- Jesus, Torah, and Ethics
-Was Jesus a Pharisee, Sadducee, Essene, or other?
-A Little Chat about Hell
In this final post of the series we will discuss one of the most polarizing topics in our culture. Hell of course is a very polarizing topic, just ask Rob Bell. But outside of your beliefs on hell nothing will get you put into hot water and pegged as a narrow minded bigot or a liberal universalist with no morals than the topic of sexuality. So on this day before valentines, let's have that awkward conversation you should have had with your parents in junior high.
The issue of sexuality was as complex and nuanced in the ancient world as it is today. What is clear is that the practice of homosexuality in its various forms existed and its acceptance or ridicule varied from time to time and place to place.
How one understands where humanity comes from and their role seem to have large impact on how one viewed sexuality as a whole and homosexuality specifically in the ancient world. For the ancient Greek, Plato tells a story of Aristophanes in his Symposium that humans once existed in three forms: male with two male genitalia, female with two female genitalia, and mixed with one of each. Zeus in a fit of rage split them down the middle and people are now in search of their other half, creating homosexual and heterosexual pursuits. This was more satire than actual creation mythology but it does speak to trying to explain sexual passions. In the ancient Greek culture teachers sometimes participated in pederasty (male with young male) until the youth became an adult. In the Roman culture this was less common but not unheard of. In both cultures raucous parties involved various forms of sex. Men with female prostitutes, men with boys, men with other men in both active and passive roles. In Greece a youth could enter into higher levels of society by being the youthful patron of an older male for a period of time. In Roman culture it was considered shameful for a male citizen to be a passive, therefore it became outlawed. However, male citizens often engage with slaves of non-citizenry as well as prostitutes while remaining married to one woman. This was in contrast with the Hebrew culture of multiple wives but forbidden sex outside of those multiple marriages.
For the Jew God created humanity male and female and called it very good. By the time of the New Testament many had combined Genesis 1 and 2 into a single understanding of creation. Genesis 1 tells that people were made and Genesis 2 tells how they were made. The overarching conclusion was that God made people good and sex was part of that goodness. However, there were boundaries to be set for sexuality. In the Jewish understanding of God there is great order, God set the order in place and it is the goal of humanity to live into that order. Order is connected with holiness and cleanliness. To be out of order is to be unclean or sinful. Sex was part of the established order and there are ways to participate in the activity that live into the order. Therefore, there are many codes regarding when one should participate and when one should abstain. There are rules regarding incest, intercourse during menstruation, times of war, times of entering the Temple, and others. The goal of these prohibitions was to remain in right order and holiness with God. Any intentional sexual activity outside these boundaries is considered a deviation.
There is little or no room in the Jewish mind, the Old Testament or the New Testament for homosexual activity. God created humanity male and female. They are to be united together for procreation and pleasure. Homosexuality is part of longer lists in both New and Old Testaments regarding sexual deviance. The various reasons argued against homosexuality in the first century include: the feminization of men, the perversion of the act, and producing sperm that is not fulfilling its purpose for procreation. Jesus and Paul connect ideas of sexuality to Genesis 1 and 2 in that sex brings together people into a complete union. To have any form of sex outside of marriage is to create a new union and destroy the former.
Jesus alludes to pederasty when he condemns those who would lead children astray. Paul, Josephus, and Philo speak against pederasty and homosexuality on the grounds of unnaturalness, divine law, and a giving into the passions of sex rather than self-control. Paul is also a product of his culture and place since many of his comments on gender roles, sexuality, and homosexuality would have been a mixture of Greco-Roman culture and his Jewish worldview. His comments on homosexuality would not have been controversial in Roman culture who were moving against homosexuality as a whole in this period. Homosexuality becomes a common image for when things go wrong and for going against the divine order God created.
Paul’s understanding of gender roles and sexuality/homosexuality is rooted in his reading the LXX. Loader makes a case that since his theology is rooted in the LXX it shaped his understanding of gender roles being hierarchical. It would also shape his understanding of homosexual relationships and the concept that to be male was the ideal of God’s created order. His understanding of eschatology and belief in it immanent reality allowed him to encourage optional celibacy as a way of staying focused on the kingdom. He would include homosexuality alongside drunkenness, idolatry, lack of self-control (giving into the passions), and lying as things that keep one outside the Kingdom of God.
1 Peter takes similar views to Paul when it comes to roles and societal interaction. The goal here is to share that there are cultural norms that fit into the Christian lifestyle that should not be challenged. Therefore, modesty among women is of importance as an adopted cultural value that finds its way into scripture.
The issue of homosexuality in particular and sexuality in general is more complex than this space allows. The general conclusion of the New Testament would be that sex, when understood as part of divine order and goodness, is a good thing. This would specifically mean within marriage, for procreation and pleasure. People were to remain faithful to that relationship. All other forms of sexuality would be deemed deviance, not only homosexuality but intercourse with prostitutes, unconverted gentiles, slaves, times of uncleanliness, or times of intentional abstinence. Cultural values of gender roles, femininity and masculinity, sexual passions, and societal niceties find their way in the NT teachings. The place for conversation on NT understandings of sexuality and homosexuality come in the separation of cultural values from their and our eras and from a more lasting divine order. There are many who could draw similar conclusions based on the research of history and biblical writings but would counter argue that times have changed and as such we should do away with these old values much like we have done with many of Pauls gender role values.