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How to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference

Did Paul know anything about “homosexuality”?

I still have a lot of marking to do, so I’ll keep this to the point again. A good friend with an interest in these matters came across Keith Giles’ argument that Paul is referring to something other than “homosexuality” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. He wants to know what I think of it.

Giles says that the word “homosexual” doesn’t appear in English translations of the Bible until 1946 when the RSV used the phrase “nor men who practice homosexuality” for Paul’s oute malakoi oute arsenokoitai. I don’t know if this is correct: the Biblegateway RSV has “nor sexual perverts”. But the ESV certainly has the phrase—and a footnote saying that the two terms together refer to “the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts”.

Giles maintains that this is a bad translation. Drawing on comments made by David Bentley Hart on the passage in his translation of the New Testament, he argues that the reference is to effeminate men (malakoi) who shaved their beards and grew their hair long, and to men who sexually abused young boys or “engaged in pagan temple sex rituals” (arsenokoitai). Hart’s “guess” is that the word reflects “the reality that in the first century the most common and readily available form of male homoerotic activity was a master’s or patron’s exploitation of young slaves”.1

If we are to keep telling the story of the difficult witness of the people of God in the world with integrity, I think we have to factor in the epochal transformation and the radically different futures that it opens up.

For this reason Giles concludes that Paul was thinking not of “homosexuality”, as we moderns understand it, but of certain patterns of abusive same-sex behaviour prevalent in the ancient world; and of course, no one today thinks that a man will be debarred from the kingdom of God on the grounds that he is a clean-shaven or long-haired.

Now for what I think of it—along with a barefaced (clean-shaven?) promotion my book End of Story? Same-Sex Relationships and the Narratives of Evangelical Mission.

  • The word malakoi is likely to refer to (ostentatiously?) effeminate men. The association with “homoerotic acts” is not intrinsic to the meaning (the word does not mean “catamite”), but it is more than an “unwarranted supposition”, as Hart maintains. In a strongly homoerotic culture, it was natural for feminised men to be identified as male prostitutes or assumed to be sexually “passive”.
  • Giles appears to disregard the connection between arsenokoitai and Leviticus 20:13 LXX (cf. Lev. 18:22): “whoever lies with a male (meta arsenos) in a bed of a woman (koitēn gynaikos), both did an abomination” (my translation). Although grammatically distinct, the two words arsenos and koitēn fall together in the sentence, making it probable, in my view, that Paul (perhaps for the first time) combined them to form the single word arseno-koitēs, as a shorthand reference to the severe Old Testament prohibition, after the pattern of similar words, such as mētrokoitēs (a man who lies with his mother) and doulokoitēs (a man who lies with a slave).
  • There is, therefore, a ready association between the words malakoi and arsenokoitai, but probably not to the extent that they constitute a straightforward sexual pairing (catamite and sodomite, passive and active partners). I think it more likely that Paul refers to two distinct types of offence: an exaggerated effeminacy with sexual connotations and the basic act of a man lying with another as with a woman. I don’t think that there are good reasons for restricting the latter to abusive or flagrantly promiscuous sexual relations.
  • Giles highlights the particular forms that effeminacy took in the ancient world (beardless men with long hair) and insists that these are “cultural norms” that we are free to disregard in the twenty-first century. This is not much of an argument. The objection of first century Jews such as Philo—and presumably also Paul—was to the feminisation of the man. If the outward signs or cultural markers of feminisation change somewhat, the objection remains. In the modern western context beardlessness and long hair are no longer unambiguous signs of effeminacy, but it is exhibited in other ways.
  • There is, however, a more fundamental “cultural” dimension to Paul’s opposition to “homosexual” behaviour that I think gets overlooked. I argue in my book that same-sex relations feature so prominently in Paul’s analysis of paganism in Romans 1:18-32 because he regarded the phenomenon (perhaps principally but not exclusively in the form of pederasty) as definitive of a “Greek” civilisation that was under judgment and passing away (cf. Rom. 1:16; 2:9-10). The controlling narrative is eschatological: effeminate men and men who lie with men as with women “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9).
  • We then have to ask the difficult question—very difficult for evangelicals—whether we share the same eschatology. To my way of thinking biblical eschatology is more about history than about the end of history. The rule of Israel’s God over the nations of the Greek-Roman oikoumenē was established in the fourth and fifth centuries and endured—not always gloriously—for 1500 years or so. Modernity has brought that to an end, completely changing the rules of social existence. If we are to keep telling the story of the difficult witness of the people of God in the world with integrity, I think we have to factor in the epochal transformation and the radically different futures that it opens up. The final end doesn’t change—a new heaven and a new earth. But the proximate ends, the modern horizons, are far beyond anything Paul could have imagined. Nature is not what it used to be. The book tries to tell honest stories about same-sex relations that make sense under these changing conditions.

