Does the Bible talk about homosexuals?

German Bibles mentioned pedophilia

Before we start: No the Bible does not talk about ‘homosexuals’. The word was only coined (in German) in 1869 and the collection of ideas if expresses in particular at of a sexual orientation may only have emerged a little earlier. Therefore, there is no way (in a simple straightforward sense) that the Bible writers could talk about ‘homosexuals’.

Enter Ed Oxford

Someone linked to a post by Ed Oxford, on the Gay Christian Blog Forge. His post has the title ‘Has “Homosexual” always been in the Bible?’ What interests (and perhaps incenses) him is the habit (beginning in the 1946 with the RSV) of Bible translators using this word to translate Hebrew or Greek terms. Ed is particularly taken with the translations in German and other Germanic languages beginning with Luther which render the term arsenokoites in two of the key New Testament passages (1 Cor 6:9-10 and 1 Tim 1:10) in ways which speak of the sexual abuse of boys.

Ed has a point, many Bible translators from 1946 onward have clearly allowed their own preconceptions to drive their translations in the search for relevance to say something the biblical authors would not have been saying.

Actually perhaps Ed could have (like Luther?) gone back to Jerome (4th C) Latin translation. Jerome rendered the key term in 1 Cor 6:9 as ‘masculorum concubitores‘. The concubitores bit poses few problems it refers to sleeping together (both literally and metaphorically). however mas = a man or male, the –culus suffix is usually some form of diminuitive, so (as Luther presumably assumed) the phrase could mean ‘those who sleep with little men = boys’. though masculus can refer to adult men, as Tyndale and others seem to have assumed.

What this information about English translations does is to warn us that the translation of these few key passages is far from simple and straightforward.

If you want a simple and straightforward presentation of the key passages from a gay affirming perspective you could do worse than the short post by Justin Cannon on GayChurch.org titled ‘The Bible, Christianity and Homosexuality‘. Personally I am finding the affirming case stronger and the ‘traditional’ case weaker as time passes. Maybe I’ll have to actually read Loader’s more solid work one day to convince me!

Finishing well: conclusions

It is astonishing how often we (preachers, students, writers…) put more effort into openings than conclusions. Of course openings matter. If this opening is too dull you will slick on to another site and I’ll have no readers.

BUT, conclusions also matter, if a reader/listener has made it all the way to the end of your 40 minute sermon, your 2,000 word essay, or even just your 300 word blog post, they deserve a reward!

Currently I am again finishing marking and also moderating student assignments (from the Summer Session). At least 9 out of 10 essays end badly. It is not that they are tragedies (stories whose plotline goes like this ∩)1 but it is a tragedy. Apart from the pictures, or illustrative stories, the concluding words are what people are most likely to remember.

We should always end with a clear strong statement of the thing that matters most about our sermon, essay, or blog post. Failure to do this cheats your reader — worse it cheats precisely those readers who have stuck it out to the end — of what they most need, a clear memorable summary of what you were saying.

[By the way that means that, cinema conventions being different, the ending of those old Loony Tunes cartoons is not at all the way we should end written work! Don’t just say ‘that’s all folks!’ rather sum up your main point, simply and clearly.]

So, end your blog post, essay, sermon… well, give a clear simple summary. Like this!

  1. As opposed to comedies that go like this U :) []

Reading on screens vs. paper: at last some sense

There has been far too much nonsense written contrasting reading on various types of screens1 with reading from paper. Some of the nonsense has been ‘research based’, though most of the research has been deeply flawed or trivial. At last there is a study that collates the data. They examined over 800 studies of which only 36 directly compared screen and paper!

