Sexual Orientation, ‘Commited, Loving Same-Sex Relationships’ and The Biblical Prohibition of Homosexuality.

When considered contextually and objectively, the Scriptures are not silent concerning homosexuality. They always, without exception, treat homosexuality as a violation of the divine order; that is the biblical witness clearly and counter-culturally prohibits all forms of same-sex intercourse. Whilst justification of this statement and consideration of the biblical witness is impossible here, suffice it to say that the arguments advanced by those who propose that scripture is ambivalent or accepting of same-sex relationships are exegetically weak. Consequently, if the authority of Scripture means anything, then those who take a revisionist approach and seek to overturn scriptural core values must meet an extraordinary and overwhelming burden of proof.

 

Nevertheless, in recent years there has grown a school of thought, perhaps cognisant of Scripture’s unequivocal description of same-sex intercourse as sin, which seeks to assert that Paul and the biblical writers operated in an environment ignorant of ‘sexual orientation’ theories. Consequent to this, it is claimed that there exists some fresh socio-anthropological insights from the ancient Greco-Roman milieu, which permits the church to take a different position when considering those who commit these acts within what is termed ‘faithful monogamous loving relationships’. For example James Brownson alleges: ’Writers in the first century, including Paul, did not look at same-sex eroticism with the understanding of sexual orientation that is commonplace today’. (Bible, Gender, Sexuality, Reframing the Chruch’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships [2013], 166). Consequently for Brownson ‘the notion of sexual-orientation was absent’ in the time of New Testament compilation. The subsequent logic of this position is that Paul’s arguments in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy can not be levelled against those acting within their fixed sexual-orientations as Paul would have been oblivious to the existence of such concepts. Further, if Paul was unaware of the notion of sexual orientation then, by implication, his critique of homosexuality cannot apply to ‘faithful loving relationships’ and same-sex marriages. The belief that the biblical witness speaks in a manner oblivious of sexual orientation theory and/or of the possibility of ‘loving’ or ‘committed’ same-sex relationships is certainly one which is gaining some traction, yet is one which can be refuted with reference to historical research.

 

Contrary to the simplistic notion that ancient Greco-Roman culture was oblivious to sexual orientation or the concept that same-sex couplings could exist within loving partnerships; the historical evidence suggests quite the contrary. Greco-Roman thinkers did in fact grapple with a myriad of theories and conjectures concerning the nature and incidence of homosexual desire. Evidence exists suggesting that much consideration was given to the concept of inborn and/or fixed-nature of same sex desires and the conception of caring homoerotic unions did in fact exist in the first century Greco-Roman cultural environment. It is a position of indisputable historical fact that many of the Apostle Paul’s contemporary Greco-Roman moralists rejected such unions. For example Plutarch’s friend Daphnaeus declares that ‘even when a union with males is entered willingly it remains shameful since males with softness and tenderness are surrendering themselves, as Plato says “to be mounted in the custom of four footed animals and be sowed with seed contrary to nature”’ (Dialogue on Love, 751). Meanwhile, Aristotle claimed that although some homosexual desires are derived from habit, others spring from nature (Nicomachean Ethics, 1148b) and Parmenides believed that sexually passive males, that is, those who wished to be penetrated by other males, were ‘generated in the act of conception’ (Soranus, On Chronic Disorders, 4.9.13). Soranus, a contemporary of Paul, took the view that homoerotic desires were shaped by nature and located within the spirit (De morbis chronicis, 4.131, 132, 134.). There also exists plenty of Greco-Roman magical and astrological texts that indicate similar conjecture on the nature of same-sex orientation. For example, ‘If the sun and moon are in masculine signs and Venus is also in a masculine sign in a woman’s chart, women will be born who take on a man’s characteristics and desire intercourse with women like men’ (Maternus, Mathesos libri, viii, 7.25.1)

 

Certainly first-century thinkers did not possess the same notions of sexual orientation that exist today, yet if some sections of Greco-Roman society were generating notions of sexual orientation and even developed some opposition to homosexual practice, what is the likelihood that Paul would make exceptions for ‘loving’ unions, given his conservative Jewish milieu? Paul, like Jesus and all other Jews and Christians of the period, categorically opposed all forms of homosexual practice regardless of context. Scripture’s alleged silence on ‘faithful monogamous loving relationships’ is in fact evidence of the absolute prohibition on same-sex practice and not an escape clause permitting such unions. If the Bible places a blanket prohibition on all same-sex couplings then there is absolutely no reason for it to address the finer point of whether such prohibited couplings may occur within the context of relationships or not. If same-sex intercourse is sinful, then the question of whether that sin occurs repeatedly within committed relationships or not is a rather moot point.

 

The best of the scholarly literature available, both conservative and revisionist, accepts this point. Louis Crompton states, “According to [one] interpretation, Paul’s words were not directed at “bona fide” homosexuals in committed relationships”. Crompton continues, making the point that such a reading ‘seems strained and unhistorical’ and neither Paul or any other Jewish writer of the period ‘imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstance. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any other Jew or early Christian’ (Homosexuality and Civilisation, [2003], 114). Meanwhile Martti Nissinen acknowledges that Paul does not mention males or females in committed homoerotic relationships, ‘but if he knew about them (and there is every reason to believe that he did), it is difficult to think that, because of their apparent ‘orientation,’ he would not have included them in Romans 1:24-27’. Nissinen continues, stating that for Paul ‘there is no individual inversion or inclination that would make this conduct less culpable . . . . Presumably nothing would have made Paul approve homoerotic behaviour” (Homoeroticism in the Biblical World, [1998], 109-1120

 

Bernadette Brooten, makes a similar comment, pointing out that “Rom 1:27, like Lev 18:22 and 20:13, condemns all males in male-male relationships regardless of age, making it unlikely that lack of mutuality or concern for the passive boy were Paul’s central concerns” (Love between Women, [1996], 253). Brooten concludes, stating ‘I believe that Paul used the word “exchanged” to indicate that people knew the natural sexual order of the universe and left it behind . . . . I see Paul as condemning all forms of homoeroticism as the unnatural acts of people who had turned away from God”.  Thomas K. Hubbard makes the cogent point that: “Homosexuality in this era [the early imperial age of Rome] may have ceased to be merely another practice of personal pleasure and began to be viewed as an essential and central category of personal identity, exclusive of and antithetical to heterosexual orientation” (Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook, [2003], 386).

Louis Cropmton, Martti Nissinen, Bernadette Brooten and Thomas Hibbard are all pro-homosexual scholars. The point being that the quotations provided above have not been harvested from scholars holding the traditional view of homosexuality as sin, but rather from those who are sympathetic to same-sex unions. Yet each of these scholars has demonstrated as unhistorical and factually incorrect the contention that the biblical authors were ignorant of ‘faithful monogamous loving relationships’ or ‘orientation theories’. Such claims of ‘new knowledge’ are in fact little more than a proverbial red herring. Scriptural prohibition of same-sex intercourse is absolute, thoroughly and fully held across both testaments, without exception. It is the position that has been held within the Christian Church for two thousand years almost without exception, and claims of ‘fresh insights’ are in fact counter to the historically attested facts.

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