Homosexuality, Divorce and Gay Marriage

Readers may wonder what I find in common between homosexuality and divorce, except that I can loosely categorise them under “gender issues”. This is nothing to do with the ending of gay marriages or “civil partnerships”. But it is all about how a proper understanding of the biblical teaching on divorce, which I discussed here recently, may also be helpful in finding a Christian approach to homosexuality. Here I take further one of the points which I outlined in my post about Bishop Gene Robinson.

First, to summarise my conclusions on divorce: God’s perfect plan is for sexual activity to be restricted to lifelong monogamous marriages. But he recognises that many people’s hearts are hard such that they are unable to remain faithful to one marriage partner for life, so he makes provisions for divorce. Jesus reiterates the original call to lifelong monogamy as the ideal for his disciples, but not as a new law to be applied to all.

The same principles, it seems to me, can be applied to homosexual activity. We can start by noting that homosexual activity should not be considered a worse sin than wrong heterosexual activity: the Bible passages where homosexual acts are condemned, such as Leviticus 18 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, also condemn in the same terms heterosexual adultery, incest etc.

God’s perfect plan for human sexuality, as put forward in Genesis 2:24 and quoted several times by Jesus and elsewhere in the New Testament, is

a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24 (TNIV)

In other words, and in accordance with the further explanations in the New Testament, sexual activity is intended to be restricted to married couples of opposite gender in lifelong monogamous marriages. And this remains Jesus’ ideal for his disciples.
Nevertheless, as Jesus recognised,

Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.

Matthew 19:11 (TNIV)

And so, as explained in verse 8, special arrangements or concessions were made for those who could not accept it because “your hearts were hard”.

The explicitly described special arrangements are only for heterosexuals who cannot remain in monogamous marriages. But, if we believe as we should that homosexual activity is no worse than heterosexual activity outside marriage, then we can see that by the same principle special arrangements would be appropriate for those who cannot accept the strict teaching on marriage because of their homosexual orientation. Jesus’ ideal for such people, just as it is for unmarried heterosexuals, is that they remain celibate, or get married – to someone of the opposite gender. But, since “only those to whom it has been given” can accept this teaching, other arrangements should be made for the rest.

What might those other arrangements be?

Well, it is instructive that the concession for those who could not continue in a marriage was not simply to sleep around. Indeed, that would be considered adultery, and in the Old Testament was punishable by death (Deuteronomy 22:22). Sexual activity outside the original marriage was not punished as adultery (even if by Jesus’ strict definition it was adultery) only if there had been a properly recognised divorce and remarriage. Note also that a man was not allowed to return to his first wife after divorcing a second one (Deuteronomy 24:4), so rapid alternation of partners was ruled out. The reason for these rules is surely that in God’s sight unrestricted sexual activity is a far worse sin than abandoning a bad marriage hopefully for a better one.

If the same principles are extended to homosexual relationships, the conclusion must be that they should be regulated in a similar way, such that homosexual activity is allowed only within long term committed relationships, not as unrestricted sleeping around. The clearest way of regulation is to make formal arrangements for some kind of gay or lesbian marriage. Here in the UK this is in fact known as “civil partnership” rather than marriage, and that is appropriate because it distinguishes such a partnership from a heterosexual marriage according to God’s ideal.

On this basis, it would be consistent for Christians to view homosexuals in a civil partnership, and faithful to that partnership, as in an equivalent position to people who are divorced and remarried. If the latter are permitted to minister in the church, then for consistency the former also should be. If, as at least in the Church of Wales, the latter can be bishops, then no logic remains in not allowing a gay person in a civil partnership to be a bishop.

Am I entirely convinced of this argument? No. But I do think it should be considered carefully as part of the ongoing discussions of these issues in the Anglican Communion and other church bodies. This kind of approach just might pave the way for a compromise by which homosexual activity is not completely approved but is not a complete barrier to Christian ministry.

