Volume 31 - Issue 3
A New Testament Perspective on HomosexualityBy Thomas R. Schreiner
Old Testament and Jewish Context
A New Testament perspective on homosexuality is anchored in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition. The indispensable framework for interpreting the NT teaching on homosexuality is Genesis 1–2, the creation narrative. We read in Genesis 1:26–27 that God made man in his own image, but the image of God is reflected in two distinct genders, male and female. The distinction between man and woman is underlined in the fuller account of their creation in Genesis 2:18–25. The physical differentiation of the man and the woman, and yet the amazing complementarity of such for bearing children indicates that marriage consists of the union of one woman and one man. The creation narrative, then, functions as the paradigm for males and females, and how they are to relate to one another sexually.2 The two different genders signify that marriage and sexual relations are restricted to the opposite sex, and that same sex relations are contrary to the created order.3
As we read the rest of the OT, we see that the OT consistently proscribes homosexual behaviour.4 In Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 same sex relations are banned in general.5 The severity of the sin is such that the death penalty is mandated for homosexual activity. Some claim that the text only speaks against cult prostitution here, but in these two verses in Leviticus there is no reference to cultic activity,6 and homosexual relations are banned in broad terms.7 We see no hint that only certain kinds of homosexual activity are prohibited. The OT, of course, also indicts cultic prostitution that is homosexual in nature,8 but such commands do not suggest that there are same sex relationships that are permissible or even laudable. Rather, the negative view of homosexuality relative to cultic prostitution fits with the claim that homosexuality in general is contrary to God’s created order.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah blends nicely into this same pattern. It will not do to say that the sin in view is not homosexuality since the visitors were angels, for the angels appeared on earth as men.9 Others claim that the sin is not homosexuality per se, but homosexual rape, and hence the text does not speak to loving monogamous homosexual relationships. It is probably the case that on its own this text cannot be pressed to yield a comprehensive indictment of homosexuality. Given the fabric of OT revelation as a whole, however, the homosexual dimension of the sin, and not exclusively the attempted homosexual rape, testifies to the egregiousness of the evil in view.10 Indeed, Jude 7 confirms this interpretation, for Sodom and Gomorrah are described as ‘departing after other flesh’. Jude does not concentrate on the attempted homosexual rape but the desire to engage in sexual relations with those of the same sex,11 and the letter identifies such as an evil deserving God’s judgement.
We should also note that second temple Jewish literature consistently and unanimously speaks against homosexual practices.12 We read in the Testament of Naphtali, ‘But you, my children, shall not be like that discern the Lord who made all things, so that you do not become like Sodom, which departed from the order of nature’ (T. Naph. 3.4).13 We read in Psuedo-Phocylides, ‘Do not transgress with unlawful sex the limits set by nature. For even animals are not pleased by intercourse of male with male. And let women not imitate the sexual role of men’ (Psuedo-Phocylides 190–92; cf. 3, 210–14).14 Both Josephus and Philo condemned homosexuality, and they contended that it was contrary to nature.15
Those who advocate homosexuality frequently say that the NT rarely proscribes homosexuality and that Jesus himself never speaks on the issue. But it is vital in reading the NT to recall that Jesus and all the writers of the NT are heirs of the Jewish tradition, and the Jewish interpretive tradition regularly, and without exception, indicted homosexuality. Hence, the real question is whether NT writers departed from the tradition they inherited. When we consult the NT evidence, it is clear that NT writers occupy the same stream carved out for them by the Jewish tradition that preceded them.
Jesus himself, of course, never addresses the matter of homosexuality directly, but his reading of the creation account indicates that he assumed marriage did not include same sex couples (Matt. 19:3–12; Mark 10:2–12). He defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for life. The words of Jesus Christ demonstrate that God’s created intention, relative to marriage (i.e., the union of one man and one woman), is still normative for the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not liberalize the OT view of marriage so as to embrace polygamy or divorce, nor did he open to door to homosexual relationships. On the contrary, he taught that the creation account clarified the divine intention, explaining that divorce is only permissible because of the hardness of human hearts.