If you’re interested in reviewing the book, get in touch with Wipf & Stock and you might get a free copy from them. For the argument about Romans there’s also The Future of the People of God: Reading Romans Before and After Western Christendom, which gets more and more ahead of its time as the years go by.

  • 1. D.B. Hart, The New Testament: A Translation (2017), 328.

Comments

As always, interesting analysis.
This follows well after listening to a talk by Megan De Franza on a similar topic.

Thanks for this. I think that I had better get the book; in my context, this is a highly polarizing subject and the way that one of the poles talks about this is contributing to its alienation from “the city in which it dwells”.

Question: What does it mean, practically speaking, that practicers of the proscribed behaviors will not share in the Age to Come? Given the highly concrete character of the Pauline eschatological vision that you propose, is this basically about “who is privileged to rule over (what remains of) the Empire”?

I also wonder to what extent Paul’s “from nature” arguments derive from a concern that this aspect of human behavior conform to/not frustrate the Genesis 1 command to “multiply and fill the earth”. If one does not produce offspring, then one cannot participate through one’s descendants in a future concrete Age that begins beyond the span of one’s own life.

The first question is an awkward one. I tend to think of it in terms of the sort of distinction that Jesus makes between those who are included and those who are excluded, who find themselves in outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. The imagery suggests the sort of anger and resentment felt by those whose world has been taken over by the new Christ-honouring regime and “priesthood”. I realise Jesus is speaking of Israel, but I think this sort of social-eschatological schema can be transposed to the Greek-Roman world. Certain groups, certain individuals, will be excluded from the new ethical-religious order. But clearly the point needs to be developed.

My argument is that Paul does not ground his opposition to same-sex relations in the creation accounts. It is bound up with the “later” repudiation of the creator God by the Greeks and the development of their characteristic idolatry. Besides, most men who engaged in homosexual practices would also have fathered children; pederasts typically went on and got married.

This is of some interest to me, as I am speaking at a Christian LGBT+ group in Southampton this evening. You argue that Paul views same-sex behaviour within an eschatological framework which was coming to an end (the Graeco-Roman world). Outside that framework, the terms of reference change. Or as you put it, “Nature is not what it used to be”.

I wanted to focus on your particular explanation of arsenokoitai, its probable derivation (with which I agree) from Leviticus 20:13 LXX (Lev. 18:22) , and the association you make between arsenos and koitēn and the separate word malakoi. I don’t see what warrant you have for this further association with malakoi, apart from the speculative idea of feminisation, which introduces cultural norms of masculine/feminine in the classical world, which Paul doesn’t particularly seem to be addressing or developing.

The standard LGBT+ apologetic is that Paul views same-sex relationships within the evident social practices of his time - pagan shrine prostitution, master/slave relationships and paederasty. In a reconstruction of Paul’s world, these were the visible expressions of same-sex practice which should inform our understanding of Paul’s view of same-sex activity. It wasn’t just same-sex relationships in general that he was condemning, but particular expressions of it.

This is of course the point at contention. I imagine your argument from Romans 1:18-32 draws out the major distinction between then and now which was that in Paul’s day, the observed same-sex activities were a consequence of idolatry. This was not some form of spiritual or moral effect that idolatry had on those who worshipped idols, but was literally evident and approved of in the processions headed by young men to the shrines, where the same-sex prostitution took place.

Remarkably, this sort of same-sex practice followed the practices at the shrines which are described at various places in the Old Testament, which seem to be part of pagan fertility cults. In fact there is no other same-sex practice in view in the entire Old Testament. Which brings us to the key passages in Leviticus. Were they describing a universal moral prohibition, or did they have some sort of context?

At face value, the Leviticus prohibitions seem to be universal and moral in their application, and this is how they are understood by those who universally condemn same-sex relationships. You seem to be placing Paul’s understanding of the prohibitions within a much more imminent eschatological framework to do with the Graeco-Roman world. The framework of the Leviticus prohibitions is Egypt and Canaan (18:3), and idolatry in the pre-Graeco-Roman world (Molech and child sacrifice) in 20:21, where same-sex relationships (20:22) are also bracketed with sexual relationships with animals (20:23) and the consequent defiling of the land (20:24-28). (Assuming sex with animals also having some sort of fertility cult in view).

