We are considering one of the latest, and best reviewed, books supporting Christian gay marriage, Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.
This is just part 5, but already I’m sure the back and forth is getting more than a little tedious. I’m generally pretty patient with this sort of discussion, but I confess to feeling the tedium.
The problem is that so many arguments are made, and no matter how illogical or badly founded, it just takes a lot of words to lay out Vines’ argument and to then respond, agreeing or disagreeing.
Vine and all those who argue his position are entitled to a fair, open minded hearing. Moreover, I don’t mind doing the hard work of working through all the arguments. But there comes a point …
1 Cor 6:9-10
That is, there comes a point where arguments are being made that are just absurd — and it becomes a waste of everyone’s time. And this is the case regarding Vine’s interpretation of this important passage —
(1 Cor 6:9–10 ESV) 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality [malakos and arsenokoitai], 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
In Greek, arsen means “male” and koites means “bed,” typically with a sexual connotation. Given the meaning of those words, some argue that arsenokoitai must mean “men who sleep with other men,” encompassing a condemnation of non-celibate gay men.
But the argument breaks down in two key places. First, the component parts of a word don’t necessarily tell us what it means. The English word understand, for instance, has nothing to do with either “standing” or being “under.” If a person learning English as a second language tried to figure out the meaning of understand only by considering its component parts, she would be led far astray.
Some non-affirming Christians seek to avoid this difficulty by connecting arsenokoitai to the prohibition of male same-sex intercourse found in Leviticus 20: 13. In the earliest Greek translation of that verse, the words arsenos koiten appear next to one another. So it’s possible that Paul coined the term arsenokoitai based on his familiarity with the Greek translation of Leviticus 20. If so, he likely was using the word to condemn some form of same-sex behavior.
(p. 123). Hmm …
If Paul coined the term (and this is the earliest recorded use of the word), then he expected to be understood. A word such as “understand” can change meanings over the centuries so that the roots of the word no longer give guidance for the definition. But when someone coins a new word, he expects to be understood.
Hence, the root words matter — often even defining the word — absent some evidence to the contrary — especially when it’s a newly coined word. The meaning gets disconnected from the root only after a long time — long enough for the word to be heard separate from its root words (as in “understand” — which goes back at least to Old English, long before even the KJV).
Paul’s new word borrows two key words from Lev 18:22 and 20:13. In fact, the two roots appear adjacent to each other in the same order in Lev 20:13 — meaning that arsenokoitai would sound to a Jewish listener very much like “love another” would sound to a Christian. We would know from just the two words which verse is being referenced and why.
(Lev 18:22 LXX1) καὶ μετὰ ἄρσενος [male] οὐ κοιμηθήσῃ κοίτην [have sex with] γυναικός· βδέλυγμα γάρ ἐστιν.
(Lev 20:13 LXX1) καὶ ὃς ἂν κοιμηθῇ μετὰ ἄρσενος κοίτην [arsenos koiten] γυναικός, βδέλυγμα ἐποίησαν ἀμφότεροι· θανατούσθωσαν, ἔνοχοί εἰσιν.
If this is not what the word means, how did Paul expect his readers to interpret his language?
Interestingly, Vines argues from the Sybilline Oracles, a Second Century document, and later lists of vices in other literature, that the word refers to economic injustice of an unspecified sort — although the root of the word means “to bed a male.” Let’s do be serious.
As Gordon Fee notes in his seminal commentary —
There is no question as to the meaning of the koitai part of the word; it is vulgar slang for “intercourse” (which probably accounts for its seldom being found in the literature).
Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 244.
Again, if not homosexual behavior, just what does Paul mean? What’s a better alternative translation?
So Vines never comes up with an alternative definition, preferring to leave the meaning uncertain, and then he argues,
In so doing, [this translation] wrongly attributes to Paul a position on a hot-button issue he never faced: the question of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
(p. 128). I grant that Paul’s language in 1 Cor 6:9-10 does not reference anything but male-male homosexual conduct, but Rom 1 clearly deals with both male and female homosexual activity.
Paul never had to deal with men surgically changed into women or vice versa. But he certainly dealt with cross-dressing men, men who were castrated for the pleasure of their male lovers, bisexual men (very, very common in ancient Greece and Rome), and lesbians (well known to the Greeks, who invented the word).
How can Vines argue that Greek men were not exclusively hetero- or homosexual, preferring sex with both men and women, and then deny that Paul had to confront bisexuality?
And 14 of the first 15 Roman emperors were either homosexual or bisexual. Nero ruled during Paul’s lifetime, and he was famously married, more than once, to young boys who dressed up as women, even submitting to castration for the privilege of sleeping with the emperor.
Here’s one summary —
In Nero, Tacitus tells the reader, tyrannical passion, the hubris of proclaimed divinity, the corruption of power, and “every filthy depraved act, licit or illicit” seemed to reach an imperial peak. He not only had a passion for “free-born boys” but also for quite literally marrying other men and even a boy, sometimes playing the part of the woman in the union and sometimes the man.
