ asked us to be perfect (WOW – it blows my mind away!) just like our Father is perfect…

  13. Pingback: The Bible and Homosexuality: Three Strikes and You Are Out | My Idea Zone

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