In a remarkable continuity, the evident same-sex practices of the pagan cults in the OT of shrine prostitution were like the practices described in the histories in the Corinth of Paul’s day.

For these reasons, I think it is arguable that the Leviticus prohibitions had in view the actual practices of the time, which were shrine prostitution, and these are also what Paul has in view in Romans 1:18-32. The evidence of the practices in the OT certainly supports this view, as no other practices are mentioned. It might have been thought that if there were practices beyond the Canaanite or pagan shrines in Israel, there might have been some reference to them in the periodic purges which took place. The OT anyway is silent on any other same-sex practice than at the shrines.

The opaqueness of meaning of malakoi and arsenokoitai, which is evident in the varieties of translation the words have been given over the years. Despite this, an almost absolute certainty exists in the minds of (some) Christian believers, like Franklin Graham, who asserts (open letter to the LGBT community in the UK) that “God says homosexuality is sin”, a sentence which is repeated in an petition to reverse the cancellation of venues for his forthcoming UK tour. He doesn’t even try to make a distinction between the person and the behaviour.

I think your eschatological framework for viewing the NT proscriptions is interesting, but there is still mileage in the alternative interpretation.

I have read the Keith Giles article, and think there are better ways of providing biblical grounds for rejecting anti-inclusive beliefs. Like you, I couldn’t find “homosexuality” as the translation of arsenokoitai in the RSV, though my version is dated 1952, not 1946.

I did find something else though, which I shall be using tonight, which is Keith Giles’ meditation of 24 January 2020 - “You may hate yourself, but God is crazy in love with you”. (I know you don’t hate yourself Andrew, but it’s what many LGBT+ people, especially Christians, have grown up with and have been carrying in their hearts about themselves).

How did the talk go?

I got the impression (evidence in the book) that malakos was used quite commonly to refer to effeminacy in men, and certainly there is evidence that Jews (though not only Jews) strongly disapproved of the ostentatious feminisation of the male in certain reprobate sections of society. It seems to me reasonable to think that Paul’s use of the term in a vice list is consistent with that. If not, then what is he referring to? Either way, he doesn’t develop the thought.

I agree that certain patterns of same-sex behaviour would have been at the forefront of Paul’s mind, but pederasty in particular had a degree of respectability about it not dissimilar to the status of homosexuality in recent years, and could be associated with more or less egalitarian long term relationships. Again, it’s inevitably impressionistic, but I came to the conclusion that it’s difficult to confine Paul’s analysis to particular types of abusive or obviously unethical same-sex relationships.

I don’t argue for such a literal connection between idolatry and cultic same-sex behaviour. I think Paul develops a broader critique that goes back to the supposed origins of Greek religious culture in the rejection of the invisible creator and worship of manufactured idols. In response God handed the Greeks over to the patterns of same-sex behaviour that so notoriously characterised the culture, foremost among them being pederasty.

With respect to the Old Testament texts, I highlight the fact that a man lying with a man as with a woman was one of the things that would get Israel vomited out of the land. It belongs to a narrative about possession of the land and exile from the land.

As far as I can see, there is no basis for restricting the Leviticus provisions to cultic contexts. There is an appropriate terminology for temple prostitution, which is not found in the Holiness Code. If a cultic context were on view, we would expect the injunction to be against either Jewish temple prostitution (cf. Deut. 23:17; cf. 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 23:7) or attendance at pagan worship. There is limited evidence of male homosexual behaviour, it is true. But there are the Sodom and Gibeah stories, and there is no evidence of a man uncovering a woman’s uncleanness when she is menstruating or of a woman giving themselves to an animal to lie with it (Lev. 18:19, 23).

So I am left to conclude that the church cannot accommodate faithful long term same-sex relationships on the basis of a direct application of the biblical texts. That’s why I emphasise, on the one hand, the explicit historical-eschatological framework of Paul’s teaching on the matter, and on the other, the very different historical-eschatological outlook that we have today (nature is not what it used to be, etc.). It’s a difficult argument to make, but it’s a good way to take seriously the God of history.

The talk was well received, thank you. It wasn’t an attempt to provied an alternative scriptural interpretation as a foundation for supporting equal marriage, but an account of a continuing journey, and observations about the ministry of Jesus which tend to get overlooked in the discussions. Also a side-swipe at the House of Bishops updated ‘pastoral guidance’, and the forthcoming Franklin Graham UK tour, his “open letter to the UK LGBT community in the UK”, and the petition against the cancellation of venues for the tour.

