Monday, January 4, 2010

Homosexuality and the New Testament

Recently I dropped in on Dr. Ed Schroeder's Crossings website and found an interesting Q & A regarding the whole question of homosexuality and the Bible and the ELCA decision regarding openly practicing homosexuals in the active ministry. Many within the ELCA willingly accepted the liberal drift of their church body, and even the older set tolerated and learned to enjoy the adoption of female clergy. However, it seems that the homosexuality question was a 'deal breaker' for some in this otherwise acquiescent crowd. Finally opening their Bibles they were faced with a fundamental dilemma: how do we explain away what seems so clear in God's Word?

Well, the counter-reformation troops have been hard at work developing answers to just such questions, and one appeared as of late on the Crossings site. It is written not by a theologian, but a laymen. Still, it is inspired by Schroeder's hermeneutic of Gospel reductionism which helps to explain how one can take clear passages of scripture and suddenly find them so confusing and empty.

Dr. Peter Keyel, in response to the charge that there appear to be passages in the New Testament that condemn homosexuality, writes:

It is unlikely that the words arsenokoites and malakoi (used in 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10) are correctly translated "homosexual" (for example, Luther translated arsenokoites as Knabenschaender, which means "child abuser"). The end of Romans 1, though, does appear to directly address homosexuality. However, in order to properly put this in context, we must remember that Paul employed the same method of reading the Bible that Luther and the Reformers did. Romans 1 is an excellent example of the first half of this method. Paul walks the reader through the outward sin, which stems from internal sin, which results from rebellion against God. Here, Paul identifies homosexual intercourse as the outward sin, homosexuality as the inner sin, and idolatry as the fundamental problem. In this diagnosis, Paul is entirely caught up in the first century Jewish ZEITGEIST-that homosexuality was completely incompatible with being a Jew, and indeed, the phrase "homosexual Jew" would have been an oxymoron. While Paul's method is correct, today we understand that homosexuality is not correctly assigned as a result of idolatry. Therefore, in this light, we see that this is another example of " Juden-sachsenspiegel," even though it is in the New Testament, and the same-gendered relationships spoken about today are understood very differently.

If I were an ELCA layperson, which is who this response was crafted for, I could only respond with "what did you just say?" At the the risk of attempting to interpret the English of this response, I would suggest that ultimately what Dr. Keyel is trying to say is simply that what we find in the Bible is relative. It's meaning, although appropriate and helpful for people then (First Century Jewish context), is inappropriate and harmful for the enlightened folks of our time (21st century). We simply know better. Sin is a constantly changing theme. What was wrong then might be right now. It just depends on what you know. The only absolute is God loves me.

You can read the remainder of his Q & A and see the rest of his thought process when it comes to justifying the ELCA's decision regarding openly practicing homosexuals in the ministry. It's really an interesting attempt to run circles around the plain and simple truth. Postscript: Although I didn't address his first change regarding the meaning of the two Greek words in question, I think it only fair to say that his brief treatment did not prove his point. Without any documentation to back up such a claim I think that he needs to provide more. I could do so, but perhaps in a later post if someone is desirous of needing to know.


Rick Brentlinger said...

I don't believe the good doctor is saying that what Paul wrote is relative and has no importance for us in the twentieth first century.

He seems to be saying that, in context, Paul was addressing something other than homosexuality.

The context of Romans 1 is idolatry, one manifestation of which in first century Rome, was female and male shrine prostitution, like the worship of Cybele.

Concerning the Greek word, arsenokoitai in 1 Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10, the arsenokoit stem was NEVER used by our ancient ancestors to mean homosexuality.

TeeJay said...

An interesting insight to the past year's ELCA decisions, thanks for your thoughts... if you've time, read my rant on

Blessings in the New Year!