Re: An interesting essay for evangelicals

From: Robert Schneider (
Date: Wed Jan 22 2003 - 16:23:21 EST

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    Burgy may wish to answer Moorad directly (there comments are below).

        Here I would like to comment on these and the other few passages in
    Scripture often cited. First, to the meaning of the word "abomination" in
    the context of the Levitican prohibitions in chapter 18, 20. According to
    John Boswell, the word translated as "abomination" here is the Hebrew
    "toevah," which usually signifies something ritually unclean, and is used
    throughout the OT to signify acts which involve ethnic contamination or
    idolatry. As this prohibition is set within a series of prohibitions
    regarding sexual behavior, in which the Israelites are exhorted to not
    behave as the Egyptians they have fled or the Canaanites they are going to
    be living among, they all have something to do with maintaining purity by
    not engaging in practices found among these two peoples. One could argue
    that Canaanite practice was especially a concern, since they were leaving
    Egypt and had years in the desert to develop social habits rooted in the
    Covenant. I recall that some commentators have claimed that Lev. 18:22
    refers to male temple prostitution in Canaanite cult, and the prohibition
    was intended to deter Israelites from taking part in idolatrous worship. It
    is interesting to note that women are not mentioned with men in this
    prohibition. If this interpretation has any merit, then one should not
    understand it as a general prohibition, especially since it does not include
    female-female sexual acts. I would add that all of the prohibitions in this
    section of the Levitican code would be "abominations" to the Lord, not
    simply men lying with men. I think it is important to understand this
    context, since the word "abomination" in English simply means "greatly
    hateful and disgusting" and and does not convey the notions of idolatry and
    impurity that the Hebrew word it translates does.

        It also ought to be pointed out that outside of the Levitican
    prohibitions, there is a thundering silence throughout the OT about same-sex
    sexual acts. They do not seem to have been a concern that called for
    comment. They do not show up in the prophetic writings; there are no
    stories of such relationships in the historical writings; there are no
    proverbial statements about them. Some reflection on this fact ought to
    form part of the conversation on where the Bible stands on the issue of
    "homosexuality" (using the term to convey both sexual orientation, which the
    Bible says nothing whatever about, and homosexual acts, of which there are
    only these two references in Leviticus, and the threat of homosexual rape in
    Gen. 19).

        As for Rom. 1:26-27, commentators are divided on how to interpret this
    passage. One group insists that it describes the actions of heterosexual
    men and women who engage in homosexual acts, contrary to their nature; thus
    it should not be interpreted to include homosexuals, especially when they
    are in committed and non-promisuous relationships. Other commentators
    dispute this and claim that it is describing any homosexual act or
    relationship. It should be pointed out that Paul is writing to a Christian
    community in Rome, the heart of a Hellenized Roman Empire. Neither the
    ancient Greeks or Romans would recognize the word "homosexuality." First,
    it is a modern word, coined in the nineteenth century, in fact a Greek-Latin
    hybrid word. Neither ancient Greek or Latin could provide a word that
    conveyed the concept because the ancients didn't have such a concept.
    Second, people didn't identify themselves as exclusively homosexual or
    heterosexual. Men and women were expected to marry and have families, and
    almost all of them did. Among the Greek upper classes men did engage in
    erotic (emotional, and often physical) relationships for often an extended
    period of time before they entered into arranged marriages with women around
    the age of thirty. Since they married women half their age, and found it
    difficult to form peer relationships with their young wives (who might as
    well have been their younger sisters), they often continued such
    relationships with their male lovers for a time after marriage. But they
    didn't conceive of themselves as not marrying or as forming life-long
    homosexual physical attachments. The same was true of the Romans.
    Homosexual acts tended to be even more passing affairs than the alliances
    among Greek men. Long-time committed loving relationships between two men
    or two women outside a heterosexual marriage, such as homosexual couples
    claim today, were not a feature of either ancient culture. The Jewish and
    Gentile Christians in Rome were probably in a better position to understand
    what Paul meant than we are.

        In the NT there are only a couple other passages that refers persons who
    engage in same-sex sexual acts, I Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:10. The
    first contains the words "malakoi" and "arsenokoitais." The first is
    sometimes wrongly translated as "effeminate," but it does not refer to
    homosexuals. It is a word with a wide variety of meanings. Elsewhere in
    the NT it refers to someone who is ill; Aristotle uses it to refers to
    someone wanting in self-control. The other word, "arsenokoitas," appearing
    also in I Tim. is a very rare word, after an extended study of which Boswell
    concluded that the word refers to male sexual agents, i.e., the male
    prostitutes common in the Greco-Roman cities of his day. The latter
    commented that Paul surely would have viewed such activity with the same
    horror he viewed female prostitution. He also points out that nowhere in
    Greek literature of Paul's time (including Philo) is this word used to
    denote homoexual activity generally.

        Otherwise, the NT is silent. Nowhere in the gospels is Jesus recorded
    as addressing the matter of same sex relations, and there is no hint of such
    relationship in the gospels. (The interpretation of Luke 7 that the
    centurion's slave boy was his lover is without merit, in my view.) Nowhere
    else outside of Rom. 1:26-27 is there any clear and disapproving reference
    to homosexual acts in general (i.e., not bought and sold). Putting both the
    OT and the NT record together, I question where there is sufficient warrent
    to base a moral position on the whole gamut of homosexual acts/relationships
    and "homosexuality" on these few verses. It seems to me that one has to go
    to more general and broader scriptural dicta having to do with moral
    attitudes and acts in order to present a cogent biblical position.
    Something like this was done in the USA during the nineteenth century, by
    those crusading against the evils of liquor and drunkenness. One would get
    nowhere seeking Bible verses against drinking, and enough to argue for its
    approval. The advocates of prohibition had to get around Jesus' changing
    water into wine by basing their biblical argument on other teachings under
    which, they could argue, the prohibition of alchoholic beverages should
    obtain. Whether one can make such an argument regarding homosexual behavior
    remains to be demonstrated, it seems to me, though I would be glad to learn
    if anyone has attempted it.

        Finally, while it's on my mind, I should like to comment on claims that
    there is scientific evidence that genetically, some persons are gay or
    predisposed to homosexual behavior. Restricting my comments simply to the
    scientific question, the claims that I have read and examined I have to say
    are unconvincing. Some of the studies made and published several years ago
    included very small samples; and were carried out by researchers who were
    themselves gay. The degree of caution in interpreting results expressed in
    these published reports has been largely ignored (as we know so often
    happens), since there is a general claim floating around out there that a
    biological basis has been established.

    Grace and peace,
    Bob Schneider

    ----- Original Message -----
    From: "Alexanian, Moorad" <>
    To: "John Burgeson" <>; <>
    Sent: Wednesday, January 22, 2003 1:43 PM
    Subject: RE: An interesting essay for evangelicals

    > Perhaps you can explain these verses to me. "You shall not lie with a male
    as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. " Lev. 18:22. Also, "For
    this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women
    exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same
    way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in
    their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and
    receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error." Rom.
    > Moorad
    > -----Original Message-----
    > From: John Burgeson []
    > Sent: Wednesday, January 22, 2003 11:30 AM
    > To: Alexanian, Moorad;
    > Subject: RE: An interesting essay for evangelicals
    > >>Erotic love is limited to different sex partners; anything else is an
    > >>abomination to God. >>
    > That's a claim, of course. And it is that claim which is in question. And
    > is that claim that Roy Clements asked to be debated with civility and with
    > reasoning.
    > Stating the claim without addressing the issue is simply stating an
    > As such, simply not interesting.
    > John W. Burgeson (Burgy)

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