Back to Index

CHAPTER ONE

Homosexuality and Scripture

I have published a book based on this part of my WebSite.

Contents

Introduction

This is a review of the Testimony of Scripture, the Divinely Inspired written Word of God. It first deals with the standard "proof verses", then move on to some less obvious but more important texts. It concludes by sketching out a positive Scriptural theology in order to give some hope for the future and provide what I hope will some common ground for positive engagement and rational dialogue.

I make no attempt here to treat either of the extra-scriptural Tradition, or of the Official Teaching of the contemporary Church.  These extremely important matters are discussed in subsequent articles. It is necessary, of course, to bring all these strands together; but I wish to address one identifiable task at a time, for the sake of clear thinking. Before doing this, I think it opportune to comment on what one might mean by Scriptural Inspiration and Inerrancy. I am not an evangelical protestant. The Catholic Church has never seriously considered the idea that every word of The Word should be taken at its simplest face value: e.g. "the Brother's of Jesus", "don't call anyone Father", "don't ever make an oath". Many things are subject to understanding in a context that may be difficult for us to grasp. For example try making head or tails of [Exodus 4:24-26] which I discovered by accident! One should be reticent to jump to conclusions about the obvious meanings of texts.

God inspired Scripture so that it contains, correctly interpreted (by the Church!) exactly those truths which He wanted it to contain. It is not a source document on Mathematics (according to Leviticus, p = 3) or Astronomy (according to Chronicles, the Sun moves about the Earth) or any other Natural Science (according to Leviticus, bats are birds). It was written by human authors and editors and is as much (in one aspect) their word as it is (in another aspect) God's. It is necessarily encultured. It is written in human language with human references and context. It is often (but not always!) poetic and symbolic.

Doctrine authentically gathered from Scripture, by the Church and pre-eminently by the Magisterium, is certain and inerrant; but not every statement to be found in scripture is certainly true of itself. Details and particular facts are generally speaking not what the Divine Word is about. Matters such as whether the entire globe of the Earth was subject to the flood of Noah, the exact number of days Jesus fasted in the wilderness, or what gifts were brought by the Magi to the infant Christ should not be given the same significance or held to be certainly true in the way that the doctrine that God is Love or that friendship is the highest form of love must be held without any possibility of compromise. Personally, I strongly believe, that very many apparently historical assertions of both Old and New Testaments are to be taken at face value and accepted as true; but I entirely accept that - in some instances - it is legitimate to think otherwise.

"We have for too long been beguiled by what I would like to call a Koranic reading of scripture. It is at least coherent for a Muslim to claim that the Koran was dictated by God to Mohammed, and therefore that the Koran itself must be read as so dictated by an authority from above. The text becomes a sort of intermediary body between God and reader, such that the faithful are imprisoned under the fixed words of the text, which are imagined to be “just there”, inspired by God, and which thus absolve the reader from taking responsibility for the reading which he or she supplies. But it is not coherent for a Catholic to read Scripture in this way. The Catholic Church, heir to an extraordinarily rich tradition of creative Jewish textual reading, reads scripture Eucharistically, because for us the prime source of authority is not the text itself, but the crucified and living victim, alive in our midst, who is the living interpretative presence teaching us how to undo our violent and evil ways of relating to each other, and how together to enter into the way of penitence and peace. For us “The Word of God” refers in the first place to a living person, and only by analogy to the texts which bear witness to him." [Rev James Alison: "A Catholic Reading of Romans I", A talk given at the Mount Saint Agnes Theological Center for Women, Baltimore (12th January 2004)]

The Proof Texts

A good principle of Scriptural interpretation, that I learned from Evangelicals at Cambridge is that the importance of any matter can be judged, to first order, by the frequency with which it is dealt with in Holy Scripture. So, for example, Justice; Love; Integrity; Forgiveness, Faithfulness are all crucial, whereas the Immaculate Conception is not. That doesn't mean to say that the Immaculate Conception is not true, nor that it is unimportant; but just that it is a means to an end, whereas the earlier topics are not. They are the end of the Gospel... the Kingdom of God.

On this basis, the supposed wrongness of homosexual activity is clearly not crucial compared to many other ethical matters; such as using fair weights, caring for the widow and orphan, respecting the stranger in the land, having faith, burying the dead etc. etc. On the most extreme accounting, the Old Testament might be thought to deal with it twice. Jesus never mentions it at all, and of all the Apostles, only St. Paul seems to say anything on the subject.

 Sodom and Gomorra

In Genesis Chapter 19, two Angels in disguise visit the city of Sodom and are pressed into accepting hospitality by Lot. That night, the people (Not men, as the hebrew "enoshe" is usually mistranslated.) of Sodom seem to demand that Lot hand over his guests (Who they also refer to as "enoshe", not men. What gender do Angels have any-how? Jesus implies none!) to be raped. He refuses, and the Angels blind the inhabitants of Sodom. Lot and his household escape, and the town is destroyed by fire "because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord" [Gen 19:13]. Biblical scholarship now generally recognizes that this story was not intended as any sort of comment on homosexuality.

Classical Jewish texts assert that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because the inhabitants were generally depraved and uncompromisingly greedy. One rabbinic tradition, says that the Sodomites believed that "what is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours", and understands that as a lack of compassion. Another rabbinic tradition adapts the Greek myth of Procrustes to Sodom, telling of the "bed" that guests were forced to sleep in: if they were too short they were stretched to fit it, and if they were too tall, they were cut up. The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 109a) provides a number of examples of what the crimes of Sodom were. Their sins had to do with cruelty and greed.

"The men of Sodom waxed haughty only on account of the good which the Holy One, blessed be He, had lavished upon them... They said: 'Since there cometh forth bread out of (our) earth, and it hath the dust of gold, why should we suffer wayfarers, who come to us only to deplete our wealth? Come, let us abolish the practice of traveling in our land.'
There were four judges in Sodom named Shakrai (Liar), Shakurai (Awful Liar), Zayyafi (Forger), and Mazle Dina (Perverter of Justice). Now if a man assaulted his neighbour's wife and bruised her, they would say to the husband, 'Give her to him, that she may become pregnant for thee.' If one cut off the ear of his neighbour's ass, they would order, 'Give it to him until it grows again.'"
The Midrash compilation "Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer" offers a number of reasons why the Sodomites were considered evil.
  • Rabbi Ze'era said: 'The men of Sodom were the wealthy men of prosperity, on account of the good and fruitful land whereon they dwelt...'
  • Rabbi Nathaniel said: 'The men of Sodom had no consideration for the honour of their Owner by not distributing food to the wayfarer and stranger, but they even fenced in all the trees on top above their fruit so that so that they should not be seized; not even by the bird of heaven...'
  • Rabbi Joshua... said: 'They appointed over themselves judges who were lying judges, and they oppressed every wayfarer and stranger who entered Sodom by their perverse judgment, and they sent them forth naked'...
It was not interpreted as a prohibition of homosexuality by most early Christian writers, though this became a popular view among both Jewish and Christian scholars from the end of the Middle Ages onwards. More recently, the traditional Jewish Talmudic interpretation: that the characteristic sin of Sodom was a lack of hospitality has been re-popularized by Christian theologians, following the publication in 1955 of  "Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition" by D.S. Bailey.

While inhospitality has always been thought to be a sin, it is not generally viewed in Western culture as very serious, unlike almost any sexual sin. It was thought obvious that the supposed homosexual behaviour of the Sodomites was the cause of their demise. Contrariwise, hospitality was considered a major virtue in Biblical semitic culture; and still is, in the Middle East. The great Egyptian theologian Origen, wrote:

"Hear these words, you who close your houses to strangers; hear these words, you who avoid a guest as an enemy. Lot was living in Sodom. We do not read of other good deeds of his. The hospitality alone occuring at that time is mentioned. He escapes the flames, he escapes the conflagration for this reason alone: because he opened his house to strangers. Angels entered the hospitable house; fire entered the houses closed to strangers". [Origen: Homilies on Genesis 5]
Western culture, with its pagan Roman emphasis on "insular family values" knows nothing of this. Moreover, the two Angels who visited Sodom were a manifestation of God [Gen 18:1,16,20-22; 19:1]. Tradition has seen in the Angels an intimation of the persons of the Holy Trinity (it was a group of three Angels that visited Abraham; two of them proceeded to Sodom, while the third stayed behind to have an ethical debate with Abraham). Remember, Abraham was "God's friend", and merited such favourable condescension. Hence, the Sodomites intended (unknowingly) to violate God. Of course, by implication from the teaching of Jesus, to do ill to anyone is to do it to Him [Mat 25:31-46].

