Review of Matthew Vines, God & the Gay Christian, Part 2

Preston Sprinkle —  April 23, 2014 — 32 Comments
This entry is part 2 of 3 in the seriesReview of God & the Gay Christian

Having read several reviews of Vines’ book over the last 24 hours, let me begin my critique on a different note. I don’t assume that Vines is reading his view into the text. Last time I checked, I’m not God and I don’t have direct access to his interpretive motivations. What I do have access to are his vines 1actual biblical and historical arguments, and it is these that I will discuss in these blogs.

I also want to set aside the whole “overturning centuries of tradition” critique. Yes, church tradition is non-affirming of gay and lesbian relationships. It was also non-affirming of a heliocentric solar system until Galileo dared to go against centuries of well-established tradition. I’m unashamedly Protestant; I believe that the God-breathed text can (and sometimes does) overturn tradition. While the tradition argument should be considered and weighed, it’s a bit of a red herring. Vines knows that he’s going against tradition. But 80-90% of his book shows why he believes that the authoritative Bible challenges this tradition. Such a proposal is bold, if not risky. But it’s not inherently wrong—if you’re Protestant.

So again, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It’s not that I don’t like pudding, or that I think Vines is a bad cook. But the pudding he’s served up is missing some key ingredients.

A major thread throughout his book is that “the concept of same-sex orientation didn’t exist in the ancient world” (pg. 104; cf. chapter 2), and this is a serious and necessary claim. Think about it. Paul’s language in Romans 1 could be taken to refer to straight people having gay sex—they exchanged the natural function of the male/female. And if Paul didn’t know what we know now, that some people are simply born gay, then perhaps he wouldn’t have said what he did. Or, put differently, since same-sex orientation didn’t exist in the ancient world (the cornerstone of his argument), then Paul could not have such people in mind. Paul was only condemning straight people who got bored with heterosexual sex and ventured into new, same-sex territory to satisfy their hyper-lustful urges.

My initial thought is: does it matter? If we were able to bring Paul up to speed with all of our psychological wisdom, would his argument in Romans 1 look different? Or, isn’t it a bit bold to think that we in 2014 have arrived in our understanding of sexual orientation? In 400 years or 800 years, will people look back on our silly and backwoods scientific views, just as some look back on Paul’s (seemingly) patriarchal views? The ever-changing fields of psychology and social science are suspicious starting points for moral arguments.

But let’s grant Vines’ assumption. Let’s say that our modern understanding of sexual orientation is as polished as we think it is and therefore a valid starting point to read the New Testament. Houston, we still have a problem: Ancient concepts of same-sex orientation did exist in Paul’s world.

I’m not sure if Vines ignored or simply did not come across the piles and piles of historical evidence that works against his thesis. Only God knows. In any case, if you’re genuinely interested in this discussion, you need to know that the ancients did in fact have beliefs about what we now know as “same-sex orientation.”

Aristotle for instance said that some homoerotic desires come from habit, but others spring from nature (Eth. 1148b). In other words, some people are born with same-sex desires. Some ancients even speculated about certain biological defects that cause some men to desire other men. One writer explains that males who desire to be penetrated are born with a physiological vines 3defect where semen is abnormally secreted into the anus and sparks a desire for friction (Pseudo-Aristotelian Problemata 4.26; cf. 879a36-880a5; 879b28-30). Soranus, the Greek physician from Ephesus, also believed that same-sex desire is shaped more by nature rather than nurture, but locates the source of the desire in the mind or spirit (De morbis chronicis 4:131, 132, 134).

We can certainly write off such speculations as unscientific, barbaric, and downright wrong. And we should. But the veracity of such claims about orientation is irrelevant. What matters is that ancient writers were making such claims about orientation. It is clear that at least some of Paul’s contemporaries believed that same-sex desires were biological.

Some writers were not as specific—or creative—as the medical texts cited above about such orientation, yet they still seemed to believe in a form of what we would call homosexual orientation. Phaedrus, who wrote his Fable around the time of Paul, presents a mythological account about why some people desire sex with the same gender. He says that the god Prometheus got drunk and attached male genitalia to women and women genitalia to men. In other words, some women are trapped in men’s bodies and some men are trapped in women’s bodies (Phdr. 4.16). The account, of course, is mythical and humorous, but nonetheless reflects ancient assumptions that desire for same sex intercourse is inherent. Less mythical is Lucian’s report of a woman named Megilla who says: “I was born as a woman like the rest of you, but my mind, desire, and everything else in me are that of a man” (Dialogue of the Courtesans 5:4). Today, we would say that Megilla was a lesbian—or transgendered—even if such categories were not available to the ancients.