See A Textbook Dilemma: Digital or Paper? for a journalistic noddy-guide to the results. Or read on…

As I hear it, key findings from this elephantine literature review, and so even more mammoth research effort include:

  • reading is faster on screen
  • comprehension is deeper on paper
    • subjects’ estimates of how much they absorbed were reversed (they thought they absorbed more from the screen)
  • most studies investigated linear texts, but hypertexts may be better suited to some tasks

Like so much research, none of this (except perhaps the recognition that people cannot effectively self-assess their information absorption) is a surprise. Once again, research underlines what sensible people have been saying ad infinitum. At this stage of technological development screens (of various sorts and this variability still needs to be properly investigated) and paper books have different advantages and different affordances.

Thinking of my current reading tasks:

  • marking student essays: clearly better on screen as reading is faster (this is a particular advantage for me as I am a very slow reader)
  • marking a PhD: paper is clearly better (as here I need better comprehension and retention)2
  • reading journal articles and book chapters in preparing a course: paper is better for better comprehension (except I find the material online, so waiting for paper delivery would be stupid, even if I had a POD machine)
  • reading a SF novel for pleasure: screen is better as I have no need to retain information

Except: for the PhD the case is more mixed as I have a deep and abiding revulsion to sitting chained to a desk (probably stemming from my sad experiences of education in childhood). The paper copy of the almost 500 page thesis weighs in at 1.25 Kg and is A4 by several cms thick, even printed doublesided, physically this is no easy task and hand strain limits the time I can spend reading. I also have to drop the brick and lift my laptop every time I want to make a note (how much easier to swap windows on my laptop).3

  1. Usually conflated as if screens were all one type of reading and it was the electronic imprint that mattered not the size or reflective vs. light emitting character, let alone how many other functions the device permitted… that mattered. []
  2. But see below! []
  3. I realise this last does not apply to most of you who learned to write easily and quickly with a pen or pencil, but my hand writing is extremely slow and very difficult to decipher later, quite aside from the advantage of cutting and pasting into my report. How I look forward the the time when NZ Universities finally enter the digital age! []

Outcomes for Learning

Well chosen, clearly expressed, learning outcomes (or whatever you call them) are a joy to read. They also help students learn and teachers teach. By defining the skills and abilities that students should achieve, they can guide and give shape to a course.

However, in the real world, learning outcomes are most often prepared in a hurry (after all there are so many more fun things a teacher should be doing, like banging their head against a metaphorical wall in desperation at the latest nonsense poem foisted on them by dull but devious students in place of crisp and informative prose). Almost always, at least in theology, lists of learning outcomes are prepared by teachers who unconsciously envisage their subject as a load of topics to be “covered”. Content is king, isn’t that what they say?

The result is often lists that are too long. (I think so far 22 items is the most complex I have seen!) Lists itemise all the content areas that might be included. If the course is on the Old Testament prophets, then (self)evidently students should:

“know about:

  1. Isaiah
  2. Jeremiah
  3. Ezekiel
  4. The book of the twelve” (if the person who shaped the outcomes is a trendy modern scholar, if not the old fuddy duddy will have helpfully listed all twelve books.)

Learning outcomes prepared by a committee (as when several colleges need a common set) are even better, for each teacher adds their own pet topics to the topic list. Someone is bound to be an Ancient Near Eastern literature specialist, so the students must see the importance of cognate literatures. Another is into intertextuality, we have to include that… You get the idea.

Now, stage two, if you have learning outcomes, how can you demonstrate they are being achieved by your students? You assess them. All of them, since these are the things every student will have learned!

Just tell me one thing! With such a long complex and content oriented list, how?

Let’s manage education

All five nations that embraced this high-stakes, outcome-driven form of accountability are still well below expectation and seeking answers, while those nations that maintained traditional, norm-based, competitive examination systems have risen or held the line in Pisa.

To illustrate, since 2000, New Zealand students have seen a drop of 42 points in Pisa maths, 20 in reading and 15 in science – a total of 77 points.