It should be mentioned in passing that the request of the Sodomites to "know" the Angels [Gen 19:5] does not necessarily have a sexual meaning. It might signifies something along the lines of "find out who they are: because we believe them to be some kind of alien deities, whose presence in our city offends our gods". There is no doubt a threat of violation, but not necessarily of a sexual nature. The fact that Lot responded by offering his two virgin daughters, for the Sodomites to "do with them as they pleased" does not necessarily mean that he was offering them for rape. They might have been offered to placate the supposed anger of the local deities, aroused by the invasion of their territory by the Angels, by becoming either "temple prostitutes" or human sacrifices; in both case virginity being of particular significance. [Thanks to George Hopper for this point.]

Lot's action shows how important he considered it was to defend the Angels from the assault planned by the Sodomites. Unhappily, it also shows that he thought of his daughters as dispensable commodities! The inhabitants of Sodom rejected the offer. It is unclear whether:

  • they would have preferred the idea of raping other males (as an exercise of power; as is common in most same gender rape, which is typically perpetrated by supposed heterosexual men on other heterosexual men in order to humiliate them);
  • they were intent on determening the exact nature of the two angels and no substitutes could serve this purpose;
  • were merely keen to violate the "foreigners" (whatever their gender);
  • wished to execute them; 
  • or simply wanted to expel them from the city.
The Sodomites use threatening language against Lot as a foreigner and suggest that he is lucky to escape the fate that they have planned for his visitors. Hence, it seems most plausible that the motive is xenophobia [Genesis 19:8-9] of some form, rather than lust.
The Biblical context
The RSV makes the Apostle Jude mention in passing that Sodom and Gomorrah "acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust" [Jd 7]. This is simply a mistranslation. The Greek is much more specific. It describes Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities as behaving as (female) whores. It then says, of the cities thus personified (not their individual inhabitants), that they "went behind and sought out improper flesh". There is no use either of the term or idea "unnatural", nor of "lust". In the context, it is pretty clear that the meaning is that "they forsook the One True God, their rightful husband, in favour of idols, committing adultery by consorting improperly with alien gods". Proper flesh for a wife is her husband; improper flesh is her adulterous lover. [Thanks to George Hopper for this point.]

Ezekiel [Ezk 16:43-52] clearly and directly states that the sin of the Sodomites was "not to aid the poor and needy" out of their prosperity. This is in the midst of a grand diatribe against Jerusalem that uses the most extreme language; language which seems more appropriate, in our modern western ears, to a denunciation of lewd living rather than matters of clinical "justice and peace". However it is a common idiom of Scripture to compare idolatry with whoring. The Sodomites are also accused in this passage of "being hauty" and "doing abominable things"; which the context suggests means either idolatry or rampant social injustice, it is not clear which Ezekiel takes the greater exception to!

"Ezek. 16:50 must be taken in the context of all of Ezekiel 16. The entire chapter refers to abomination, and the abomination referred to is idolatry - the making of male images that Israel worshipped and made offerings to, including offerings of human lives. Ezekiel primarily mentions Sodom's neglect for the poor, but the 'abominable things' he mentions in the next verse, if not also referring to their neglect for the poor, must refer to the rest of the abominations referred to throughout this chapter." [The blog of Nathan Nelson]
The books of Wisdom and Sirach reinforce this same interpretation of the Sodom story:
"For because they passed wisdom by, they not only were hindered from recognizing the good, but also left for humankind a reminder of their folly, so that their failures could never go unnoticed." [Wis 10:8]

"The punishments did not come upon the sinners without prior signs in the violence of thunder, for they justly suffered because of their wicked acts; for they practiced a more bitter hatred of strangers. Others had refused to receive strangers when they came to them, but these made slaves of guests who were their benefactors."[Wis 19:13-14]

"He did not spare the neighbours of Lot, whom he loathed on account of their arrogance." [Sir 16:8]

Crucially, Our Blessed Lord refers to Sodom and Gomorrah in the context of the first mission of the Twelve Apostles [Mat 10:9-15]. He says that any village that refuses them hospitality will suffer worse than Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of Judgement. There is, of course, a direct parallel between the mission of the Angels to Sodom and the Apostles to the villages of Judaea. Both are hidden manifestations of the Kingdom of God. To reject God's gracious revelationary initiative out of hand, still more to respond with outright hostility is tantamount to "the sin against Holy Spirit"[Mat 10:20].
Sodom in non canonical Jewish  writing
The famous Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus wrote:
"The Sodomites, overweeningly proud of their numbers and the extent of their wealth, showed themselves insolent to men and impious to the Divinity, insomuch that they no more remembered the benefits that they had received from him, hated foreigners and declined all intercourse with others. Indignant at this conduct, God accordingly resolved to chastise them for their arrogance." [Josephus, Antiquities I: 194-5]
The Book of Jubilees is a Second Century BC non-canonical Jewish text. It survives only in an Ethiopian version. It is the earliest extant sexual interpretation of the Sodom story.
"The Lord executed his judgements on Sodom and Gomorrah, and Zeboim, and all the region of the Jordan, and he burned them with fire and brimstone, and destroyed them until this day, even as [lo] I have declared unto thee all their works, that they are wicked and sinners exceedingly, and that they defile themselves and commit fornication in their flesh, and work uncleanness on the Earth. And in like manner, God will execute judgement on the places where they have done according to the uncleanness of the Sodomites, like unto the judgement of Sodom.

And [Abraham] told [his sons and grandsons] of the judgement of the giants, and the judgements of the Sodomites, how they had been judged on account of their wickedness, and had died on account of fornication and uncleanness, and mutual corruption through fornication. "And guard yourselves from all fornication and uncleanness, and from all pollution of sin. Lest ye make your name a curse, and your whole life a hissing, and all your sons be destroyed by the sword, and ye become accursed like Sodom, and all your remnant as the sons of Gomorrah." [Jub 16:5-6 and 20:5-6 trans D.S. Bailey in "Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition" (1955)]

It makes no reference to homosexuality, however. A few other references, plausibly from the same time frame exist:
"But ye shall not be so, my children, recognising in the firmament, in the earth, and in the sea, and in all created things, the Lord who made them all, that ye become not as Sodom, which changed the order of its nature. In like manner also the Watchers changed the order of their nature, whom also the Lord cursed at the flood, and for their sakes made desolate the earth, that it should be uninhabited and fruitless.
These things I say, my children, for I have read in the holy writing of Enoch that ye yourselves also will depart from the Lord, walking according to all wickedness of the Gentiles, and ye will do according to all the iniquity of Sodom. And the Lord will bring captivity upon you, and there shall ye serve your enemies, and ye shall be covered with all affliction and tribulation, until the Lord shall have consumed you all."
[Testament of Naphtali 3:5]
Again there is no reference to homosexuality. The phrase "changed the order of its nature" might mean anything. If the "Watchers" are "Sons of God" or the "Nephilim" [Gen 6:2-4] then the natural disorder indicated is decidedly heterosexual.
"Do ye also therefore, my children, flee ill-doing, envy, and hatred of brethren, and cleave to goodness and love. He that hath a pure mind in love, looketh not after a woman unto fornication; for he hath no defilement in his heart, because the Spirit of God resteth in him. For as the sun is not defiled by shining over dung and mire, but rather drieth up both and driveth away the ill smell: so also the pure mind, constrained among the defilements of the earth, rather edifieth, and itself suffereth no defilement.
Now I suppose, from the words of the righteous Enoch, that there will be also evil-doings among you: for ye will commit fornication with the fornication of Sodom, and shall perish all save a few, and will multiply inordinate lusts with women; and the kingdom of the Lord shall not be among you, for forthwith He will take it away." [Testament of Benjamin 8.1-9.2]
This text strongly suggests that the sexual impropriety of Sodom was heterosexual! 