Bernadette Brooten—an affirming scholar, by the way—has gathered evidence from ancient astrological texts, which suggested that sexual orientation was determined by the arrangement of the stars. One text says: “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 character and desire intercourse with women like men” (Matheseos libri viii 7.25.1). Dorotheos wrote her astrological poem, Carmen Astrologicum, right around the time Paul was sending his letter to the Roman church. In it, she says that if the sun and moon are at a particular location when women are born, they “will be a Lesbian, desirous of women, and if the native is a male, he will be desirous of males” (2.7.6). After looking at many more examples, Brooten concludes: “Contrary to the view that the idea of sexual orientation did not develop until the nineteenth century, the astrological sources demonstrate the existence in the Roman world of the concept of a lifelong erotic orientation.”

I could list many more examples of ancient concepts of sexual orientation, but suffice it to say: Vines’ claim that “the concept of same-sex orientation didn’t exist in the ancient world,” which is crucial to his entire argument, ignores a wealth of historical evidence to the contrary. Maybe Paul did not have any concept of sexual orientation, or maybe he did. In any case, we cannot appeal to the absence of such a view in his cultural environment and then project it upon Paul as Vines does. When Paul therefore says that “men…gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another” (Rom 1:27), he is not revealing ignorance about sexual orientation.

There’s no reason—no good historical reason—to believe that Paul was unaware of same-sex orientation.

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Preston Sprinkle

Preston Sprinkle

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I'm married to a beautiful wife and we have four kids (3 girls and a boy). I've been teaching college level Bible and Theology classes for a few years now (since 2007), and enjoy hanging out with my family, running, surfing, and life in SoCal. Before I became a teacher, I was in school. Lots and lots of school. I did a B.A. and M.Div here in SoCal, and then did a Ph.D. in Scotland in NT studies. Before coming to EBC, I taught at Nottingham University for a semester, and Cedarville University for a couple of years. Along with surfing, I also love to research and write, and I've written a few things on Paul, Early Judaism, and Hell.
  • Preston Venzant

    When I hear people lambasting the apostle Paul I know the devil is speaking. Jesus said that Paul was his servant. When someone speaks negatively of Pauls teaching they are in direct argument with Jesus and Peter.

    And Mr. Sprinkle has fallen for the lie himself. There has never been a documented case of a baby that came out of the womb that was known to be gay.

    Finally on these two ideas alone this entire discussion is tantamount to heresy. It is not the truth that is dangerous it is the opinions that are given as truth.

    Shame on all of you for being stubborn and stiff necked. God will clean this up as He did Sodom and Gomorrah and the suburbs of them.

  • Julie

    Our God-given, built-in lust (desire) for things such as
    food, affection, and sex is a good thing. It’s only when we want more as a result of greed instead of being satisfied with the sufficiency God provides that our lust/desire leads to all kinds of sin, including idolatry (cf. Col. 3:5). We often do not trust God’s provision because our excess lust (greed) compels us to
    forsake that trust. They knew God (v. 21) and that knowledge was sufficient to satisfy their souls and lead them to intimacy with God. Instead, their greed led them to abandon what would satisfy. Adam and Eve had that sufficiency but their greed led them to forsake God and take the forbidden fruit rather than trust the sufficient nutrition God had provided. It’s greed (excess lust) that leads to idolatry. And when it’s written that God “gave them over,” it just means that God is saying something like, “Suit yourselves, have your way.” God simply
    allowed them to proceed with the desires/lusts of their hearts.

    Paul creates a parallel between the exchange of Creator for creature to the exchange of the natural for the unnatural. By doing so, Paul is suggesting that the exchange of the natural for the unnatural IS idolatry (at least, for this illustration he does). Again, idolatry always emerges from greed (excess lust) and this exchange of the natural for the unnatural is no different. Then, when God says He gave them over, He’s simply saying He’s allowing them to proceed with the (excess) lusts of their hearts.

  • Tom

    Julie, in your above post, your first paragraph seems to be built on the claim that you cant have idolatry without lust. But Im not aware of good reason to believe that claim to be valid. I live very close to someone from Thailand, who has the idol of a dead Thai king in her lounge and despite paying homage to the idol without fail, I see no evidence of lust being involved.

    You seem to be implying that we should take the point of view of unidentified “ancient moralists” and use this as a lens with which to interpret Scripture. But unless these mystery moralists were God’s prophets, they seem to bring diversion rather than clarity to what Romans 1 fairly plainly states. You imply that it’s more likely that St Paul was in synch with these non-canonical moralists, than he was with the foundations of the faith, EG Leviticus 18. What evidence do you have that the influence of these mystery moralists was so strong on St Paul?

