Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Was Jesus silent on homosexuality?

Today we often hear that Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, never said a word about same-sex relations. Endlessly repeated, this view has become the conventional wisdom. Gay Christians incessantly regale us with this truism, sometimes implying that Jesus may even have approved of homosexuality.

There are several reasons for believing that the statement is misleading. First, those who make it assume that the four canonical Gospels--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John--are all that we have. In fact, scholars have unearthed the texts of some sixteen other Gospels. One of these, the Gospel of Judas, was published only last year. Others may be on the way. The Jesus Project, a very serious attempt to separate what is authentic and what is not from the ancient texts, has published an edition of Five Gospels (adding Thomas to the familiar quartet). Others scholars, such as Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrmann, argue that we can use these noncanonical Gospels to reconstruct different forms of Christianity, forms that, historically speaking, “did not make the cut,” but which may offer useful lessons for today.

At least two of these outlying Gospels contain material on same-sex relations. “Secret Mark” is a different version of the Gospel of Mark ostensibly discovered by Morton Smith. The jury is still out on the authenticity of this text (see my earlier blog piece). The fragmentary material describes Jesus taking a disciple up to an inner room for a private initiation. To be sure, the text is not explicit about what was done there, but many readers have detected a sexual element. As I noted though, this text must be set aside until a more certain determination can be made as to its authenticity.

The recently published Gospel of Judas purports to be the text of an apostle now reviled, but who claims to have been Jesus’ truest disciple. This text contains harsh homophobic slurs about the priests in the Temple. If Judas really was close to Jesus, he may be assumed to be reporting views of the Savior himself.

There is a larger question. As a rule, Christians have never assumed that the Gospels alone (however many are recognized) would suffice to establish Christianity. In fact several key Pauline documents, are earlier than the Gospels. (We must not be deceived by the order of their appearance in printed Bibles, where the Gospels precede the works ascribed to the Apostle Paul.)
Of the fourteen letters conventionally attributed to the apostle Paul, seven are generally accepted as “undisputed,” expressing contemporary scholarly near consensus that they are the work of Paul: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. The earliest of these was First Thessalonians, written probably in 51, or possibly Galatians in 49 according to one of two theories of its writing. The other five followed shortly thereafter. This means that the core documents of the Pauline corpus are earlier than any of the four canonical Gospels. At the very earliest, one can place Mark, the ur-Gospel, about 65; in all likelihood it is at least a decade later. Matthew is dated (somewhat optimistically) between 70 and 85. Luke is commonly ascribed to the period 80 to 95. John is later still.

Two key antihomosexual passages occur in Romans (1:26-27) and I Corinthians (6:9-10). As we have seen, the writing of these texts preceded the composition of the earliest of the four Gospels. If these views contradicted those of Jesus, wouldn’t someone, in the New Testament or one of the associated documents, have sought to set the record straight? To be sure, this is an argument from silence--but so is the assertion that “Jesus said nothing about homosexuality.”

For the purposes of argument let us return to the original premise about the four Gospels and their seeming silence on the matter of same-sex relations. Is it really true that Jesus said not one word about homosexuality? There is reason to think that this common view is mistaken.
A quarter of a century ago I had the honor of publishing in The Cabirion, a quarterly I then edited, an article by my friend Warren Johansson. This article, which deals with the context of the word “racha” in Matthew 5:22, is now accessible at Indegayforum.com, and in a shortened version at the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (Williamapercy.com).

Here is the textual source:

Matthew 5:21: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment.

Matthew 5:22: "But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Racha, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."

Translators and commentators have long been puzzled by the word "racha," which is left in the original in the King James version. Clearly racha was a term of disparagement, some sort of insult. In a general sense, one may conjecture that the word is related to a Hebrew term meaning "empty," "empty-headed," or "brainless." That would parallel the imprecation "Thou fool" in the last clause of Matthew 5:22.

In fact Johansson was reviving a 1922 proposal by the German philologist Friedrich Schulthess that "racha" should be equated with the Hebrew "rakh" meaning "soft" or "weak", a "weakling" or "effeminate person. That would make "racha" equivalent to the Greek adjective "malakos," serving to designate a receptive partner ("passive" or "effeminate," according to contemporary stereotypes) in homosexual behavior. The Greek term occurs in the epistles attributed to Paul.

If Johansson is right, as he seems to be, then the teaching ascribed to Jesus is that his followers should not insult men, impugning their masculinity by labeling them “softies,” that is, passives or effeminates, types of person generally disparaged at the time. "What the text in Matthew demonstrates," Johansson concludes, "is that he forbade acts of violence, physical and verbal, against those to whom homosexuality was imputed, in line with the general emphasis on self-restraint and meekness in his teachings." Warren Johansson cautions that none of his analysis implies that Jesus accepted or approved of homosexual behavior. Condemnation of homophobic slurs does not necessarily entail approval of homosexual behavior, as some overenthusiastic gay-Christian admirers of Johannson’s piece have concluded.

What Johansson’s work does show is that in all likelihood Jesus did utter one word about same-sex relations--in fact a fair number of words if we place racha in its full context.

6 Comments:

Anonymous George2008 said...

[This is really a response to 3 of your posts - dated 2/1/08, 2/9/08, and 2/13/08.]

As a former RC priest, I struggle with such faith questions in ways that I never did before. Perhaps I had to make the leap out of the old job to feel free to face my questions.

I can't help but wonder that religion is really nothing more than the superego of society, as Freud suggested. I.e., I can't shake the notion that religion is largely nothing more than the moral and ethical norms of a particular society, which are elevated into a dimension so sacred that only the most brazen & heinous would dissent.

Nevertheless, the reference to Pascal's Wager mentioned in Leah's comment on 2/1/08 sticks with me. I find it illogical at this point to believe there is no God, and so I continue to believe in him.

