Sunday, 5 February 2012

Roger Grainger on Gays and Christianity

Roger quoted the passage where St Paul has his vision, on the temple roof or mountain top and hears that God is Love and all the old laws have passed away.

In his book "The Holy Orafice" Roger describes how OT Jewish Law had very unhealthy/obsessed views with sex - ie some of the wierder stuff in there - but that as Christians we are freed from the laws of Moses and Leviticus to live under new laws, primarily that of Love. St Paul is the major source for Christian morality in the NT - letters to Rome, Corinth etc - but as he had cultural conditioning toward or against various issues (eg homosexuality etc) of course he would say bad things. Indeed, he uses the phrase "Arsen Koitus" - which isnt even Greek, its slang greek and a slang term which meens "anal sex" or "men who have anal sex" in its proper translation but is probably NT slang for "puff". St Paul was of the mind that Gay people chose to be gay - everyone is straigh in his thinking and one choses to be gay. We now know it is more complicated than that!

However St Paul does rightly condemn a practice which was illegal under the Roman Empire - Pedersatry. This was where an older man would groom a young pre or just teenage boy and tutor him, and also have sex with him. The Romans viewed it as sick and no doubt St Paul continued this Roman Law over into his letters becuase he too believed such practices were wrong.


Because they do this (worshipping false gods) God has given them over to shameful passions. Even the women pervert the natural use of their sex by unnatural acts. In the same way men give up natural sexual relations with women and burn with passion for each other, and as a result they bring upon themselves the punishment for their wrong doing.

It seems that in part it least Paul was thinking of ritual prostitution; the association of the worship of false gods with `unnatural' sexual acts seems clear. Paul would have been as aware as anyone of the practices at Corinth where there was a large Jewish community, and at a hundred other shrines around the empire.

People have turned from worship of the one true God, and have turned to the worship of idols. Inevitably this has meant that they have sunk into unnatural vices and all sorts of immorality and anti social behaviour. "Vanity of mind and blindness of heart inevitably bring into being corrupt conduct." (`The Epistle to the Romans', Karl Bart p.49) Paul's opinion that the vices of paganism are the result of idolatry was a common feature of Jewish comment at the time. There is a long passage in the Book of Wisdom written by an Egyptian Jew not long before Paul wrote his letter, which is precisely on this theme and Paul follows his argument closely. In fact as Gerald Downing said "He . . . takes over standard Jewish polemical apologetic addresses to Gentiles, accepting Stoic pointers to the `unnatural' mess that humans get themselves into." (`Apology and Apologetic' article in `A Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation' Ed. Coggins and Houlden p41)

(I must enter a note here about the authorship of this passage. Some scholars eg. J.C. O'Neil, have suggested that this passage was not written by Paul, but is a later addition. We can usually tell if a book or a passage of writing is written by a particular person by the style and vocabulary. In this case both the style and the vocabulary of these verses are unlike Paul's other writing. At least twenty-nine words in Chapter 1:18-32 occur nowhere else in his writings. Also there is no very strong link between what Paul is saying in chapter 1:1-17, and this passage that follows it. For a more detailed investigation of this matter see `Paul's Letter to the Romans.' J.C. O'Neil p.41)

Paul uses the present continuous tense. In effect he is saying that we can see a process going on before our eyes - the revelation of the wrath of God. It is human wickedness that is hindering the purposes of God and this will bring down his retribution. The idea of God handing men over to immoral ways of life seems strange; however what Paul seems to be saying is that we have abandoned the true God and so, cut off from his guidance, we have fallen into moral confusion and degeneracy. Human beings are free to make choices, when these are evil choices then there may be evil consequences.

When Paul is writing as a moralist he follows the usual classification of his day. Vices are divided into two parts; a) sensual and b) anti social. He lists the sensual vices of pagan society in v.24-27 and the anti social in v.29-31. The emphasis in this passage falls on the former. "For Paul the most obvious proof of the moral decay and corruption of society is the prevalence of homosexuality." (`The Epistle of Paul to the Romans' C.H.Dodd p.54.) though clearly this is not the only aspect he criticises.