    I also suggest that your interpretation lacks good reason to conclude that something is sinful simply because it emerges from excess. This conclusion of yours is something you are reading into the text, rather that something that is apparent from the text. It is conjecture to claim that Paul meant to say “excess lust” rather than “burning lust”, but even if Paul is referring to excess lust in verse 27, I see that he also condemns “shameful acts” between men (verse 27). He refers to these presumably sexual acts themselves as ‘shameful’, suggesting that they are shameful irrespective of how they arose.

    At the end of the day, you seem to put a lot of faith in extra-biblical “ancient moralists”, whose perspective contorts the plain meaning of Scripture in ways that dont actually fit.

  • happiness1535

    I am utterly befuddled by the claim about Paul referring to heterosexual men.

    I often hear that the truly exclusively gay are so grossed out by trying to have intimacy with the opposite sex that they are literally physically unable to maintain arousal. They would not even be able to burn with lust for a member of the opposite sex regardless of effort. The same would apply to the truly exclusively straight trying to have intimacy with the same sex.

    So, it is clear that the men Paul is talking about have to have been at least somewhat bisexual. Thus, in the eyes of the revisionist, the homosexual relations would have to been natural to those men.

    No, Paul was just talking about exchanging for poetic purposes only. Paul was saying is that same-sex intercourse is INHERENTLY unnatural, because it is against god’s plan for human sexuality. Sexual desire for one’s own sex is INHERENTLY an excess desire for members of one’s own sex. It is appropriate to desire friendship and platonic affection of one’s own sex, but not sexual intimacy. It may FEEL natural to some to have sex with members of their own sex due to biological causes or others, but those desires result from the fall.

    Above all, I simply cannot believe that god would have allowed the bible to be written with exclusively negative descriptions of same-sex intercourse if he intended for same-sex marriage to be legitimate.

  • Phyte_On

    I must admit I’m struggling to understand what the ultimate point is of the modern construct of Gay. The term is often used as if it is effectively and practically a 3rd gender for all intents and purposes.

    Therefore, Jesus clear definition of marriage (male, female, husband, wife) must be missing a new attribute of gender and marriage structure and potentially family structure.

    It’s as if the logic would be, Jesus described the sky as blue. But he never said the sky wasn’t green. Or Jesus said 2+2 = 4. But he never said it couldn’t be 5.

    It seems weak to defend Gay marriage based on what Jesus did NOT say.

    I’m stuck, I must admit.

  • Julie

    Why wouldn’t it fall flat? Can you explain how one can give up something one never had in the first place? How do gay men “give up” sex with women?

    • Josh Manriquez

      Those are definitely excellent questions. I hope my response here helps
      to shed light. As always, I respond in humility and love as a
      same-sex-attracted man who would love to be proven wrong but as of yet
      remains fully convinced in the traditional interpretation. :-)

      Did every *individual* human actually make the conscious claim to be
      wise (v. 22)? No, but this is what humanity *as a whole* has done.

      Humanity *as a whole* has indeed “had in the first place” heterosexual sex
      since God first created Adam and Eve. Since the fall, however,
      heterosexual sex has been given up.

      In Paul’s discussion of
      people *as a whole* (ἄνθρωπος ≠ males; v. 18 [cf. NIV11 & HCSB]), he
      indicts both women (θῆλυς) as a whole and men (ἄρσην) as a whole (vv.
      26–27). In other words, Paul isn’t—and need not be—concerned about one’s
      personal/individual “orientation”; his point is clear: any θῆλυς and
      any ἄρσην—members of ἄνθρωπος as a whole—who participates in same-sex
      sex has abandoned/given up that which θῆλυς and ἄρσην has indeed “had in
      the first place”—since Eve (the first θῆλυς) and Adam
      (the first ἄρσην).

      Note: Paul’s use of the rare words θῆλυς (5x in NT) and
      ἄρσην (7x in NT) rather than the *much far* more common γυνή (194x in NT) and
      ἀνήρ (also 194x in NT) cannot be overlooked and/or minimized (cf. LXX Gen. 1:27).

      • Julie

        I agree (as I said, it applies to all) but you’re missing the intent of the heart. Idolatry always includes lust. One doesn’t fall into
        idolatry without lustful intentions, for excess lust amounts to idolatry (cf. Col. 3:5). In Romans 1, Paul equates these sexual actions to a form of idolatry so we /know/ it was /lust/ that amounted to their idolatry (same-sex acts). Additionally, Paul specifically tells us that these acts emerge from “degrading
        passions” and “burning lust.” The acts are “unnatural” because they emerge from excess lust. The condemnation is of men who lose control of their lust and allow their sexual excess and uncontrolled passion to drive them to abandon the natural function and engage in lustful same-sex activities. This does not characterize the selfless giving of one another in marital relations.

