Jesus and Paul on the Hermeneutics of Sexuality: Richard Beck, Part 2 (Rogers on Romans)

the-bible-and-sexuality-blog-heading (1)In Sexuality and the Christian Body, Part 1, Richard Beck summarizes a view of Christian marriage from Eugene Rogers’ book Sexuality and the Christian Body.

Rom 1 and 11

In particular, Beck reminds us that we are Gentiles grafted by grace into the Jewish stock (Rom 11).

First, this recovery highlights the fact that we are not “by nature” children of God. We’ve been chosen and adopted. In the language of Paul we’ve been “grafted into” the tree of Israel. Second, this action of God, grafting in the Gentiles, highlights how the grace and election of God determines the people of God. We are not God’s children because of nature. We are God’s children because of election. This places election at the center of Christian notions of marriage (and celibacy) rather than a Darwinian focus on procreation. Marriage is grace, not biology. Finally, a recovery of our identity as Gentiles helps us understand why God’s actions toward the Gentiles was such a shock and offense to the Jews (both Christian and non-Christian). Importantly, this shock was very much focused on issues of holiness and morality.

The Jews in fact were shocked that Gentiles could be saved — elect, a part of Israel — without becoming Jews through circumcision, etc. The admission of Gentiles, by faith, is referred to by Paul as “contrary to nature” —

(Rom 11:24 ESV)  24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. 

Genetically, Gentiles aren’t Jews and are not descended from Abraham, and yet God, contrary to their genetic natures, grafted them into Israel, the elect.

However, Rogers loses me in a couple of places. For example, he writes, “Importantly, this shock was very much focused on issues of holiness and morality.” Really? Where do we find this? In fact, in Rom 1 – 3, Paul condemns both Jews and Gentiles as immoral and needing a Savior. And Paul’s bitter fights with the Judaizing teachers were not about morality but circumcision, feast days, and food.

Certainly, there are plenty of passages where Paul describes the Gentile converts as having left behind highly immoral lifestyles, but they left those lifestyles behind. What they didn’t do was adopt Jewish identity markers, such as circumcision and kosher foods.

Beck also provides this argument from Rogers:

We are not God’s children because of nature. We are God’s children because of election. This places election at the center of Christian notions of marriage (and celibacy) rather than a Darwinian focus on procreation.

Huh? Yes, salvation is due to election. Sure. How does this move election to the center of marriage and celibacy? And who here is arguing Darwinian procreation? (I smell a strawman coming.)

The strawman is the argument, once made by many Christian defenders of exclusively heterosexual marriage, that marriage must be for the purpose of procreation or else it’s wrong. But this position would make it wrong to marry someone known to be sterile or to use birth control to avoid having any children at all or to adopt in preference to having biological children. This argument, therefore, has been dropped by most defenders of the church’s traditional view of marriage as indefensible — at least in such a simplistic form.

Next, Beck summarizes Rogers’ argument regarding the “standard” view of women, blacks, and Gentiles —

The standard argument was also applied to blacks in the American South during slavery and segregation. In particular, the black male had a voracious sexual appetite for white women. And blacks generally were considered to be more promiscuous than whites.

In both cases we see how immorality generally, and sexual licentiousness in particular, get attributed to natural kinds (e.g., race, gender). In the Old and New Testaments this same reasoning was applied to the Gentiles. As a natural kind the Gentiles were considered to be naturally prone to immorality and sexual deviance. Paul gives us the standard Jewish view of the morality of Gentiles in Romans 1: …

So I’m supposed to equate Paul’s words in Rom 1 with racial bigotry against blacks and gender stereotyping against women?? Paul’s description of the Gentiles is just a First Century example of racial stereotyping by a Jew? Really? I do not buy it.

1. This reflects a very low view of inspiration. If we aren’t agreed on the inspiration and authority of the scriptures, we really have nothing to talk about.

2. Paul is writing to the church in Rome, which appears to have been largely Gentile. Why would he speak in terms of sheer bigotry against Gentiles?

3. Paul says that the sinful behavior of some unconverted Gentiles is due to God turning them over to behave this way. It’s God’s will — or at least by God’s permission — that this happens. It’s not their natural state but what happens, contrary to their natural state, when they ignore God’s general revelation of himself.

4. Rom 1:18-32 reads more like a theological treatise than a declaration of Paul’s bigoted attitudes toward unconverted Gentiles. (Besides, there’s plenty of secular history to back Paul up in his characterization.)

