Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality: Book Review

I know before I even write a word that many will look at the title and become a little nervous. That’s OK. I also know that you may not agree with the author’s premise or my sentiments. That’s OK too. I believe this book is worth a read by people on all sides of the inclusion/gay marriage debate. While I know it won’t convince those who do not wish to be convinced, I hope it will raise a few questions and bring about a more positive conversation.

In the book Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church, Jack Rogers speaks candidly about his journey through the Presbyterian Church (USA) and his experience at a local and national level dealing with the issue of inclusion of LGBT folk in church life and practice.

I bought this book (Kindle edition) out of curiosity more than anything else. All my life I have heard numerous arguments both for and against inclusiveness, some quoting Scripture and some not. But I must admit I have never heard the inclusion argument so clearly stated with sound biblical support as I have by the author of this book.

He starts with a history of his own denomination from the 19th century on and its dealings (reflecting those of other churches) in the slavery debate, the recognition of the status of women, and then the fight against segregation. At first, I got bogged down in the historical part, until I understood the part it played in setting the scene for what follows.

Jack Rogers writes about the arguemnts which many noble and honourable Chriustians used to support the importation and use of African slaves in America in the 18th and 19th centuries: God had cursed them for all time because of their ancestor’s sin, made them subservient to other races, that they were morally inferior to the slave-owners, and were themselves accused of being rebellious sinners themselves.

Likewise, addressing the subservient and non-privileged status of women, the arguments used by many Christians (and still used in some circles) strongly supported the view that they were cursed because of God’s curse on Eve in early Genesis. They further claim the Bible’s support for keeping women in subjection to men in all areas of life–private and public.

Then segregation rears its head (and we are already one-third way through the book) and, once again, the Bible is used to condemn integration and to declare the inferiority intellectually, morally, and spiritually of non-whites.

All this to point out that the fierce battles of bygone days, the tactics and arguments used, and the promotion of the cause as just and right by God’s word are the same that are being used today in the LGBT inclusion and gay marriage debates.

Jack Rogers continues, debunking the ‘biblical’ arguments that are raised against LGBT folk and their inclusion both as church members and ministers. His arguments are scholarly and insightful. He quotes a wide range of historians, theologians and scholars as he sheds light on the foundations of the argument from Scripture.

Certainly the future history of the Christian Church will show (I am convinced) that this is another of those issues like slavery and segregation where, in the end, common sense and an appeal to the revelation of God through Jesus Christ prevails.

Here is a short piece from the book:

The Old Testament stories most often cited as opposing homosexuality are (i) God’s judgment on the men of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:1-29 and (2) the parallel story of the rape of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19:1-30. These texts take us into an ancient Near Eastern world whose values are very different than ours. The central idea in these passages is the sacred obligation of hospitality for travellers (and the ways in which sinful people often violated this sacred obligation). In a desert country, to remain outside at night, exposed to the elements, could mean death.

In both stories, a host invites travelling men into his house. Later an angry mob of townspeople surround the house and demand that the host turn his guests over to them. Foreigners are clearly not welcome, and the implication is that they may be raped or killed. Daniel Helminiak, professor of psychology at the State University of West Georgia, points out that in the ancient world homosexual rape was a traditional way for victors to accentuate the subjection of captive enemies and foes. In that culture, the most humiliating experience for a man was to be treated like a woman, and raping a man was the most violent such treatment. As Dale B. Martin, professor of religion at Duke University, says, “To be penetrated was to be inferior because women were inferior.” It is an expression of the “ancient horror of the feminine.”

In each of the stories, the host attempts to placate the threatening gangs by offering women of his household for the mob to abuse instead of his male guests. Notice the cultural emphasis on the superiority of men over women. As Old Testament scholar Martti Nissinen of the University of Helsinki notes, the critical issue in the ancient Near East was not sexuality but gender, and it was important that the superior position of men over women be maintained. In that culture, the hosts felt that it was more important to protect male visitors in their house than to protect women, even their own daughters or common-law wife! The hosts do not seem to think of the attackers as primarily homosexual, or they would not offer women for them to abuse.