        • Josh Manriquez

          I’m a bit confused by your claim to agree with me that “it applies to all.” Elsewhere you’ve claimed that Paul is specifically referring to heterosexuals, *not* to all. Have you changed your position? I’m claiming that Paul is speaking about biological females and biological males—as created by God—regardless of their “orientation.”

          As I understand Paul, he’s making the claim that unqualified homosexual sex is in itself an expression of “dishonorable passions” and “burning lust.” Whether or not the intent of one’s heart is to be in a loving, consensual relationship with someone of the same sex, the very desire, says Paul, for same-sex sex is a “dishonorable passion” and a “burning lust.”

          On a personal note: I myself may have a “loving” desire to be in a committed, covenantal marriage with another man—to love and to cherish that man just as a heterosexual married couple would. Yet since that desire is coming from me—a God-created male (ἄρσην)—and since the object of that desire is another God-created male, then that desire is a perversion of my God-created nature as a descendent of the first God-created male, Adam. Therefore, the intent of my heart in having that desire, imo, does not matter, because the desire is a “dishonorable,” “burning” desire whether I intend them to be so or not.

          (I’m in a rush, so forgive me if I have any spelling/grammar errors)

          • Julie

            Josh, the illustration presupposes heterosexuals, for it would fall flat if it weren’t. That doesn’t mean the illustration doesn’t apply to all.

            Paul doesn’t say same-sex sex /is/ dishonorable passion and
            burning lust. Paul equates the acts in Romans 1 to idolatry, which emerge from excess lust. Makes sense since idolatry emerges from all kinds of excess desires.

        • happiness1535

          Sexual desire for a member of one’s own sex is INHERENTLY lustful for everyone. It is an excess desire for members of one’s own sex. It is appropriate to desire friendship and platonic affection from one’s own sex, but not sexual intimacy. It may FEEL natural to some to have sex with members of their own sex due to biological causes or others, but those desires result from the fall.The bible teaches there is no such as genuine, authentic self-giving in gay sex. Any feeling of such is illusory.

          I often hear that the truly exclusively gay are so grossed out by trying to have intimacy with the opposite sex that they are literally physically unable to maintain arousal. They would not even be able to burn with lust for a member of the opposite sex regardless of effort. The same would apply to the truly exclusively straight trying to have
          intimacy with the same sex.

          So, it is clear that the men Paul is
          talking about have to have been at least somewhat bisexual. Thus, in the eyes of the revisionist, the homosexual relations would have to been natural to those men.

        • Tom

          Julie, I question whether Col. 3:5 teaches that excess lust amounts to idolatry. My NIV renders the verse as “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” This suggests to me that greed rather than lust, is equated with idolatry. Matthew Henry’s commentary seems to likewise interpret the idolatry as being a reference to greed. Is there any good reason to believe that the idolatry is simply in reference to an earlier part of verse 5?

          In Romans 1:27, Paul condemns “shameful acts” between men. He refers to these presumably sexual acts themselves as ‘shameful’. You are saying that the basis for Paul referring to the acts as shameful, is that they arose from excess lust. But please keep in mind that your reasoning is conjecture. Yes he condemned lust and yes he condemned the shameful acts. But he never said that the acts were shameful because they arose from lust. He may well have believed that the acts were shameful irrespective of how they arose. He might have believed that they were sinful on the basis of Leviticus 18.

          • Julie

            Tom, the lust in question is desire or wants. I’m not talking about exclusively sexual lust.

            And, yes, Paul writes that the men burned in desire for one another. That’s clearly excess sexual lust.

          • Tom

            That may be the case, Julie. But my last paragraph stands. To claim that the physical acts between women in v. 26 & men in v. 27, are “unnatural” because they emerge from excess lust, is conjecture.

        • happiness1535

          It is inherently lustful to want to have sex with members of your own sex. It is an excess desire for sameness. It is appropriate to want platonic affection and friendship, not sex.

          A homosexual orientation is misdirected and results from the fall. There is no such thing as valid self-giving in the context of gay sex, regardless of context.

          The reference to exchanging and then lustful and burning passions are simply dramatic poetry.