So, no, since I believe Rom 1:18-32 to be the inspired word of God, I can’t buy the argument that it’s bigotry from Paul regarding Gentiles.

The important thing to note in this passage is that this is a description of the Gentiles as a natural kind. They are naturally depraved and deviant. Consequently, they engage in acts that are “contrary to nature.” In all this we see another example of the standard argument, an argument that has been applied to all sorts of despised groups. Women. Blacks. Jews. And homosexuals in our time. What is important to note in all this is that it’s not just that Gentiles do unnatural things. It is, rather, that they are morally inferior by nature.

This is just bad exegesis. Paul sees their anti-natural behaviors as sin. Sin is anti-natural because it takes humanity away from its created purpose as bearers of God’s own image. Anti-natural behaviors follow from forgetting God and the true nature of things. So the Gentiles in Rom 1 aren’t acting according to their natures but contrary to their God-given natures.

And Paul’s larger point is that both Jews and Gentiles fail to merit salvation and need a Savior and that salvation must be by grace — for all — not just Gentiles. All have left their natural condition as image bearers.

(Rom 3:9 ESV) What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,

(Rom 3:19 ESV) Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

(Rom 3:21-25 ESV)  But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it–  22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:  23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

Not only do Gentiles do unnatural acts, so do the Jews —

(Rom 2:17-24 ESV) But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God  18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law;  19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,  20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth —  21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal?  22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?  23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.  24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

In fact, the unconverted Gentiles, sometimes by nature, do right —

(Rom 2:14 ESV)  14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 

So, no, he’s not arguing that Gentiles by nature always do unnatural things (Paul is not capable of being so self-contradictory) but that both Jews and Gentiles sin — either because they forget God or fail to honor him — and so they do things contrary to nature — but not always. Paul is no bigot.

Rom 11

Does Paul know what he’s doing here? Is he intentionally pulling para phusin from Romans 1 to make a parallel to God’s grace in Jesus Christ? The Gentiles behave “unnaturally” and God, in his grace, does something just as “unnatural,” he overrides the category of natural moral kinds to create one body in Christ. Surely the readers of Romans would have heard the overtones between Romans 1 and Romans 11, that their biases about what is “natural” or “unnatural” have been unnaturally reconfigured in the Kingdom of God.

It’s hardly obvious that Paul means the same thing by “against nature” in Rom 1 and Rom 11, but let’s assume he does. He’s certainly capable of expecting his readers to pick up on parallels that are 10 chapters apart.

In 1:26, he says that homosexual sex is “contrary to nature” and thus evidence of the need for a Savior. In 2:14 he says that some Gentiles “by nature” do what the law requires. Then in 11:24 he says that Gentiles are grafted into the Jewish root stock “contrary to nature.”

So? God elected the Jews. Israel is the chosen people. God is able — because he’s God, after all — to take Gentiles who are behaving contrary to nature, redeem them, bring them to repentance, bring them to faith in Jesus, and contrary to nature, save them as a part of Israel. It’s called “irony.” The Gentiles’ violation of nature damns them whereas God’s violation of nature saves them — but only those who come to him in faith and penitence. Quite obviously, Paul is not saying that Gentiles may continue to live contrary to nature and be saved. That would be a gross misreading of Romans and not worth my or the readers’ time to deal with.

(Rom 13:13 ESV)  Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.

And as is true in Galatians, “sexual immorality” was understood to include homosexual practices.

In fact, this whole exercise demonstrates the low view of scripture required to reach a pro-Christian gay marriage conclusion. And as much as I personally care about the gay men and women I know, I’m not going to surrender inspiration and authority of scripture to reach a conclusion that can’t be otherwise reached.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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11 Responses to Jesus and Paul on the Hermeneutics of Sexuality: Richard Beck, Part 2 (Rogers on Romans)

  1. Gary says:

    Jay, in all seriousness, doesn’t it require a low view of Scripture and inspiration to use Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 to effectively negate Jesus’ plain words on divorce and remarriage in the gospels? I think the reality is that a low view of Scripture and inspiration is in the eye of the beholder.

    We are all prone to a use of Scripture that used to be called a “special pleading,” trying to make Scripture clearly teach what really is not clearly taught at all. The classic example for Churches of Christ was trying to convince everyone that the NT only authorizes a Capella singing in worship. Both of us no doubt cut our teeth in church on such ridiculous biblical interpretations. But we’re still quite capable of making special pleadings in our handling of Scripture both in what we emphasize and what we avoid dealing with. I can see it in many of your arguments and your refusal to engage some progressive arguments on homosexuality. And yes I’m sure you can see it in spades in my reasoning.