Even today the overt portrayal of human sexuality in Roman painting and sculpture is quite shocking. As any visit to Pompeii will show, the Roman obsession with sensuality is amazing. What on earth a Jew or newly converted Jewish Christian with his aversion to nakedness would have thought as he went into the house of a Roman friend or client, perhaps a fellow Christian, to see on the wall a painting of his host naked with a hugely distended erection (a symbol of power and wealth) or a series of scantily clad girls dancing across the wall of the dining room, or a sculpture depicting bestiality in the sitting room, can only barely be guessed at! Jews were very reluctant to associate or visit the homes of gentiles for fear of corruption, but this taboo must have started breaking down in the fledgling Christian communities that Paul was founding. The display of human sexuality in art was entirely accepted in Roman society. It is a measure of the effect of Jewish attitudes to the naked human form that its portrayal in art died out from the forth century right up to the time of the Renaissance in the fifteenth century. Even the first Christian Emperor Constantine was criticized by contemporary Christian commentators. Jerome sniffily remarks that the Emperor "had virtually the entire city filled with nudes." But then Jerome found all human sexuality repellant.

The extraordinary sexual profligacy of Roman society went right up to the highest levels. Juvenal cites the incredible case of the Empress Agrippina, wife of the Emperor Claudius, who at night used to leave the royal palace and serve in a brothel for the sheer lust of it. Nero who followed Claudius on the throne had a favourite boy slave Sporus, whom he had castrated, dressed in women's clothes renamed as a woman and married to himself as wife. (Told by Suetonius, Nero XXV111). The use of slaves for sexual purposes was common and was widely criticised. These boys were frequently castrated to prolong their usefulness, the horror of the life of a sexual slave in a Roman brothel must have been appalling. A sad example is described by Seneca. The boy now a man was a wine server at banquets, there forced to wear women's clothes kept beardless by hair removal, "dividing his time between his master's drunkenness and his lust. In the chamber he must be a man (vir) at the feast a boy (puer). (Seneca Epistle XLV11 7. Trans. R.M. Gummere 1925)

Paul was deeply shocked by the rejection of restraint, the flouting of convention and the lack of moral consensus which for him homosexuality symbolized. It was a rebellion against God "He and the Stoics agree on the whole in their account of unseemly things but for Paul they are unseemly not because they are anti social but because they are indicative of rebellion against God." (`The Epistle to the Romans' C.K. Barret p.40). This is different from the emphasis placed on similar vices by pagan commentators. In so far as they denounced `vice' at all, they did so because of its anti social character rather than because it might violate some God given sanctions. So in the case of fornication for example, it was treated like over indulgence in food or drink; it only became a subject worthy of condemnation if it became a social problem. For Paul however it was the proof that God had abandoned pagan society. "No feature of Pagan society filled the Jew with greater loathing than the toleration, or rather admiration, of homosexual practices. Paul is entirely at one here with his compatriots; but his disgust is more that instinctive. In the obscene pleasures to which he refers, is to be seen precisely that perversion of the created order which may be expected when men put the creation in place of the creator. That idolatry has such consequences is to Paul a plain mark of God's wrath." (Ibid. p.39). Dr Barret is clearly influenced in the vehemence of his comments by his own feelings on the subject of homosexual behaviour, but his assessment of Paul's feelings are probably not far from the mark.

Most people observed the outward conventions of pagan religion but there is a lot of evidence to suggest that agnosticism and atheism were widespread. People no longer believed in the things which had previously given purpose and shape to their lives. Paul believed that this moral vacuum would inevitably lead to terrible consequences for a society that had abandoned God; murder, anger, disputes, the naked lust for power (v29-31) and eventually the collapse of society itself.