While the following text pretty obviously condemns pederasty and bestiality, it does not link them to Sodom, neither does it menton homosexuality:

"And in the seventh there shall be such pollution as I am not able to express, before the Lord and men, for they shall know it who do these things. Therefore shall they be in captivity and for a prey, and their land and their substance shall be destroyed. And in the fifth week they shall return into their desolate country, and shall renew the house of the Lord. And in the seventh week shall come the priests, worshippers of idols, contentious, lovers of money, proud, lawless, lascivious, abusers of children and beasts.
And after their punishment shall have come from the Lord, then will the Lord raise up to the priesthood a new Priest, to whom all the words of the Lord shall be revealed; and He shall execute a judgment of truth upon the earth, in the fulness of days. And His star shall arise in heaven, as a king shedding forth the light of knowledge in the sunshine of day, and He shall be magnified in the world until His ascension."
[Testament of Levi 17:9-18.2]
The Apocalypse of Enoch is thought to be a late First Century AD Jewish text. It has no canonical standing. It survives only in a Slavonic version.
"This place, O Enoch, is prepared for those who dishonour God,
  • who on earth practice sin against nature, which is child-corruption after the sodomitic fashion, magic-making, enchantments and devilish witchcrafts,
  • and who boast of their wicked deeds, stealing, lies, calumnies, envy, rancour, fornication, murder,
  • and who, accursed, steal the souls of men,
  • who, seeing the poor take away their goods and themselves wax rich, injuring them for other men’s goods;
  • who being able to satisfy the empty, made the hungering to die;
  • being able to clothe, stripped the naked;
  • and who knew not their creator, and bowed to the soulless and lifeless gods, who cannot see nor hear, vain gods, who also built hewn images and bow down to unclean handiwork,
for all these is prepared this place among these, for eternal inheritance." [2 Enoch 10:3-4]

"They have rejected my commandments and my yoke, worthless seed has come up, not fearing God, and they would not bow down to me, but have begun to bow down to vain gods, and denied my unity, and have laden the whole earth with untruths, offences, abominable lecheries, namely one with another, and all manner of other unclean wickedness, which are disgusting to relate." [2 Enoch 10:4 & 34:2]

In an alternative translation of these passages, one can find an identification of sodomy with anal intercourse. The more authoritative translation presented here contains no such suggestion. Note that pederasty is specified in the earlier verse and that any anal or "sodomitical" intercourse or "abominable lechery" might well be heterosexual!

Finally, a Second Century AD text which may be Christian influenced.

"The angel said to me, 'Look at the bottom to observe those whom you see at the lowest depth. They are the ones who have committed the sin of Sodom; truly, they were due a drastic punishment.'" [Testament of Isaac 5:27]
Note that this gives no clue to the character of "the sin of Sodom", except that the author considers it to have been very serious.

It cannot be stressed too much that none of these texts have any canonical status whatsoever. They only serve to give some indication of contemporary thought. Moreover, it would be unwise to presume that they represent any kind of social consensus. They may be nothing more than the idiosyncratic views of their authors.

Sodom in the Koran
Lot is one of the prophets or apostles appropriated by Islam. The story of "Sodom and Gomorrah" features in a number of places in the Koran. Same gender sexual activity is a major issue for the Koran, unlike the Bible:
"Lut said to his people: 'What! do you commit an indecency which no one in the world has done before you?  Most surely you come to males in lust besides females; nay you are an extravagant people!'  The answer of his people was 'Turn them out of our town, surely they are a people who seek to purify.'" [Elevated Places:  80-82]

"Lut said 'Do you come to the males from among the creatures and leave what your Lord has created for you of your wives? Nay, you are a people exceeding limits!'" [The Poets: 165-166]

"Lut said to his people 'What! do you commit indecency while you see? What! do you indeed approach men lustfully rather than women? Nay, you are a people who act ignorantly!' The answer of his people was: 'Turn out Lut's followers from the town; surely they are a people who would keep pure!'" [The Ant: 55-56]

Leviticus

There are only two verses here [Lev 18:22, 20:13]. There are five points to be made.
  1. Many practices that we now accept as having no moral value whatsoever are condemned by the Torah in robust terms.
    • For example eating prawns and wearing clothes made of mixed thread fabric.
    • Some reason must be given for taking the unclear condemnation of same gender physical intimacy seriously while dismissing other crystal clear condemnations out of hand. To fail to do so is irrational.
    • It can be said that the delineation is obvious.
      • Those aspects of the Torah that deal with ritual uncleanliness are superseded by the New Covenant;
      • while those that deal with ethics are not.
    • This is an excellent idea, and to a large extent is true.
      • Unfortunately it doesn't help us, because it then becomes contentious as to which injunctions belong in which category.
      • The eating of prawns and wearing of cotton/nylon socks don't clearly belong in either!
  2. Some of the details of the Torah are provisional.
    • They were the most enlightened and liberal rules that were acceptable to a tribal people at the stage of cultural development of the Hebrews when they left Egypt.
    • So, the rule of an "eye for an eye" should not be seen as a statement that equitable vengeance is necessary, but rather as capping the punishment for any crime.
    • Jesus spells out [Mat 19:8] that the Mosaic rule allowing divorce [Deut 24:1] was of exactly this character.
    • Similarly, rules about capital punishment should not be taken as a positive divine requirement that some offences must be punished by death; but rather as a provisional toleration of a popular demand for such penalties. Jesus' attitude to the woman caught in adultery [Jn 8:1-11] can be understand on this basis: He did not remove a dot or a stroke from the Law [ Mt 5:17-20], but rather added a new condition: that the first stone should be thrown by a man without sin [Jn 8:7].
  3. Many of the details of the Torah are contextual .
    • They are applications of general principles to particular cultural situations.
    • The general principles are themselves objective and invariant (note I avoid use of the words intrinsic and absolute, I explain why in my later chapter on "Teleology").
    • After three thousand years, we have lost knowledge of many of these cultural situations and can only guess at the rationale behind the inspired proscription.
    • While the ethical principle - in as far as we can determine it - remains true; its particular application is entirely inappropriate in our different context.
    • For example, why was pork forbidden to the Jews? Some say that pig meat was typically unsanitary and so unsafe to eat in those days. I doubt this was the real reason. I suspect that pigs were the sacrificial victim of choice for some of the Canaanite tribes (certainly they were on occasion for the Egyptians), and the Jews were told to have nothing to do with pigs simply to maintain the greatest liturgical and cultic distinction from their pagan contemporaries [Lev 18:24-30; 20:22-26]. I doubt we shall ever know the answer to this one during our earthly lives. 
    • The avoidance of  shell-fish is even more difficult to fathom.
    • There are also New Testament examples. Women should cover their heads in Church and never speak, according to St Paul. Why? The Church isn't at all keen to enforce either of these stern Apostolic injunctions nowadays! Still less the stern, explicit and unambiguous commands of Our Lord not to call anyone "Father" or "Teacher" and not to swear any oath!
  4. The RSV translation is very misleading, even mischevous. 
  5. The verses may only refer to cultic (liturgical) prostitution [Lev 18:24-19:4, Deut 23:17-18, I Kgs 14:24]. The first verse clearly has a cultic context. If Leviticus is concerned with ritual prostitution, its judgement has no obvious wider application; except on the basis of some unstated general principle (e.g. sex is for procreation only, or sex outside marriage is always immoral) which does not feature in Scripture, has yet to be established and cannot with integrity just be presumed or inferred.