    You’re dismissing Eugene Robert’s reasoning too easily and too overwhelmingly. It’s a cop-out to dismiss opponents as having a low view of Scripture and inspiration. Your bias is showing.

  2. Gary says:

    I meant Eugene Rogers.

  3. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    Rogers is quite explicit in his dismissal of the importance of scripture. It’s not just that we disagree. It’s what he says.

    He characterizes Paul’s discussion of the Gentiles in Romans 1 as sheer bigotry. His argument is —

    * Jews were bigoted against Gentiles (true of some but not all Jews)
    * Paul speaks harshly of Gentiles (true)
    * Therefore, Paul is a bigot and what he says about Gentiles should be treated as pure bigotry (not a logical result and a dismissal of scripture by sheer presumption).

    Paul risked his life and health to convert Gentiles. He obviously did not hate them. Some Jews did. Paul did not.

    Paul’s criticism of the Gentile lifestyle is both accurate according to secular history (not as to all Gentiles, but he’s not speaking of all Gentiles) and even understated. The Pan cult in Caesarea Philippi involved bestiality of the “worshipers” with goats in heat. Paul could have said even harsher things and still been truthful.

    Remember what Rogers wrote:

    Early in the book Rogers has us consider what he calls “the standard argument.” The argument is standard because it has been used throughout history, at various times and places, to argue for the moral inferiority of a marginalized class of people. Gender and race have been common targets. And a common example of this moral inferiority is evidence of sexual licentiousness. Thus, in the Middle East today we see the standard argument applied to women. Women are sexually promiscuous and, thus, require a variety of social restraints to keep them in check. This is also why women are blamed for adultery. The woman’s lust for the married man causes him to falter. A woman is a Jezebel, a temptress.

    The standard argument was also applied to blacks in the American South during slavery and segregation. In particular, the black male had a voracious sexual appetite for white women. And blacks generally were considered to be more promiscuous than whites.

    In both cases we see how immorality generally, and sexual licentiousness in particular, get attributed to natural kinds (e.g., race, gender). In the Old and New Testaments this same reasoning was applied to the Gentiles. As a natural kind the Gentiles were considered to be naturally prone to immorality and sexual deviance. Paul gives us the standard Jewish view of the morality of Gentiles in Romans 1:

    [here follows a quotation of Rom 1 regarding the decadence of the Gentile world]

    Rogers is very explicitly comparing Paul’s view of Gentiles to South’s pre-Civil War view of blacks and other views of the sexual behaviors of others based entirely on bigotry.

    He then says that Paul’s views of Gentiles expressed in Rom 1 is of the same type, that is, based on ignorance and bigotry.

    And that is a low view of scripture.

    I’m pretty sure I’ve never dismissed the words of an apostle by comparing him to having the same bigoted views as a slave holder. Any Christian committed to the authority of the word of God should find this offensive.

    This is not mere special pleading. It’s removing Romans entirely from the realm of inspired writing and deconstructing it in a very condescending manner — as though Paul were just another victim of less-enlightened times.

    So, yes, if Rom 1 is merely the rantings of a Jewish bigot against hated, stereotyped Gentiles, Rogers is quite right. And if Rogers is right, we should burn our Bibles and live according to our consciences in light of the great wisdom and enlightened perspectives of the Post-modern age in which we live.

  4. Gary says:

    Jay, I think you’re unintentionally setting up a false dichotomy: Either Paul was not a bigot and was inspired by God or Paul was a bigot and uninspired. The truth is that Paul was a bigot and was also inspired. After all he tells Titus that it’s true that all Cretans are liars and gluttons. If that’s not bigotry what is? You’re an Alabaman and I’m a Mississippian. I’m sure we’ve both known faithful charitable Christians who were also bigots even as they went out of their way to help poor African-Americans. My Baptist grandfather was a deacon and a devoted Christian who helped many people of all races. But he sincerely believed that if an African American would have come to his church he would only be coming to make trouble. Of course my grandfather was wrong but he was raised by a father who grew up under the practice of slavery. My grandfather was a man of his time and place who had the prejudices of his time and place. In the same way Paul was a first century Jew. It would have been a miracle if he wasn’t bigoted towards Gentiles- even as he devoted his life towards their salvation. It’s not as farfetched as it sounds.