Paul was not alone in taking this extremely gloomy view. Pagan writers of the time made an equally bleak assessment. When Tacitus came to write his history of the period (which included the war of the four emperors, and widespread social unrest, all within a decade of Paul's letter) he wrote, "I am entering upon the history of a period, rich in disasters, gloomy with wars, rent with seditions, savage in its very hour of peace . . . all was one delirium of hate and terror; slaves were bribed to betray their masters, freedmen their patrons. He who had no foe was destroyed by his friend." (The Histories). No one was to be trusted, "The most readily purchased commodity on the market was an advocate's treachery." (Tacitus Annals X1.2 Penguin p.227) Suetonius writing in the reign of Tiberius said, "No day passed but someone was executed." From the death of Augustus to the reign of Trajan was a time of terror. "Rome," said Livy, could neither bare its ills nor the remedies that might have cured them." The poet Propertius wrote, "I see Rome, proud Rome, perishing the victim of her own prosperity." Juvenal viewed the gloomy scene with his accustomed cynicism, "The nation no longer brings forth any but bad men and cowards. Hence God, whoever he is, looks down, laughs at them and hates them." For him the gods might laugh but for Suetonius it was the despair just beneath the surface that he saw. It was an age ". . . stricken with the agitation of a soul no longer master of itself."

Paul was not exaggerating then in his pessimistic and highly critical assessment of the society around the young churches he was founding. The Christian message came to this beleaguered society like a breath of fresh air and this more than anything else explains why the faith spread so quickly across the empire and amongst all sections of society.

However it is fair to ask at this point whether Paul was right to associate the general decay in society with the prevalence of homosexual behaviour. There is no evidence to suggest that homosexual behaviour either causes or is a sign of social collapse. Certainly many people even today believe it, without any facts to back up their beliefs. As Moritz Goldstien said on the subject of anti semitism, "We can easily reduce our detractors to absurdity and show them that their accusations are groundless. But what does this prove? That their hatred is real. When every slander has been rebutted, every misconception cleared up, every false opinion about us overcome, intolerance itself will remain finally irrefutable." (`Deutch-judischer Parnass')

In fact the contrary of popular prejudice is often the case, homosexuals are frequently associated with the most creative and artistic sections of society. Nor can it be said that homosexuality is linked to non belief or the secularising forces in society, again the contrary is actually the case. Sometimes one is tempted to feel that the criticism levelled at homosexual life styles is really a jealous reaction against the freer life styles of single people in general, whether heterosexual or homosexual. They do not follow the conventional family pattern that many people who do lead it find restricting and demanding. Single people and in particular gay people, are often accused of being selfish. Indeed the Bishop of Rochester accused married couples without children of selfishness!

What is true is that in a society like that of Rome in the first century AD, wholly given over to the pursuit of sensuality, the awareness of God will diminish and human sexuality of either orientation will reflect the general moral decline.

This passage is the only unquestioned condemnation of homosexual behaviour, as such, in the New Testament. Here sexual acts, para phusin `against' or `more than' nature, are seen by Paul as a rejection of God's authority. The Greek word here `para' strictly does not mean `against' which is how it is usually translated, but `in excess of' (It's translated as `more than' in the preceding verse and in other places in the New Testament.) The most usual Greek word for `opposition to' is `kata'. This has lead some commentators (Professor John Boswell) to suggest that what Paul is condemning here is not homosexuality as such but indulging in homosexual behaviour when you are really heterosexual, that is, doing something which is contrary to your own nature. There is some evidence that this in part, was how it was seen by some early Christian scholars like St John Chrysostom, who felt that it was important that the men and women involved had previously enjoyed satisfactory heterosexual relations. The problem here is that Paul and his contemporaries would not have understood our idea of `homosexuality' for which they had no equivalent word. They certainly understood homosexual behaviour but the idea that a person could be homosexual by nature, to the exclusion of any other sexual activity, and for whom heterosexual activity could be described as `unnatural' in that it would be against their nature, would have been unknown.

If this is true, then the Bible does not address the issues that need to be addressed by Christians today and any biblical judgements against homosexual acts may not be relevant to a debate on `homosexuality'. How we should apply this passage to our own time and experience will depend on how much weight we want to give to the social context of this passage and the probability that Paul is alluding to cultic or abusive and exploitative forms of sexual behaviour, such as the holding of slaves as sexual objects and sex with young boys. It also depends on what weight we want to give to new understandings of the nature of human sexuality and sexual orientation which have been developed over the last century of psychological study. If it is correct that some people are born homosexual with no realistic possibility of change, a concept with which Paul would have been unfamiliar, would it therefore mean that Paul's words are invalid? Or might it even mean that Paul's words teach us that for someone who is homosexual by nature, it would be unnatural (kata phusin) or exceeding their usual nature (para phusin) to indulge in heterosexual sexual relations?