The most important text regarding homosexuality in the NT is Romans 1:26–27. We learn from this text and the surrounding context that all sin, including homosexuality, is a consequence of idolatry. The fundamental and root sin, therefore, is not homosexuality or any other erroneous behaviour. The sin that provokes God’s wrath and leads to all other sin is the worship of the creature rather than the creator (Rom. 1:25). It is the failure to give thanks and praise to the one true and living God (Rom. 1:21). It is important to emphasize here that homosexual sin is not singled out because homosexuals are particularly egregious sinners. Sin is an equal opportunity and democratic employer! All human beings have failed to glorify and thank God the way they should. Paul probably focuses on homosexuality at this point because it mirrors idolatry.16 In other words, both idolatry and same sex relations distort what human beings were made to do. That is, all human beings turn the world upside down by worshipping self rather than God. And same sex relations invert what God has intended, so that human beings opt for same sex intercourse instead of engaging in sexual intercourse with the opposite sex.
The reason homosexuality is proscribed here is that it is contrary to nature (para physin). The reference to ‘nature’ indicates that Paul refers back to the creation account, to what God intended when he created men and women.17 Paul’s use of the relatively unusual words thelys for females and arsen for males suggests that he draws on the creation account of Genesis (Gen. 1:27, LXX) where the same two words are used. The terms call attention to the sexual distinctiveness of males and females, suggesting that same sex relations violate God’s creational intent. Further, the phrase ‘contrary to nature’ echoes Stoic and Hellenistic Jewish traditions, which saw homosexual relations as a violation of the created order.18
Modern controversy over homosexuality has provoked a re-evaluation of this text.19 John Boswell, for instance, argues that Paul does not condemn all forms of homosexuality but only homosexual acts practised by people who are ‘naturally’ heterosexual.20 Such a view fails because it introduces a flawed concept of nature into the text. When he uses the term ‘nature’, Paul does not mean one’s individual and psychological predispositions. The word ‘nature’ refers to what God intended when he created men and women, and does not focus on the inherent character and disposition of human beings.21
Robin Scroggs minimizes Paul’s critique of homosexuality by claiming that Paul draws on Hellenistic Jewish tradition.22 Further, he thinks that pederasty is condemned here rather than homosexuality in general. The first argument presented by Scroggs reveals the weakness of his case, for there is no evidence that Paul departs from the unanimous Jewish conviction that homosexuality was sinful. Since Paul cites the tradition, he evidently passes on and concurs with the tradition. Nor does it work to restrict Paul’s comments to pederasty, for the text contains a general proscription of homosexual acts, and does not specify relationships between men and boys. Indeed, the text rules out Scroggs’s interpretation, for Paul does not refer to homosexual relations between men and boys. Instead, he specifically speaks of ‘males with males’ in verse 27. Furthermore, verse 26 demonstrates the implausibility of Scroggs’s thesis. There, same sex relations between females is proscribed, but there is no evidence that women and young girls engaged in same sex relations in the Hellenistic world.23 It follows, therefore, that in both verses 26 and 27 Paul speaks against homosexual relations in general, and the attempt to limit his words to pederasty fails.24
Gerald Sheppard argues that Paul’s words on homosexuality should be relativized in light of the canon as a whole since we gain understanding of God’s Word as we perceive in our own era the true nature of homosexuality.25 Such a reading, however, does not truly rely on canonical Scripture but introduces an extra-biblical norm in interpreting Scripture.26 Our cultural view of homosexuality effectively trumps the biblical witness for Sheppard. Victor Furnish and Margaret Davies are more straightforward in claiming that we can no longer accept the Pauline view on homosexuality since we know more about homosexual relations than Paul.27 This view at least has the virtue of honesty, but at the same time it removes itself from the realm of biblical and Christian ethics by surrendering to the tides of our culture.
We can contrast the view of Sheppard and Furnish with William Webb and his hermeneutical trajectory that emphasizes the redemptive movement in Scripture, a redemptive movement that may even transcend what the biblical text teaches.28 Webb argues that such a view does not open the door to homosexuality, for there is no movement in the biblical text towards endorsing homosexuality. We can be grateful that Webb sees no room in the Scriptures for same sex relations, but, in my judgement, Webb’s argument against homosexuality is not as strong as it should be. He downplays Paul’s argument from creation in Romans 1:26–27, and hence the fundamental argument against homosexuality in the Scriptures receives short shrift. Indeed, Webb’s own method could be employed by others to justify homosexuality, and given the trajectory of our culture and the evangelical movement, such an approach will probably not be long in coming.