The best available scholarship shows that these texts have nothing to do with homosexuality as such. C.L. Seow, professor of Old Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, points out that the sin of Sodom is mentioned several times elsewhere in the Bible, but never in connection with homosexual acts. In Old Testament references to Sodom, the sins of the city are variously described as greed, injustice, inhospitality, excess wealth, indifference to the poor, and general wickedness. In the New Testament, when Jesus referred to the sin of Sodom, as recorded in Luke 10:12 and Matthew 10:15, he was passing judgment on cities that refused hospitality to his travelling disciples. A focus on the supposed homosexual aspect of the Sodom story comes only later, in nonbiblical literature, Phyllis Bird, professor of Old Testament at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary, notes: “Israel is enjoined not to follow the practices of the Canaanites who preceded them in the land…. The previous inhabitants, through their ‘defiling’ actions, caused the land to become defiled so that God punished the land, making it vomit out its inhabitants.”

In contrast, Israel was to be faithful to God, so that they would prosper on this land. Second, they could not mix with any other kind of people or adopt alien customs if they were to remain pure. Practically, this meant no intermarriage with non-Israelites. However, the Israelites generalized this aspect of the code to mean no mixing of any kind. Thus the Holiness Code forbids such things as sowing a field “with two kinds of seed” and wearing a garment “made of two different materials” (Lev. 19:9).

Third, male gender superiority had to be maintained. We find in Leviticus that actions undermining male gender superiority incur the death penalty. A child who cursed his parents could be put to death, for such an act threatened the social order in a patriarchal society. Adultery was similarly punishable by death, because it was an unlawful use of a woman, who was a man’s property, and therefore jeopardized lines of ownership and inheritance. Engaging in homosexual acts was punishable by death, because a man took a passive role and was penetrated, which was the role assigned to a woman. Victor Paul Furnish, professor of New Testament at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, points out that a man penetrated was thus impure. By, in effect, mixing genders, he had crossed a cultural boundary, and that could not be tolerated.

It is against this background that Nissinen, Bird, and others interpret the statement, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Lev. 18:22; cf. 20:13). The Hebrew word toevah, translated as “abomination,” refers here to something that makes a person ritually unclean, such as having intercourse with a woman while she is menstruating. Ritual purity was considered necessary to distinguish the Israelites from their pagan neighbours.

Jesus was concerned with purity of heart. In Matthew 15 he said to a crowd, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” (Matt. 15:10-11). Later he explained to his disciples: “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile” (Matt. 15:18-20).

When we see Jesus as the fulfilment of the law (Matt. 5:17), we understand that our challenge is not meticulously to maintain culturally conditioned laws, but rather, with Jesus, to love God and love our neighbour (Matt. 22:36-40). When these texts in Leviticus are taken out of their historical and cultural context and applied to faithful, God-worshiping Christians  who are homosexual, it does violence to them. They are being condemned for failing to conform to an ancient culturally conditioned code that is not applicable to them or their circumstances.

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5 thoughts on “Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality: Book Review

  1. Jon,

    How does he explain the following texts?

    Lev 18:22: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”

    Rom 1:26-27: “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”

    1 Cor 6:9-10: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

    Jude 1:7: “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion.”

    cheers,
    Andrew

  2. Hi Andrew.

    The Leviticus passage is briefly addressed in the 2nd and 3rd to last paragraphs of the quote above.

    The NT passages are also covered, possibly more extensively than the OT. I’ve included some of it here (unformatted since I haven’t got the time to do a lot of editing at the moment; my OCR is good but not all that accurate so you may encounter some misspellings and random letters).

    New Testament Vice Lists: 1
    Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10