Surely you know that the wicked will not possess God's kingdom. Do not fool yourselves; people who are immoral or who worship idols or are adulterers, neither the effeminate, the perverted or the thief; neither the swindler, the drunkard, the foul mouthed or the rapacious shall have any share in the kingdom of God.

This passage is the first in Christian literature to refer to homosexual behaviour.

This is what scholars call a catalogue of vices, it is a list of evil habits strung together with no very obvious connection between them or a clear sequence. Paul uses this form several times in his writings. In this case St Paul is clearly concerned about sexual immorality in the Corinthian church. It seems that a man has begun to live with his father's wife, another has been consorting with prostitutes, and there has been recourse to secular courts. None of these of course has anything to do with homosexuality. Underlying Paul's displeasure is his concern for the purity of the community. In fact there are three lists in this section each one longer than the last. It is only in the last that there may be a reference to homosexuality. The curious thing is that these lists do not have any close relationship with the problems in the church that Paul was concerned about. They seem to be a traditional form which he has used.

In this passage we are confronted with a linguistic problem. I have used the Phillips translation. In this, the Greek words `malakoi' and arsenokoitai, have been translated as `effeminate' and `perverted'. The R.S.V. and the Good News Bible lump the two together as `homosexuals' and `homosexual perverts'. The Jerusalem Bible says `catamites' and `sodomites'. The N.E.B. again lumps the two together and says `those guilty of homosexual perversion.' In fact the exact denotation is not clear. (I have chosen Phillips because I think that is the most accurate.) `Malakos' may mean soft when it is applied to clothing. As in Luke 7:25, when Jesus asked the people why they had gone out in the desert to see John the Baptist. "Well what was it you went out to see? A man dressed in soft raiment?" (alla ti edzelthate idein; anthropon malakois himatius emphiesmenon;" . It is a very common word in Greek and can mean `sick' (Matthew 11:8;) It can mean also mild or gentle or soft or effeminate when applied to people; it is because of this last meaning that it has often been assumed that it refers to the person who takes the passive role in anal intercourse, but there is no linguistic or other authority for this interpretation. Professor John Boswell (`Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality' p106ff) Says of the word "At a broad level it might be translated as either `unrestrained' or `wanton'" neither of which translations has anything to do as such with homosexual practices. It is largely because it is put next to `arsenokoitos' which has a stronger association with homosexual sex that it is assumed to refer to homosexual behaviour. In the writings of Dionysius of Harlicanasus there is a description of a ruler whose nickname was malakos, he wonders why he got this name; it was given "either because he became effeminate (theludria) as a child . . or because he was gentle by nature." (Roman Antiquities V11 2.4.) There are other texts where malakos more strongly suggested homosexual behaviour. The speaker in the `Erotikos' speaks of the willing youth consenting to pederastic intercourse as one who acts with malakia. "Thus the use of malakos would almost certainly call up images of the effeminate call boy; if the context otherwise suggested pederastic activities." (R.Scroggs `The New Testament and Homosexuality' p.65). If this is Paul's meaning it is odd that he didn't use a more technical term. The lover `erastes' the boy `eromenos', or `paidika', to give the body for purposes of intercourse `charidzesthai', even the literal `lover of boys' `paiderasteia' was common enough.

