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!

Purity and the Muezzin

Over a few years I have been watching with interest different friends’ responses to the various ‘hot button’ issues that emerge. The most recent, and one of the most interesting the NZ Government’s decision to call on the state broadcaster to transmit an Islamic call to prayer for the 2 minutes silence for the victims of the Christchurch tragedy.

While often people’s responses are predictable, sometimes people surprise. I have begun to think that a significant component in many of these examples is the question of purity. Among 21st C Christians the priority of concern for purity is probably correlated with respect for the text of Scripture, but that correlation is far from perfect.

This should be expected because the priority the Bible gives to purity (among the virtues) varies. In Leviticus purity ranks very highly, in the prophets it stands alongside social virtues. In the New Testament’s lists of virtues and vices purity seldom features positively – James 3:17; 2 Cor 6:6 and 1 Tim 4:12 are exceptions. On the other hand ‘impurity’ is listed as a vice in Gal 5:19; Eph 5:3; Col 3:5; and 2 Cor 12:21. Lists that seem to omit purity are Rom 12:9ff.; 13:8ff.; 1 Cor 13:4ff.; Eph 4:5ff.; 1 Thess 5:12ff.; 1 Tim 2ff., 6:3ff.; 2 Tim 2ff.; Titus 1:6ff.; and 1 Peter 3:8.1 In the NT too, as almost all these lists make clear, ‘purity’ is primarily associated with sex, while in the OT it more often has ritual connotations.

This prwho prioritise oves nothing, but does suggest that both Christians who prioritise purity and those who prioritise the way we treat others can support their position from the Bible. Purity focus is seen (I think) in my friends who objected or hesitated significantly over the Muezzin’s involvement in the recent two minutes silence.

I am not posting this with the thought that either those who prioritise purity or those who prioritise the way we treat others are ‘right’, of course both are important. However, it seems to me that if this difference in priority (and hence in knee-jerk reactions) were (to be true and) recognised then we might be able to have more fruitful conversations about such contentious issues.

  1. These lists are very approximate, produced quickly, but may give an impression of the presence of purity in these lists, but the extent to which it is not a positive focus. []

White privilege in NZ


White privilege is invisible to white people, just like water is invisible to fish. The case of some friends of mine is instructive. They are white as you like, Kiwi through and through (though whether Pakeha or plain vanilla Tauiwi I am seldom sure – I have an ‘English’ immigrant friend who did all his schooling in NZ, yet still does not have citizenship)1 when one has to attach labels race is complicated).

These friends are kindly folk, so decades ago they fostered ‘difficult’ children. Treated them as part of the family, I don’t know if they adopted them… Now, being difficult children one grew up to be a complicated adult. So CYPHS intervened to take their children from them. Being ‘part of the family’ my friends adopted the CYPHS children. Because they ‘adopted’ them rather than (like sensible white folks) simply ‘long-term fostering’ them they get little or no support from CYPHS and now beyond retirement age seek to give the kids as good a life as they can. Their problem is that our government and society are organised by and for white folks. The default assumptions are the capitalist individualist assumptions of white folk, not those brown folk make. Brown folk (almost all of them and of whatever race know the importance of whanaungatanga. My friends’ mistake was to learn this virtue too well. The system assumes that if you adopt chilkdren it is because they bring you satisfaction and pleasure, they help you flourish and feel good about yourself – so, of course, you should bear the cost each individual (or couple) is responsible for themselves and their own decisions. Whanaungatanga says those kids are family, we can’t leave them to be fostered and cared for by strangers, let’s adopt them and give them security and stability.

The system is organised by and for white folks – or at least people who think like white folks!

It’s nice that CYPHS has got a nice Māori name now, but when will they learn whanaungatanga?