1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10
Paul also speaks against homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. In both texts he used the term arsenokoitai to designate the sin of homosexuality. Paul’s use of the term represents its first occurrence in Greek literature. David Wright is likely correct in suggesting that Paul derived the term from Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.29 When we look at both of these texts in the LXX, we can see the argument: kai meta arsenos ou koimēthēse koitēn gynaikos bdelygma gar estin (Lev. 18:22); kai hos an koimēthē meta arsenos koitēn gynaikos bdelygma epoiēsan amphoteroi thanatousthōsan enochoi eisin (Lev. 20:13). What Wright argues, and other scholars have followed him here, is that the Pauline term arsenokoitai is a Pauline innovation deriving from the phrase, arsenos koitēn in the two texts from Leviticus. The term refers, then, to those who bed other males. In other words, it is a vivid way of denoting same sex intercourse between males. The other word used to designate same sex relations in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is malakoi. This word refers to the passive partner sexually, an effeminate male who plays the role of a female.
Both 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, also proscribe homosexuality in general. Dale Martin suggests that the term arsenokoitai refers to those who exploit others sexually, but cannot be limited to same sex relations.30 Such a broadening of the term, however, does not fit with either the background of the term in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 or the basic meaning of the word: bedding a male. Furthermore, the pairing of arsenokoitai with malakoi in 1 Corinthians 6:9 indicates that homosexual relations are in view. Paul could have used the more technical term paiderastēs (a pederast) if he had intended to restrict his comments to exploitative sex. Furthermore, if the only problem in view were sex that exploits others, there would be no need for Paul to mention the passive partner as well since he is the one being oppressed, and not the oppressor.
Robin Scroggs suggests another interpretation. He argues that the word andrapodistais (slave-dealers) in 1 Timothy 1:10 intimates that arsenokoitai refers to the slave dealers who sell boys and girls as slaves for brothel houses.31 Scroggs’s view is scarcely persuasive, it is hard to believe that kidnappers were exclusively involved in the sex-trade business. Moreover, the term for slave-dealers is lacking in the 1 Corinthians 6:9 context, and it can scarcely be imported there to explain the term arsenokoitai. Finally, there is no reason to think that the term slave-dealers casts any light on the meaning of arsenokoitai in the vice list in 1 Timothy 1:9–10. The sins listed represent particularly egregious violations of the ten commandments.
Alternative explanations are provided for malakoi as well. Scroggs thinks the reference is to effeminate callboys and prostitution.32 In reply we can say that Paul’s indictment would include such activities, but there is insufficient evidence to limit what Paul says here to male prostitution. Dale Martin argues that effeminacy broadly conceived is in view, so that the malakoi adorn themselves with soft and expensive clothes, consume gourmet foods, are pre-occupied with their hair-style, wear perfume, engage in heterosexual sex excessively, masturbate, are gluttons, lazy, and cowards, and also accept phallic penetration by another male.33 Martin thinks such a view is misogynist and should not be endorsed in our day. The Pauline evidence, however, does not verify Martin’s view. In 1 Corinthians 6:9 the word malakoi is paired with arsenokoitai, and the combination of the two terms indicates that same sex relations are in view, not heterosexual sex or effeminate behaviour in general. Paul, of course, in the very same verse says that those who live sexually immoral lives as heterosexuals will be excluded from the kingdom as well, but he does not have such a notion in mind when he uses the terms arsenokoitai and malakoi.
Sons and Daughters of Adam
As noted earlier, the biblical prohibition on homosexuality is questioned, because we allegedly have knowledge about homosexuality that was not available to biblical writers. For instance, it is sometimes said that homosexuality is genetic, and biblical writers were not cognizant of this truth. It is not my purpose here to delve into the question of the genetic character of homosexuality. The scientific evidence supporting such a conclusion, however, is not compelling. Most studies yield the rather common sense conclusion that homosexuality is the result of both nature and nurture, and cannot be wholly explained by genetic factors.34
However, I do want to look at the perspective of the Scriptures, relative to so-called genetic characteristics. Even if some sins could be traced to our genetics, it would not exempt us from responsibility for such sins. The Scriptures teach that all human beings are born into this world as sons and daughters of Adam, and hence they are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). They are dead in trespasses in sins (Eph. 2:1, 5), and have no inclination to seek God or to do what is good (Rom. 3:10–11). We come into the world as those who are spiritually dead (Rom. 5:12, 15), so that death reigns over the whole human race (Rom. 5:17). Indeed, human beings are condemned by virtue of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:16, 18). Such a radical view of sin in which we inherit a sinful nature from Adam means that sinful predispositions are part of our personalities from our inception. Hence, even if it were discovered that we are genetically predisposed to certain sinful behaviours like alcoholism or homosexuality, such discoveries would not eliminate our responsibility for our actions, nor would it suggest that such actions are no longer sinful. The Scriptures teach that we are born as sinners in Adam, while at the same time they insist we should not sin and are responsible for the sin we commit. We enter into the world as slaves of sin (Rom. 6:6, 17), but we are still morally blameworthy for capitulating to the sin that serves as our master.