  5. Dustin says:

    There are plenty of theologians who would argue the definition of what it means to have a low view and a high view of scripture. If those theologians, scholars, thinkers, etc., who write within this low view of scripture, were outright rejected, Dr. Beck would definitely not have a blog. There are many, many Evangelicals writers/theologians/professors/followers of Christ who would fit this low view and still have faith that Jesus is the messiah, the living Word, and the resurrected Son of God while devoting their lives to the study and teaching of scripture.

    I have heard Jewish rabbis and scholars say that
    what makes the bible the word of God isn’t the words on the page but the interpretation given to the words. For Jews the bible is a problem to be debated. They find God by wrestling with the text. They are continually debating (Talmud). The debate is the opinion and the way to the union with God. I find this view compelling that it is within the community we find God. Within Judaism, many denominations support gay marriage. Even those that do not support gay marriage believe that gay, married Jews should never be kicked out of the community.

    Jay I respect your opinions and appreciate your in-depth study of this issue. Many people would not even discuss the topic. I definitely know that I could be wrong in supporting gay marriage, as I have changed my views over the years from a strict literal reading of scripture. Also, I know my views could change again in light of study and prayer. I sincerely believe that we should not grasp too tightly onto the words of the bible, but on the Living Word of God who still is working and creating in ways beyond our comprehension.

  6. Richard Beck says:

    Hi Jay, thanks for the engagement. Just a quick note from a hotel in Scotland…

    The main thing I’d add by way of clarification is that the posts I wrote shouldn’t be read as a textual defense of same-sex marriage. If you want something of that sort I’d recommend readers pick up Matthew Vine’s book God and the Gay Christian. Vine’s book is a text-by-text analysis of all the debated texts and I think your biblical and exegetical approach here would be more suited engaging something like Vine’s work.

    Because my posts aren’t textual studies, they are theological in nature. Specifically, they are tackling a very specific question: What is our theology of marriage? In the debates around same-sex marriage this theological question comes up quite a bit. And for many their theology of marriage privileges biological reproduction. The posts I wrote shared theological insights to suggest that marriage might involve, theologically, something more than reproduction, that election might be more vital and central to our theology of marriage. And that focus upon election would be the case for all marriages.

    All that to say, while I appreciate your attempt at a close textual analysis the posts are really just making a simple theological observation: that election rather than reproduction should ground our theology of marriage.

    To be sure, a marriage-as-election theology would be more inclusive of non-reproducing couples, which is why I think you’re reading my posts as a defense of same-sex marriage, but that’s a secondary issue. Biblically, can same-sex couples be included in that vision? On that question my posts won’t be of help and I’d point you to text-by-text biblical studies like Vine’s God and the Gay Christian.

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dustin,

    Thanks for your comment. My saying that someone has a high or low view of scripture is not based on whether they disagree with me. I disagree with Calvinists but most Calvinists have a high view of scripture — meaning that they intend to submit to what it says as they understand it.

    I disagree on countless points with my more conservative Churches of Christ brothers, but I don’t doubt for a minute their commitment to a high view of scripture. We disagree on many points, but they are trying to obey what they understand the text to say.

    The glory of a high view of scripture is that we can discuss and debate what the text says and means, whether the command was intended as a temporary expedient, whether the command is intended to bind the church forever, etc. — and we have something to talk about. We can disagree on what it means to be “called” but we agree that the answer will be found in the text, properly understood in literary and historical context.

    So you won’t often find me accusing someone of a low view of scripture, but when I do, it’s with sadness, because it means we can’t have a very fruitful conversation. You can tell me how you feel and I can tell you how I feel, but we don’t have a common authority by which we both agree to be bound. There really is very little to talk about when one party feels free to reject scripture as authoritative.

    Again, there’s just all sorts of room within an understanding that scripture is authoritative. I mean, is it authoritative as narrative? As law? As allegory? As an occasional epistle? A biography? And we’ve had some of those discussions here, and hopefully they’ve been helpful.

    But if we don’t both agree that the scriptures are authoritative, then what is there to talk about? I do enjoy talking about the scriptures. I have no interest in talking about Rowan Williams’ short story collection.

    So, there is just a WHOLE lot of room for discussion with a high view of scripture. And that’s what I try to do.

    As I’ve said more than once, I have no dog in this hunt. If someone were to show me that God approves a committed homosexual marriage, I would be no less happy with my Creator. I figure it’s his business to make these kinds of decisions. As the saying goes, it’s above my paygrade.

