I mentioned that I have been working my way through James Brownson’s book Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships. I have looked at his argument that the “one flesh” motif in Genesis 1:24 speaks of kinship bonds rather than biological gender complementarity. Here I have set out a synopsis of the overall thesis of the book, drawing mostly on the convenient summaries provided at the end of each chapter. It is rather too condensed and may be a bit difficult to follow, but it should give an idea of his argument. I plan to attempt an assessment over the next few days. Andrew Goddard, however, has kindly drawn attention to his review of the book for Fulcrum and a longer critique written in his capacity as Associate Director at the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics.
Moving on…. Yesterday I summarized James Brownson’s argument that when the author of Genesis says that a man leaves his mother and father and clings to his wife so that they become “one flesh”, he does not mean that they become a sexual union; he means that they become the basis for a new family group. What lies behind the idea of the man and woman becoming “one flesh” is not their sexual complementarity for the purpose of procreation. It is their genetic similarity for the purpose of forming a new kinship bond.
He then rather muddies this elegant distinction by suggesting that there is, nevertheless, an implied link between kinship and sexuality. The one flesh relationship “flows from sexual union, but is distinct from that sexual union, and is expressed in ways that extend beyond sexual union alone” (87). The reason for this complication is that although the Hebrew word translated “cleave” or “cling” in Genesis 2:24 (dabaq) does not have sexual connotations elsewhere in scripture, Paul speaks of a man being “joined” to a prostitute so as to become “one flesh” with her (1 Cor. 6:16). The Greek word for this joining is kollaō, which is related to the verb proskollēthēsetai, meaning “will be joined” in the Septuagint translation of Genesis 2:24.
I have been reading James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships in preparation for a theological forum next week. The book basically attempts a re-thinking of “the moral vision regarding gender and sexuality that Scripture commends”, prompted not least by the fact that Brownson’s eighteen year old son had confided to his parents that “he believed he was gay”. Brownson describes himself as having taken, prior to this, a “moderate, traditionalist position”. We are clearly heading in a less traditionalist direction, but I’m only on page 85.
One of the main biblical arguments against same-sex erotic relations is that the creation narrative in Genesis 2 describes a fundamental “gender complementarity” based on biology. The woman is created out of the man, therefore for the man to be complete again as “one flesh” he must be joined with a woman. Brownson quotes Robert Gagnon:
Only a being made from ʿadam can and ought to become someone with whom ʿadam longs to reunite in sexual intercourse and marriage, a reunion that not only provides companionship but restores ʿadam to his original wholeness. (25)
Goaded by a comment to the effect that my Christmas story “doesn’t preach as well” as the traditional sentimentalized God-in-a-manger version, I want to try to develop in a few posts some thoughts about preaching from a narrative-historical perspective. The basic problem is this: the more we confine the biblical narrative and its associated theology to its own historical context, the less direct relevance it has for the modern reader or congregation.
Usually the historical distance has been overcome by reducing the complex narrative of scripture to a universal argument about God and humanity and allegorizing as much of the detail as possible. The basic error of interpretation made by modern evangelicalism is to think that the story of scripture can be translated into a sequence of theological abstractions—creation, fall, redemption, final judgment—which then provides the frame for every personal story: we are sinners in need of Christ’s atoning death if we are to escape eternal death or worse.
Last month Michael Bird posted a brief book notice about Robert Stein’s Jesus, the Temple, and the Coming Son of Man: A Commentary on Mark 13, which he describes as “the first real full-length treatment of Mark 13 by an evangelical since the time of George Beasley-Murray”. Bird thinks that the best thing about the book is that it “sets out the interpretive issues and main exegetical options for understanding Mark 13”. I think that’s a fair evaluation.
The first chapter offers a helpful overview of historical Jesus approaches to the synoptic Gospels and to the Olivet discourse in particular, but Stein makes it clear that his interest is in what Mark himself “meant and sought to convey by the present text of Mark 13”, not in the reconstructed thoughts of a supposed “historical” Jesus (38-39). He takes the view that the discourse moves back and forth between two temporal contexts—judgment against Israel in the first century and the second coming of Jesus at the end of the world. So we have four alternating sections….
These are the posts which, by my rough-and-ready calculation (allowing for the fact that some are older than others), have generated the most interest over the last year. It’s not a very meaningful exercise—there must be more exciting ways of ending the year—but, with the exception of number 8 on trinitarian arguments for the subordination of women, they give a good impression of the core purpose of this blog. And what is that core purpose? It is to explore the relationship between the biblical narrative and history and to ask how such a historically grounded narrative may inform the life and mission of the church today.
Tomorrow I plan to publish a list of the most popular posts on P.OST over the last year. But it was suggested to me by someone before Christmas that Hebrews 3:3-4 makes sense only if ‘the author is flatly calling Jesus “God”’. I want to get this out of the way first. So with the usual caveat that this is not an argument against Trinitarianism, which I regard as a later reframing of a narrative problem, but an argument for the apocalyptic outlook of the New Testament, here is how I think this very interesting passage should be read.
At a time when the celebration of Jesus’ birth is being buried ever deeper beneath the landfill-waste of a decadent, hedonistic, secular western paganism, we are naturally anxious as the church to recover the true meaning of Christmas.
What we expect to find, when all the modern stuff has been stripped away, is a universal religious idea, pure and simple, divested of both narrative and historical context—that out of love for humanity God became flesh in a helpless babe. That’s fine. It has some point to it. But it is a theologically inspired reduction of the New Testament material to something more congenial to the mindset of the post-Jewish church. The story that is actually told in Matthew and Luke is rather different.
Following the recent posts on “divine identity” christology, I have been urged to have a look at what N.T. Wright does with the argument in Paul and the Faithfulness of God.
Wright starts by tracing developments in Pauline christology in the modern era (644-53). The two competing “orthodoxies” of post-Enlightenment discourse have been: i) the reductionist view that Jesus was a great teacher who was mistakenly divinized by his followers at a later stage in a thoroughly Hellenistic context; and ii) the traditional Christian understanding of Jesus as simply God. In neither case is the proclamation of the coming kingdom of God taken into account. In the middle of the last century the dominant history-of-religions approach gave way to a new perspective that prioritized the Jewish origins and character of the New Testament. Within this new tradition opinion has divided between scholars who argue for an Early High Christology (Hurtado, Bauckham) and those who hold to a more “developmental” approach (Dunn, Casey, Vermes).
I couldn’t make up my mind what to write about this week. I was going to do something on the rather depressing Westminster Faith debate on the future of the Anglican Church that I attended last week in Oxford. I’ve also had it in mind to write a review of Emily Ackerman’s The Amazing Technicolour Pyjama Therapy, which is published by my friends in Edinburgh. But Richard Bauckham’s “divine identity” argument is still going round in my head, so it’s back to christology, I’m afraid. I want to examine this assertion in his book Jesus and the God of Israel:
From the earliest post-Easter Christology that we can trace, Jesus’ exaltation was understood as his sharing the divine throne in heaven and thus participating in the divine rule over the cosmos. (172)