Warwick Elley (emeritus professor of education) in the NZ Herald

Superstimuli and the Terrible Ten Biblicist Claims

Today I want to turn to those terrible ten claims made by Biblicists.1

My aim is not to discuss whether, or how much, Evangelical scholarship may have been infiltrated by these ideas. Nor am I really trying to answer the question I was asked on Facebook of how many on the list I could support. Even though this post began with my surprise that DeYoung’s response to them seemed (almost) more negative than mine. He wrote:

I agree with point 1 and would affirm points 2, 7, 8, and 9 with the right nuance. But I disagree with points 5 and 6, and I am not comfortable with the wording in 3, 4, and 10.

Before going further here is the list (with some first comments):

  1. Divine Writing: The Bible, down to the details of its words, consists of and is identical with God’s very own words written inerrantly in human language.
    Right at the start DeYoung and I disagree, he accepts this, I cannot. The words of Scripture are clearly human words, I would claim that the message is divine while the words are human. I think this is what some of the biblical authors themselves claim, like Luke’s account of his process in writing (Luke 1:1-3) or the movement from vision to speech in the prophets (e.g. Amos 7:1-9; 8:1-3). The untruth of 1. is also demonstrated, it seems to me in the fact that Jeremiah does not usually sound like Isaiah, nor Luke like John.
    In this case the untruth of the proposition at best wrongly and badly states the claim that the Bible texts are inspired Scripture.
  2. Total Representation: The Bible represents the totality of God’s communication to and will for humanity, both in containing all that God has to say to humans and in being the exclusive mode of God’s true communication.
    This again is an overstatement. Scripture is NOT the “exclusive mode of God’s true communication” but might be closer to the truth if we inserted the word “authoritative” before communication, and perhaps toned down the claim to exclusivity.
  3. Complete Coverage: The divine will about all of the issues relevant to Christian belief and life are contained in the Bible.
    This one is plainly bonkers. No way does the Bible address every modern concern. Yet, the claim that Scripture is sufficient – that it tells us what and even “all” we need to know about God and for our salvation – is really important.
  4. Democratic Perspicuity: Any reasonably intelligent person can read the Bible in his or her own language and correctly understand the plain meaning of the text.
    The perspicuity of Scripture is vital to Baptist life and ecclesiology, but it should never be misstated like this, there is much in Scripture that is difficult, often reading in the light of serious study helps clarify, and yet (again, what we need to know about God and for our salvation) is clear and we have to (intentionally) misread, or be mislead, to miss it.
  5. Commonsense Hermeneutics: The best way to understand biblical texts is by reading them in their explicit, plain, most obvious, literal sense, as the author intended them at face value, which may or may not involve taking into account their literary, cultural, and historical contexts.
    This one is sneaky. Did you spot “literal sense” in there? Very little in Scripture is expressed literally. Yet the desire to read the plain sense, and not to get carried away with allegorising and spiritualising is a sound one!
  6. Solo Scripture: The significance of any given biblical text can be understood without reliance on creeds, confessions, historical church traditions, or other forms of larger theological hermeneutical frameworks, such that theological formulations can be built up directly out of the Bible from scratch.
    This one is plain untrue. Take the doctrine of the Trinity as example, it fits with and makes sense of so much in Scripture, yet it can nowhere be read as the plain teaching of a Bible passage. The truth it overstates is that our doctrine and practice should be subjected to the test of the text. They should conform to Scripture and not the reverse.
  7. Internal Harmony: All related passages of the Bible on any given subject fit together almost like puzzle pieces into single, unified, internally consistent bodies of instruction about right and wrong beliefs and behaviors.
    Such a univocal text does not describe at all the Bible I read. (I am currently supposed to be marking short essays on the topic “Did God want Israel to have a king” and the nuanced and diverse attitudes to theologies of kingship expressed in just 1 Samuel, let alone more widely in the OT are sufficient to give that claim the lie.)
    Yet, the consistency of Scripture is surely the reason for the claim that 1 Tim 2:11-12 cannot be read in its most obvious plain sense, that sense (that women should not teach or speak in church) is wrong – it does not “fit” with Paul’s own practice. So, I want to affirm the principle of consistency, while denying the excessive claim in Smith’s formulation.
  8. Universal applicability: What the biblical authors taught God’s people at any point in history remains universally valid for all Christians at every other time, unless explicitly revoked by subsequent scriptural teaching.
    This one is a case where DeYoung’s casuistic approach may have merits, for “certain values” of “taught”. The theological understanding that the writers were teaching are indeed true for all times, places, and people,2 But much that they teach (about other more time-bound matters) is not similarly eternal. Thus the laws about wearing clothes of mixed fabrics are not “revoked”  yet do not control my clothing choices. They ought to stand as a warning though against living in ways that are indistinguishable from the Pagans around us.
  9. Inductive Method: All matters of Christian belief and practice can be learned by sitting down with the Bible and piecing together through careful study the clear “biblical” truths that it teaches.
    Here I am with DeYoung, “with suitable nuancing” this is one I can affirm as stated, though sometimes the inductive process is quite lengthy with several steps.
  10. Handbook Model: The Bible teaches doctrine and morals with every affirmation that it makes, so that together those affirmations comprise something like a handbook or textbook for Christian belief and living, a compendium of divine and therefore inerrant teachings on a full array of subjects–including science, economics, health, politics, and romance.
    Even without the (rather naughty?) inclusion of “romance” this is one to resist. And yet even here there is at its heart the admirable desire to take seriously to sufficiency of Scripture. That is a truth worth retaining even while we deny the “supertruth” of the claim.