New Persons in Christ
When we think of a NT perspective on homosexuality, we must remember the proclamation of the gospel, the truth that those who are in Christ are new persons. In other words, we have substantial evidence that those who struggle with the sin of homosexuality can live a new life by God’s grace. We are enabled to live new lives because of who we are in Christ. Those who put their trust in Christ are justified by faith (Rom. 5:1). They have peace with God and are reconciled to him through the cross of Christ (Rom. 5:1, 10). They are adopted as God’s children (Rom. 8:14–17). They are redeemed and liberated from the power of sin, so that they may be zealous for good works (Tit. 2:14). They are now saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). They have been born again through the Holy Spirit.35 They are a new creation (Gal. 6:16; 2 Cor. 5:17). All people enter the world as sons and daughters of Adam and so are under the dominion of ‘the old man’. But now, by virtue of union with Christ, they are clothed with the ‘new man’.36 They have put the old man off and have been endowed with the new man. Those who are in Christ are sanctified (1 Cor. 1:30; 6:11), so that they stand before God as those who are holy and clean in his sight. Their sins are truly forgiven, so that they do not live under the shackles of the past (Eph. 1:14; Col. 2:11–14).
The Continuing Struggle with Sin and the Promise of Moral Perfection
We face two dangers here. We may under-emphasize our newness in Christ, so that the redemption accomplished for us is negated or trivialized. On the other hand, we may fall prey to an over-realized eschatology that underestimates the continuing presence of sin in the lives of believers. The already, but not yet dimension of Christian teaching is immensely practical when it comes to understanding sanctification. First John 3:1–3 makes it clear that believers are not all that we will be. We will be conformed fully to the likeness of Jesus only when he returns. Hence, in the meantime, believers continue to struggle with sin. We stand in the right before God by virtue of the work of Christ, but we are not perfected. The emblem of the continuing presence of sin in our lives is our mortal body. The NT regularly teaches that we will experience moral perfection when our corruptible bodies become incorruptible, when this mortal puts on immortality.37 In the meantime, we continue the struggle against sin as long as we are in our bodies until the day of resurrection (Phil. 3:20–21). The resurrection of our bodies testifies that the bodies are not inherently sinful, but as sons and daughters of Adam we are born into the world with sin reigning over us as whole persons (Rom 5:12–19).
The tension of Christian experience surfaces here. We are new creations in Christ and liberated from the power of sin, but at the same time we await the fullness of our redemption. The newness of our redemption in Christ does not mean that we are completely free of sin. Rather, as believers we continue to battle against, and struggle with sin every day. First Peter 2:11 says, ‘Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.’ Notice that the passions and desires from the flesh are still powerful in all believers. They are so strong that they war against us.
We might think that we will not have any desires to do evil as believers in Jesus Christ, but as long as we are in the body, desires for sin, sometimes incredibly powerful desires, will be ours. Such desires do not mean that we are failures, or that we are not truly believers. They are a normal part of the Christian life before the day of resurrection. We ought not to think, therefore, that the newness we have in Christ means that believers will have no desire to return to a homosexual lifestyle. The newness we have in Christ does not mean that we are freed from old temptations. There is a progressive and even sometimes slow growth in holiness in our Christian lives. Indeed, we can sin dramatically as believers, even if we have been Christians for a long time. Even when we sin in such a way, there is no excuse for sinning, and we are called to a deep sorrow and repentance for the evil in our lives.
