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New Testament Controversies: Homosexuality in the NT

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Allan Georgia

on 9 May 2015

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Transcript of New Testament Controversies: Homosexuality in the NT

Homosexuality in the New Testament
What is the issue here?
Read: 1 Corinthians 6:7-11 & 1 Timothy 1:8-10
Two words introduced:
arsenokoites
is the one that is translated with “male prostitutes” and
malakos
is translated with “sodomites.”
Why does this matter? Consider this:
Dale Martin’s “Arsenokoites and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences" addresses the POV reflected here:
Martin's Thesis:
“The goal [here]… is not mere historical or philological accuracy. By emphasizing the ideological contexts in which interpretation has taken place and will always take place, I intend to challenge the objectivist notion that the Bible or historical criticism can provide contemporary Christians with a reliable foundation for ethical reflection. Neither a simple reading of “what the Bible says” nor a professional historical-critical re-construction of the ancient meaning of the texts will provide a prescription for contemporary Christian ethics. Indeed, the naïve attempts by conservatitve Christians, well-meaning though they may be, to derive their ethics from a “simple” reading of the Bible have meant mere that they impute to the Bible their own destructive ideologies. The destruction is today nowhere more evident than in the church’s mistreatment of lesbian and gay Christians.”
Translation as a Problem: How have these terms, arsenokoites and malakos been rendered?
Wide range of translations:
o Wyclif (1380) “thei that don leccherie with men”
o Tyndale (1534) “abusars of them selves with mankynde”
o Douai-Rheims (1582) “the liers with mankinde”
Shift to language of psychology and “normalcy”
RSV (1946) “sexual perverts”
NIV (1973) “homosexual offenders”
NEB (1970) “homosexual perverts” (collapsing both terms together)
Martin is pointing out how there is a shift in meaning between the end of the 19th-20th century