The Pauline Lists

There are a number of places in the Pauline corpus where the Apostle reels off lists of sins and sinners. On two occasions, he uses two words which don't appear in any other Greek literature of the time. We have no way of knowing what the meaning of these words is. One can transliterate them, of course, but to do so is dangerous. To erect an ethic on such a flimsy foundation would be both grossly irresponsible and rather silly! One word is "arsenokoitai". Literally "arsenos" means male human being in Greek and "koitai" means bedders. The other word "malakoi" seems to mean something like "softie".
"Arseno- is a prefix meaning 'male'. The 'male' can be either the subject or object of the action in question (gramatically as well as sexually). 'Koitis' is a feminine noun meaning 'bed'; in the singular it can be used either literally as a generic 'bed' or figuratively, as in 'The marriage bed is undefiled'. In the latter case, it connotes sexual monogamy, among other things. In the plural, 'koitai', it is used to mean 'bedding around' [cf Rom13:13], a more appropriate term for promiscuity than 'porneia', which properly mean prostitution.

Now, one might just combine the terms and say that 'arsenokoitai' means literally, 'male fornicator' or really, 'promiscuous male'. Although feasible, this runs into some difficulties. First, 'arsenokoitai' is a feminine plural noun! Does this simply reflect the grammatical gender of 'bed' or does it represent the gender of the offending party? It isn't at all obvious that it was used to identify a group of men. Perhaps it refers to promiscuous women!

Typically, a male suffix would be used if males were meant. This would resut in the form 'arsenokoites' (not "-is") for the singular, and 'arsenokoitoi' for the plural. St. John Chrysostom, and other Church Fathers from the Fifth Century onwards, occasionally use 'arsenokoitai' in referring to the prostitution of boys, but more frequently use other words. In the works of the earlier fathers (e.g. the Didache), the term 'paidofthoreo' is used to mean 'sexual abuse of boys'." [George Battelle "gbattell@netcom.com", quoted on the Axios website]

A correspondent has commented on this quote as follows:
"This is mistaken. The noun 'arsenokoites' is masculine, and its plural is 'arsenokoitai' (also masculine). It is wrong to say that the correct plural for masculine 'arsenokoites' is 'arsenokoitoi'. What probably confused Mr. Battell is that many feminine nouns (those ending in -a or -e) have a plural in -ai. On the other hand, many masculine nouns (those ending in -os) have a plural in -oi. But masculine 'agentive' nouns (sort of like English nouns ending in '-er' or '-or' like 'actor' or 'thinker') have a nominative singular in -es, and a nominative plural in -ai. There are hundreds of such words. One common biblical word following the same pattern, for example, is 'mathetes' ('disciple'). The plural is 'mathetai', which looks feminine to people who've only had a few weeks of Greek, but is really masculine. Or, from Classical Athens, there's 'dikastes', 'judge' the plural of which was 'dikastai', 'judges'." ["DP" private communication (2006)]
I suspect that "DP" is correct in this matter.

Now one might imagine that arsenokoitis might mean "a man who has sex with a man", but on that basis lady-killer would mean "a murderer of one or more upper-class women"; but this English word doesn't mean that at all - not even remotely! To a "Trinity Man" such as myself, the english phrase "male bedder" clearly means "a man who works as a housekeeper". This is because "bedders" are (generally female) cleaners that serve residents of Cambridge Colleges. In fact, we have no idea what St Paul meant by the word "arsenokoitai" and have no obvious means of ever learning his meaning. Nevertheless, some people argue that:

  • There was no contemporary word equivalent to our "homosexual" (this is contentious), therefore St Paul was forced to invent one.
  • He did so, calling upon the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint.
  • This renders the Levitical injunction against (ritual) same sex prostitution(?) by using "arsenos" and "koiten" as two separate words: "kai hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gunaikos..."
Now, while it is plausible that St Paul meant by "arsenokoitai" whatever he understood Leviticus to be referring to, we still don't know what this was! Moreover, if the Apostle invented a new word in order to prohibit all male homosexual behaviour, why doesn't he also invent a complementary word prohibiting all female homosexual behaviour? There was certainly no ready made word that would do this! The conspicuous absence of such a prohibition suggests that Paul had no intention of condemning "all homosexual behaviour", but at most male homosexuality.

According to Prof. Boswell:

"Jerome, following the older Latin translations, rendered the Greek... as 'masculorum concubitores', a vague phrase suggestive of multiple interpretations. Most obviously, it would be the active counterpart of the concubinus, a passive male concubine. This would correspond almost exactly to the Greek, and it is not unlikely that Jerome's chaste pen would have preferred the more clinical 'concubitor' to the vulgar 'exoletus'."
[J. Boswell: "Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality" (1980)]
"masculorum concubitores" literally means [those who are] of males (plural noun) the bedfellows.

According to a priest friend [28th Oct 2002]:

"'Masculorum concubitores' cannot ever mean 'male bedfellows' but only 'bedfellows of men'. The word concubitores is masculine, but masculine words also include the feminine. Mixed plurals are always masculine; only when all members of a group are female can a feminine plural be used (if one exists). Thus grammatically the bedfellows could theoretically be either, but it is quite clear from the context that 'bedfellows of males' means 'male bedfellows of males'."
As for "softie", I ask you! Elsewhere in the scriptures it is used (ironically of St John the Baptist) to mean fops or dandies; those who "dress up in fine clothes" [Mat 11:8, and esp Lk 7:25] and the physically infirm [Mat 4:23, 9:35, 10:1]. Historically it has been understood to mean anything from "effeminate male" to "a person who masturbates", but could easily mean "those with no backbone". Note again the extreme danger of transliteration, if St Paul had been a Twentieth Century Englishman, and had written "those with no backbone" one shudders to think what he might be understood as meaning one or two thousand years later, when English was a lost language and no other instances of this phrase were known!

Instances of the use of malakoi in earlier secular literature are: Herodotus: Histories 7.153 & 13.51; Aristophanes: Wasps 1455, Plutus 488; Aristotle: Nichomachean Ethics 1150a:33; Plato: Republic 556c. Here it can have sexual connotations, though not homosexual. Aristotle says specifically that "malakos" refers to unrestraint in respect to bodily pleasures. Of course there is no good reason to interpret St Paul's usage in terms of classical authors writing hundreds of years earlier while discounting the contemporary usage of Sts Matthew and Luke!

Romans

This is the only significant text [Rom 1:18-32]. It is vital to read it carefully and see what it actually says, not what one thinks that it says. I shall attempt to make my point clearer by discussing the Parable of the Good Samaritan [Lk 10:29-37] briefly.

Typically this is understood to signify that one should follow the example of the Samaritan and do good to others. This is wrong! While it is true that one should be caring of those we meet who are in distress, this was not the message that Jesus intended to communicate in the parable. Re-read the passage carefully. You will see that the message was that: "you Jews (and now Catholics!) tend to think of those outside the fold as unpeople. This is both wrong and unwise. You will find that it is exactly those whom you culturally despise the most (e.g. Samaritans, Abyssinian Orthodox, Gipsies, Calvinists, Albanian Refugees, Black Lesbian Single Mothers) who will turn out to be your neighbours in the end. They will surprise you by their goodness and simple human decency. You must love them as yourselves, because they will prove to be your salvation; just as the despised Samaritan in the parable was the salvation of the dying Jew."

So now, here is the Romans text in its context. I have abbreviated it somewhat as indicated with "...", just to clarify the Apostle's train of thought. I have no intention to distort the passage, and suggest that you compare my RSV based text with whatever version you wish - preferably the Greek!