This explains why we must fight the fight of faith afresh every day. Peter does not upbraid his readers for having desires to do wrong, but he does exhort them to abstain from these fleshly desires that war against our souls. In Romans 8:13, the apostle Paul says that believers are to put to death by the Spirit the desires of the body. Again, from this verse we see that Christians still face sin since they live in corruptible bodies, and the battle against sin is so fierce that the deeds of the body must be slain. They must be put to death. This fits with Colossians 3:5 where we are exhorted to put to death our members that are on earth. The metaphor of putting these desires and actions to death demonstrates that we are not talking about something easy and simple here.
The NT, of course, does not simply leave us with the message: ‘Just say “no” ’. It trumpets the grace of God in Jesus Christ that liberates us from the mastery and tyranny of sin. Those who have died and risen with Christ are no longer slaves to sin (Rom. 6). The power and dominion of sin has been broken decisively, so that we are now free from the tentacles of sin and are enabled to live in a way that pleases God. Romans 8:13 exhorts us to conquer sinful actions by the power of the Holy Spirit. We realize that we cannot triumph over sin in our own strength. We call on the Spirit to help us in our hour of need, and we realize that we will not be full of the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) unless the Word of Christ dwells in us richly (Col. 3:16). We remember the truth of the gospel that we are loved because Christ Jesus died for us. We are adopted, justified, reconciled, redeemed, and holy in Christ. The exhortation to live a new live comes from a Father who has loved us and delivered us from final condemnation. It is from a Father who promises to complete what he has started on the last day (Phil. 1:6). We have the promise that we will be fully, and finally sanctified (1 Thess. 5:23–24). Hence, we trust his promises to strengthen and free us from the allure of sin. We are not yet perfected, but we are changing by his Spirit. And we are changing because we have been changed and will be changed from one degree of glory to another, just as from the Lord who is the Spirit of freedom (2 Cor. 3:17–18).
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2 Gordon J. Wenham suggests that the OT aversion to homosexuality grew out of the creation account (‘The Old Testament Attitude to Homosexuality’, ExpT 102 : 362). Cf. also Robert A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon, 2001), 56–62. Gagnon’s work represents a tour de force on the whole issue, and is the work that must be reckoned with by those advancing pro-homosexual interpretations. For his response to his critics and continuing study on homosexuality, see http://www.robgagnon.net/ accessed on November 12, 2005.
3 Choon-Leong Seow sees space in the creation account for homosexuality as well (‘Textual Orientation’, in Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality: Listening to Scripture, ed. Robert L. Brawley [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996], 26–27). Cf. also the view of Phyllis A. Bird who argues that we should not accept the creation narrative as the final definitive word and that wisdom theology opens the door for accepting modern scientific views of homosexuality (‘The Bible in Christian Ethical Deliberation concerning Homosexuality: Old Testament Contributions’, in Homosexuality, Science, and the “Plain Sense” of Scripture, ed. David L. Balch [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000] 165–69). I would argue, however, that Rom. 1:26–27 rules out the notion that there is space in the creation narrative for same sex relationships, since Romans 1 functions as a commentary on the creation account.
4 Wenham argues that the OT stance on homosexuality stands in contrast to the evidence we see from other ancient Near Eastern cultures in which homosexuality was apparently accepted as legitimate, even though those who played the passive and feminine role were disparaged (ibid., 359–61). Gagnon is more restrained in his survey and interpretation of the evidence from the ancient Near East, though he agrees that the criticism of, and sanctions against homosexuality in Israelite culture are distinctive (Bible and Homosexual Practice, 44–56).
5 Rightly Wenham in ‘Old Testament Homosexuality’, 361, observes that the passive partner is put to death as well, so that there is no notion here of homosexual rape or compulsion but of two consenting partners, and both are held to be equally guilty.
6 Bird argues against the notion that Canaanite cultic activity is proscribed here She contends instead, that the purity boundaries are established; and concludes that such boundaries are no longer normative for Christians today (‘The Bible in Christian Ethical Deliberation’, 149–65).
7 A common objection is that Christians do not follow all the Levitical laws and hence to elevate to normative status the proscription against homosexuality in the Levitical law is arbitrary. So, Seow, ‘Textual Orientation’, 18–19. For one perspective on how to handle such questions, see Thomas R. Schreiner, The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), esp. 123–78.