  1. I put ‘English’ in scare quotes because though, I suppose faut de mieux his nationality is English his culture and speech are pure Pakeha. []

Changing our Mind

I’m reading Gushee’s book Changing our Mind.1 While reading, I posted a short quote on Facebook, which provoked interesting discussion, and happily no vitriol. One of the points made there, which was also made by Gushee’s main critic back in 2015 when the book was new, is that Gushee does not do serious exegesis on the key passages. I plan to think about that critique in this post. This post is not a careful presentation and analysis of Gushee’s writing, rather it summarises what he seems to me to be saying – that is, I may have got him wrong, or gone beyond what he says, but this is how his argument looked as I read it.2

The first part of the book (roughly half), after setting the scene, deals with the biblical texts and arguments most often cited in support of the traditional Christian ethical position on LGBTQ sexuality. As I understand it, Gushee is making the point that all of the passages that may directly address the issue are either seriously debatable (the story of Sodom, or what the terms malakos and arsenokoitos referred to exactly) or are not directly addressing our questions but are concerned to make other points (Romans 1).

On Romans 1 it seems to me that Gushee follows Loader in agreeing that Paul understood sex between partners of the same biological gender as abhorrently unnatural. This indeed tells us Paul’s attitudes, but the text does not address our questions, and aspects of sex are mentioned as illustrations rather than the main point. To me this implies that Paul is not teaching about sexual ethics here.3 Now, when we affirm Scripture as authority we are careful not to claim that everything the Bible seems to say is authoritative (thus when it is apparently describing the sun orbiting the earth, or a flat earth with corners, these are not things that Scripture is teaching and so are not authoritative). The fact (assuming with Loader, and I think Gushee, that it is a fact) that Paul perceived sex between same gender partners as disgusting and unnatural, and thus sinful, is not binding on us if this was not what Paul and the Holy Spirit was ‘teaching’ here – and I do not think it was the point of his teaching here.

Because these direct passages are weak (debatable, difficult to translate with confidence, or talking about something else), and certainly not addressing our questions, the main weight of the traditional case must rest on the doctrine of marriage derived (by both Jesus and Paul as well as us today) primarily from Gen 1 and 2. But these passages also are not concerned with the ethics of stable covenanted sexual relationships between homosexual partners. (Unlike the shepherd in Jesus’ parable their interest is in the 95%4 and not in the others.)

Thus the biblical case for claiming that ONLY heterosex is ethically acceptable under any circumstances (the traditional position)5 is weaker than most of us (e.g. Gushee, me, and probably you) assumed.

The conclusion from this is that this set of issues and questions around sex and sexuality cannot be answered responsibly by an appeal to our exegesis of a small set of texts – almost however we understand them after careful exegesis, they simply will not respond to our 21st C questions. We are therefore required to engage in some deeper and broader hermeneutics – as we have had to do consciously or unconsciously on many other issues. Gushee has not stopped being an evangelical ethicist who writes about and believes passionately in marriage as a lifelong covenant, though he has stopped believing that such a lifelong covenant ought necessarily to be restricted only to heterosexual couples.

  1. I was given a copy by friends who hope it will help me change mine. It is the 2017 edition – though the blog posts on which the book is based appeared first in 2014 and the main response to the book dates from that time. Gushee, David P. Changing Our Mind: Definitive 3rd Edition of the Landmark Call for Inclusion of LGBTQ Christians with Response to Critics. Canton, MI: Read the Spirit Books, 2017. []
  2. That is do not hold Gushee responsible for anything I say, and do not complain too much if I have not reproduced his thought closely enough. []
  3. Note this approach is not the same as the minority who claim that this passage does not express Paul’s own thought but rather the approach he is criticising – because that IS a minority position it does not seem helpful to depend upon it. []
  4. In this case, unlike Jesus’ sheep, it is far more than 1 in a 100. []
  5. NB even this heterosexual expression is only acceptable within the stable lifelong covenant relationship we call marriage. []

Fifty years ago God called me to serve the church

God didn’t call me because the church (any church) was great and good. I was still almost a teenager, and I knew that was not true. (If you ever want to know what’s wrong with your church ask the teens, they have strong noses and weak stomachs for pride, conventionality, comfort-seeking, and hypocrisy.)

God didn’t call me because I was great or good. Let’s face it I am, and was even then, just as or even more likely than the next person to look for the easy way, to try to appear better than I am, and even to fool myself that I have succeeded and am better than I am.