    Opponents of equal rights for people who
    are homosexual also cite a pair of New
    Testament texts —1 Corinthians 6:9-17 and 1
    Timothy 1:3-13-as informing us about
    homosexuality. What makes these passages
    distinct is that, in their original Greek, they
    contain two words, cirsenokoites and
    mczlczkos, that some scholars argue refer to
    male homosexual activity. As a result, a
    disproportionate amount of scholarly
    attention has been given to these texts and
    these two words. But to give attention to
    these two words is to embark on a journey of
    linguistic technicality. Brian Blount, then
    professor of New Testament at Princeton
    Theological Seminary, notes that the
    meaning of these words is not at all clear,
    and their reference to homosexuality as such
    has been challenged. Martti Nissinen
    observes that both words appear in lists of
    vices that seem to reflect general concerns of
    Hellenistic Jews about the deplorable state
    of Greek society.
    Arsenokoites and malakos both occur in 1
    Corinthians 6:9, and cirsenokoites recurs in 1
    Timothy 1:10. Because the words occur in
    lists with no context, it is difficult to know
    exactly what they mean. Compounding the
    situation, Nissinen notes that Paul, in the list
    he cites, is using cirsenokoites for the first
    time ever either in Greek or Jewish
    literature, thus making it very difficult to
    interpret.
    The debate over the meaning of these
    words illumines the various methods that
    scholars use to define terms. Dale Martin
    disagrees with those who read the two
    words, cirsen (male) and koites (bed), as one
    and thereby create a new term for men who
    have sex with men. Martin objects that
    “this approach is linguistically invalid,”
    using as an illustration that the English
    word “understand” has nothing to do with
    either standing or being under. He
    articulates an important principle: “The only
    reliable way to define a word is to analyze its
    use in as many different contexts as
    possible.” Martin concludes, after
    analyzing Greek writings both secular and
    Christian, that cxrsenokoites probably refers
    to “some kind of economic exploitation,
    probably by sexual means: rape or sex by
    economiccoercion, prostitution, pimping, or
    something of the sort. He further asserts
    that “no one should be allowed to get away
    with claiming that ‘of course’ the term refers
    to ‘men who have sex with other men.”
    The term mczkzkos is somewhat easier to
    understand because it is a common word. It
    literally means “soft” and often connotes
    effeminacy, which in that culture was treated
    as a moral failing. Nissinen observes that, in
    the patriarchal culture of the time, lack of
    self-control and yielding to pleasures were
    both considered signs of effeminacy.
    Contemporary scholars would rightly be
    embarrassed to invoke effeminacy as a
    moral category today. Unfortunately,
    however, as Martin laments, translating
    biblical terms on the assumption that all
    homosexual behavior is sinful is not yet
    embarrassing.
    In 1 Timothy 1:10, which many scholars
    date later than Paul’s work, arsenokoites
    appears in a list of vices. The NRSV
    translates it with the ambiguous word
    “sodomites.” Victor Furnish notes that the
    word “sodomite” is not used in the Hebrew
    text of the Old Testament, not even to mean
    “a resident of Sodom.” It was introduced in
    English in a half dozen Old Testament
    passages in the King James Version of the
    Bible in 1611. Nor does the word appear in
    the Greek text of the New Testament. In 1
    Timothy 1:10, “the fact that arsenokoitcxi
    [the plural of arsenokoitës, which the NRSV
    translates as “sodomites”] is followed by
    slave traders, a group who exploited others,
    adds weight to Martin’s evidence for
    arsenokoitczi as sexual exploiters of some
    sort, since the vices in the lists were often
    grouped according to their similarity to
    other vices in the list.”
    Nissinen argues, “The modern concept of
    ‘homosexuality’ should by no means be read
    into Paul’s text, nor can we assume that
    Paul’s words in I Corinthians 6:9 ‘condemn
    all homosexual relations’ in all times and
    places and ways. The meanings of the word
    are too vague to justify this claim, and Paul’s
    words should not be used for generalizations
    that go beyond his experience and world.”
    Many scholars, such as Marion Soards,
    believe that “only indirectly may we derive
    information regarding homosexuality from
    this material.” Once again, careful
    attention to the linguistic, historical, and
    cultural context has led to a richer and more
    nuanced understanding of the plain text.