At the moment I see little hope for the ongoing unity of the Anglican Communion, with the Diocese of Sydney now joining with several African provinces in refusing to attend next year’s Lambeth Conference if the bishops from the USA are also attending. If there is any approach which might allow the Communion to survive, it will probably be along the lines of what I am suggesting here.

36 thoughts on “Homosexuality, Divorce and Gay Marriage

  1. Recently when I told one of my church friends that my son was studying at Ridley Hall, an Anglican seminary, his first reaction was “Episcopals are ordaining gays, what do you think about that?” Somehow that isn’t at the top of my list of issues with my son becoming more “English”, but it sure seems to be hot among Evangelicals.

    How can we get this issue off of the front burner of the Evangelical mind?

  2. Kent, thanks for your comment. I don’t know how to answer your question, but it is certainly a matter on the Anglican mind, whether evangelical or otherwise. But you can assure your friends that Ridley Hall is an evangelical college which would never promote ordaining gays.

  3. The problem I have, personally, is that I believe that some people are ontologically homosexual. Your solution (which might not be a problem for you) suggests that people are homosexual because of ‘the hardness of their hearts’.

    I have never been able to understand this concept of homosexuality as something that someone chooses.

  4. Pam, I wouldn’t say that “people are homosexual because of ‘the hardness of their hearts’.” Rather, I accept that people of homosexual orientation are in some sense ontologically that way, although not necessarily permanently. I would hold that for such people Jesus’ ideal is celibacy. They are perhaps among those born (metaphorically) eunuchs in Matthew 19:12.

    But many such people don’t accept celibacy because of the hardness of their hearts, just as is true of those divorced heterosexuals who choose to remarry. Thus hardness of heart is not related to sexual orientation, but to the choices made by people of any orientation, whether to put first their sexual urges or God’s will for their lives.

    I accept that this is not complete equality between homo- and heterosexuals. But then there is a basis in nature for this inequality, in that heterosexual activity produces children but homosexual does not. So I would justify giving precedence to heterosexual marriages not just from specific biblical passages but also from the fact that they are the ones designed by God (or by evolution, for anyone who doesn’t want to bring God in here) for procreation and nurturing of succeeding generations.

  5. Interesting. It seems to me that v8 is a reference to the old covenant, and v11 refers to the present new covenant. If you follow Jesus (under the new covenant) your options are to obey his teaching on marriage (v9) or refrain from marriage altogether if cannot accept the conditions (v11-12).

    But I can’t really seem any what Jesus said to fall back to the old covenant teaching (v8).

  6. Sam, I think you have missed something important here. At least, I don’t understand verse 11 as Jesus agreeing with his disciples that they should not marry. His point, here and at the end of verse 12, is that only some people, those in one of the three classes of eunuch, can or should accept this conclusion that they should not marry. So what should the others do? Well, marry, I suppose. But the disciples’ point in verse 10 is that monogamous marriage with no possibility of divorce is unrealistic – and Jesus does not disagree with them. So the implication must be that those who are not “eunuchs” should not only marry but be free to divorce and remarry.

    I also disagree with you on the relationship between the two covenants here, but that is a more complex issue.

  7. Someone who because of hardness of heart is in a gay relationship is not analogous to someone who in the past divorced and remarried. They are analogous to someone who is currently in the process of getting divorced and remarried. If someone confronts either as sin, the person should repent and turn from their sin. Someone who divorced and remarried in the past may well have repented of that sin (although the person now is divorced and remarried). Someone who is currently in a committed, monogamous, gay relationship is not merely experiencing the results of what resulted from a sinful past. They are continuing in a sinful relationship. I therefore can’t see these things as analogous.

    On the question of what concessions can be made, I may have misunderstood you, but I’m not sure. If all you envision this concession as allowing is that we have civil laws recognizing gay unions as having all the legal rights of marriage, then I’m not going to oppose that. I will also say that Christians should treat gay couples with kids as families. It’s not fair to these children to treat what they know as their family unit as a bunch of unrelated people, even if the basis of their family is a sinful relationship. We should treat unmarried couples living together with kids as families, and we should treat gay couples (whether legally married or in civil unions or not) as families. We should treat adoptive parents as parents even if the adoptive couple is a same-sex union.