As Tacitus relates one incident (Grant’s translation): “Nero was already corrupted by every lust, natural and unnatural. But he now refuted any surmises that no further degradation was possible for him. For…he went through a formal wedding ceremony with one of the perverted gang called Pythagoras. The emperor, in the presence of witnesses, put on the bridal veil. Dowry, marriage bed, wedding torches, all were there. Indeed everything was public which even in a natural union is veiled by night.”
Such was only one instance. We also have from historian Seutonius, a contemporary of Tacitus, a report of Nero’s marriage to Doryphorus (who was himself married to another man, Sporus).
Martial, the first-century A.D. Roman poet, reports incidences of male-male marriage as kinds of perversions, but not uncommon perversions, speaking in one epigram (I.24) of a man who “played the bride yesterday.” In another (12.42) he says mockingly, “Bearded Callistratus gave himself in marriage to…Afer, in the manner in which a virgin usually gives herself in marriage to a male. The torches shone in front, the bridal veils covered his face, and wedding toasts were not absent, either. A dowry was also named. Does that not seem enough yet for you, Rome? Are you waiting for him to give birth?”
In Juvenal’s Second Satire (117), we hear of one Gracchus, “arraying himself in the flounces and train and veil of a bride,” now a “new-made bride reclining on the bosom of her husband.” Such seems to have been the usual way of male-male nuptials among the Romans, one of the men actually dressing up as a woman and playing the part of a woman.
The notoriously debauched emperor Elagabalus (ruled 218-222) married and then divorced five women. But he considered his male chariot driver to be his “husband,” and he also married one Zoticus, an athlete. Elagabalus loved to dress up as a queen, quite literally.
So, yes, Paul lived in a world in which bisexuality, the transgendered, and lesbianism were well known.
I should add this from the Wikipedia —
Numerous examples of same sex unions among peers, not age-structured, are found in Ancient Greek writings. Famous Greek couples in same sex relationships include Harmodius and Aristogiton, Pelopidas and Epaminondas and Alexander and Bogoas. However in none of these same sex unions is the Greek word for “marriage” ever mentioned. The Romans appear to have been the first to perform same sex marriages.
At least two of the Roman Emperors were in same-sex unions; and in fact, thirteen out of the first fourteen Roman Emperors held to be bisexual or exclusively homosexual.
The first Roman emperor to have married a man was Nero, who is reported to have married two other men on different occasions. First with one of his freedman, Pythagoras, to whom Nero took the role of the bride, and later as a groom Nero married a young boy to replace his young teenage concubine whom he had killed named Sporus in a very public ceremony … with all the solemnities of matrimony, and lived with him as his spouse A friend gave the “bride” away “as required by law.” The marriage was celebrated separately in both Greece and Rome in extravagant public ceremonies.
The Child Emperor Elagabalus referred to his chariot driver, a blond slave from Caria named Hierocles, as his husband. He also married an athlete named Zoticus in a lavish public ceremony in Rome amidst the rejoicings of the citizens.
And we should note —
In literature of the Imperial period, the Satyricon of Petronius is so permeated with the culture of male-male sexuality that in 18th-century European literary circles, his name became “a byword for homosexuality.” The poet Martial often derides women as sexual partners, and celebrates the charms of pueri.
Petronius was active at the same time Paul was. Martial was after Petronius but while some of the NT was not yet written.
The dating of Nero’s marriages to males
I should note that Nero’s marriages to men are dated to about 10 years after the composition of Romans. However, those who recorded those weddings did not say that Nero was the first Roman to marry another man or that Nero was setting some sort of new precedent. In fact, there were celebrations across the Empire on account of Nero’s homosexual weddings — suggesting that he was likely the first emperor to wed a man but not the first Roman male.
The Wikipedia states,
Although in general the Romans regarded marriage as a heterosexual union for the purpose of producing children, in the early Imperial period some male couples were celebrating traditional marriage rites in the presence of friends. Same-sex weddings are reported by sources that mock them; the feelings of the participants are not recorded. Both Martial and Juvenal refer to marriage between men as something that occurs not infrequently, although they disapprove of it.
Just as is true today, the historians focus more on the emperors and kings rather than other Romans, even other aristocrats. If a homosexual wedding were so easily accepted by the mid-60s AD, then the practice had been around for a while. Certainly, the Roman men had indulged in homosexual sex long before then, likely for centuries, emulating the Greeks.
But let’s suppose that Nero’s same-sex weddings were the first of the kind, around the time of Paul’s death. Let’s further suppose that the Holy Spirit approves of same-sex weddings. Well, Paul wasn’t the only NT author, and the NT canon would not be complete for decades, at least. So where are the writings adapting Paul’s position to the new sweep of history, with same-sex marriages being practiced by emperors and aristocrats? If the Holy Spirit found such marriages commendable, where’s the commendation?