    Jude 5-7

    The Letter of Jude consists of only one
    chapter, which runs just over one page and
    comes right before the book of Revelation.
    Very few writers pay much attention to this
    brief and obscure book. Yet New Testament
    scholar Thomas E. Schmidt, who is director
    of the Westminster Center in Santa Barbara,
    California, claims that the book of Jude
    makes reference to homosexuality.
    The Letter of Jude is the only book of the
    Bible that relates the sin of Sodom and
    Gomorrah to “sexual immorality.” Schmidt,
    however, makes the broad claim that “the
    first Christians undoubtedly connected the
    sin of Sodom to the sin of same-sex
    relations. ” The situation is, however,
    much more complex.
    In Genesis 6:1-4 angels (“sons of God”)
    are described as coming down to earth to
    have sex with human women (“daughters of
    humans”).37 When Jude 6 refers to “angels
    who did not keep their own position,” it is
    believed by most scholars that he is referring
    to events in Genesis 6:1-4. In Genesis
    19:1-29 Lot’s guests are also described as
    angels.
    Jude 7 draws a parallel between the
    “unnatural lust” of angels who wanted to
    have sex with human women (Gen. 6:1-4)
    and the men of Sodom who wanted to have
    sex with (male) angels (Gen. 19:1_29).38-
    Jude writes that for their transgressions the
    Lord has kept the angels “in eternal chains
    in deepest darkness for the judgment of the
    great day” (v. 6). Likewise, the men of
    Sodom suffered “a punishment of eternal
    fire” (v. 7).
    As one can see, in Jude there is a lot of
    discussion about sex between humans and
    angels (angels with human women, and
    human men with male angels) that is labeled
    as “sexual immorality” and “unnatural lust.”
    But for Schmidt, or anyone else, to make the
    leap that this text somehow condemns
    present-day Christians who are homosexual
    strikes me as bizarre. In studying the seven
    texts that are often cited in opposition to
    homosexuality, we discover a significant
    body of scholarship that concludes that these
    texts have no direct application to faithful,
    Godloving, twenty-first-century Christians
    who are homosexual. What is more, this
    scholarly consensus includes many people
    who have traditionally opposed equal rights
    for people who are homosexual, such as
    scholars Richard Hays and Marion Soards.
    That leaves just one text, Romans 1.

    ROMANS 1

    The conflict over the meaning of biblical
    texts becomes acute when we look at
    Romans 1. Some conservative scholars who
    dismiss the relevance of the seven previously
    discussed texts to the issue of homosexuality
    argue that Romans 1 is a theological
    statement that has direct application for our
    time. I believe, however, that a close and
    careful look at the text, using the best
    methods of biblical interpretation, will
    reveal that Paul is making a statement about
    idolatry, not sexuality per se, and that Paul’s
    writings also reflect many of the cultural
    assumptions of his time.
    Paul’s thesis statement for his letter to the
    Romans comes in Romans 1, verse 16: “For I
    am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the
    power of God for salvation to everyone who
    has faith, to the Jew first and also to the
    Greek.” The very next sentence states that
    thesis in another way: “The one who is
    righteous will live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). No
    one is excluded from the possibility of
    receiving God’s salvation. The gospel that
    Paul is proclaiming in Romans does not
    center on the issue of sexuality. It focuses on
    the universality of sin and the free grace of
    salvation through the life, death, and
    resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is the
    essence of the Christian message.
    Idolatry, Not Sexuality
    In Romans 1:18-32, Paul is writing about
    idolatry, that is, worshiping, giving our
    ultimate allegiance to anything in the
    creation instead of God, the Creator.39 Paul
    is writing from Corinth, a bustling seaport
    town that was “notorious for vice of all
    kinds.” Apparently, in the Roman Empire a
    common name for a prostitute was “a
    Corinthian girl.”40 Paul writes of people
    worshiping “images resembling a mortal
    human being or birds or four-footed animals
    or reptiles” (v. 23) instead of God. Paul
    concluded that because the Corinthians
    engaged in idolatry, “God gave them up to
    degrading passions” (v. 26).
    It seems as though Paul is setting up his
    Jewish readers. It is easy at this point in the
    text for them, and for us, to feel self-
    righteous. Jews didn’t worship images of
    birds or animals or reptiles. Those were
    typical Gentile sins. But then Paul lowers the
    boom on his readers by listing other sins
    that proceed from idolatry covetousness,
    malice, envy, strife, deceit, craftiness, gossip,
    slander. Idolaters could become haughty,
    boastful, rebellious toward parents, foolish,
    faithless, heartless, ruthless. Now Paul is
    talking to all of us, speaking to those sins of
    attitude to which we sometimes succumb
    when we turn our ultimate allegiance away
    from the true God.
    Paul makes this point again, in Romans
    2:1. We are without excuse, especially when
    we judge others. Why? Because in God’s
    sight we are all given to idolatry. Paul is
    driving home the point that is at the heart of
    Reformation theology: no one is righteous
    before God. Paul has been criticizing those
    idolatrous Corinthian Gentiles. Now he is
    saying to his Jewish colleagues, and to us,
    No one is righteous. We are all sinners. That
    is Paul’s point in Romans 1.