    But what I will oppose is any suggestion that the church should treat these unions as morally ok, i.e. that the people living in such unions are not sinning in doing so. I don’t think the concession to allow divorce, even if it’s parallel (which I’ve questioned above) requires that. It at most requires allowing that people will live in society in these sinful relationships in order to protect the best interests of the kids, just as the concession in the Torah allowed people to engage in sinful divorces in order to regulate them for the sake of the divorced woman’s good and the good of the children.

  8. Peter, I agree with many things you are saying, but like Jeremy, I don’t think your analogy holds across the board.

    In my experience, a divorcee is almost always cognizant of the fact that the divorce represented the end result of a complex weave of sin, sickness, and the power of evil. Now, if she/he remarries, it is not as if sin, sickness, and the power of evil no longer have a place in her/his life, but the new marriage is seen once again to have the potential of being a charism, or gift from God, in the sense that Paul speaks about both marriage and celibacy.

    Since I live and breath the Hebrew Bible, I can’t help but think of David, the adulterer and murderer. After all, it is the fruit of the illicit union and murder, Solomon, who is David’s heir, and ancestor of the Messiah. Analogously, good out of evil describes what happens, or what has the potential of happening, in the case of divorce and remarriage, with divorce being the evil and remarriage the good.

    Like Jeremy, I can see the logic of the state granting marriage-like rights and responsibilities to those who want to enter into gay unions. This follows from the hardness of the heart line of argument.

    But that’s not the same thing as saying that a gay union is on a par with marriage and celibacy, with the same potential of being a charism from God.

    It may well be, nay, I would hazard that a committed and exclusive relationship between two gays is preferable to a number of imaginable alternatives. But the question is whether a homosexual union of this kind can be understood as a potential good on a par with marriage or celibacy.

    Historically, such has not been the position of either Judaism or Christianity. No wonder: the whole idea of a Committed, Exclusive, and Egalitarian relationship among two gays has little or no precedent in the ancient world (see Nissinen’s fundamental study). It is not clear to me how entrenched the CEE ideal is today among gays.

    If it is true that sexuality is socially constructed, which of course it is, the matter has to be seen in cultural terms, not simply as a question of two people who are in love with one another. Perhaps they do not exist in the UK, but here in the US, there are churches that are predominantly gay, and indeed, gay Christians migrate into them at a very high rate. The fact that gay Christianity tends right now to give birth to congregations in which they, along with a few others at most, feel comfortable, poses issues of its own.

    I don’t have any definitive solutions in my pocket, but in my view, the only way for the unity of the Anglican communion to be preserved is for the pro-gay faction to refrain from doing things like ordaining bishops like Robinson.

    It seems that that kind of restraint is not something that the powers that be among US Episcopalians intend to practice. That being the case, schism is inevitable.


  9. Peter:

    I would hold that for such people Jesus’ ideal is celibacy.

    OK; with all the twists and turns of the reasoning, I’d omitted to think about this.

    I’ve just come across a sermon by Rowan Williams on the subject of Christian Marriage (given to a university audience to recommend faithful marriage and hardly touching on homosexuality at all). I found his arguments compelling and they have practically nothing to do with your ‘these are the rules’ approach.

    As a unwillingly childless married person, I understand that you do not begrudge me my marriage. However, I cannot see why, knowing that our marriage would not be able to produce children, I am ‘allowed’ to have a sexual relationship with my husband whereas all homosexual people are called to celibacy. I suspect you would not agree with me, but the way I see your logic, my husband and I should also have a celibate marriage. That’s the way God created us, so we must be called to celibacy.

    I also think your logic compels Christians to forgo any form of birth control.

    When I have a bit of time, I’ll try to digest William’s argument and communicate it in a way that does not plagerise!