"For the wrath of God is revealed... against all... men who... suppress the truth... they are without excuse... claiming to be wise, they became fools, and
exchanged the glory of the Immortal God for images.
Therefore, God gave these men up...
to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves because they
exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped the creature rather than the Creator.
Therefore, God gave them up
to dishonourable passions. Their women
exchanged natural relations for un-natural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own person the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up
to a base mind and improper conduct:
They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, will, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, hauty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents... Therefore you have no excuse... whoever you are, when you judge another... you condemn yourself, because you... are doing the very same things!... God's kindness is meant to lead to your repentance, but by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day... when God's righteous judgement will be revealed... For God shows no partiality."
It is worth first comparing this text with a passage from the Deuterocanon:
"For the idea of making idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them was the corruption of life: for they did not exist from the beginning, nor will they last forever... For whether they kill children in their initiations, or celebrate secret mysteries, or hold frenzied revels with strange customs, they no longer keep either their lives or their marriages pure, but they either treacherously kill one another, or grieve one another by adultery, and all is a raging riot of blood and murder, theft and deceit, corruption, faithlessness, tumult, perjury, confusion over what is good, forgetfulness of favours, defiling of souls, sexual perversion, disorder in marriages, adultery and debauchery. For the worship of idols not to be named is the beginning and cause and end of every evil." [Wis 14:12-13, 23-27]
Now here is my commentary, updated after reading an excellent exegesis by the evangelical web author Jeramy Townsley.
  1. The dependence of St Paul's words on the passage from Wisdom is striking.
  2. This text has not always been understood as a condemnation of homosexuality.
  3. Its subject is either "all men who suppress the truth" about God or (I prefer) all those who do so.
    • In other words the Apostle, like the author of Wisdom, is talking about idolaters. He may have had the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians and Egyptians in his sights.
    • Obviously, all (mono-)theists who do not worship idols (e.g. Zoroastrians) are immediately, explicitly and entirely excluded from the immediate application of this text.
  4. The word paredOken "God gave them over" refers to God allowing the natural course of events to occur:
    • God didn't cause their "improper conduct", "dishonourable passions" or "base minds"! To say that He did would be Calvinist.
    • When the Gentiles adopted idolatry, God respected their foolish decision and stepped back. The inevitable course of events then unfolded.
  5. The Apostle seems to say that because they worship idols rather than God, they (somehow) come to "dishonour" their bodies and to exchange "natural" for "un-natural" (sexual?) relations and are "consumed with passion" with one another.
    • It would seem that St Paul is asserting that all idolaters become abandoned homosexuals! This is absurd. He couldn't have meant this, it just isn't true, and he would have known this.
    • Paul must have been talking about things like pandemonium (possession by the god Pan) and other forms of ritual ecstatic "frenzy" or enthusiasm [Wis 14:23] that were common in contemporary pagan mystery religions, for example the cult of Cybele and Attis.
  6. This difficulty can be overcome by careful attention to the structure of the passage.
    • The text is delineated by the words "they exchanged" metEllaksan and "God gave them over" paredOken. These words punctuate three parallel thoughts.
    • The first two parallelisms begin by explicitly mentioning idol worship as a pretext for the withdrawal of grace and conclude by giving a consequence of idolatry.
    • The conclusion of the third parallelism is consonant with those of the earlier pair. However, in the third parallelism, the pretext is no longer idolatry per se but instead certain sexual behaviours.
    • Nevertheless, to preserve the parallelism, it is necessary to conclude that the pretext of the third parallelism is in fact once more cultic idolatry.
      • The first pretext is the spiritual or metaphysical aspect of idolatry.
      • The second pretext is the mental or intellectual aspect of idolatry.
      • The third pretext is the bodily or emotional aspect of idolatry.
    • This structural analysis of the text frees it from its apparent absurd meaning!
    • Instead of understanding St Paul to be arguing, implausibly, that all idolaters become homosexual, we can understand him to be sensibly using a convenient and common place (but not universal) behavioural attribute of  idolatry as a symbol or tag for all the bodily or emotional aspects of idolatry
    • The adjectives "dishonourable" and "shameless" are descriptive of pagan rites, not any sexual activity in itself or in a different context. Wisdom uses the word "strange" with a similar import [Wis 14:23]. I'm sure that the Apostle thought that ritual heterosexual activity was also "dishonourable" and " shameless".
  7. Some argue against interpreting the passage as three parallel accounts of idolatry.
    • They say that from the second part of verse 26 onwards St Paul turns his attention from idolatry to all sinful behaviour, and that the homosexuality referred to is archetypal of all sin.
      • He finishes his thought in vs. 29-31 as a list of sins.
      • Homosexuality is merely the first item of this list.
      • It is accidentally separated from the rest by v. 28, which is an aside, describing what God does when confronted with unrepentant sinners.
      • Interpreted this way, the beginning of the third parallelism does not represent idolatry.
      • Hence the behaviour reprobated cannot be identified with cultic homosexual prostitution.
    • However, the grammar of the passage prevents this interpretation, for two reasons.
      1. kai kaQws, found in v. 28 (translated above as 'since') separates the previous discussion from the discussion which follows it. The homosexual behaviour of vs. 26-28 is therefore part of a different clause than the sin list of  vs. 29-32.
      2. The verb translated as "to do" in v. 28 of the NIV (and omitted by the RSV!) explains another verb. It is called the epexegetical infinitive: poiein. So "to do" (the things that are unseemly), explains what Paul means by paredOken autous o Qeos eis adokimon vouv, "God gave them up to a base mind." The list of unseemly acts follows.
    • This gives the following paraphrased rendering of v. 28: "And because of the fact that (kai kaQws) they stopped believing in God, God gave them over (paredOken) to a base mind, to do (poiein) evil things, such as:" This is in line with both the RSV and NIV translations.
    • Verse 28 can now be seen as interpretative of verses 26b and 27. It makes clear that the behaviours referred to there were indicative of their "refusal to acknowledge God" rather than caused by it.
    • Thus, the acts listed in vs. 26b-27 are part of the pretext for the withdrawal of grace, not the result of it.
  8. Verse 26 is the only supposed reference in Sacred Scripture to lesbian sexual behaviour.
    • It is crucial if it is to be argued that "all homosexual activity" is condemned by Scripture, since all the other alleged condemnations of homosexuality specifically refer to male-male behaviour, linguistically excluding female-female behaviour.
    • The translation "un-natural" is inaccurate. A better rendering would be "beyond what is natural".
    • The phrase "exchanged natural relations for unnatural" could refer to any non procreative - or even just atypical or unusual - behaviour.
    • Whereas St John Chrysostom understood this verse in terms of  lesbianism, both St Clement of Alexandria and St Augustine of Hippo, took it to mean anal or oral sex between heterosexuals [Brooten: "Patristic Interpretations of Romans 1:26." Studia Patristica 18 , 287-291 (1985); Miller: "The practices of Romans 1:26: Homosexual or heterosexual." Novum Testamentum 37, 1-11 (1995)].
  9. The Apostle says that the "men... gave up natural relations", implying that they were heterosexuals who chose to engage in same gender sexual activity, contrary to their natures, out of a hankering for kicks. This is also the import of the passage from Wisdom, which refers to marriage and adultery.
    • It is unclear what penalty St Paul is referring to, unless it is merely that of being dishonoured and shamed.
    • The RSV is not best translating the Greek, nor does it convey any obvious meaning!
    • The word rendered as "penalty" is more accurately rendered as reward; so perhaps verse 27 should conclude: "men prostituting themselves with other men, receiving their due payment for this mischief". This at least signifies something. Moreover it is compatible with the structure of the text and it certainly clarifies the Apostle's meaning!
  10. The Apostle goes on to say that pagan idolaters are also (invariably) generally great sinners in any number of ways.
    • Taken at face value, this is clearly also wrong. It is however the hyperbolic message of the passage from Wisdom.
    • He then accuses his reader - any one at all, it would seem - of being just this kind of person! Clearly, he is exaggerating. I cannot believe that all members of the Roman Church would have been murderers!
  11. Finally, St Paul's use of the word's dishonourable and (un-)natural must be commented on.
    • In his first epistle to the Corinthian Church, the Apostle describes it as "degrading" and "un-natural" for a man to have long hair [I Cor 11:13-16].
    • This is very queer. It was common for certain kinds of Jewish religious vows to be accompanied by a long term avoidance of hair trimming [Num 6:1-8]. The most famous example of this was Samson. It had been very important for him to have long hair [Jdg 16:17]. Having it cut was what constituted degradation for him!
    • Hence, according to a simple reading of St Paul, it would seem that: "the previously approved, traditional and pious practice of men wearing their hair long is about as disapprovable, un-natural and immoral as same gender sexual activity" in whatever context he was considering the latter. If you are not confused by that, you should be!
Naturally - and it really shouldn't need to be said - I don't find any application of the above to myself:
  1. I am a staunch monotheist.
  2. As a physicist, I joyfully accept the defined teaching of the Oecumenical Council of the Vatican that the existence of God can reasonably be deduced from the natural order .
  3. I am not an idolater.
  4. I am not heterosexual.
  5. I do not engage in ritual sexual activity.
  6. I am not "consumed with passion" for anything or anyone, except perhaps tiramisu!
  7. I am not a prostitute: I think my chances of succeeding in such a career are slight!
  8. I do not patronize prostitutes.
Neither do I believe that atheism automatically makes someone homosexual. Neither do I believe that Hindus (for whom idols are particularly important) generally practice same gender sexual activity, nor that they are as a group morally degenerate!