    Cultural Norms, Not a Theology of
    Creation

    What does Paul mean by “natural” and
    “unnatural” in Romans 1:26-27? In the
    original Greek, the words are physis,
    “nature,” and porn physin, “against
    nature.”
    For Paul, “unnatural” is a synonym for
    unconventional. ” It means something
    surprisingly out of the ordinary. The most
    significant evidence that “natural” meant
    “conventional” is that God acted “contrary to
    nature” (Rom. 11:13-24). That is, God did
    something very unusual by pruning the
    Gentiles from a wild olive tree, where they
    grew in their natural state, and grafting
    them into the cultivated olive tree of God’s
    people (Rom. 11:24). Since it cannot be that
    God sinned, to say that God did what is
    “contrary to nature” or “against nature” (v.
    24) means that God did something
    surprising and out of the ordinary.
    Paul is not talking in Romans 1:26-27
    about a violation of the order of creation. In
    Paul’s vocabulary, physis (nature) is not a
    synonym for ktisis (creation). In speaking
    about what is “natural,” Paul is merely
    accepting the conventional view of people
    and how they ought to behave in first-
    century Hellenistic-Jewish culture.
    Male Gender Dominance
    The theme of male gender dominance
    appears again and again in the texts that
    many claim deal with homosexuality,
    including Romans 1. Both the Hebrew and
    the Greek cultures were patriarchal. Men
    were, and intended to remain, dominant
    over women. Paul assumes the conventions
    of these cultures that he is addressing. He
    uses terms familiar in the Greek-speaking
    synagogues such as “impurity” (1:24) and
    “shameless” (1:27), which are part of the
    Jewish language of purity. And he is equally
    familiar with terms that are rooted in Greek
    Stoic philosophy, such as “lusts” (1:24) and
    “passions” (1:26), which denote erotic
    passion and uncontrolled desire.
    In Romans 1:26, Paul writes: “Their
    women exchanged natural intercourse for
    unnatural.” As Nissinen notes, the phrase
    “their women” is a clear indication of a
    gender role structure.46 But, he contends,
    “Paul’s understanding of the naturalness of
    men’s and women’s gender roles is not a
    matter of genital formation and their
    functional purpose, which today is
    considered by many the main criterion for
    the natural and unnatural.”47 Rather, in the
    culture Paul is addressing, a man and a
    woman each had a designated place and role
    in society, which could not be exchanged.
    For example, Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16
    outlines a strict hierarchical ladder of
    God-Christ-man-woman. Strict gender role
    differences are set out, manifested by
    different hairstyles. Paul asks, “Does not
    nature itself teach you that if a man wears
    long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a
    woman has long hair, it is her glory?” (i Cor.
    11:14). In that culture, to violate these roles
    would be a matter of shame before God.48
    For Paul, transgressions of gender role
    boundaries cause “impurity,” a violation of
    the Jewish purity code (Rom. 1:24).49
    Nissinen explains that it is women taking the
    man’s active role in sex that was seen as
    “unnatural.” The text does not say that
    women had sex with other women. They
    could have been condemned for taking the
    dominantposition in heterosexual
    intercourse, or for engaging in nonprocrea-
    tive sexual acts with male partners. The
    issue is gender dominance, and in that
    culture women were to be passive and not
    active in sexual matters.

    Control and Moderation in All
    Things

    In Hebrew culture and in Stoic philosophy
    (which was influential in the Roman Empire,
    particularly in Greece, during Paul’s time),
    control and moderation in all things were
    highly valued, especially regarding emotion
    and sexuality. Going to excess whether
    eating too much, sleeping too much, or
    giving in to excessive passion of any
    kind was viewed as a moral failing. The
    goal was to make correct “use” of all things.
    The “natural use” of sex was to be very
    controlled, avoiding passion. Paul in
    Romans 1:26-27 would be rightly
    understood to be talking not about wrongly
    oriented desires, but about inordinate
    desires going to excess, losing control.
    Idolaters fail to give God glory and gratitude.
    God then allows them to lose control in
    erotic passion, which brings them
    dishonor.