  10. Peter,

    I don’t quite understand how you reach those conclusions; forgive if I’m missing something obvious.

    v10, I don’t think the disciples are saying it’s unrealistic; only that from their (fallen?) patriarchal perspective it sounds very tough.

    v11, Regardless of v10, I think here Jesus simply agrees that it is tough and not all will be able to accept it.

    v12, I think Jesus points out three alternatives: be born a eunuch, be made a eunuch, or voluntarily renounce marriage and stay celibate.

    And so I would condense the implications as: stay celibate if you cannot accept Jesus’ conditions on marriage (til death do us part, with the exception of sexual immorality).

  11. I will in fact reply to Jeremy’s comment before John FH’s.

    See first my reply to Jeremy on the original divorce and remarriage thread. We agreed there that divorce and remarriage, apart from certain conditions, is less than God’s ideal and can be considered a sin. I would say the same about gay “marriage”, although I have not used the word “sin” of this before. But what are the implications of that for couples in such relationships who want to get right with God?

    Jeremy, you imply that a divorced (without valid reason) and remarried person can repent and be put right with God without renouncing the second marriage and becoming celibate, and this is not “continuing in a sinful relationship” but should be considered morally acceptable in the church.

    But what of a “married” gay couple who repent? You imply that if they do not become celibate they are “continuing in a sinful relationship” and should not be acceptable in the church. On what grounds do you make a distinction here? You cannot appeal to Moses’ concession allowing divorce, for you rejected that as not applicable to Christians. I know how strongly you value consistency in moral principles. But it seems to be that you are being inconsistent on this one.

    As for “Someone who is currently in a committed, monogamous, gay relationship” but is not in a gay “marriage”, I would say that they should be, at least if the state offers such a status. Where there is no official state ceremony available, perhaps they should simply make their commitment public.

  12. Five comments to reply to this morning! I will take them in reverse order, except for John M’s to which I will simply reply, “You’re welcome”, and “Keep reading”.


    Verse 10: in the Jewish context remaining unmarried was not really culturally acceptable. Many of the disciples (not Peter) were probably young enough not yet to be married. So their “it is better not to marry” can only mean that they considered marriage under Jesus’ conditions unrealistic. 1900 years of divorce being more or less impossible for most Christians has led us to ways (often including sex outside marriage) of coping with these rules. But the initial reaction to them was that they are impossible to keep.

    Verse 12: the problem with your interpretation is that Jesus does not say to the disciples that they should “make themselves eunuchs”. He carefully avoids promoting celibacy.

    I suspect the disciples are thinking in verse 10 that sex before marriage is OK. In practice in that society it was probably more or less acceptable, for men. On that basis, if a married man could not divorce his wife, it would indeed be logical for a man with normal (hetero-)sexual desires to remain single and sleep around. But Jesus, with his words about eunuchs, rejects that interpretation: to remain single means becoming a eunuch, i.e. remaining celibate. But he realises that this is not something for all. Indeed he would surely have agreed with Paul, who wrote “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9).

  13. Pam, I am not saying that marriage which will not produce children is wrong, or should be celibate. Nor am I rejecting birth control. For I am not taking the Roman Catholic line that sex is permissible only with the intention of bearing children. Rather I am suggesting that heterosexual activity, and hence marriage, conforms to how men and women were designed to have intercourse and so has a primary part in God’s intentions for humanity.

    But in fact the main thrust of my post is to downplay this difference, having in mind a readership which probably mostly takes a harder line than me on such issues.

    I would be interested in what Rowan Williams has to say.

  14. John FH, I am glad of your response from someone who clearly has a pastor’s heart. You wrote:

    In my experience, a divorcee is almost always cognizant of the fact that the divorce represented the end result of a complex weave of sin, sickness, and the power of evil.

    Indeed. But isn’t the same at least very often true of gay people entering relationships? It certainly seems to have been of Bishop Gene Robinson. Maybe gay people would not like to admit that they have sinned or are sinning, but then I am sure that many people who divorce and remarry feel more sinned against than sinning.