`Arsenokoitos' may mean more generally `sodomite' though it suggests also promiscuity, `koitos' in Romans 13:13 means sexual excess. A correct translation of `arsenokoitoi' may be `promiscuous homosexuals'. The French version of the Jerusalem Bible refers to promiscuity. It can also mean weak, corrupt and promiscuous people. Arsenokoitos is a compound noun made up of two words `arsen' and `koite'. They are used in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament prohibitions against homosexual behaviour. "With a male (arsen) you shall not lie the intercourse (koite lit. bed) of a woman, both have done an abomination." And, "Whoever lies with a male (arsen) the intercourse (koite) of a woman, both have done an abomination." Arsenokoitos is an almost exact translation of the rabbinical Hebrew words `mishkau zekor' `lying with a male' which was a term for homosexual acts. Arsenokoitos may therefore be a Hellenistic Jewish word for homosexual behaviour. The word does not appear in contemporary Greek writing which also suggests the Jewish connection. One wonders how familiar the readers of the Corinthian letter would have been with this term. The precise nature of the sexual activity is not known for certain but if as is likely the word malakos suggests an effeminate call boy the word arsenokoitois may refer to the man who hires him. Since in Rabbinical discussion the mishkau zekor is the active not the passive partner, it is likely that it would function in the same way in the Greek version. It may be therefore that Paul is condemning homosexual prostitution where one of the partners assumes the style and role of a woman.

Professor Boswell (ibid p.349) points out that as late as the twelfth century, Peter Cantor's listing of passages condemning homosexuality did not include either 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 or 1 Timothy 1:10, a strange omission if homosexual activity was the generally accepted meaning of the passage.

I hesitate to criticize so distinguished an interpreter of the scriptures as Professor William Barclay whose `Daily Study Bible' has been a god-send to me and most other preachers of sermons for nearly forty years. However his comments about this passage cannot go unchallenged. He is quite clear that Paul has homosexual behaviour in mind in this passage and goes on to say; "In this particular vice, in the time of the early church, the world was lost to shame; and there can be little doubt that this was one of the main reasons of its degeneracy and the final collapse of its civilization." (The Daily Study Bible. Revised Edition. `The Letter to the Corinthians' p.54) In writing this nonsense I'm afraid Dr Barclay has allowed his own feelings to cloud his judgement. Whatever reasons may be put forward for the final collapse of the Western Roman Empire - some four hundred years after Paul wrote his letters and when the empire was Christian - or indeed any other empire before or since, it was certainly not the prevalence of homosexual behaviour.

It seems difficult now to believe that effeminacy, (or for that matter swearing or drunkenness,) of itself will be enough to deny a person a place in heaven. Clearly Paul must have had something else in mind. We have already looked at Philo's criticism of effeminate call boys in Alexandria in the bible-study on the laws referring to homosexual behaviour in Leviticus. Clearly there was a strong Jewish aversion to the fashionable Greek practices of shaving and careful grooming of hair. Clement of Alexandria was still railing against such things in the Alexandria of his day some 300 years after Paul. "Is it not womanish for a man to have his hair combed slick, putting each lock in place before a mirror, and to have himself shaved with a razor, for appearance sake, to have his chin shaved and the hair plucked out and made completely smooth?" Clement had no doubt what this implied. "Their utter shamelessness in public is a sure proof of their wilful depravity in private. He who disowns his manhood by light of day will, beyond the least shadow of doubt, prove himself a woman at night." (Clement, Paidagogos 111. 3 15f trans. Clement of Alexandria S.P. Wood 1954). Perhaps Paul too saw effeminate boys plying their trade around Corinth and the other places he visited and with his Jewish aversion, and religious sensitivity, to shaving and hair cutting, was led to condemn people who seemed to be denying the bodies God had given them. It is always tempting to believe that our concerns and prejudices are the same as God's.

Paul was writing at a time when even pagan writers (eg. Seneca and Plutarch) were increasingly critical of the exploitation and self indulgence of homosexual acts against slaves and young boys. It seems clear too that he was thinking of anal intercourse which was a strong taboo among the Jewish people, perhaps because in part it was associated with an act of conquest. This was so, particularly among the Egyptians, according to the research of J. Edgar Bron (Old Testament History and the growth of a sexual Ethic.) He quotes a story which appears in the Egyptian Myth `The contending of Horus and Seth' where Seth dominated Horus by raping him. Such an act was seen to undermine the very foundations of patriarchal society in which the dignity of the male was seen to be of crucial importance. To be the receptive partner in an act of homosexual anal intercourse would certainly be seen by Paul and his Jewish contemporaries as unmanly and a gross misuse of the body given to him by God. (There is some evidence of this prejudice in Roman society too, Julius Caesar was teased because of his homosexual affairs during his youth when it was assumed he had taken the passive role during intercourse.) Clearly also in a society so concerned with cleanliness there would have been a strong and negative association of the anus with elimination and dirt. Both these taboos are still in force today, even though anal intercourse in heterosexual relationships is not uncommon.
1 TIMOTHY 1:9-10

Yes the law is directed against the sort of people who attack their parents, who kill their fellows who are sexually uncontrolled or perverted or who traffic in the bodies of others. (Phillips).