    The Plain Text

    Those who are opposed to equal rights for
    Christian gay and lesbian people make
    several serious errors in interpreting
    Romans 1: (i) they lose sight of the fact that
    this passage is primarily about idolatry, (2)
    they overlook Paul’s point that we are all
    sinners, (3) they miss the cultural subtext,
    and (4) they apply Paul’s condemnation of
    immoral sexual activity to faithful gay and
    lesbian Christians who are not idolaters,
    who love God, and who seek to live in
    thankful obedience to God.
    Heterosexual sex can be either moral or
    immoral, depending on its context. The
    same is true of homosexual sex. If Paul
    walked into a party at the Playboy Mansion
    today or observed college students “hooking
    up” at a fraternity party, he would be
    appalled and rightly condemn the activities
    going on there. But no one would conclude
    from that observation that Paul had ruled
    out all heterosexual sex as immoral.
    Everyone would understand that Paul was
    not talking about married Christian
    heterosexual couples who love God and seek
    to follow Jesus.
    Paul’s condemnation of immoral sexual
    behavior is not appropriately applied to
    contemporary gay or lesbian Christians who
    are not idolaters, who love God, and who
    seek to live in thankful obedience to God. I
    think Jeffrey Siker, professor of New
    Testament at Loyola Marymount University,
    says it best: “We know of gay and lesbian
    Christians who truly worship and serve the
    one true God and yet still affirm in positive
    ways their identity as gay and lesbian
    people. Paul apparently knew of no
    homosexual Christians. We do.”

    NONBIBLICAL THEORIES
    IMPOSED UPON ROMANS 1

    Those who oppose homosexuality claim that
    they are appealing to Romans 1. Upon closer
    examination, it is clear that many are
    imposing their own nonbiblical theories on
    the Pauline text. The most common
    additions to the plain text of Romans 1 are
    (i) appeals to natural law and (2) the
    assumption that Genesis somehow contains
    a prescription for heterosexual, monoga-
    mous marriage. These are not necessary to
    understand Paul’s basic point in Romans 1
    that all are sinners and are saved by grace
    through faith in Christ. Let us examine these
    theories that are imported into Romans 1,
    and other texts, in an attempt to justify the
    condemnation of all contemporary
    homosexuality. A number of subissues under
    natural law and heterosexual marriage may
    seem out of place in a discussion of Romans
    1, but I present them here because they are
    assumptions that, when brought to Romans
    1, distort the interpretation of Paul’s
    message.

    Natural Law

    One argument made by conservative
    interpreters is that we can be guided by a
    nonbiblical standard, natural law. Natural
    law is composed of those unquestioned
    assumptions that most people in the culture
    accept. Ralph Mclnerny at the University of
    Notre Dame defines natural law as “the
    claim that there are certain judgments we
    have already made and could not help
    making.” The problem is that this could
    also be a good definition for prejudice.8
    The unreflective appeal to nature is
    exemplified by a remark of fundamentalist
    minister Jerry Falwell. On Meet the Press
    following the November 2004 presidential
    election, Falwell, pushing his priorities for
    President Bush’s second term, said, “I think
    it’s unthinkable that we’re debating what a
    family is, a man married to a woman.
    They’ve got that right in the barnyard.” In
    his colorful manner of speaking, Falwell
    appealed to what, to him, was obvious in
    nature animals have sexual relations, male
    with female. That model of nature is an
    often-used appeal to natural law.
    As it turns out, however, not all animals
    are heterosexual. Biologist Bruce Bagemihi
    has documented homosexual relations in
    450 different species in the animal world.
    Same-sex behavior includes not only
    copulation, but also courtship and parental
    activities.60 I am not arguing here that we
    should base our understanding of sex on
    animal behavior, but, rather, pointing out
    that those who do, citing male-female
    relations as universal in nature, are in error.
    As we saw in chapter 2 in the discussion
    of Scottish Common Sense philosophy,
    theologians often appeal to natural law in an
    attempt to argue divine sanction for their
    cultural assumptions. A classic example of
    the misuse of natural law in theology is
    Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual
    Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics.
    Gagnon is a professor of New Testament at
    Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. His book
    is acclaimed by some opponents of gay and
    lesbian equality as the definitive biblical
    word on homosexuality.
    The irony is that Gagnon doesn’t seem to
    need the Bible because, he argues,
    everything the Bible says about homosexua-
    lity comes initially from the observation of
    nature. In fact, in the conclusion to his book,
    Gagnon actually says what many heterose-
    xual people believe: “Acceptance of biblical
    revelation is thus not a prerequisite for
    rejecting the legitimacy of same-sex
    intercourse.” So where does he believe the
    constraints against homosexual behavior are
    found? As it turns out, behind all of the
    ancient sources, including biblical sources,
    according to Gagnon, is “the simple
    recognition of a ‘fittedness’ of the sex
    organs, male to female.” He goes on to say
    that the Old Testament Holiness Code “was
    responding to the conviction that same-sex
    intercourse was fundamentally incompatible
    with the creation of men and women as
    anatomically complementary sexual
    beings.” He also refers to “Paul’s own
    reasoning, grounded in divinely-given clues
    in nature.” In each of these statements,
    Gagnon gives priority to nature over
    revelation.
    According to Gagnon, pagans, as well as
    Jews and Christians, find “the material
    creation around human beings and the
    bodily design of humans themselves, guiding
    us into the truth about the nature of God
    and the nature of human sexuality
    respectively. ”
    The contemporary appeal to natural law,
    by Gagnon and others, has a function similar
    to Scottish Common Sense philosophy in an
    earlier era. Both contend that the truth is
    obvious. Both rely heavily on sensory
    evidence. Both assume that no interpretation
    is needed. Both therefore assert common
    human prejudices as self-evident truths.
    Giving priority to natural law opens the door
    to bring in all manner of assumptions and
    prejudices that have nothing to do with the
    biblical text.