    So logically I don’t see why it cannot be true of a gay “marriage”, as of a marriage after divorce, “to have the potential of being a charism, or gift from God”. I too have some problems imagining the gay partnership as such, but I would have the same in the case of someone who has deserted their former marriage partner for divorce and remarriage, with no concession for adultery or abandonment applicable. Nevertheless, as you point out, God blessed David’s marriage to Bathsheba. So I don’t think we should be too quick to write off gay unions.

    I can agree that “the only way for the unity of the Anglican communion to be preserved is for the pro-gay faction to refrain from doing things like ordaining bishops like Robinson.” But while obeying and enforcing the rules of the communion is certainly a requirement for unity, the underlying issues still need to be solved, and my proposal may be a step towards that.

  15. Peter, I acknowledge this as ‘my problem’, but a lot of the remarks here are upsetting me sufficiently that I don’t really now have the heart to go through Rowan Williams’ argument in detail to contribute to this thread at the moment.

    But my discomfort with this thread highlights the problems. A simplistic precis of Williams’ argument is that marriage is about living out self-sacrifice and self-giving in an arena that is ’embodyingly human’ (my term) and profoundly powerful. It’s about covenant and the trust that is built by being faithful and self-giving in this powerful aspect of humanity.

    What your argument is saying is that a gay couple who supports each other through hardship, turmoil, poverty, racism or whatever is engaging in moral conduct that is equivalent to a heterosexual person who (e.g.) cheats on his/her spouse and abandons them. The former support and loyalty, which would be holy if heterosexual, is unholy and sinful if homosexual and sexually expressed.

    I can see my childless heterosexual marriage affirmed in Williams’ approach which says that a faithful sexual union is somehow an arena for holiness. I cannot see my childless heterosexual marriage affirmed in this approach of ‘the bits fit and produce offspring.’ The latter approach reduces marriage to biology and the emotional aspect to duty, at best.

  16. Pam, I am not saying that one of a homosexual couple is equivalent only to a heterosexual person who abandons a spouse. That was just one example, deliberately chosen as the worst case to counter the suggestion that divorce and remarriage is always OK. Of course many people divorce and remarry for all kinds of good reasons, and those good reasons are not just adultery or abandonment by the other partner, the explicit New Testament grounds for divorce. Support and loyalty to a partner is a good and holy thing, even if it is not God’s ideal for marriage.

    I find it difficult that when I am trying to be very much more affirming both of gay partnerships and of your marriage than many Christians are, you are giving me a hard time for this. Your marriage is closer to God’s ideal than a gay union would be essentially because that is what God has designed the different genders for. They fit together not just biologically but also emotionally and spiritually, at least for the great majority of people. That is not to condemn people who find support and loyalty in other ways, just to say that finding it in heterosexual marriage is what God has chosen as his ideal.

  17. Peter, I think it does indeed follow from biblical principles that it is “continuing in sin” to remain in a sexual relationship (whether marriage or not) that is same-sex, while it is not necessarily “continuing in sin” to remain in a remarriage (from a sinful divorce).

    The most important difference is that same-sex sexual acts are intrinsically sinful, while opposite-sex ones are not. This means that the only way a gay couple could remain in the relationship is if it is a celibate friendship. Paul’s “remain as you are” principle leads to a general policy of remaining married if you are married and remaining with your current spouse if you’ve been married several times. But “remain as you are” doesn’t apply when the “as you are” involves something intrinsically wrong.

  18. What are all these other good reasons for divorce that aren’t adultery or abandonment? I know of none. Anything I could remotely construe as legitimate (e.g. serious abuse) should also count as abandonment of a sort.

    On the Catholics and birth control view, I think their view is being presented in a way that I have a had time seeing as remotely fair. I don’t think their argument against contraception ultimately succeeds, but they have some pretty careful ways of stating it that do not imply that sex between a couple with infertility issues will turn out to be immoral.