God called me because like the church (my church, your church, every church) I am broken and twisted and not at all ‘up to’ the task we have been set. There is no task more glorious than the church’s calling: to declare the Creator’s glory in the world, to be Jesus’ witnesses here, there, and everywhere, and to set loose the power of the Spirit among dispirited people.

Those are not tasks for mere mortals, they belong to Wonder Woman or Superman, not you and me. Yet whenever my friends (or other overgrown teenagers) point out the sadness and hypocrisy of the church, or I read the latest idiocy from the US Christians, I am reminded: ‘You are part of the solution, because you are part of the problem.’

That’s the call God laid on the recently but no longer teenaged me, no more and no less, and I have tried to live up to it ever since. I AM part of the solution, BECAUSE I am part of the problem.

Evangelicalism Lite?

Mike Bird, on Facebook pondered saving the word ‘Evangelical’:

The only way to save the word”evangelical” is to seize it from the non-denominational, civic & consumerist religion, mega-church industrial complex and orientate it towards “one holy catholic and apostolic church.”

I can’t help wondering what would happen to such an attempt to create an Evangelicalism Lite. When stripped of the oh so commercial worship songs, the politico-religious shibboleths that serve as loyalty tests, and the rest of the 20th century trappings of power that have accereted to, and so changed beyond recognition the simple faith of Newton and the Clapham Sect1 and other social activists in the name of Jesus, what would be left?

Mike thinks Evangelicalism Lite would be ‘one holy catholic and apostolic’ I suspect like an onion when the last layer was removed the onion would be gone. I have many friends who value the word, some who point to the fine work of the World Evangelical Alliance and remind me that it is nothing like the industrial strength power Evangelicalism of the USA (even in the USA). Yet my experiences were different, brought up as Evangelical first and Baptist in a poor second place, I had to rebel against the shibboleths to protect my faith in the Creator God, and I had to learn that following Jesus meant working with all his other followers (except the ‘Evangelicals’ who could not be ‘unequally yoked with sinners’ and so could only support a mission to the University if every speaker signed their declaration of faith).

In my experience in Britain in the 60s the religious life was divided between Evangelicals and Followers of Jesus, and I chose the Christians over the lions.

  1. Wouldn’t that be a fine name for a 60s band? []

Dear Mr Dawkins

Richard Dawkins is visiting NZ currently, to preach to the faithless and rouse them to new heights of Atheist fervour.

Or should I call you Professor?

If you were here in NZ to talk about Biology then sure Dear Prof Dawkins would be appropriate and polite, but if I waded in to debate biology I would not expect you to call me Dr Bulkeley all the time. My PhD is not in your discipline, and my remarks would be expected to contain the sort of silly mistakes and probably egregious errors that amateurs often make. And that in a way is the point of this post. You make egregious errors and silly mistakes when you talk about my discipline. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll show my lack of respect for your lack of learning by calling you Mr.

One god less?

There’s an argument your followers like to use as a fine knock-down, I think of it as the one god less fallacy. You expressed it in A Devil’s Chaplain like this:

We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.1

Far from a knock down argument, this is egregious bunkum. You don’t disbelieve in one less god than me, we both fail to believe in the same number of gods. All of them!

God, the one and only, the maker of all, is simply the opposite of a god. The pernicious, fickle yet convenient powers that humans across the years have imagined and worshiped, and nearly as often used as excuses to force others to worship them (the priests and kings whose support and service these gods are claimed to need) are nothings. (Or more precisely and exactly are idols.)

Most intelligent Christians who think a little about their faith realise, sooner or later, that the maker of all cannot be like them. A being responsible for the almost incredible and literally unthinkable reaches of space and time, or even the mind-boggling complexity of the organisms you study professionally, Professor, cannot be cajoled or bribed in the way we both know the devotees of gods assume their creatures (for the gods are indeed made by human minds) can.

God, on the other hand, is wholly other — unknowable indeed. Except that God chose revelation, and is supremely found in the human life of Jesus, the man whom clever and powerful men nailed to a cross and executed. But God is not a god! God comes to us, not in power and might as befits a god, but as a victim as befits a non-god. Not with cleverness and ‘wisdom’, but in all the foolishness of a lover. And that, sadly, you have failed to discover for yourself.