    • Jon, I am not impressed with the author’s handling of these verses. He seems to be just cherry-picking commentary that agrees with his view.

      Re Lev 18:22, he argues that it should be understood in the same way as v19 ie. as merely concerned with ritualistic/hygenic purity. But the Hebrew word toebah is used extensively in the OT to refer to MORAL and ETHICAL purity (I performed a grammatical search with GRAMCORD on the Hebrew text to check). Indeed, that meaning in this context is confirmed by the next 2 verses which he conveniently neglects to cite: “Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor’s wife and defile yourself with her. Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.” Then follows the prohibition against homosexual relations. toebah is also used in the plural form in vv.26,27,29,30 as a collective reference to these (previously mentioned) detestable things ie. homosexual relations are as detestable to God as adultery and child sacrifice. Thus, his explanation just doesn’t stack up either linguistically or contextually.

      RE 1 Cor 6:9-10, the argument seems to be that the meaning of the Greek words are unclear because they are only used once or twice in the Bible. But these words are WELL attested in extra-biblical literature. Their meaning is very clear. malakos refers to the passive participant in sodomy while arsenokoites refers to the active or dominant participant.

      The exegesis of the other passages is similarly flawed.

      It seems to me that Rogers had a predetermined conclusion, and simply constructed a straw-man counter argument, and then cited one-sided and faulty arguments to knock down the straw-man.
      This is a common practice and can be quite effective at persuading those who don’t know any better…

      cheers,
      Andrew

      • Andrew,
        I think its human nature to approach any topic with preconceptions. I have seen people on both sides of this debate do this (Rogers mentions several). It’s kind of like Telstra’s scientists ‘proving’ use of mobile phones doesn’t affect the brain–vested interest.
        I know there are many views on this issue drawn from many legitimate and well-studied interpretations. We are, after all, humans and generally believe what we want to believe and then find arguments to back it up (e.g. Telstra’s scientists ‘proving’ mobile phone radiation is harmless to the brain.)
        In the end, I don’t think people are won over by sound exegesis or solid arguments so much as they are by what they perceive to be common sense. For me, the words of Jesus trump all else, so common sense would be to take his silence on this issue to mean it wasn’t of great importance in the overall scheme of things.
        Thanks for your comment.
        Peace.

      • Jon, I agree “its human nature to approach any topic with preconceptions.” This is actually unavoidable. However, we need to acknowledge these preconceptions and deal fairly with those disagree. Indeed, I made a conscious decision to do this when I wrote my book, so it devotes a considerable amount of discussion to those who disagree with me.

        God has revealed Himself and His truth in ALL of Scripture not just the gospels, so I don’t think you can just take Jesus’ words as trumps. Paul spoke clearly against homosexuality even though Jesus said nothing–at least nothing recorded. Is it not “common sense” then to take Paul’s clear teaching over Jesus’ silence? Also, keep in mind what John said in his gospel (Jn 21:25): “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

        cheers,
        Andrew

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