  19. Jeremy, you wrote that “same-sex sexual acts are intrinsically sinful, while opposite-sex ones are not”. This is your assertion, but what is your biblical evidence for it? New Testament, please, since you have discounted as irrelevant to Christians the Old Testament teaching on divorce. And relevant to “a Committed, Exclusive, and Egalitarian relationship among two gays”, in John FH’s words, which probably rules out an appeal to 1 Corinthians 6:9, which condemns both heterosexual and homosexual activity outside a committed relationship.

  20. Wait, how is I Cor 6:9 ruled out? It uses two words for same-sex male sexual acts, one referring to doing the penetration and the other referring to being penetrated. It says nothing about those actions being ok if the relationship is committed, exclusive, and egalitarian. It simply says that the acts are immoral. The same kind of act is referred to in Romans 1 as shameful and as the sinful result of rejection of God. Nothing could be clearer than that this is referring to the Leviticus command not to lie with a man as a man lies with a woman. There’s also a clear reference to the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah as unnatural desire, which in context with the Genesis account has to refer to their desire for those who, as far as they could tell, were their fellow men.

    I’m also not sure what view you’re attributing to me about divorce. The regulation of sinful divorce for the sake of the woman being divorced and the children is a particular law operating in a particular legal system, one that obviously can’t apply even in first-century Roman occupation. So it wouldn’t have applied in Jesus’ day technically, given that it wasn’t stating a moral principle about whether divorce is ok but rather protecting women and children from some of the consequences of those who sinfully abandon them through divorce.

    Are there considerations like that in the case of the legal penalty for homosexual sex? Sure. First-century Jews wouldn’t have been able to put people to death for it. But that doesn’t mean the act itself isn’t wrong still. Why should that change in the new covenant? The wrongness of divorce didn’t change either. It’s just that the particular protections don’t need to be the same in a different legal context. So too the wrongness of gay sex doesn’t get affected by whether we enforce it by law. The prevailing interpretation of the U.S. Constitution since 2003 is that it does not allow laws against specifically same-sex sodomy (although sodomy laws that don’t target just same-sex sodomy don’t face the same problem). So the legal context is certainly different. But there’s no reason to assume that the underlying moral issue has changed.

  21. I find it difficult that when I am trying to be very much more affirming both of gay partnerships and of your marriage than many Christians are, you are giving me a hard time for this.

    I’m sorry. I’ll go away.

    I understand you want to be tolerant. I don’t think that one can start with the process that you start with and conclude with anything that is remotely tolerant in this area.

    I understand that you conclude with something that is somewhat tolerant. I just don’t think that your process actually leads you there. Maybe what is leading you there is a desire for the Anglican communion to stay together rather than the logic of the argument. Good try, though.

    Sorry. I will shut up now.

  22. What are all these other good reasons for divorce that aren’t adultery or abandonment? I know of none.

    Well, Jeremy, you then name one, serious abuse, which may not be abandonment at all, it may be a man keeping his wife locked up as a slave including a sex slave. Other good reasons might simply be a couple who rushed or were pushed into marriage, perhaps when very young, when they had serious incompatibilities. And what about serious disability or mental illness?

    Anyway, I don’t think it is for the church or anyone else to judge the reasons for a couple wanting to divorce. Yes, the church should offer support and counselling and discourage them from a rapid decision. But it should not try to decide whether a particular divorce is proper or improper. That is a matter between the couple and God.

    As for 1 Corinthians 6:9, the words used probably refer to roles within a typical Greek homosexual relationship between a mature man and a young boy for money, which would now be condemned, and rightly so, as paedophilia as well as prostitution. This is something very different from “a Committed, Exclusive, and Egalitarian relationship among two gays”, and so there is a need for considerable care in establishing the correct hermeneutical links between the two.