I pray for you

So, Professor Dawkins (for your learning and research in biology deserves respect) I pray for you, that one day you will discover for yourself the one and only ground of all being because whatever you mistake God for (even a tinpot god) God loves you.


PS In discussion of this post on Facebook two things prompted me to add this postscriptum.  First comments about my tone in the presentation above (from an Atheist friend whom I respect) caused me to notice how I had fallen into the trap of fighting fire with fire. Then an enthusiastic Christian friend posting a video that used a mix of vox pop interviews with random passers-by, very short clips of scientists, and hectoring interventions by the makers of the video to pillory the notion of the evolution of species. That video and Dawkins present a picture of two Fundamentalists shouting at each other as mirror images. I have no wish to descend to that level. I therefore apologise to you for my tone and rhetoric above.

  1. Richard Dawkins, A Devil’s Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love (HMH, 2004), 150. []

Women should be seen and not heard!

The Bible says

Well actually, of course, it doesn’t. What it does say, at least in a couple of places is shocking enough:

…women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. (1 Cor 14:34 NRSV)

And as many famous US pastors with powerful ministries have noted and proclaimed:

I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. (1 Tim 2:12 NRSV)

Which, you have to admit, sounds pretty close to my deliberately inflammatory title!

At this point, if you are like me, all your hackles are rising and you are muttering to yourself: What about the gospel? What about Paul? Paul summed up the consequences of being baptised ‘into Christ’ and so being (each and together) ‘clothed in Christ:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28 ESV)

Indeed, if we just look at the question of women teaching men, what about Jesus’ conversation with the Canaanite woman who when he suggested that he should not offer her daughter the healing mercy that he was offering to proper Israelites, argued back against him and evoked the response:

“Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matt 15:28 NRSV)

You are just twisting the Bible

Anyone who tries to explain how context, careful attention to the wording, and other cues might cause us to understand the two passages about women being silent differently from their literal surface meaning will have met the response: ‘You are just twisting the Bible to avoid its plain meaning.’

This sounds like a ‘nice knock down argument’,1 after all surely we must all prefer the plain obvious meaning?

But that is precisely the problem. By their focus on the plain, simple, obvious meaning of a couple of passages, and their staunch and principled refusal to consider revisionist readings of these passages, these teachers must twist the plain, simple, obvious meaning of the gospel and of loads of whole passages and stories from across the Bible from at least as early as Deborah (in Judges) to at least as late as Jesus and Paul (in the New Testament).

Here is a rule you can trust

Whenever the plain, simple, obvious meaning of a few passages seems to conflict with, contradict, or merely seems uncomfortable alongside the great truths of the gospel that are proclaimed across the whole of Scripture then we have somehow misunderstood those passages!

  1. This phrase was chosen because it echoes Humpty Dumpty, because I believe these famous pastors with the powerful ministries are followers of Dumpyites. []

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

In these glorious Antipodes a storm has blown up in the conventional and the social media — not the series of sub-tropical storms that have been wreaking havoc with our homes and power poles, but a storm of opprobrium. It concerns (as you might expect)1 a rugby player. This rugby player expressed a theological opinion concerning the eternal destiny of some other people. Since rugby players are quasi-divine, naturally, his opinion on this matter is of huge importance….

Many of my Christian friends are (rightly) concerned about issues of tolerance and the possible suppression of religious views that dissent from the majority opinion (especially when those dissenting views are our own). In this respect several decades of liberalism have made us unprepared for such a resurgence of the Spanish Inquisition. But then no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

I am more interested in the theological question, is Israel Folau correct that gays are going to hell?

On what grounds might we say this with theological authority? If sin alone is the grounds then we are all doomed, if unrepented sin, I suspect likewise… Or is there a scale of sins with some (mine and your’s perhaps?) being venial and others (on whose unacceptability to God we agree) being mortal – ah, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

  1. You might expect this since rugby players here play the quasi-divine role that billionaires and film stars play in the USA, or royalty in some more conservative places. []

TMT: is it killing our churches?

