SETTING THE SCENE
I must set the scene again for we need some parameters to understand the complexity. I suggested that there are two extreme approaches.
1. The Literal approach. Words and statements are clear and must be adhered to. For some it captures the idealistic side of our faith. Its complexity is that words have traveled down through history for several centuries and an occasional translation.
2 The second approach is the Contextual approach. It believes that these words can only ever be understood within the context of society, culture, and history and their relationship with God. With this approach some people get confused and wonder how can we ever know what to believe.
SODOM AND GOMORRAH
In the First week we looked at Sodom and Gomorrah. An account some 1000 years before the commandments were understood to have been given. It was clear that homosexual activity was involved in the so-called ungodly behaviour of the city. But more specifically, it was part of a gang rape episode and along with other unacceptable heterosexual activities it is hard to draw a connection with same sex marriage for today.
In the Second week we examined the book of Leviticus which is a book on the application of the commandments. Its prime call is to holiness. For this period of Jewish history cleanliness was essential for holiness. We read of an extraordinary range of examples and the obsessive requirements of cleanliness rituals. Many of them faded into oblivion as they lost relevance to communities across the centuries as people learnt new ways of living. We are challenged to ask how the reference to males sleeping with males’ as one would with a woman, fit into these passages.
The message is far from clear…
1. Just how much importance do we place upon the words and sentences we read in the bible outside of their context?
2. How clear is the eternal message to apply in another culture of another time?
3. Does the application of godly living at one time develop over history?
We now move on to the New Testament to find the passages that are believed to guide us on same sex marriage. There are three references.
The first is in the letter to the Romans. Chapter 1:26-27
This is followed by two less definitive passages: 1 Cor 6:9-10. and 1 Tim 1:9-10
Romans is the main passage. Paul had a great dream of going to Rome then further on to Spain. His passion for the Gospel is unparalleled. Since his conversion he led the charge in spreading the gospel throughout the Roman world. It is clear to him that despite God’s obvious presence in all creation he is dumbfounded that people, Greeks, Barbarians and Jews do not see it. Instead they are so caught up in the ways of ungodliness. As he writes to the church in Rome, he makes a very concerted pitch to them to remain faithful to God in righteousness and holiness. His first two chapters of Romans speak of the great problem of ungodliness.
This is where we read chapter 2; 26-27…
For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. For the literalist (fundamentalist) it is clear. Unnatural acts are ungodly. Homosexuality is wrong, Full stop.
Those who believe that all passages need thorough examination for an understanding of the context are not nearly as quick to draw the same conclusion.
Certain points stand out:
1. Paul’s attitude to life is nothing like Jesus. The people Jesus was critical of were the leaders, the powerful, the rich. Paul was a Jew and while grace was preeminent the law was structurally necessary. Even after his conversion he was still highly law orientated. And he was very clear that you were either on our side or the other and the others were wicked.
2. Paul’s criticism of homosexuality was that it was unnatural. I understand his point. Yes it seems more unnatural if pregnancy was not the purpose. At that point of history pregnancy was a prime purpose of sexuality or on the other hand as Paul might say sexuality became very easily debauchery. If love is the purpose of sexuality, then it’s harder to argue it is unnatural.
Jane and I went to the movie ‘Holding the Man’ A true story of two Melbourne school boys developing a homosexual relationship. It was heavy going because the film had a lot of their sexuality, and I did find it unnatural to me. Yet that’s the point. To the homosexual it is a very natural way of sharing love. At the time of the New Testament there seems to have been no notion of homosexual love, just homosexual pleasure seeking.
3. Of course the Roman and Greek experiences common in this era were not homosexual love of the marriage like quality we think of. The sexual practice of Adults and young boys was not uncommon and as I say the pleasure seeking picture outside of marriage is strongly criticized by Paul. But that included heterosexual forms of marriage.
CORINTHIANS AND TIMOTHY
The other two references from Corinthians and Timothy need to be reviewed in the same way. However there is one more significant issue. In these passages the translation from the Greek is complex and translators have struggled to understand what they really referred to. Different bibles have used a variety of words…
Effeminate, abusers of themselves with mankind, homosexuals males prostitutes and homosexual offenders, catamites (youths kept for adult pleasure) sodomites.There is no clear-cut translation that we clearly know what Paul was thinking about.
What I conclude is that people will view the bible and conclude what they want according to their understanding of God’s participation in the bible. Those who treat the bible as a literal presentation from God will be clear, that the very expression of homosexuality is unnatural and ungodly. Those who believe that the bible is a complex library of books tracing out the long story of the Jewish faith leading to the early Christian faith will want to examine the text within the context of its time and social practice.They will easily come to believe that homosexuality as an expression of love for those of the same gender, entitles them to enter a marriage relationship with conviction and Gods blessing.
They will see that holiness and love are more to do with attitude than gender. The responsibility of choice is before us.