Why did the Spirit not give us guidance on this new social construct so that we’d know the Spirit blesses same-sex unions — since they were all the rage in Imperial Rome long before the NT was complete?
Moreover, there were plenty of other uninspired Christian elders and bishops and scholars whose writings from the late First and Second Centuries are preserved, and yet there’s not a word of approval for the same-sex weddings — although in the late First Century, the church still had writers and prophets who were very active. Not a one says that Paul did not have these weddings in mind when he wrote Rom 1, and so same-sex weddings are permitted.
In fact, if anything, the early Christian condemnations of homosexual sex are more stringent than those found in the NT, despite the practice of same-sex marriage being available and having been available for many years.
Didache, A.D. 80 – 130
Justin Martyr, c. A.D. 155
When I was delighting in the doctrines of Plato, and heard the Christians slandered, and saw them fearless of death, and of all other-things which are counted fearful, perceived that it was impossible that they could be living in wickedness and pleasure. …
And imitating Jupiter and the other gods in sodomy and shameless intercourse with woman, might we not bring as our apology the writings of Epicurus and the poets? But because we persuade men to avoid such instruction, and all who practise them and imitate such examples, as now in this discourse we have striven to persuade you, we are assailed in every kind of way.
But we are not concerned, since we know that God is a just observer of all. But would that even now some one would mount a lofty rostrum, and shout with a tragic voice [i.e., loud like an actor in tragedies]: “Be ashamed, be ashamed, ye who charge the guiltless with those deeds which yourselves openly could commit, and ascribe things which apply to yourselves and to your gods to those who have not even the slightest sympathy with them. Be converted! Become wise!” (Second Apology 12)
Theophilus of Antioch, A.D. 168
Regarding lawless conduct, those who have blindly wandered into the choir of philosophy have, almost to a man, spoken with one voice. Certainly Plato—to mention him first who seems to have been the most respectable philosopher among them—expressly, as it were, legislates in his first book, entitled The Republic, that the wives of all be common, using the precedent of the son of Jupiter and the lawgiver of the Cretans, in order that under this pretext there might be an abundant offspring from the best persons, and that those who were worn with toil might be comforted by such intercourse. And Epicurus himself, too, as well as teaching atheism, teaches along with it incest with mothers and sisters, and this in transgression of the laws which forbid it. … these things the other laws of the Romans and Greeks also prohibit. Why, then, do Epicurus and the Stoics teach incest and sodomy, with which doctrines they have filled libraries, so that from boyhood this lawless intercourse is learned? (To Autolycus III:10:6)
Clement of Alexandria, c. A.D. 190
All honor to that king of the Scythians, whoever Anacharsis was, who shot one of his subjects with an arrow for imitating among the Scythians the mystery of the mother of the gods … beating a drum and sounding a cymbal strung from his neck like a priest of Cybele. [The king] condemned him as having become effeminate among the Greeks and a teacher of the disease of effeminacy to the rest of the Cythians. (Exhortation to the Heathen 2)
The fate of the Sodomites was judgment to those who had done wrong and instruction to those who hear. The Sodomites had fallen into uncleanness because of much luxury. They practiced adultery shamelessly and burned with insane love for boys.
The All-seeing Word, whose notice cannot be escaped by those who commit impious acts, cast his eye on them. Nor did the sleepless Guard of Humanity observe their licentiousness in silence, but in order to deter us from imitating them and to train us in his own moderation, he fell on some sinners, so that lust would not go unavenged and break us loose from every restrain of fear. He ordered Sodom to be burned, pouring forth a little of the sagacious fire on licentiousness, lest lust, by not being punished, should throw the gates wide open for those that were rushing into voluptuousness.
Thus, the righteous punishment of the Sodomites became to me an image of the salvation which is well calculated for men. For those who have not committed sins like those who were punished will never receive a punishment like them, either. By guarding against sinning, we guard against suffering. “For I would have you know,” says Jude, “that God, having once saved his people from the land of Egypt, afterwards destroyed those that did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their first estate, but left their own habitation, he has reserved in everlasting chains for the judgment of the great day, under the darkness of savage angels.” … For punishments and threats are for this purpose, that we may abstain from sinning because we fear the penalty. (The Instructor III:8)
So I don’t buy the argument that Paul was unaware of gay marriage and therefore did not disapprove the practice. The practice was established very prominently while the NT was still being composed, and the Holy Spirit had ample opportunity to correct Paul’s declarations in light of the new gay marriage practices of Rome.
And we find no evidence at all that the early church approved gay marriage either in the inspired canon or the early uninspired writings. Indeed, as the Romans became more accepting of homosexual conduct — even gay marriage — the church became, if anything, stricter in its condemnation.