  • Jessica

    It is interesting to look into what they believed about same sex orientation back then, but it doesn’t matter in the least. GOD knew all about it and it is ultimately HE who put it in the Bible. To discuss the relevancy of Paul’s knowledge on the topic, then give it less credibility or even dismiss it, is taking the “divine inspiration” out of Scripture as well as stripping the Bible of its authority by subjecting it to man’s knowledge & culture.

    • Preston

      Thanks Jessica. Very good thoughts. Yes, Paul was inspired by God when he wrote. But I don’t believe in a “dictation” theory of inspiration (most evangelicals don’t believe in dictation), that God bypassed Paul’s context and historical situation when sort of whispered into Paul’s ears what to write. Rather, God moved in and through Paul’s real historical situation to write God-breathed words (2 Peter 1). I also take the view that we should use a historical, grammatical, literary hermeneutic; meaning, that the historical context of Paul is very important for understanding his words.

      • Jessica

        Thank you, Preston! I do not believe in the “dictation” theory
        either. :) The Bible is sufficient alone and often/usually able to interpret itself. Therefore, in defining God’s view of homosexuality I would look to all other Scripture & OT history to shed light on apparent “ambiguous” topics first. Historical knowledge is no doubt a wonderful addition to understanding the full context in which passages were written. I suppose my point wasn’t to negate that, but it often appears that people elevate secular history, current knowledge & our present culture to the point that it becomes almost more authoritative/directive than the Bible itself.

  • Julie

    It’s not that Paul is revealing ignorance about sexual orientation in Romans 1 (although, do we think he’d believe the bizarre claims of his contemporaries?); it’s that Paul could not have had gay folks specifically in view in Romans 1, because you can’t abandon something you never had to begin with. Do we think Paul would tell a gay man he’s “giving up” sex with women? Do we think Paul would tell a sexually active gay man he’s choosing to make an exchange? Sure, the gay man can “choose” to have same-sex sex, but it can’t be said he’s “giving up” sex with women and choosing to exchange it for something else. Yet that’s the comparison Paul makes. The idolaters knew the Creator and chose to abandon Him for the creature. They made a conscious exchange, and this exchange was driven by lust. You can’t have idolatry without lust, can you? The Gentile idolaters’ actions (abandonment & exchange) are condemned because they are excessively lustful actions (v. 27). It’s not a matter of if the actions can be condemned without the excessive lust (i.e. such as same-sex sex within marriage); it’s that you can’t have this abandonment and exchange (idolatry) without lust (in other words, same-sex sex within loving relationship can’t be in view).

    It seems the reason these activities are described as “against nature” is because the activities are a result of excess lust. Not every action that’s “contrary to nature” is wrong, but every action that is a result of excess lust is “contrary to nature.” In the sense that we’re created to be satisfied with moderation, behaviors resulting from excess lust are said to be “going beyond the limits set by nature” (such behaviors are “against nature”). Wasn’t it fairly common for married men to engage in same-sex sex? The same-sex sex Paul saw around him /was/ a result of excess lust, which meant it was “against nature” and it was to be condemned.

    I don’t know how we can know for sure if Paul knew of sexual orientation, although I think it’s likely he didn’t, even with all the theories at the time. All we know is that he wrote that he wasn’t okay with these men who lost control of their lust and allowed their sexual excess and uncontrolled passion to drive them to “abandon the natural function of women” and seduce other men into sexual activity. This sexual behavior driven by overindulgent lust is what is condemned by Paul.

    • Josh Manriquez

      You may be interested in reading Richard Hays’ article “Relations Natural and Unnatural: A Response to John Boswell’s Exegesis of Romans 1.”

      He comments on the assumption that Paul is speaking of individuals making a conscience exchange.

      Each of the following quotes comes from page 200 of his article.

      Paul is not “presenting biographical sketches of individual pagans; he is offering an apocalyptic ‘long view’ which indicts fallen humanity as a whole. Certainly Paul does not think that each and every pagan Gentile has made a personal decision at some point in his or her individual history to renounce the God of Israel and to worship idols instead! The ‘exchange’ of truth for a lie to which Paul refers in Rom 1:18-25 is a mythico-historical event in which the whole pagan world is implicated. This ‘exchange’ continues to find universal manifestation in the moral failing which beset human society, as exemplified by the illustrations given in 1:16-32.”

      “…the charge that these fallen humans have ‘exchanged natural relations for unnatural’ means nothing more nor less than that human beings, created for heterosexual companionship as the Genesis story bears witness, have distorted even so basic a truth as their sexual identity by rejecting the male and female roles which are ‘naturally’ theirs in God’s created order.”

      “[This] passage has no intention of discussing the developmental history of individuals.”