    As for your appeals to the Old Testament, the sin of the people of Sodom was not so much homosexuality as rape and failure of hospitality. Anyway you are being inconsistent because you rejected my appeal to the Old Testament as allowing properly regulated divorce. Just as these laws could not be applied under Roman occupation, nor could Leviticus 18:22 – or 18:20 which similarly prohibits heterosexual adultery.

    The difference between the Old Testament law and the US Constitution is that only the former is given by God and so necessarily reflects his ideals.

  23. Pam, I don’t want you to go away or shut up. But I have to start from where I am. From that position I may not be able to reach quite where you want me to be. I regret that, but I don’t shift my starting point. But I hope that what I am writing may be helpful to others, such as Jeremy, whose starting point is much closer to mine. I hope to bring them to a position which is at least close enough to yours that you can recognise one another as Christian sisters and brothers, and have a respectful dialogue leading to an agreement to disagree and a way to work together, instead of excommunicating one another as is happening in the Anglican Communion and even within my own Diocese of Chelmsford.

  24. Well, Jeremy, you then name one, serious abuse, which may not be abandonment at all, it may be a man keeping his wife locked up as a slave including a sex slave.

    If that doesn’t count as abandonment of one’s responsibilities toward one’s wife, then I don’t know what does.

    Other good reasons might simply be a couple who rushed or were pushed into marriage, perhaps when very young, when they had serious incompatibilities. And what about serious disability or mental illness?

    I’d be very strongly disinclined to count any of those as legitimate reasons. Any two human beings are compatible so long as they are willing to engage in Christian love. The fact that some might not be willing to love is no excuse. Serious disability or mental illness is surely no excuse for abandoning one’s spouse.

    I did see you put forward your view of I Cor 6 before, but I wasn’t convinced then, and I’m not convinced now. I haven’t seen any serious biblical exegete even taking it seriously, while lots of scholars with no anti-gay axe to grind (i.e. ones who think there’s nothing wrong with being gay) are quick to admit that these terms really do mean the active and passive role in an act of gay sexual intercourse. I’m going to trust them over a gay rights political activist like John Boswell. The word can certainly refer to cases of male prostitution or pederasty, but that doesn’t seem to be what the words themselves mean.

    The sins of the people of Sodom included lack of hospitality, but it was clearly more than that. It was surely more than anything even mentioned in the passage. But given that there were men propositioning what appeared to men, and given that the Torah clearly condemns men lying with men as with a woman, it would be extremely unlikely that the fact that it was a male-male proposition was not part of the passage’s evidence for the sin of Sodom.

    I’ve already indicated my view on the OT divorce concession, and it is not the view you have now twice attributed to me. There is no inconsistency, as I’ve already explained. The law didn’t approve of divorce. It provided a legal remedy for women unjustly divorced. There are plenty of immoral things not legally condemned in the Torah with legal penalties. Sometimes the Torah would provide a structure for minimizing the consequences, however, and that’s what’s occurring here.

  25. Jeremy, I agree that keeping one’s wife as a sex slave is “abandonment of one’s responsibilities” and grounds for divorce. I don’t agree that it is what Paul has in mind in 1 Corinthians 7:15, and so cannot be counted as explicitly mentioned in the Bible.

    As for “my view” of 1 Corinthians 6, do you count Gordon Fee as a serious biblical exegete? He wrote the following, in his commentary on verses 9-10: “The first word, malakoi … most likely referring to the younger, “passive” partner in a pederastic relationship … What makes “male prostitute” (in the sense of “effeminate call-boy”) the best guess is that it is immediately followed by a word that does seem to refer to male homosexuality, especially to the active partner.” In other words, Fee’s conclusion, if rather tentative, is that these two words are being used to refer to pederasty, sex with under-age adolescents, which is widely accepted in modern society as immoral and criminal. Fee resists the implication that this is not a general condemnation of homosexual activity, but his exegesis does not support the conclusion that that is Paul’s intention in this passage.

    See also the discussion in the comments here.