According to one academic commentator, there is a solid basis: 

"... within Scripture, for the Church's teaching: the creation of man as male and female, meant to cooperate with God in giving life to new human persons; the fall and resulting concupiscence [Gen 1]; the judgments on homosexual behavior found in the Sodom and Gomorrah story [Gen 19], Lev 18:22 and 20:13, the teaching of Paul in 1Cor 6:9 and Rom 1:18-32, and finally the significance of 1Tim 1:10 (no. 6). It seems to me that the Letter offers a good presentation of the condemnation of homosexual behavior in Scripture, but obviously arguments based on Scripture are not very persuasive to persons who do not accept its authority." [Prof W.E May, "On the Impossibility of Same-Sex Marriage", National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly (Aug 2004)]
I will leave it to my readers to form their own judgement in this matter.

 The "Good Stuff"

There is plenty in the Bible about the excellence of same gender affection, love and commitment. Obviously, there is nothing clearly explicit about homo-gender genital activity (whereas there are a number condemnations of various types of hetero-gender genital activity); but to focus on acts out of context is to replace theology and ethics with physiology and plumbing, and pornographic physiology at that! 

I contend that it is of paramount importance to the present study to reflect on what Scripture teaches about same gender affection, commitment and devotion; something that contemporary society and the Modern Church have little or nothing positive to say about. In particular, we will see that the official teaching of the Church castigates homo-gender love as inferior to hetero-gender love because it is inadequately "self giving" and does not feature sexual "complementarity".

Ecclesiastes

"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, they are warm; but how can one be warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A threefold cord is not quickly broken." [Eccl 4:8-12]
What an eloquent way of describing the need for intimate companionship!  In fact, this very passage was used by a 19th century Eastern Orthodox saint who feared that his beloved would leave him [The life of Ss. Zosima and Basilisk, published by St. Herman of Alaska Press, Platina, CA].

Then there are three Old Testament stories.

David and Jonathan

David (who was, given his later interest in Bathsheba, clearly not homosexual) describes his love of Jonathan as surpassing that for any woman [2Sam 1:26]. Unlike his heterosexual lusting after Bathsheba, which led to murder; his unconditional self giving love of Jonathan was only positive and mutually self affirming in its content and productive and fruitful (though tragic) in its outcome.

We are told that "the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul"[1Sam 18:1 KJV]. This does not signify an entirely spiritual effect. The Hebrew concept of soul was not synonymous with "spirit". When Genesis tells of God forming Adam's body out of the dust of the earth, it says that God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (in Hebrew, Greek and some other languages, the word for wind and breath and spirit are the same), "and man became a living soul" [Gen 2:7]. The "soul" in the Hebrew Bible is the whole life of the person: physical, mental and spiritual. Hence, when the soul of Jonathan was knit with that of David, it was not simply spiritual: it was physical as well. Jonathan loved David with his whole being: his living body and spirit.

Jonathan and David made a formal covenant [1Sam 18:3]. The Hebrew word used is the same as is used for the marriage covenant. To seal it, Jonathan took off all the items that he was wearing and gave them to David [1Sam 18:4]. From that day, David moved in with Jonathan [1Sam 18:2] (at the insistence of Jonathan's father, King Saul) and did not live at home with his parents anymore, indicative of the type of covenant they had made.

It didn't take long for King Saul later to become jealous of David's battle prowess. He then learned that one of his daughters, Michal, loved David. He decided to let her marry David, for the sole purpose of causing him to fall to his enemies [1 Sam 18:17,21]. When Saul offered David Michal as a wife, he remarked that once David married Michal, he would be the king's son-in-law "by the second" [Sam 18:21 Young's Literal Translation] or "in two thing" [Douay-Reims] or  "through the second" [Complete Jewish Bible] or "a second time" [American Standard Version]. That is, he would be the king's son-in-law twice: through two of Saul's children (the RSV and KJV translations of this verse are inaccurate and misleading) which implies that Saul recognized David as being joined to his son Jonathan in a marriage covenant. This after we have been told that "Jonathan loved David as his own soul, and Saul took him that day, and would not let him return to his father's house" [1 Sam 18:1], which as I have already remarked, most naturally signifies David being appropriated as a "wife" for Jonathan by the King.

There is no clear statement that David and Jonathan were ever genitaly intimate (but see [1 Sam 20:41] "they kissed one another, and wept with one another until David exceeded". The Hebrew word here translated as "exceeded" is "gadal", which literally means "to magnify" or "to grow" or "to become great". This may well mean that David experienced sexual arousal and possibly orgasm) but no statement that they were not, either. Moreover, Jonathan's father, King Saul, seems to have thought that their relationship was unusual, to the extent that he finally decided that while it continued Jonathan would not "establish his kingdom" [1Sam 20:30-31].

When Jonathan died in battle, David wrote a song which expressed his love for the late Jonathan.

"I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. (As the mother loveth her only son, so did I love thee [Vulgate])" [2 Sam 1:26]
When David referred to the love of women, he must have meant romanto-erotic love. It was considered highly improper for a man to have any type of non-familial relationship with a woman. David would not have had any intimate but non sexual relationships with "women" - the verse pretty clearly doesn't include David's mother or sisters in the category "women". He can only be referring to romantic feelings. David clearly preferred the love of Jonathan. Nowhere in scripture will you find David expressing such love for a woman. Although he married more than once, and fathered children, he never expressed such devotion for any of his wives.

Ruth and Naomi

Once again, we have a story of great personal commitment and unconditional bonding between two people of the same gender. It is a heart warming story of great courage and devotion. The two women are clearly not lesbians. Nevertheless, they relate to each other exactly as though they were. They are utterly devoted and inseparable. Ruth acts in an almost reckless manner, abandoning her country, her blood family and her religion for the sake of her friend. Perhaps the best known passage from this book is Ruth 1:16-17 which is often read out during opposite-sex and same-sex marriage and union ceremonies:
 
"Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." [Ru 1:16-17 NIV]
Ruth 1:14, referring to the relationship between Ruth and Naomi, mentions that "Ruth clave onto her." (KJV) The Hebrew word translated here as "clave" is identical to that used in the description of a heterosexual marriage in Genesis 2:24: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they 
shall be one flesh." (KJV)  To suggest that Ruth could have been more self giving towards Naomi, or that their relationship lacked something because it did not feature "sexual complementarity" would be absurd.

Daniel and Ashpenaz

Daniel 1:9 refers to Ashpenaz, the chief of the court officials of Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon. English translations differ greatly: 
"Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel" [NIV] 

Now God had brought Daniel into favor and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs" [KJV]

"And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs" [RSV]

Some commentators detect the possibility of a homosexual relationship here. The Hebrew words which describe the relationship between Daniel and Ashpenaz are "chesed v'rachamim". The most common translation of "chesed" is "mercy". "V'rachamim" is in a plural form which is used to emphasize its relative importance. It has multiple 
meanings: "mercy" and "physical love". It is unreasonable that the original Hebrew would read that Ashpenaz "showed mercy and mercy." A more reasonable translation would thus be that Ashpenaz showed mercy and "engaged in physical love" with Daniel. Of course, this would be unacceptable to later translators, so they substitute more innocuous terms. The KJV reference to "tender love" would appear to be the closest to the truth. One might question whether Daniel and Ashpenaz could sexually consummate their relationship. They were both eunuchs. Apparently, when males are castrated after puberty, they still retain sexual drive. It is interesting to note that no other romantic interest or sexual partner of Daniel was mentioned elsewhere in the Bible.