That last comment will bring me back to my title. But first let me draw your attention to the way this reflection on the claims in the terrible ten have run. In most cases the claim is untrue, yet in every case the claim intends to protect an important truth. This is the insidious nature of these (rightly identified as) terrible ten. They seek to protect truth but affirm a lie. At their heart they are ways in which Evangelicals (certainly in the “wild”, but often in the captivity of the academy too) seek to protect the claim that the Bible is Holy Scripture – the self-revelation of God. But each of them does this by insidiously claiming “more”. In this the terrible ten are like the “superstimuli” that ethologists and pornographers (like the Orange Overlord?) have identified or cashed in. They present something “more” or “better” than the truth, and thus lead the animal astray.

  1. Christian Smith, Bible Made Impossible, The: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture (Brazos Press, 2011) 3-5. []
  2. As I affirm strongly in the first episode of Deep Bible. []

Getting the PIP and the Deep Bible project

Christian Smith (American sociologist of religion, who coined the phrase “moralistic therapeutic Deism”)  published The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture with Brazos Press back in 2011. His list of ten characteristics of “biblicism”1 was recently cited by Scott McKnight as part of a brief affirmation of the thesis of the book. This made it onto my Facebook screen just a few days after we spent Saturday recording for the first episode of Deep Bible.

Several Evangelical scholars reviewed Smith’s book largely to rebut his claim that these ten features are characteristic of Evangelical (or at least of academic Evangelical) Bible reading. Though they have also criticised his thesis.2 This thesis considers the ten marks of Biblicism in the light of the phenomenon Smith calls “pervasive interpretive pluralism” (hence forth “PIP”) claiming that this fact of multiple readings makes these tenets impossible.

Getting the PIP (pervasive interpretive pluralism)

This post is not a review, or even a notice, of Smith’s book (I have not read it) nor is it a review or response to his critics, rather it is my response to his list, in the light of recording the first episode of Deep Bible. You see one of the core problems with the Bible today for Evangelicals (and other Bible-centred believers, like Baptists) is PIP. You do not have to look far to get the PIP, perhaps all the current (and past) hot button topics among Christians reveal that interpretative pluralism is indeed pervasive. Take the discussion between “Egalitarian” and “Complementarian” camps, they read the same Bible passages, but come to different conclusions. Even the arguments over “gay marriage”, are fueled by different hermeneutics leading to different conclusions.3

Therein lies the rub at least for those who live and have their being in church as well as breathing the more rarefied air of the academy. For, in church (at least in the pews)4 most or all of the terrible ten are believed as gospel truth, and hermeneutics is either an unknown concept or code for “attempting to avoid the plain sense of Scripture”.

