“The messages he had received referred to articles or news items which for one reason or another it was thought necessary to alter, or, as the official phrase had it, to rectify.” -George Orwell, 1984
When plain truth condemns what we love, our choices are few. We can abandon what we love in obedience to the truth, we can rebel openly against the truth, or we can attempt to re-write the truth to appease our conscience and silence our critics. When we choose Option 3 we join Winston, the main character in Orwell’s classic 1984 quoted above, as he alters (or rectifies) the inconvenient, unwanted facts.
Matthew Vines essentially does the same in his new book God and the Gay Christian, by taking scriptures plainly saying one thing and re-interpreting them to mean another. So far we’ve looked at his revisions of Biblical references to homosexuality in Leviticus, his approach to Jesus’ teachings, and in yesterday’s post we visited his reworking of Paul’s remarks about same sex coupling in Romans Chapter One. As mentioned earlier, Vines believes Paul did not criticize homosexuality as we know it today, and/or his knowledge on the subject was sketchy. Specifically, he argues that the Apostle’s negative references to this behavior were due to:
1. Paul’s Limited Understanding of Homosexuality
2. The Exploitive Nature of Homosexuality in Paul’s Time
3. The Male-Dominated Thinking Behind Condemnations of Homosexuality
Yesterday we looked at his first argument about Paul’s limited understanding of the subject. Today let’s look at his second and third points.
The Exploitative Nature of Homosexuality in Paul’s Time
“For this cause God gave them up unto vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.”
-Romans 1: 26-27
Paul’s description of homosexuality here is brief and unflattering: against nature, shameful, a vice earning a deserved penalty. In fairness he doesn’t elevate this above other sins, and he mentions a number of other equally serious sins in this chapter.
But it’s noteworthy that he chooses a perversion of the Creator’s intentions for the sexual union as a primary symptom of fallen nature. In fact, many (myself included) believe Romans One presents an inverted view of creation as God intended it, per Genesis: Man under God; Creation under Man; Male and Female united. In Romans 1 we see this picture turned upside down via sin, and the resulting, tragic confusion: Man under God becomes Man usurping God; Man over Nature becomes Man worshiping Nature; Male/Female uniting gives way to homosexual unions.
Vines would have us believe it’s not that simple, because homosexual relationships in Paul’s time weren’t, by and large, very nice. They often occurred between older men and younger boys, creating an obvious social and power imbalance. Or between masters and slaves, with or without the slave’s permission. Or in unbridled orgy-like settings in which the partners involved simply used each other as objects of lust. None of which resembles the expressions of homosexuality we see today, in which adults of the same sex form mutually agreed on unions marked by love, respect, and deep commitment.
For the record, let’s not dismiss his argument that homosexual adults are capable of such unions. While some see the battle for same sex marriage as a purely political ploy to legitimize homosexuality, I also see it as an earnest though misguided attempt to secure legal and social sanctioning of relationships they form and value.
But earnest doesn’t mean right, and Paul’s criticism of homosexual acts in these verses is across the board, whether those acts are committed between a slave and master, or between consenting adults who love each other. Vines attempts to qualify these verses by saying they only apply to exploitive homosexual sex; a clear reading of it shows that it applies to all homosexual sex.
Compare Vine’s approach to someone else trying to revise the Bible’s condemnation of fornication – sexual relations before or apart from marriage, and various unclean acts between unmarried people. Suppose someone pointed to the Girls Gone Wild videos, or Las Vegas strip clubs, or the lascivious behavior of many college students during spring break, and said, “That’s the fornication the Bible talks about, that unbridled, wild stuff. But two unmarried people having sex in a private, loving way isn’t even mentioned in the Bible.” You’d probably reply, “Nice try, but fornication is fornication, no matter how it’s practiced.”
And you’d be right; case closed, enough said.
The Male-Dominated Thinking Behind Condemnations of Homosexuality
Vines further argues that homosexuality between men, at Paul’s time, required one male partner to take the “female” or “passive” role in intercourse, and since women were looked upon as somewhat inferior in those days, the reason Paul and others criticized such behavior was because it involved a man degrading himself by acting like a woman. It wasn’t the sex between men that was wrong, but the fact that the sex required one man to assume a feminine position, and since women were inferior, that was inherently degrading.
But nothing in Paul’s wording suggests he made a distinction between the active or passive partner in same sex coupling. In fact, in these verses, part of his criticism of homosexuality lies in the fact men burned with lust one for another, regardless of who took which position.
We can allow that women were limited in their roles and privileges during ancient times, but it takes mental gymnastics to transpose that problem onto these verses as a means of interpretation. Throughout scripture, when sexual sins are mentioned, they are mentioned without qualifiers. Look again at both Old and New Testament prohibitions against adultery, incest, fornication, bestiality and prostitution. None of these prohibitions has a contextual qualifier attached to them – none of them suggest there is a legitimate versus illegitimate way to commit these acts. They are condemned regardless of the context they’re practiced in, regardless of the status of the people involved, regardless of the absence or presence of genuine love and respect. If Vine’s explanation is true, then homosexuality is the only sexual sin in all of scripture that is in fact only sometimes sinful, but sometimes legitimate, if you’ll only read between the lines of the scripture and examine the cultural context.
And in asking us to do so, Vines is asking way too much, while offering way too little evidence that such a request could ever be legitimate.