The Centurion of Great Faith

This is a very important text [Mat 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10]. Please read it now. Compare the parallel story [Jn 4:46-54].
[Matthew 8:5-13]

As he entered Caper'na-um, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him and saying,

"Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress." 

[Luke 7:1-10]

After he had ended all his sayings in the hearing of the people he entered Caper'na-um

Now a centurion had a slave who was dear to him, who was sick and at the point of death.When he heard of Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his slave

And when they came to Jesus, they besought him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue." 

[Jn 4:46-54]

So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. 

And at Caper'na-um there was an official whose son was ill. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 

Jesus therefore said to him, "Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe." 

And he said to him, "I will come and heal him." And Jesus went with them.  The official said to him, "Sir, come down before my child dies." 
But the centurion answered him, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." 
When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth."  When Jesus heard this he marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude that followed him, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." 
And to the centurion Jesus said, "Go; be it done for you as you have believed." Jesus said to him, "Go; your son will live." 

The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way. 

And the servant was healed at that very moment. And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was living. So he asked them the hour when he began to mend, and they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him."

The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live"; and he himself believed, and all his household.  This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.

The version in Matthew is appointed as the Gospel on two occasions in the Traditional Roman Rite - on the third Sunday after the Epiphany and on the day after Ash Wednesday. Strangely, it is never read on a Sunday in the lectionary of Paul VI, though the Lukan version (in which the contrast between servant and slave is not so clear cut) is read once. The dynamics of the story are queer. The Centurion is much more concerned about the invalid than one might expect a battle hardened Roman veteran to be regarding a servant. The story in John is much easier to "get into". The father's concern and his obvious distress is easy to understand.

Luke tells us explicitly that the sick man was dear (or valuable!) to the officer. Matthew puts the words "in terrible distress" into the Centurion's mouth, and says he "beseeched" Jesus for help, which was readily offered. What is not apparent in any English translation that I know of (but very obvious in both the Greek original and in the Liturgical Latin - Jerome's Vulgate) is that two different words are used to describe the invalid. The first "pais" is comparable to the french word "garcon". It means anything from "boy" (its root meaning) to "servant" (as in either "waiter" or "house boy"). The second "doulos"  is a word meaning servant (who might be a slave).  The way it goes is this (I conflate Matthew and Luke)

  • Elders     :  This kind Centurion has a SLAVE who is sick.
  • Centurion:  Jesus!  My BOY is sick, back at our home.
  • Jesus       :  I'll come and heal him.
  • Centurion:  Just say the word and my BOY will be fine.
  •                  I understand how authoity woks: if I tell my SLAVE to do something, he does it.
  • Jesus       :  Never have I found such faith!
  • Elders      : Wonderful!  The SLAVE has recovered.
The Centurion never refers to the invalid as a servant-slave, but only as his boy-servant; almost as if it was his son - as in John's story. He specifically contrasts his boy with the slave that he orders about and expects to be obeyed by. We will never know, but it is entirely plausible, given the mores of the time, that the Centurion's "boy", was exactly that. The "jews" always refer to the invalid as a servant-slave. Whether they were aware or not of any emotional relationship, they make no allowance for it.

In Greco-Roman culture it was common for a mature male to romantically pair-up with a younger man, his boy. This was seen (in common with other cultures, such as that of some contemporary African tribes) as of great benefit to the youthl; a means of learning what it was to be a man from an older and more experienced mentor (see Plato.) Homosexuality had been institutional and compulsory in Sparta and almost so in Athens. I cannot speak so authoritatively about Rome, but in any case the Centurion might well have been Greek! Plenty of non-ethnic Romans became citizens - the jew Saul of Tarsus for one! If the Centurion's undeniable affection and acute concern for his boy was exactly what it might seem to be: the distress of a lover when the beloved is in danger of death, then it is remarkable (if there was any immorality here) that Jesus commended the Centurion as having faith beyond all compare. It is also ironic that the Centurion's confession of faith has become a central part of the Roman Eucharistic Liturgy. I take great comfort and strength from this possibility.

"If the centurion and his slave were engaged in a homosexual relationship, then it was likely to have been of a particularly coercive and exploitative sort. Using Kristof's logic, we would have to suppose, then, that Jesus was in favor of coercing slaves to have sex with their masters and to feminize their appearance (up to and possibly including castration), inasmuch as Jesus did not speak explicitly against it.

Luke speaks of Jewish elders in Capernaum (Galilee) interceding on the centurion's behalf. Should we suppose that these elders too were okay with homosexual unions of this or any type, when all the evidence from Jewish texts of the Second Temple period and beyond indicates unequivocal and absolute opposition to all homosexual practice?

Certainly neither Matthew nor Luke read the story to support homosexual unions. Luke portrays the centurion as a "God-fearer" ("he loves our nation and he himself built the synagogue for us"), which makes it highly unlikely that the centurion engaged in homosexual activity. Abstinence from homosexual activity and other illicit sexual unions was a minimal expectation of the 'Noahide laws' for Gentiles developing in early Judaism. Certainly, too, not all masters were having sex with their male slaves so Jesus could hardly have assumed homoerotic activity on the part of the centurion."
[Robert Gagnon: "response to an article written by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times"]

This is really poor quality argumentation:
  • It is first notable that Gagnon insists on mistransliterating "pais" as "slave", and that to an extent his argument relies on this mistranslation.
  • How does Gagnon know that any homogender relationship between "the centurian and his slave [sic]" was of a "particularly coercive and exploitative sort"? This is an assertion based on no evidence at all.
  • Rather, the logic that Gagnon sketches should be reversed.
    • If the centurian and his "pais" were lovers,
    • then their relationship must have been wholesome,
    • because Jesus is extremely complementary about the spiritual character of the centurian.
  • Moreover, there is evidence to the contrary.
    • The acute distress of the centurian.
    • His meantion of "home".
    • If his "pais" was just a sex "slave",
    • then the centurian would hardly have behaved as he did.
  • Perhaps the Jewish elders were:
    1. ignorant of the relationship, or else
    2. tolerated it because of the centurian's formal status as a "God-fearer", or else
    3. fully accepted it, because contemporary Jewish attitudes were in fact not what we think they were.
  • The very fact that the story exists might be taken as implicit support for homogender unions.
  • Statements like "all the evidence from Jewish texts of the Second Temple period and beyond indicates unequivocal and absolute opposition to all homosexual practice" require to be backed by specific references. Only then can they be evaluated.

Jesus, John and Lazarus

Jesus was truly human. Therefore, He must have had the same kind of feelings and affections as you and I. Moreover, He must have had a sexuality and a hence a sexual orientation. To say anything different would, even in the absence of evidence, be to deny the doctrine of the Incarnation and to take up a Docetist heterodoxy. In any case, it is clear from the explicit testimony of Scripture that Jesus did experience the emotions of compassion, anguish, love and despair in all their depth and power.

Two people vie with each other in Scripture for the title of "Beloved of Jesus". Both are called so by Holy Writ. Both are men.

Everyone who has read St John's Gospel is familiar with the phrase "the disciple whom Jesus loved". This is generally taken to mean the Apostle John; but it doesn't matter who it was, really. I don't doubt but that Jesus loved all his disciples, and in fact loved everyone whom he met; even those whom he also described as "hypocrites" and "whited sepulchres". However, if one disciple is described as being "The One beloved by Jesus", this must mean apart from the norm, else it has no grammatical sense. "THE ONE disciple whom Jesus cared about JUST like all the REST" is a self contradiction. St Aelraed compares the relationship between Jesus and John with marriage.

At the Last Supper, we find [Jn 13:23] this disciple lying with his head near to or on Jesus' breast. It is regrettable that modern English translations typically obscure the clear meaning in the Greek. This is where one would expect to find the most intimate friend of the host of a Greek style meal. Read Plato's symposium (which is a description of a meal at which the diners discuss the meaning and excellence of love) for a wonderful insight into the dynamics of the Last Supper. Interestingly, there is a suggestion that Judas was lying in the position of "guest of honour", on Jesus' right.