      He writes much more than these quotes, of course. Check it out. :-)

      • Julie

        Thanks, Josh. I recognize that Paul’s illustration is snapshot of a larger picture of fallen humanity. And I’m not saying that Romans 1 applies to /only/ heterosexuals. For example, nearly every illustration or parable with a warning about conduct, even when the characters in the illustration or parable are men as opposed to women, applies to both sexes. So even though we know that homosexuals aren’t in view in the illustration (for Paul’s point would fall flat if they were in view), that doesn’t mean the warning isn’t also for homosexuals (although I doubt Paul had either “category” in mind…and it doesn’t matter anyway). All men (& women) are prone to overindulgence and acting against nature, and it’s sexual behavior driven by overindulgent lust that is condemned by Paul.

    • Tom

      Julie, that doesnt add up to a smooth analysis, from where I sit. If Paul is referring to what he sees as heterosexual men, as having excess lust, then surely such men are going to be behaving in a bisexual way. IE if they are so full of lust, surely they would be sleeping with both genders. But they are not doing so, and we know this because Paul says they have “abandoned the natural function of women”. Reading verses 26 and 27, I see no reference to excessive lust. In verse 26 it talks of exchanging natural for unnatural, and in verse 27 it seems to further explain verse 26 by beginning with the words “In the same way”, and then saying that the unnatural aspect was the swapping of gender from opposite to same-gender relations.

  • Larry Chouinard

    Not sure why my previous post was rejected. But let me raise my questions once again: 1) Does same sex orientation involve more than the mere sex act? 2) Did you find any ancient Greco-Roman authors that write about a same sex couple who love one another, and are faithfully loyal only to one another? 3) Do you see any difference between same sex orientation in our modern world and that in the ancient world? 4) Is it more likely that Paul’s remarks about same sex activity reflects a response to the erotic behavior in the pagan temple and the homo-erotic behavior of the Roman elites and not his reading of pagan literature? Certainly some educated Roman writers speculated about why some males were attracted sexually to other males, but their focus was upon the sex act which said a lot about ones standing in their world.

  • Larry Chouinard

    Thanks Preston—
    I appreciate your efforts to be fair and challenge arguments that impugn the motives of Vine’s effort. However, I have a couple questions about your use of ancient sources and conclusions you draw from your reading: 1) Do you think that “same sex orientation” involves much more than the sex-act? 2) Did you find any ancient writer commenting about the love, commitment, and faithfulness being expressed by a same sex couple in the ancient world? 3) Would Paul have most likely drawn his conclusions about homosexuality from isolated Greek authors or from the typical expressions of male temple prostitution and activities among the Roman elite with respect to homo-erotic activity? 4) Would you say that our modern view of same sex orientation is much more nuanced beyond the mere desire for sex? What differences do you see between same sex orientation and that expressed in the ancient world?

    • Preston

      Thanks Larry. Very good questions. Let me answer in brief:

      1) Yes, of course.

      2) Yes, there is some, especially among women. However, most heterosexuals weren’t all that faithful; marital fidelity wasn’t a widespread virtue, except, perhaps, among some Stoic (e.g. Seneca) and other moral philosophers. So, in short, quality or virtue in same-sex relations more or less mirrored the opposite-sex relations of the day.

      3) Who’s to say that these texts that I cited are “isolated?” I cited a broad range of philosophical, mythical, medical, and astrological texts–as just a sampling. Doesn’t feel too isolated. And it’s not that Paul would have read these texts, but that such a broad range of texts mirrors what people may have been thinking “on the ground,” as it were. Plus, I don’t think male-temple cult prostitution was the most prevalent form of same-sex activity. Pederasty and sex with slaves was probably the most prevalent form, but again, it’s very tough to construct an accurate pie chart of the types of homosexual activity going on here. What we can say for sure is that there diverse forms of homosexual relations in the time of Paul and that Paul’s language is very general in his prohibitions. He never uses the word for pederasty; he never talks about sex with slaves; he never mentioned temple cult prostitution. He did talk about same-sex eroticism without naming a specific form.

      4) Yes, absolutely. By definition, ancient talk about sexual orientation was…ancient, not modern. Likewise, Paul never addresses porn or Wall-Street greed. He never addressed putting too much stock in a 401K or taking out too much school debt. Or whatever. But his talk about sexual immorality, greed, generosity, etc. is applicable for today. In the same way, I would say that his quite general language about same sex activity applies to today, even though our knowledge of sexual orientation is much more advanced, nuanced, etc. Yet, even we have not arrived…

      Thanks again for your questions. Sorry I don’t have time to unpack them further!

