Those Scriptures Don’t Mean What You Might Think They Do: Jesus and Paul Say Nothing about Homosexuality, but Much about Protecting People on the Margin

A few days ago, I saw a tweet from a far-right group saying that a great way to share your Christian faith with homosexuals was to help that see that “Jesus has a better way” for them.

Now, I believe Jesus has a better way for all of us, which is part of why I’m a Christian. But that’s not what this group meant. This group meant that Jesus has a better way for the ordering of gay peoples’ lives specifically around a heteronormative model.

One of the many problems with this assertion is that there’s absolutely zero basis for it in the sayings attributed to Jesus, or even in the writings of Paul.

Jesus literally said nothing about same-sex attraction or committed relationships. Paul said nothing about the same-sex union of equals. Both were intensely concerned that we not abuse power, that we embrace people society has cast out.

What about Mark 10:6–9?

Mark 10:6–9 finds Jesus saying this:

6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Now, let’s look at the larger context:

10:1 Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.

4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

The context for 6–9 is that Jesus crosses the Jordan and finds himself immediately in the midst of a Pharisaical proof-texting session, mostly likely designed to get Jesus to say something the religious establishment would find, to use a much-misused modern term, “unbiblical.” Let’s look again:

2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.

4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Obeying the dictates attributed to Moses (and ultimately, to God) had become near-obsessive-compulsion in the life and practice of the religious establishment in Jesus’ day, and there have be heirs of that compulsion in every century. In the earliest Christian scriptures, we find religious groups (the Pharisees, as well as the pro-circumcision camp of early Christians, and others) using the texts to exclude people from their understanding of God’s radical welcome.

That’s part of what makes Jesus’ response about the divorce so fascination. Jesus is literally saying “the law of Moses regarding divorce was written because your hearts are hard.” In other words, “I know what the Scripture says, but God’s heart is bigger.”

The male/female language is descriptive, and *could* be read by the letter as proscriptive, but what Jesus has just done deconstructing the Mosaic divorce proof-text makes me skeptical of that approach. Using this text as a proof-text regarding Jesus’ view on what we call homosexuality is untenable from the start, because the text begins with Jesus himself imploding what seems like a slam-dunk proof-text legitimating divorce. (Notice, too, that it’s talking about male-directed divorce. Interesting, right?)

The other hugely important thing about this passage is that even when we use it to define God’s view of marriage, we completely ignore what comes next:

10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

Very, very few people are nearly as fastidious about this verse as they are about the ones seeming, at first glance, to indicate a definition of marriage as such. But even if they are, the textual device remains: Jesus begins a discussion on relationships and law by completely blowing up the expectation of religious elites based on their singular interpretation of a given text.

That’s Jesus for you.

“I know what the Scripture says. But God’s heart is bigger.”

What about Paul?

1 Timothy 1:9–10 and 1 Corinthians 6:9

1 Timothy 1:9–10 and 1 Corinthians 6:9 are both from letters written by the Apostle Paul to people in the early church. Both have been used to proof-text the idea that modern, same-sex consensual relationships between adults of equal standing and volition are akin to every kind of evil-doing.

I’ll focus on 1 Timothy because it provides a fuller context.

9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers — and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine

Again, let’s look at the larger context. This passage begins not at verse 9, but, really, at verse 8:

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.

Thus:

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

Notice that there’s no period at the end of verse 10? That’s because the passage doesn’t really end there. Verse 11 starts in the middle of the sentence: 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

Verses 8 and 11 are essential bookends guiding what we’re supposed to do and not do with Scripture. We’ve already considered the notion that the Gospel message of Jesus is silent concerning loving relationships between same-sex consenting adults of equal standing, and that in his discussion of divorce and marriage, Jesus is actually exercising what Paul calls the proper use of the law.

8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.

Let’s look at the fuller context:

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,

2 To Timothy my true son in the faith:

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work — which is by faith.5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers — and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

As fascinating and liberating as this is, there’s a more pressing, and more literal, reason that neither 1 Timothy nor 1 Corinthians are talking about consenting same-sex relationships.

The word homosexual is not in the Bible. That’s because the word homosexual did not exist until 1869. Even then, the word homosexual was not used in the Bible until 1946.

Here is extended look here at what the word currently translated as homosexual in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians actually was and actually meant. Please read it.

We know the law is good if one uses it properly.

It’s impossible to trace convictions and conclusions to an interpretation of the Bible (especially a so-called literal interpretation) if we don’t know what the Bible actually says.

Given the history of the word itself, and the context in which we find the modern translation embedded, Paul simply cannot be talking about homosexuality as such. Wether Paul’s term refers to pederasty or temple prostitution (see also the discussion on Romans 1:26–27), we’re in no way, shape, or form dealing with consensual relationships between loving equals, nor are we talking about sexual orientation. We’re talking about abuse and coercion, things that we’d expect to find in lists of practices that are not manifested in the kingdom of God.

In short, the passages people sometimes use to condemn homosexuality actually apply to sexual abuse and coercion, to using and violating people on the margin for one’s own pleasure or need. Far from being outdated prohibition against something the writers of the Bible were not concerned with, these scriptures are evergeen given what we know about how widespread this kind of abuse has continued to be.

Taking these Scriptures seriously means working to end human trafficking, working to expose and report sexual abuse, working with and for survivors, not doing so with all the conviction you have, “conforming to the Gospel of the blessed God, we God entrusted to us.”

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