8 Deut. 23:17–18; 1 Kgs 14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kgs 23:7; Job 36:14.
9 Gen. 18:2, 16, 22; 19:5, 8, 10, 12, 16.
10 Wenham remarks that the fundamental sin here was not homosexuality, yet ‘undoubtedly the homosexual intentions of the inhabitants of Sodom adds a special piquancy to their crime’ (‘Old Testament Homosexuality’, 361). Again, see the thorough discussion in Gagnon, Homosexual Practice, 71–78.
11 Richard J. Bauckham argues against the view proposed here since angels were the object of their desire (Jude, 2 Peter [Waco; Word, 1983], 54), but this objection fails to convince since the inhabitants of Sodom did not know they were angels but thought they were men (rightly Douglas J. Moo, 2 Peter, Jude [NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997], 242).
12 Wis. 14:23–27; T. Levi 17:11; Sib. Or. 3.596–600; for a survey of such literature, see Gagnon, Homosexual Practice, 159–83; Robin Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality; Contextual Background for Contemporary Debate (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983), 66–98; James B. De Young, ‘A Critique of Prohomosexual Interpretations of the Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha’, Bibliotheca Sacra 147 (1990): 437–54.
13 Cited from The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1, Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, ed. James H. Charlesworth (Garden City: Doubleday, 1983), 812.
14 Cited from The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 2, Expansions of the “Old Testament” and Legends, Wisdom and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms, and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works, ed. James H. Charlesworth (Garden City: Doubleday, 1985), 581.
15 Josephus, Antiq. 1.200–201; Ag.Ap. 2.199; Philo, Spec, Laws 1.325; 2.50; 3.37–42; Abr. 135–37; Cont. Life 59–62.
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16 So Adolf Schlatter, Romans: The Righteousness of God, trans. S. S. Schatzmann (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995), 43.
17 So H. Koester, ‘Physis’, TDNT, 9:273; Richard B. Hays, ‘Relations Natural and Unnatural: A Response to John Boswell’s Exegesis of Romans 1’, Journal of Religious Ethics 14 (1986), 196–99. William R. Schoedel concurs with this understanding of nature proposed here, even though he would not accept the Pauline word as normative. ‘Same-Sex Eros: Paul and the Greco-Roman Tradition’, in Homosexuality, Science, and the “Plain Sense” of Scripture, ed. David L. Balch (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 67–68.
18 For a useful survey of these traditions, see Scroggs, New Testament and Homosexuality, 17–98, Contrary to David E. Fredrickson who identifies the problem in Rom. 1:26–27 with passion that is inordinate rather than homosexuality per se (‘Natural and Unnatural Use in Romans 1:24–27: Paul and the Philosophical Critique of Eros’, in Homosexuality, Science, and the “Plain Sense” of Scripture, ed. David L. Baich [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000], 197–222).
19 William Countryman, e.g., maintains that homosexuality is not sinful but unclean or impure (Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), 110–17). Thomas E. Schmidt demonstrates conclusively, however, that Countryman’s argument does not succeed (Straight and Narrow? Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1995], 64–84).
20 John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 109–12; so also Dan O. Via ‘The Bible, the Church, and Homosexuality’, in Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), 15.
21 Cf. Rom. 11:21, 24; 1 Cor. 11:14; Gal. 2:15; 4:8; Eph. 2:3; rightly Hays, ‘Relations Natural and Unnatural’, 192–94.
22 Scroggs, New Testament and Homosexuality, 109–18.
23 Rightly Brendan Byrne, Romans (Sacra Pagina; Collegeville: Glazier Liturgical Press, 1996), 76. Via thinks that the Scriptures do not ultimately proscribe homosexuality, and yet he agrees that the argument from pederasty is unsuccessful (Homosexuality, 11).
24 James E. Miller argues that verse 26 refers to unnatural heterosexual practices rather than same sex practices (‘The Practices of Romans 1:26; Homosexual or Heterosexual?’ Novum Testamentum 37 : 1–11). Such an interpretation falters, however, because it separates verses 26 and 27 too rigidly from one another. Upon reading verse 27 it is clear that Paul has same sex intercourse in view, and hence it is quite likely that he has the same sin among females in view in verse 26. To claim that a different kind of sexual sin is criticized in verse 26, as Miller alleges, should be rejected since no evidence exists in these two verses that Paul addresses sexual sins among women that can be differentiated from the same sex practices indicted in verse 27. Robert Jewett maintains that the parallels adduced from ancient literature also suggest that Miller’s interpretation is mistaken (‘The Social Context and Implications of Homoerotic References in Romans 1:24–27’, in Homosexuality, Science, and the “Plain Sense” of Scripture, ed. David L. Balch [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000], 233).