Paul is writing here to Timothy the leader of the church at Ephesus. Always a rather tentative man, Timothy was having problems with false teachers who were threatening the life of the church. It seems likely that Jewish Gnostic teachers (an early heresy which believed that in order to pass through the spheres around the earth inhabited by evil spirits to get to the heavenly realms special knowledge, gnosis, was required) were making false interpretations about certain Old Testament laws though it is also possible that the law in question is the ordinary civil law of the Empire.. Paul having denounced their teaching goes on to describe the real purpose of the law. It supports and compliments the Gospel by forbidding everything which opposes its teaching. The law is there to restrain and convict evil doers. We now have one of the lists of offences so beloved by Paul. It follows the second part of the ten commandments but paraphrased into the grossest examples. These evil doers lack moral standards, reverence for God, a sense of the holy, and are without regard for family relations, human life, sexual purity and social good faith.

It is the three groups of people of which arsenokoitai is the second which is of interest to this study `pornois', `arsenokoitai' and `andrapodistes'. The significance comes from the fact that these three are put together. The word pornos in ordinary Greek use means a male prostitute. It appears in the New Testament in other places where it seems to have a wider meaning of sexual offences in general, but the usual meaning is the most likely, arsenokoitais we have already looked at. The third word andropodistais means kidnapper or slave dealer. Putting these three words together suggests that Paul is saying that prostitutes, those who employ them and those who have forced people into prostitution are condemned by the law and have no place in the Kingdom. Such behaviour was fundamentally opposed to God's purpose for sexuality. As we have already said there were certainly brothels staffed with boys in Rome and there is some evidence to suggest that there was sexual tourism, with wealthy people from the north of the Mediterranean travelling to the south to enjoy the sexual favours of the flesh-pots of north Africa.

Sexual tourism is still in the news at the present time with rich westerners going to the far east to indulge in sex with children. We know too that there are many women from the countries of eastern Europe who have been lured to the west with promises of work only to find that they are working as prostitutes. Young black men in such holiday destinations as the Gambia and other parts of west Africa have learned the ways of prostitution from wealthy Scandinavian women. It is exactly this kind of situation that St Paul is addressing.

One thing that I think also needs to be pointed out is that from the 6th to the 13th centuries the Church didnt percieve homosexuality as being a massive sin. In the early Church Homosexuality was the scape-goat for all manner of things, including according to Justinian "there are famines, earthquakes, and pestilences, wherefore we admonish men to abstain from the aforesaid unlawful acts.." Homosexaul behavious was "blamed" as the cause for the great plague in Constantinople in AD 541...

By stages an imprecise Bible story, coloured by Jewish disapproval of Greek and Roman cultural mores, and then by Christian revulsion at "sins against nature" the ultimate effect was to transform homosexuality and the homosexual as a danger not only to the Church, but the state.

However, this anti-Homosexual mania of the early Church fell off around the 6th century and in the 7th century the Cummean Penitential notes that:

Mutual masturbation by men OVER twenty = 20 o 40 days penance. 100 days for a second offence. If habitual, the two persons were to be separated for a year.

Felatio (oral sex, straight or gay) - penance of four years

Sodomy (straigh of gay) - Seven years penance

Kissing - "simple kissing" = 6 special fasts. "LIcentious kissing" = 8 fasts. "kissing with Emotion or Embrace" = ten special fasts

So you couldnt even kiss someone!

From the 6th to the early 11th century homosexuals were in fact treated no more harshly than couples who practiced contraception.

So.....the Churches' view on Homosexuality hasn't been static nor has its means of dealing with it! So the "tradition" of Gay bashing is one that hasnt always existed in the Church.

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