    So it wouldn’t hurt my feelings to be proved wrong. But that only happens if I’m very frank about how I read the text and why. Otherwise, no one can show me my error.

    The gospel is, of course, a marvelous, wonderful, freeing thing. And if it boiled down to nothing but “Love your neighbor,” then homosexual marriage would be more defensible. But then Paul would have had no reason to disfellowship the incestuous member in 1 Cor 5.

    So, to me, the question isn’t about Deu 24 or whatever, but how do you draw a line that makes incest wrong — so wrong that church discipline is required even if the incestuous couple is married — while permitting gay marriage? How does “Judge not” or “Do unto others” or the gospel say one thing about incest and another about homosexual practice? And I sure don’t see it. But maybe someone else will find a way to make that distinction — without treating Paul as a bigot no better than a 19th Century Southern slaveholder.

  8. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Richard,

    Thanks for the note. I’ve just downloaded God and the Gay Christian to my Kindle.

  9. Ethan says:

    Jay,

    Thoughtful comments here. I understand what you mean of having a “high view” of scripture, and that when two people submit to scripture as authoritative, there is much to talk about. However, I wonder if questioning Paul’s implicit assumptions about Gentiles or other ethnicities, something that would have been a product of his humanity as a devout Jew (a former Pharisaical Jew at that) is necessarily labeling him as a bigot with all of the negative emotions it evokes. I struggle with Paul’s straightforwardness and exclusivity (“so and so sinners will not inherit the Kingdom of God”), but if a nonbeliever came up to me with an ax to grind and began to grill me with charges that Paul is just an exclusive, insensitive bigot, I would immediately push back because, as a Christian, I sympathize with Paul’s historical background and human context as he was writing his epistles. So, by definition, was he a bigot in that perhaps he manifested what we would consider unfounded prejudice against a different ethnic group, even though he sacrificed his life because of a divine calling to preach the good news to the Gentiles, then yes, he probably was. But “bigot” and all of its negative connotations is not a word I would want to use when out of sincerity of heart I pose questions about his understanding of sexuality in light of modern psychology.

    The same issue arises when we talk about Paul’s understanding of Adam and whether he believed Adam as a literal first man in light of evolutionary science. I don’t think asking the question, “What if Paul was mistaken?” about Adam is a “low” view of scripture but an honest one in face of challenging and substantial scientific consensus regarding human origins. I think the “high” view of scripture here is recognizing the authority vested in the Bible is God’s authority, that he decided to reveal himself in the human drama with diverse and limited (in some respects–i.e., scientific–I’m aware of chronological snobbery!) points of view. The implication is that doesn’t necessarily mean scripture and the biblical writers’ takes will convey and look like what we moderns think it should. Much of this post is a reiteration of what Jay said, and certainly I do not have all of the answers to the implications of understanding authority in this way, but in light of the pressing issues of homosexuality and gay marriage, as well as what modern science is saying about human origins, I think the questions are worth asking without having to be seen as having a “low” view of scripture.

  10. Monty says:

    Ethan said
    ,
    “. I struggle with Paul’s straightforwardness and exclusivity(“so and so sinners will not inherit the Kingdom of God”)”

    Ethan, Paul wasn’t making that declaration to the lost but to the saved(the church). The lost are that, lost, regardless of what type sin they commit. Paul’s warning is to the church that you cannot live(think lifestyle) like this(fornication, adultery, homosexual , idolaters,,,,) and still be right with God. Paul’s teaching is that the saved have a responsibility to not live as the unsaved do.

    If I misunderstood what you were saying, please disregard this.

  11. Dwight says:

    Monty, You are correct. Even in the OT these were condemned under the Law and those who did such were considered as sinners, basically many categories of sinning placed them into one category of a sinner. But then again who didn’t sin according to the Law as you could not keep it perfectly?
    Now the Jews were not the Gentiles as God had made a covenant with one of them, but the Jews could become as a Gentile in sin and a Gentile could be more righteous than a Jew as noted in Jonah.
    But still the Jews had the covenant, which meant they were the children of God.
    When we become a saint, we are set apart, and a child of God. This doesn’t mean we don’t sin, but rather have a relationship and bond to the one who we accept and accepts us.
    Those who have not come to Christ will not inherit the Kingdom of God, but then again so will those who say they are Christians, but do not seek God’s will not either.
    So the way into the Kingdom is just as exclusive as the one who truly seeks it in faith and obedience in coming to Christ and living in Christ, depending largely upon His mercy and grace along the way.

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