At SCBC we’ve been studying the material that came from the Fuller Youth Institute study on churches that are doing well with young people: Growing Young. We need to, we are mainly an ‘older’ congregation! One chapter suggests empathising with young people. It mentions ‘moralistic therapeutic deism’ as a common feature of ‘Christian’ youth in the USA. The ugly descriptor comes out of Smith and Denton’s broad study of youth and religion in the USA.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

MTD starts with the ‘golden rule’, and thus places stress on doing good. If the beginning is at least biblical. After all it was Jesus who taught ‘do to others as you would have them do to you’ (Mat 7:12; Luke 6:31) and Paul continued this teaching (Gal 5:14). MTD soon absorbs a strong dose of the American Dream: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And the greatest of these is happiness. On this view, God’s primary business is not enforcing morality, but making things comfortable for us. Aside from this function as supernatural Valium, God might almost as well not exist. Thus their choice of ‘deism’ rather than ‘theism’, although the degree of activity this view allows to God is greater than in classical deism.

I think however, that as I listen to students, and on Facebook, or even in church, whether or not the descriptor works well for young people in the USA it is wrongly worded for NZ.

Therapeutic Moralistic Theism

In reordering the terms (as well as reclaiming ‘theism’) TMT changes the equations significantly. Listen to people’s prayers! Whether intercession for others or supplication for themselves, God is always asked to ‘put things right’ and remove the sources of our discomfort. Rarely, if ever, is God asked to pardon our sin, and only the extremists request divine vengeance on the persistently immoral. No, the key term is ‘therapeutic’ — indeed, if one ever hears attempts at apologetics in everyday life they are couched in terms of God the omnipotent Valium. Believe and pray and your life will be smooth and pleasant, as well as long and peaceful.

Though this is where morals come in, because we recognise that God does have some interest in ‘good behaviour’. If someone is ‘bad’ then God is hardly free to reward them with the promised pleasant life. So, since morality is almost exclusively understood in terms of sex, stop sleeping around, get married, and above all do not have sex with someone of the same gender, and you’ll be right!

Of course the ‘theism’ in my revised descriptor is no more like traditional theism than the deism in Smith and Denton’s was like traditional deism. For though this god is highly involved in everyday life, guiding surgeon’s hands and offering divine diagnostic skills to physicians, as well as changing traffic lights on prayer requested schedules and providing parking spots almost whenever they are required, this god has no real eternal significance — for everyone goes to heaven, even puppies and kittens (though not nasty snakes or mosquitoes).

How TMT is killing Christianity

If TMT sounds horribly like the Christianity you hear too often, beware. Since it is so ‘nice’ TMT provides no challenge. The supernatural welfare state, with a sugar coating of benign liberal capitalism, can never call us far from our ‘comfort zones’. Though [w]rapt in cotton wool as we are these zones seem as tightly restricting as swaddling cloths the call to transcend them usually requires little more than smiling at a stranger, or eating some strange foreign food (though, naturally, nothing really extreme).

TMT is theism, since god is present and active. (Oh, so active coordinating all those surgeons and traffic lights!) Yet it is theism-lite, since this god is merely concerned with this world and its quotidian concerns. It is as god whose kingdom is no wider than our horizons.

What the young want and older people need

What the young want, somewhere sometimes deep beneath the cotton wool, is to be challenged, to be invited to live a life less ordinary — is this all there is? The daily round, the common task, the nine to five treadmill, ending in death or retirement (which is like heaven, but with less health and energy, so perhaps death is preferable).

Older people by contrast have usually had time to experience the deception that follows when even supernatural Valium fails. Long ago when they prayed and prayed for someone’s mental unbalance to be righted, or for a child’s disability to be cured… or more recently when they asked for the latest draught to be sweetened in the bitter cup of life…. They need to learn that God’s interventions are mysterious and wonderful, but not a daily command performance. That God is not a convenient god to be ordered to provide comfort and restoration on our schedule.

TMT is killing the church because it fails to inspire the young, and it fails to comfort the old, and if it cannot do those things then it is ultimately useless.