I step back, however, from the throng of those who proclaim (1) that God is ultimately unknowable, and (2) that the clergy nevertheless have privileged insight into the things of God. I have always found this an unbearable contradiction. (NB - both of these assertions are just as true in the non-RC churches who reject the dogma of infallibility, and then act as if they do accept it).

I think you are absolutely right about the condemnation of homosexuality in these religions -- both in their scriptures and in the teachings of their current leadership.

The one who wishes to persevere in one of these faiths must go through the dangerous process of distinguishing which scriptures are mere reflections of [unenlightened] societal norms, and which are truly universal. Most people, unfortunately, are not equipped for this process, and they either leave their religion altogether or they blindly adhere to it in spite of their conflicts with it.

Those who think through their position, whether it is theistic, atheistic, or agnostic, deserve a great deal of credit.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Jenny Toth said...

Jesus said nothing, not one word, about homosexuals. For those of you who insist that this does not matter, that the Bible is somehow clear elsewhere about the evilness of homosexuality, here are some questions.

Why didn’t Jesus say that He was abolishing all the rules in the Old Testament EXCEPT the rule against homosexual intercourse?

Why didn’t He distinguish between His forgiving the woman brought to him in adultery ( ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone’ ) and His wanting to continue to hold homosexuality against people?

Why didn’t He say anything about how homosexual marriage would defile the sanctity of the relationship of man and woman?

Why didn’t He say anything?

Did He just keep forgetting to mention it?

Of course, there are apparent criticisms of homosexuality in the Bible. But do you have any idea what they mean, or do you just use them as a fig leaf for your own prejudices?

To paraphrase Rowland Croucher,
Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 and Romans 1:26-27 condemn homosexual activity. But lending money at interest, having sexual intercourse during a woman’s menstrual period etc. are also condemned; slavery and polygamy are condoned in the Bible. How consistent do you want to be?

As for 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, are you sure they’re about homosexual practice? Or do they talk about promiscuity and prostitution - sex for payment?

“What about Sodom!”, you say?
You should perhaps know that the issue was gang-rape (as in Judges 19-21) , not homosexuality. Every time Sodom is referred to in the OT and apocryphal books - and in the one Gospel reference, Luke 10:10-12 - it’s never in connection with homosexuality. In Ezekiel 16:49 for example, Sodom’s sins are pride, materialism, idleness or being uncaring.

Please remember, dear Christians, about what Peter (4:17) said about the sin of judgment beginning in the house of God.

5:17 PM  
Anonymous John F. said...

I find it fascinating that as a Bible believing Christian - who presumably believes in the Canon of Scripture that is, that the 66 books that have come down to us as the Bible are those which the Church has deemed to be part of the Inspired Word of God - as for the other 'gospels' these are not part of that canon. I have never made a study of those other books, but at best, they can provide an interesting sidelight on history. However. In the four canonical gospels -and even in the Words of Jesus in Revelation, no specific reference to the sin of homosexuality is made. This is not a truism as you disdainfully refer to it, but the truth .

An interesting verse is Luke 17;34 - speaking about his return. It says and I will try to translate the Greek pretty literally in other words - word for word, as you might find in an interlinear.

http://interlinear.biblos.com/luke/17.htm

I tell you this. On that night, there will be two in one bed, one is taken, and the other is left The King James version says two men , while more modern versions say, people . The truth is, Jesus does not specifiy either men, or people. However, the Greek words for one (as in one is taken) and the other (the other is left) are both masculine.

The point was that one is taken and the other is left - i.e. one is a follower of Christ while the other was not. One will be saved, the other one won't be saved.

You may argue that it dd not say two men so clearly Jesus was referring to a man and wife. If that is the case, then why did he not make that clearer - Surely God is in control of the Greek wording of His Word. In other places in Scripture, the wording is very unique - to convey a specific meaning. I put it to you, that possibly, the genders of the people was not an issue and the fact that they were the same or different is not an issue, otherwise Jesus would have said a man and his wife were in one bed and one is taken and the other left. But Jesus said TWO.

7:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, Jesus was not silent on homosexuality. In "The Same-Sex Triptych of Jesus" (Luke 17:34-36, KJV), he actually refers to three same sex couples.

Of the six gays and lesbians, half are delivered from judgment, even though three are clearly engaged in love-making. (Two women grinding together.)

Ron Goetz

Send an email to radical_discipleship@hotmail.com for a free PDF of "Jesus and the Six Homosexuals."

6:16 AM  
Anonymous viagra online said...

I don't think Jesus was either heterosexual or homosexual because he was not interested in sexual intercourse, however, there no logical reason to assume Jesus does not love homosexuals.

12:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

About luke 17:34-36, do not forget to also check Matthew 24:40 - 41, and naturally the context of it all.

It seems to me more likely that it is talking about (perhaps rapture?) happening at same time all around the world, since some are sleeping (night) while some are working at field (a daytime)

Notice also that when talking of those two men, it clearly says "that night", hence that doesnt really indicate any homosexual activity, but rather I would think Jesus is here giving both a fact (two men are in same bed, which is not uncommon even for non homosexuals), but also allegorically in way that although they both for example belong to same church, (same bed) it doesnt mean they are both automatically saved.


Also, although in English Grind can mean sexual activity kind of thing as well, it doesnt mean taht the original greek word can mean that. I have no idea about the greek root of that word, but just my guess that this kind of double meaning word would sound quite unlikely, especially since I dont think grindin could would mean sexual activity even in english 1000 years ago.

Dont forget, that it was only in 1950s still that it was pretty cool to be gay (Even IBM has a song from that period which ends in words "cause we are gay"), now adays it isnt so much anymore.

12:11 AM  

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