The other contender is a little less obvious, especially in some modern translations. It is Lazarus. The shortest verse in the whole Bible [Jn 11:35] is one of the most important and well known. It is "Jesus wept". Our Lord is described as being "deeply moved in spirit and troubled" at the death of Lazarus in such a way that those who watched recognized that Jesus had a very special affection for Lazarus: "see how he loved him!" they remarked.  In verse thirty-eight Jesus is, it seems, portrayed as groaning (as if from the pain of heart-break?) This all comes after the "bomb-shell verse" [Jn 11:3]. We are elsewhere told that Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Now the two sisters without affectation describe their brother as "The one whom" Jesus loves.

The fact that the infant church realized there was something very special about the relationship between Lazarus and Jesus is indicated by the following:

"Lazarus was compelled to seek refuge in Kition, Cyprus... Lazarus left his country when many Christians of Judea 'which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen, traveled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch' [Acts 11:19]... Here [Lazarus] was met by the Apostles Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey to Cyprus and according to tradition, he was ordained by them as the first Bishop of Kition. That's why all the episcopal thrones in the churches of Larnaca bear the icon of St. Lazarus instead of that of Christ, as is the custom in the Orthodox Church."
[M.G. Michaelides "Saint Lazarus The History Of His Church At Larnaca"]

For what it's worth, I give below the fragment of the "Secret Gospel of Mark" which relates to this story:
"And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, 'Son of David, have mercy on me'. But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich.
And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God.
And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan."
[The putative letter of St. Clement of Alexandria to Theodore]
It is manifest that Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God, had feelings of the deepest attachment and affection for both the Beloved Disciple and for Lazarus. This is undeniable. What one chooses to make of this fact is another matter. It is clearly heretical to deny that Jesus had human feelings or a sexuality. I contend that it does grave violence to Scripture to deny that the clearest examples that we have of Jesus' human affection and love are for his two male friends: John and Lazarus. Certainly, he is never portrayed as expressing similar feelings for any woman (even the Magdalene); though I do not necessarily believe that he didn't!

As an aside, I wish to comment briefly on the fragment of "Secret Mark":

  • Its claim to authenticity by provenance is very weak. However, it forms a nexus of explanation that, in my view, corroborates its authenticity.
  • Only in St John's Gospel is a coherent reason given for the decision of the Jewish leadership (the Sanhedrin) to have Jesus killed. This reason is Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead and the huge boost that this gave to his reputation with the common people.
  • The text of Secret Mark as given above would make the full version of the earlier Gospel tell the same tale.
  • If it is the case that the synoptic Gospels suppressed the story of Lazarus because it was somehow delicate or potentially embarrassing (the familial arrangements at Bethany are odd, to put it mildly), then it is easy to see how this text could have become one of the "confidential passages" of Mark.
  • If both Matthew and Luke are textually dependent upon Mark for this part of the account, then their not having access to "Secret Mark", would explain their failure to give any account of the motivation of the Sanhedrin.
  • It is possible to interpret the text of Secret Mark as follows:
    • When Lazarus was raised from the dead, Jesus told Lazarus to meet with him six days later.
    • As an aside, we are informed that in the event, Lazarus did exactly as he was told: meeting with Jesus six days later, in the evening, clad only in a linen cloth.
    • The plot then reverts back to the day of the raising of Lazarus.
  • St John tells us that the anointing of Jesus' feet took place six days before the Passover.
  • Hence, the night that Lazarus spent with Jesus could well have been the night of the Last Supper:
    • Friday: Raising of Lazarus.
    • Saturday: Anointing of Jesus' feet.
    • Sunday: Jesus enters Jerusalem.
    • Monday: Meeting of Sanhedrin.
    • Tuesday: Judas agrees to identify Jesus at night to the Sanhedrin's guards.
    • Wednesday:
    • Thursday:
      • the last supper;
      • visit of Lazarus to Jesus in Gethsemane;
      • interrupted by the betrayal of Jesus by Judas' kiss.
    • Friday: Crucifixion of Jesus, the Passover.
  • Which would mean that the "certain young man wearing only a line cloth", who is only mentioned in Canonical Mark, was in fact Lazarus.
  • Moreover, the second, smaller and seemingly insignificant fragment that we have of Secret Mark suggests that the Rich Young Ruler who Jesus loved may well have been Lazarus.
  • Hence instead of three strange figures:
      1. The young ruler that Jesus loved - who had at least one sister, according to Secret Mark.
      2. Lazarus, "the one who" Jesus loved - who had at least one sister, according to Secret Mark; and two sisters, according to John.
      3. The young man who spent the Maundy Thursday night with Jesus, wearing only a linen cloth, according to Canonical Mark
  • we have only one: a great simplification, suggested by the text of Secret Mark, but once brought to light entirely compatible with the witness of all the Canonical Gospels.
  • I gladly acknowledge the decisive contribution of an old (but here anonymous) friend to the above commentary.

Love, Sex and Friendship in Scripture

I shall now sketch out a number of Theories of Love.

In the writings of St Paul we find a theory which seems to consist of the unresolved juxtaposition of two ideas:

  1. erotic desire is problematic, tending to sin unless strictly controlled;
  2. erotic love is an echo of the Divine, and married love "sacramental" of the relationship of Christ with His Church.
Next we have the Companionship Theory. This is typical of the Old Testament. In Genesis it is stated that Eve was created for Adam because he was lonely, to be his help-mate [Gen 2:18]. Consideration of human reproduction were quite secondary in God's plan to mitigate Adam's solitude. In this theory, a spouse is viewed - ideally - as a species of friend (so there is no notion of monogamy as an ideal); and the idea that a non-spouse might be as or more important to someone than their spouse (e.g. David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi) quite unremarkable. This implies a continuum of love and friendship, not a dichotomy divided by sex and sexuality.

This is the tradition in which Jesus grew up. I think it is clear, from His strong positive teaching on and manifest commitment to Friendship as an ideal; and from His frequent criticism of the established conventions regarding Family and Marriage, that He strongly advocated it. In fact He took this Tradition to the extreme on the Cross.  There He worked out in actions what He had taught in words; that friendship demands integrity, personal commitment and sacrifice: "Greater love has no Man than that He lays down His life for His friends." God's friendship for Man demanded no less than this. I further think that this is the teaching of the Apostle John, in his Epistles which are suffused with the importance of Love as intimate fellowship.

Finally, we have the Trinitarian Theory. This is compatible with the Companionship Theory but goes much deeper. In the Trinity, the Self Pride of the Father becomes substantially the Son and their intense joy in each other gives rise to Holy Spirit. The Father does not love the Son in order that the Spirit should proceed from their union. He simply cannot help Himself! The procession of the Spirit is ecstatic, bounding forth from a love that needs no justification in its delight, exuberance and intensity. Trinitarian Love does not have a purpose other than itself. God does not have any purpose except to delight in HimSelves. It is the intrinsic excellence, the super-abundant joy of mutual interpossession that inevitably floods over into first the Uncreated Spirit and finally the Created Cosmos. Love is the basis of existence. Everything that exists must be comprehended in terms of The Divine Love, not vice-versa.

The fact that we experience a need for and value friendship and love is, on the one hand, just an expression of our finitude and self-insufficiency; and, on the other, a testament to our destiny to be caught up in the Divine Life. In all things one thing should guide us. Love should guide us. Love is God's meaning in all things.
"Everything comes forth out of love, everything is allowed to happen for the salvation of mankind. God does everthing only with this end in mind."
[Saint Catherine of Siena]
Love casts out all fear. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love abides for ever. Let Love be our sole concern and all our doings will be Just. Let us work together from this day to bring the Kingdom of God, the rule of Love, into this world of darkness, hatred and fear!
Almighty Father: Jesus, your Son,
By His holy love for his disciple, John,
sanctified man's love for his brother.
I ask you to bless all those who read these words,
whoever they may be.
Give to each, the strength in Holy Spirit,
To live justly according to your kind Will.
May their needs be provided for and their prayers answered.
In the Name of that same Jesus Christ, your Son,
who with you and Holy Spirit
Lives and Reigns Eternally.
Unto Ages of Endless Ages.

 Back to top