  26. most likely referring to the younger, “passive” partner in a pederastic relationship

    Yes, most likely in that context to refer to that particular role. But the word means the passive partner in a homosexual sex act. I’m pretty sure all the lexicons confirm this. Certainly it’s what any Jew familiar with the Torah would mean by it.

    As for Fee’s general conclusion, I don’t think you’ve accurately represented it. What he says at the bottom of p.244 is that the second word means homosexual acts in general and not just prostitution or pederasty. He also mentions that Paul can’t just see male-male sex as wrong (never mind just pederasty or male prostitution), because of his reference to female-female sex in Rom 1. So I can’t see how it’s accurate to represent his conclusion as simply the view that these words mean pederastic prostitution.

    refers to any homosexual sex act but primarily means in this instance to any active partner. I see nothing about requiring a certain age of the passive partner or whether pay is involved.

  27. But the word means the passive partner in a homosexual sex act. I’m pretty sure all the lexicons confirm this.

    Well, Fee does NOT confirm this. He says that it has “the basic meaning of “soft”; but it also became pejorative epithet for men who were “soft” or “effeminate””, followed by the words you quoted. Then he writes, “Since it is not the ordinary word for such homosexual behavior, one cannot be sure what it means in a list like this”. No suggestion that it means “the passive partner in a homosexual sex act” in general, only that in this case it refers to a particular subset of these people. The best evidence Fee has for the wider meaning he obviously wants to find is to appeal to Paul’s assumed presuppositions as a Jew, when in fact in many ways he had abandoned such presuppositions.

    My 1884 abridged edition of Liddell and Scott has only “soft, gentle, mild. 2 in bad sense soft, effeminate : easy, careless, remiss“. No mention of “the passive partner in a homosexual sex act”, which you claim to find in “all the lexicons”.

  28. It has the original meaning of “soft”. He does insist that in combination with the second word it must refer to being the passive partner in some sort of homosexual sex act.

    I think Thiselton’s treatment of this subject is much better than Fee’s, because he devotes enough space to explain himself better. Fee’s treatment is brief in bad ways. He does present the information that goes into his reasoning, but he doesn’t make his reasoning all that explicit, and he doesn’t make all his conclusions explicit. He does present the information that Thiselton puts together to provide a better argument than what I see in Fee for the wrongness of homosexual sex acts, but I think Fee would agree with the argument from what I do see in his commentary. I think you’re reading into it a more favorable view than he really has, though, partly because he doesn’t say everything that he thinks is implied by what he says.

    Liddell and Scott is classical Greek. Paul didn’t write in classical Greek. I didn’t say I claimed to find it in any lexicons. My understanding is that Hellenistic Greek lexicons agree with the approach almost all commentators have taken. That’s not from reading them. It’s from the impression I’ve gotten from reading very widely on this subject and from hearing what my NT professor in college (who isn’t himself opposed to homosexuality) had to say about the scholarly consensus.

  29. Peter, first, can I note my appreciation for what you are trying to do with this post, although I don’t think I agree. On the last bit of discussion on malakos, I encourage you to take a look at the book Sex and the Single Saviur, which I reviewed here. Martin (who acknowledges himself as queer – his choice of word) has a detailed argument, with appropriate references, on the use of malakos. His conclusion is that it means effeminate, but that, in terms of the way the feminine was culturally conceived, could apply equally to men who were willing to be penetrated, and to men who “softened” themselves up to be more attractive to, and to seduce, women. In Paul’s list, therefore, it is as likely to be paired with the preceding “adulterers” as the following “bum-lovers” (the nearest I can get to an approximation of arsenokoitaiwithout using very rude words)

  30. Doug, thanks for the recommendation. This would certainly be an interesting read, but at the moment I have quite a large pile of books to read which I am not getting through very quickly.

  31. Martin’s argument is summarized in Thiselton’s commentary, so if you want a quicker version of it (with some critical discussion) you can get it there. I don’t think it was out in time for Fee to consider it, but I don’t remember, and I don’t have Fee in front of me anymore.

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