25 Gerald T. Sheppard, ‘The Use of Scripture within the Christian Ethical Debate concerning Same-Sex Oriented Persons’, Union Seminary Quarterly Review 40 (1985): 13–35.
26 Against the view proposed by Sheppard, see the pointed criticisms of Hays, ‘Natural and Unnatural’, 213–14, n. 14. For a canonical reading that moves in a different orbit from Sheppard, see Christopher Seitz, ‘Sexuality and Scripture’s Plain Sense: The Christian Community and the Law of God’, in Homosexuality, Science, and the “Plain Sense” of Scripture, ed. David L. Balch (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 177–96.
27 Victor P. Furnish, The Moral Teaching of Paul: Selected Issues (Nashville: Abingdon, 1985), 79–80; Margaret Davies, ‘New Testament Ethics and Ours: Homosexuality and Sexuality in Romans 1:26–27’, Biblical Interpretation 3 (1995): 315–31. Cf. also Herman C. Waetjen, ‘Same-Sex Sexual Relations in Antiquity and Sexuality and Sexual Identity in Contemporary American Society’, in Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality: Listening to Scripture, ed. Robert L. Brawley (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 112–13.
28 William J. Webb, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis(Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2001). For instance, Walter Wink relativizes the Levitical prohibition of homosexuality by saying, ‘Such an act was considered as an ‘abomination’ for several reasons. The Hebrew prescientific understanding was that male semen contained the whole of nascent life. With no knowledge of eggs and ovulation, it was assumed that the woman provided only the incubating space. Hence the spilling of semen for any procreative purpose—in coitus interrupts (Gen. 38:1–11), male homosexual acts or male masturbation—was considered tantamount to abortion or murder. (Female homosexual acts and masturbation were consequently not so seriously regarded.) One can appreciate how a tribe struggling to populate a country in which its people were outnumbered would value procreation highly, but such values are rendered questionable in a world facing total annihilation through overpopulation.’ (November 7, 1979 Christian Century 1082). The nature of the argument is remarkably similar to some of Webb’s explanations regarding the pre-scientific conception of the role of women in the NT. Webb, for instance, argues that Paul believed women were merely ‘reproductive gardens’, contributing only a fertile environment for children, whereas today we have a better understanding of biology. Hence, according to Webb, our scientific understanding today transcends the Pauline words about women in 1 Cor. 11. See here my review of Webb, Thomas R. Schreiner, ‘William J. Webb’s Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: A Review Article’, The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 6 (2002): 46–64, Interestingly, Via’s argument favouring homosexuality also uses similar language to Webb’s scheme, when he says, ‘Biblical revelation is not static but opens into a future of new implications’ (italics his, ‘Homosexuality’, 38).
29 David F. Wright, ‘Homosexuals or Prostitutes? The Meaning of Arsenokoitai (1 Cor. 6:9 1 Tim. 1:10)’, Vigiliae Christianae 38 (1984): 125–53. Dale B. Martin criticizes the interpretation supported by Wright in ‘Arsenokoites and Malakos, Meaning and Consequences’, in Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality: Listening to Scripture, ed. Robert L. Brawley (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 119–23, In turn Gagnon defends Wright’s view and exposes the weaknesses in Martin’s interpretation (Homosexual Practice, 312–36).
30 Martin, ‘Arsenokoites and Malakos’, 119–23
31 Scroggs, New Testament and Homosexuality, 118–21.
32 Scroggs, New Testament and Homosexuality, 106–109.
33 Martin, ‘Arsenokoites and Malakos’, 124–28.
34 See, e.g., Stanton L. Jones & Mark A. Yarhouse, Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000); Jeffrey Satinover, Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996); Schmidt. Straight and Narrow?, 131–59; Gagnon, Homosexual Practice, 396–432.
NT New Testament
35 John 1:12, 3:3, 5, 8.
36 Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9–10; Eph. 2:15; cf. Eph. 4:24.
NT New Testament
37 Rom. 8:10–11, 23; 1 Cor. 15:52–54; Eph. 1:14.
NT New Testament
Thomas R. Schreiner
Tom Schreiner is James Buchanan Harrison professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.