      • Larry Chouinard

        I guess I don’t understand how speculation by ancient writers on what causes homo-erotic desires as the same thing as describing the nature of a same sex orientation. One may have homo-erotic desires (e.g., inmates in a prison setting) and not have a “same sex orientation” that pursues a life long relationship (more than just the sex act) with a same sex partner. Elite Roman expressions of homosexuality or pederastic sex were all about who penetrated who, thus being more of a power claim over another than the pursuit of a relationship. After all they had their wives at home for respectability and offspring. So to be fair to Vine, I think it can be said that same sex orientation is more a modern expression and is not duplicated in the ancient world.
        It is not always easy to determine the influence of certain Roman and Greek writers had “on the ground”. Their literature was largely for the upper class who could read and had time for such speculative discourse. The common person would no doubt have heard the stories about the sexual life of elite Romans, and what goes on in most pagan temples. When Paul addresses homo-erotic activity it would not be a stretch for them to imagine specific forms like pederasty, male/female prostitution, and all the sexual deviance expressed in the setting of a pagan temple. The graffiti coming from the ancient world depicts a world where lust was on steroids (cf. Sodom). I find it difficult to equate “same sex orientation” with the diverse kind of sexual expression we see so rampant in the ancient world.

        • Phyte_On

          Let’s assume you are correct. Now what? What does the modern construct of Gay lead to?

          Marriage?

          If we look at Jesus teaching (he is God, Creator, all-knowing)…Jesus teaching on marriage is always gender specific. Jesus teaching on marriage specifically identifies a husband and wife? Gender, husband, wife is specifically identifiable in Jesus teaching on marriage. Jesus seems extremely careful to define the scope of marriage. No ambiguity.

          So what is the point of the modern construct of Gay?

          • Julie

            Jesus is “careful”? He is quoting Genesis. I’m still unsure how Jesus’ teaching on marriage—that the joining should not be separated—equates to “no marriage between gays.”

          • Phyte_On

            Jesus refers to marriage multiple times in the Gospel. For example, Mt chapter 19. Jesus defines the scope of marriage. There is no ambiguity in Jesus (all-knowing God) understanding as to the scope of marriage. The attributes of marriage are clearly described by Jesus:
            1) Male & female
            2) a husband & wife

            Very specific and identifiable.

            Again, my main question remains unanswered. What is the point of the modern gay construct?

            Is it marriage? Or simply identifying a 3rd gender?

        • Tom

          Larry, you seem to be saying that the term “same sex orientation” refers to the gender mix of long term relationships. May I suggest that limiting the definition to relationships that are long term, is a more narrow definition than is used by most. I suggest that “sexual orientation” refers more broadly to the gender mix involved in any romance, of any duration, be it a lustful thought, a one night stand, a highschool crush, or a life-long marriage.

          As such, it doesnt make sense to me that gay people today, would have different romantic desires than they did in Biblical times. You imply that in Paul’s day homosexuality was all about lust, but that in modern times it’s about life long relationship. But we know from the Jewish Babylonian Talmud that the concept of same-sex marriage was raised over 1000 years ago. And we know from the writings of Philo that there were some who had a reputation of being completely homosexual (rather than bisexual) back in St Paul’s day. Sure there were differences back then due to pagan sexual rituals etc, but I question whether understandings of homosexuality back then were as dramatically different as some suggest.

  • Rollan McCleary

    Unless we’re fixated on notions of sola scriptura and total inerrancy I think we need to get away from the idea Paul can be any perfect guide and last word on sex, especially the always disputed issue of gay relations. Amid the wisdom he briefly said a few silly things like women obtaining salvation from childbearing, that women are wanton against Christ if they wish to marry, and also and ultra-conservatively that absolute respect must be given to authority short of rebellion against God. It’s a silliness matched by later Christians suggesting persons are only gay out of rebellion against God. Conservative Christians read as selectively as liberals at times – there would be no American republic if St Paul had been rigorously believed and adhered to. You can’t take Paul the visionary as final authority on temporal issues, his main concern is salvation.

    Much more to the point is what Jesus thought or would think about same sex relations. And there’s a lot of misunderstanding about that – it is widely claimed, even by gay theologians and even in defence of their position, that Jesus never referred to, in effect, gay issues. He did and on more than one instance and this is a crucial point, the real game changer which is not being allowed to change anything. I shall say no more here than to recommend reading my article “God and the Gay Gaps in Matthew Vines’ Vision”.