Hence the importance of PIP for Deep Bible episode one.5 My contribution offers two strands of practical everyday response to PIP.

Radios and telephones

First, I suggest we need to recognise and distinguish two ways in which God uses Scripture to communicate with us, let’s call them the radio and the telephone. Sometimes the Holy Spirit uses a Bible passage (or even verse or phrase) to give a particular message to a particular person (or group). When this happens it is a bit like the Spirit inspiring Jeremiah with the message that God watches over his word to fulfill it (Jer 1:12) that message came from a pun on the Hebrew word for an almond branch (Jer 1:11). The message has nothing (at all) to do with almonds or branches or trees. God just used the (bad?) pun as stimulus. When God gave Barbara and I a comforting message about our move to New Zealand (following the traumatic shock of being evacuated from Congo and losing contact with so many of our friends and colleagues) that comforting message had nothing to do with the message of the book of Jonah, but God used the familiar story to make his point – and, as with Jeremiah’s pun, it worked for us. That experience is God making a personal telephone call.

OTOH when God inspired the writers of Scripture to reveal truth about the world and especially about its Maker, Sustainer and Redeemer that message, like a radio broadcast is intended for anyone who has the equipment and listens in.

Failure to distinguish these two sorts of meaning leads to much of the most pernicious misuse of Scripture, and so is responsible for much of the PIP that we get today. For we live at a time that prefers the immediacy of “the spirit”6 to the work of rightly handling the word of life.

Let’s just agree to disagree

Another cultural tendency also impacts the PIP. Tolerance  is a virtue (it is perhaps both the most important, under practiced, and yet over-rated virtue today). In the face of multiple interpretations of Scripture this core virtue of the pomo world kicks in, and we find ourselves tempted to “agree to disagree“. Agreeing to disagree is fine and desirable when we have really discussed, understand where the other is coming from, still respect them, yet despite this disagree.

It is not so fine or desirable when it is almost our first response to differing understandings of what the Bible teaches. Because it suggests that the Bible can (rightly and properly, and not merely because of human sinfulness) teach different things to different people. If the Bible can mean anything, then it actually means nothing!

In everyday life we accept restrictions and limits on what texts can mean. Two key and common restrictions are the meaning of words and phrases (literary restraints on possible meaning) and authors’ intentions (historical restraints on meaning). Much of the rest of the Deep Bible series will consider these two sorts of limit and how we can move between these towards deeper and fuller (yet more restrained) understanding of the Bible.

  1. He seems to use the word as a shorthand for what is wrong with self-consciously “Evangelical” readings of Scripture. []
  2. Kevin DeYoung, “Christian Smith Makes the Bible Impossible,” The Gospel Coalition, TGC, August 2, 2011, https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2011/08/02/christian-smith-makes-the-bible-impossible/ and “Those Tricksy Biblicists,” The Gospel Coalition, TGC, (September 1, 2011), https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2011/09/01/those-tricksy-biblicists/; Peter J. Leithart, “A Cheer and a Half for Biblicism,” First Things, August 26, 2011, https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2011/08/a-cheer-and-a-half-for-biblicism; Robert H. Gundry, “Smithereens! Bible-Reading And ‘pervasive Interpretive Pluralism.,’” Books and Culture, October 2011, http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2011/sepoct/smithreens.html.

    []

  3. Though in this case one side sometimes denies that this is the case, it is more charitable to recognise that both are reading and trying to follow Scripture. Though in this case for both sides the big picture rather than the interpretation of individual passages is usually the driver.  []
  4. Or even the comfortable padded seating that serves the “same” function today. []
  5. I plan to consider the terrible ten in another post, as I was surprised to find that I was more positively disposed towards the statements than DeYoung! []
  6. Sadly often without the discernment needed to distinguish “the Spirit” from “my spirit”. []