“Usually the statement is accompanied by a shrugged-shoulder expression, as if to say, I’m not condemning homosexuality! I’m just reading the Bible. It’s there in the text. Such protestations of objectivity, however, become untenable when examined closely. By analyzing ancient meanings of the terms, on the other hand, and historical changes in the translation of the terms on the other, we discover that interpretations of arsenokoites and malakos as condemning modern homosexuality have been driven more by ideological interests in marginalizing gay and lesbian people than by the general structures of historical criticism.”
But, at least two dimensions two Martins work:
Historical-Critical Appraisal of this issue in the New Testament
A showcasing of how these kinds of historical tools (esp. linguistic ones) put ancient and modern contexts into perspective
Arsenokoites
Paul is the earliest person to use this term
How has the definition been reached by historians? Etymology: If you break it into its compounds
arsen
has something to do with masculinity and
koites
has to do with beds, dwelling, and lying down. Martin Rejects this method: “The etymology of a word is its history, not its meaning.”
Usage after Paul?
Among economic sins including exploitation or injustice
Economic sins among those who act wickedly - associated other evils are poisoning, sorcery, robbery, swindling, thieving.
Use to describe Adam and Eve in a later text - but still with an exploitative dimension.
Martin's point is one of subtlety and historical judgment: “I am not claiming to know what
arsenokoites
meant. I am claiming that no one knows what it meant. I feely admit that it could have been taken as a reference to homosexual sex. But given the scarcity of evidence and several contexts for its usage, it appears to refer to some particular kind of economic exploitation. NO one should be allowed to get away with claiming that 'of course' the term refers to men who have sex with other men.”
Martin points us to a DIFFERENT insight that this interpretive tradition can bring us.
Malakos
Unlike
arsenokoites
this term is widely used - signifying weak, soft, effeminateness in male bodies (as opposed to these traits in female bodies.)
Martin wants to clarify:
malakos
signifed the whole "feminine complex" in ancient ideologies, and does not refer restrictively to sexualy roles represetened by translations like "sodomite" and "catamite."
Gender and sexuality functions very different in the ancient world - not binary genders, but a scale of gender.
Sense of
malakos
in the ancient world might include:
Laziness
Those who are too lazy to follow the strictures and hardships of philosophy – like sophists and rhetors
Those who are decadent and luxurious, and who are all together excessive – with sex, wine, food, etc. I.e., those who are not moderate
Those who study a lot – like our usage of the idea of a nerd or a geek who is contrasted with like a jock or a fratty guy
OF COURSE, those who were penetrated certainly might have fallen into this category, but that is really not its orientation toward sexuality
Remarkably – those who are dolled up, gluttonous, etc. were more likely to refer to those who preyed on other men’s wives and who had TOO MUCH sex, not those who were submissive in sexual acts
Showcasing the counter-contemporary mode of ancient sexuality, Martin amasses evidence that affirms the contrary of the notions laden in this kind of translation. In the sexism of the ancient world, to have sex with only males and never females was more often a way of veering away from the effeminacy and softness implied by
malakos.
What does this mean for this "controversy" and the way the New Testament is read more broadly?
"I have tried to illustrate how all appeals to "what the Bible says" are ideological and problematic. But in the end, all appeals, whether to the Bible or anything else, must submit to the test of love. To people who say this is simplistic, I say, far from it. There are no easy answers. "Love" will not work as a foundation for ethics in a prescriptive or predictable fashion either-as can be seen by all the injustices, imperialisms, and violence committed in the name of love. But rather than expecting the answer to come from a particular method of reading the Bible, we at least push the discussion to where it ought to be: into the realm of debates about Christian love, rather than into either fundamentalism or modernist historicism."
Controversies in the New Testament: The Ghost in the Hermeneutical Machine
War and Violence in the New Testament
Non-Violence in the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew 5:38-48
In the context of antitheses
Kinds of violence/compulsion being described
Economic and wealth component of this teaching
Why this is a problem?
How these texts have been interpreted traditionally
"Impossible Ideal" - Reinhold Niebuhr (20th century Protestant theologian) suggested that this is a vision of a future "kingdom of God" and cannot be put into practice literally
"Interim ethic" - Only for the disciplies, who thought Jesus was to return soon
Only self defense - no teaching against protecting a third party
"Counsel of Perfection" - only for a holy few
Conviction of conscience - intended to make everyone feel guilty
Only for village life - specific to the social context of 1st century Palestine, not applicable to foreign/political enemies.
Problems with these approaches
"Impossible Ideal" - Reinhold Niebuhr (20th century Protestant theologian) suggested that this is a vision of a future "kingdom of God" and cannot be put into practice literally
BUT - Jesus' teaching here is specifically geared toward the lives of his listeners AT THE TIME OF HIS TEACHING.
"Interim ethic" - Only for the disciplies, who thought Jesus was to return soon
BUT - Matthew's community is writing 50 years after Jesus' death. There is no sense that this is temporary.
Only self defense - no teaching against protecting a third party
BUT - Throughout Matthew, Jesus is teaching against violence as a means of following God (cf. Matthew 4 and 26: “if you live by the sword you will die by the sword”)
"Counsel of Perfection" - only for a holy few
BUT - Commissioning of disciples at the conclusion precludes this
Conviction of conscience - intended to make everyone feel guilty
Jesus is actually teaching people how to live - this is not a bizarre, metaphysical object lesson
Only for village life - specific to the social context of 1st century Palestine, not applicable to foreign/political enemies.
BUT - the "crowd" he is addressing is a definedly broad term, so its not addressing only a small group of people. He also teaches to "pray for those who persecute you" - hardly applicable to even the worst neighbor
So, what does this mean about Jesus' teaching?
Jesus could just be crazy. His teaching could be extreme and unorthodox, but this appraisal has been about acknowledging that we cannot
interpret
our way around his words.
Consider this statement but a notable contemporary theologian, Stanley Hauerwas:
"We are called to be like God: perfect as God is perfect. It is a perfection that comes by learning to follow and be like this man whom God has sent to be our forerunner in the kingdom. That is why Chrsitian ethics is not first of all an ethics of principles, laws, or values, but an ethic that demands we attend to the life of a particular individual - Jesus of Nazareth. It is only from him that we can learn perfection - which is at teh very least nothing less than forgiving our enemies."
What do we make of this perspective on Jesus' teaching here - that the only way to understand them is not to deduce "principles" but to imitate actions?
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