    I don’t wish as a gay theologian to dismiss what Vines is saying or trying to achieve, but I don’t doubt that unless the argument is considerably enlarged, the needed revision is not going to help the real crises in such as Africa and Russia, which rigid Calvinistic thinking out of America has been prompting. A very strong theology is needed and it is going to have to be centred around Jesus himself and not St Paul or for that matter the Torah, which again amid the sacred wisdom shows gruesome imperfections like marrying the raped women to her rapist. Do sola scriptura theologians like Mohler really want to defend these elements of tradition attributed to Moses (but more likely owing to the kind of tampering scribes that Jeremiah condemned?)

    Though not strictly to the point here, I might point out to someone self advertised above as writing on hell, that I have rather uniquely today poetized on the theme in “The Hell Passage: Inferno Cantos for Today”.

    Author of “My Descent into Death”, Howard Storm, has commended the work though he didn’t enjoy reading it as it aroused too many alleged memories! For lighter poetic reading satirically evoking and summarizing a lot of American Christian attitudes to the gay issue, see “Songs of Puritania on a Gay Theme”.

    • Rollan McCleary

      Sorry not to reply before, I missed this corner of current controversies. On the other hands if you say you aren’t interested in debate, argument or moralism, how would anyone here quite reply? Yes, I know you want strictly bible, but for hermeneutics, I would say you might need a new form, one that includes something almost esoteric/occult as one would if you were to comment at any length on Jesus and exorcism. You would need some background, you can’t just say well that’s what’s there no one need ever look further.
      Re Jesus and marriage I feel have rather answered that (as much as one can in articles or limited replies like here) especially towards the end of the recommended article “God and the Gay Gaps in Matthew Vines’ Vision” (link to this is not allowed).
      There I observed that St Aelred was arguably correct in seeing
      Jesus as himself virtually “married” to John (rather as before him David was to Jonathan when he had a berith meaning covenant or marriage) and a few more words on that presently.
      In my published study of gay spiritualities “A Special
      Illumination:Authority, Inspiration and Heresy in Gay Spirituality” (see Amazon,I can’t as a published author supply you a link here) I included report of a few people who claimed revelation about homosexuality, in one case a woman who in extreme distress had been fasting three days and nights asking Jesus’ guidance for her life because she honestly believed she was lesbian. Finally it was revealed to her among other things that it is possible for those of same sex to become one like the married heterosexual. How, why, however wasn’t explained by Jesus, but I believe it can be done.
      I would do so along lines already dismissed by you in the above, namely in the brilliantly meaningful idea of Soranus of Ephesus that the location of the same sex desire is in the spirit. I am sure this is what Jesus believed as regards the difference of “eunuchs” a word that by his time didn’t automatically signify either castrate or celibate but precisely out of the family way, different. Things must be referred here to an esoteric anthropology of the self which perhaps only an esoteric system like astrology can help demonstrate – I never at all surprised that ancient astrologers were convinced of the fixed and fated element in the equation. The first gay liberationists in Germany, influenced by Jewish mysticism on the soul, were of this view and neo-pagan gays are convinced of it; and in this at least they are arguably wiser and more enlightened than conservative cum rationalist Christians who have virtually no adequate spiritual anthropology of the self. If it’s a matter of soul and spirit (the auras) blending then that’s what becomes “one flesh” beyond just the body which of course never permanently becomes one with another. And with regard to Jesus I have insisted (towards the end of the God and the Gay Gaps article) that we have certain relevant evidence about Jesus if we don’t dismiss the possibility in advance of having it as many have done and will do preventing much from being known that helpfully should be.
      As to the matter of biblical authority in all this, perhaps especially as regards St Paul and Romans 1, see my more recent article “The Fatal Flaw in the Matthew Vines, Albert
      Mohler Gay Debate” (no link allowed here). This provides a meaningful argument for why in especially in the area of teaching on same sex we can dismiss St Paul’s biblical “authority” to speak; he saw less than Soranus on this point, and scripture itself has already told us why we can ignore him and shown us even Jesus as good as told him he was wrong. You don’t believe me? Read the article.
      But even if you still can’t accept the unique perspective I bring, at least reflect that just recently the important evidence, useful including to Christians persecuted by North Korea was dismissed by its president because the information collected by Justice Kirby, same sex partnered for forty years, was dismissed as from “a filthy homosexual”. We don’t even have the most beautiful poetry of the ancient world from a poet Plato called the Tenth Muse and whose sublimity Longinus compared to that of the Bible, merely because Sappho was a lesbian and when Christianity was established the bishops, influenced by St Paul, had her work destroyed throughout the empire so that we are left only fragments. Right enough about Roman decadence and excess, where same sex is concerned St Paul was largely and damagingly wrong in historical terms and it’s beyond high time Christians just matured and accepted that.