Tomorrow we’ll examine Vine’s assessment of Paul’s term “arsenokoite” found in I Corinthians and I Timothy. Please join us.
Darla Meeks | May 23, 2014
Excellent analysis, as usual, Joe. I can't believe how you touched on so many explosive issues in such a short piece.
As a woman, and one who has spent a great deal of time among gay men observing their twisted culture, I can tell you that there is no love lost between gay men and womankind. Don't ever let them paint themselves as champions of women's rights. (I could go on and on about that, but that is another discussion...how gay men prey upon women. A former gay associate of mine blithely described the gay man as a hawk, and the hetero woman as a dove...the hawk swoops in, snatches the dove, tears out her succulent heart, and then discards her unwanted carcass to rot. He was so proud of his frightening analogy (he was drunk, so rather uninhibited...gay men carry terrible secrets about their intentions towards females. Romans Chapter 1 is utterly true...they are dangerous individuals on every level).
As for the Scriptural origins of male domination over women, that is discussed very plainly in God's pronouncement against women in Genesis 3:16 (in part) "...yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you". In the Hebrew, this word "desire" denotes a controlling desire that arises out of the broken relationship between men and women because of sin. Eve lost Adam's complete relationship, which left her entirely empty...and everything she does is about getting his deepest commitment back.
Betty Friedan, in "The Feminine Mystique" discussed this empty spot in the woman's center of being as "the problem with no name"...she found out that every housewife she interviewed, including Christian ladies, had this same problem...she couldn't pinpoint where it came from, because she wasn't a Christian. However, I believe it was, very simply the absent husband who was cursed to obsess over eking out a living (Gen 3:17-19). Men are absent from their wives while sitting right next to them...even Christian men. They have no clue how to recapture that moment of "complete-complete" that Adam expressed to Eve in Gen 2:23.
I call it the "Jerry Maguire" moment, which is a sweet re-telling of Adam's "bone of my bones" moment. You know, the moment when Jerry melts into tears and blurts out to his beloved, "You complete me!" She of course, has answering tears, "Shut up! Shut up! You had me at hello!" That is a wedding without vows, in my opinion...a wedding that doesn't require vows. It is Jerry's matter-of-fact declaration of who Dorothy IS to him that makes him one and the same person with her. A wife doesn't DO proper help for a man...she IS proper help for a man. She's your help even if she's in a coma...which is why you never leave her unless she cheats on you. If you do, you're leaving your own flesh, your own self.
I question the need for, and indeed, the righteousness of the vow in weddings. If a man cannot declare before all what his bride is to him...if he can't declare her his completion...then he shouldn't marry her. I would love to see matter-of-fact declaration replace vows, which, of course, Jesus warned against, anyway.
The Biblical relationship between husband and wife is expressed again in the book of Job. Remember that God allowed the devil to take everything away from Job except Job himself (Job 1:12). Satan then went about taking everything from Job...his livelihood, his property, his servants, his children, his health. Everything except Job and his wife. So why didn't Satan take Job's wife away, too? Because God said he couldn't...And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” Job's wife WAS Job...unpleasant and dangerous harpy that she was...she did not stop completing him, no matter what she did or said.
In any case, Matthew Vines has an interesting way of dealing with this. I haven't read his book, but I have heard his speech on youtube. He quotes the Genesis relationship between man and woman, and then simply states that this applies to everyone except the gay person...with absolutely no Biblical support for that particular matter-of-fact declaration. He doesn't understand that his feelings are not rooted in truth.
rollanmccleary | May 25, 2014
You really shouldn’t bring in heterosexual comparisons to your critique of Vines but I suppose you do because that is the point about you I’ve made before: your mind and experience are not and never were notably gay - to be so among other things would incline you to a more "both and" approach to some topics. But let’s recall that the original meaning of “fornication” which you now want to bring into this subject, was going with prostitutes, not cohabiting (with often the intention of marrying) with which you render it identical. But then living together was what you might call marriage in the patriarchal era when simply going into the girls’ bed, consummation itself, constituted the marriage rather than anything remotely like a church or social ceremony. St Paul is probably thinking in something like those terms when he sees the person who goes to the prostitute as marrying her – consummation equals marriage. So on that basis David’s polygamy could finish what someone might wish to call a form of fornication (one that God didn’t inform him about or apparently bother about though if you were a type of Catholic theologian you’d say it was a form of fornication)......
One could go on, but without even trying to make a scholarly argument I am merely trying to make the point that there is always and inevitably slippage across languages, cultures, values and eras and in consequence some flexibility of view is positively required to be realistic, practical and also sufficiently charitable. But you are not flexible. Everything must be black and white where plainly there are and always have to be a few greys. (Hebrew especially is a slippery language with often a real variety of translations and interpretations given to even a single text). If you cannot accept any greys at all, then to support a rigid position one finishes making absurd overstatements to back things up like that of the correspondent here as regards gays and girls. But ultimately all one can say here is that despite even sola scriptura Luther questioning the absolute inerrancy of scripture, you are working on the assumption that Paul simply couldn't be limited or wrong on the same sex subject whereas it's pretty obvious that on some other subjects he was a man of his time and less than fully inspired. And America itself would never have been founded if St Paul on political authority had been strictly believed and adhered to.