Your comments are making me look more closely at my understanding of various passages which I have used to support the point of view I am pursuing. So this response is in some respects provisional. As regards your own framework of understanding, as far as I understand it without having read the book, I think your final comment is probably right - “It’s a difficult argument to make” - even if it is a good way to take seriously the God of history.

I’d just like to make a few brief observations on your comments.

Malakos - I understand that the word had come to mean “effeminate”, but if Paul had wanted to refer to the younger/passive partner in a paederastic relationship, as Fee says - “The problem is that there was a technical word for such men, and malakos is seldom, if ever, so used. Since it is not the ordinary word for homosexual behaviour, one cannot be sure what it means in a list like this, where there is no further context to help.” Do you think Paul was referring to effeminate behaviour in general? The other problem is that the word is only used once in the NT, and in a list which provides no explanatory context for its meaning. My NIV has “male prostitutes”, but there are probably as many translations as there are versions of the bible. At this point, you may well be justified in saying “Read the book!”.

Paederasty - I’m sure I read somewhere that although the practice was widespread, it was also widely abhorred - (probably not least by the young victims). I’ll have to try to find the source of the idea. You do say “it’s probably impressionistic” - but again there are those who maintain that the three types of same-sex practice accounted for the vast majority in Paul’s time. (Sources).

The point I was making about idolatry and same-sex practice was that male prostitution to do with cultic festivals and the shrines was very prominent in the Graeco-Roman world of Paul’s time, besides the other two types of same-sex practice which tend to be identified. But the argument is to ask whether anything like committed same-sex relationships are mentioned in the histories of the ancient world. N.T.Wright says there is, but then only cites Nero and his castrated slave boy, which isn’t really a good example of supposed widespread practice, let alone a model which might describe committed same-sex relationships today.

I get your point about same-sex practice belonging “to a narrative about the land” (out of which Israel would be “vomited” if she engaged in such things). But is this more than a cultic practice? Philo understands the Leviticus 18 passage to refer to male temple prostitution (The Special Laws, III, Vii, 40-42 [40]). Robert Gagnon (no supporter of same-sex relationships) holds the same opinion, given the context of Canaanite and Egyptian idolatry (The Bible and Homosexual Practice, P.130).

Of the passages you cite to do with male prostitution (Deut. 23:17; cf. 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 23:7), two refer to Male shrine prostitution “in the land”, and two to male shrine prostitutes in the temple. My assumption is that male prostitution of this kind was carried over from the practices of the inhabitants of the land. Whatever tha case, the argument still stands that no other form of same-sex practice is in view in the OT.

So I do think the argument that same-sex relationships are prohibited on the basis of biblical texts is very weak. In the end, the trump card for those holding this view is Genesis 2, and the marriage covenant in particular. This is a variation of the “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” argument, but also points to a way of reading the bible which is literal and dogmatic. The verses do not say that any variation whatsoever in the covenant is illegitimate, as the numerous commands for variations in the OT demonstrate.

I’m not pursuing an exhausting exchange of views, as I haven’t read your book (yet). On the other hand, if you have some further information which you think I should know about, I’d appreciate it.

From what I have read, there was a strong enough association between effeminacy and sexual practice in the public mind to think that there is a suggestive overlap between the two terms.

Pederasty was certainly controversial, but in upper class circles it was broadly tolerated and defended as a social good, as part of a young man’s moral formation, for reasons which I outline in the book. Scholars argue that Greek culture throughout this period was more or less comfortably bisexual. Romans disapproved of pederasty but because it involved freeborn Greek citizens.

You’re right, there are some bad examples of lasting same-sex relationships cited, but you also find in the literature talk of pederastic relationships in particular that endure into later life.

That passage in Philo’s Special Laws is part of a wider condemnation of pagan sexual excess, including a condemnation of pederasty. He perhaps applies the Holiness Code to the flamboyant behaviour associated with temple rituals and festivals, but I don’t think it can be confined to that; and in any case, we can hardly take Philo as an accurate historical interpreter of Torah.

I’ve ordered a kindle version of the book, cheered by having been charged at a discounted rate to the headline price. I need to be convinced about the biblical texts, as well as the proposed eschatological framework, but I look forward to reading it. I’ll let you know how I get on.

(First thoughts on “End of Story” as far as the detailed look at the biblical texts up to Leviticus 18 and 20, including Deut 22:13-16, 23:17;1 Kgs 15 and 22. I’m really very sorry this has got so long. I’ll try to do better in future).

I’m working my way through the book, and appreciating much of the close, well referenced detail as well as the broad canvas. I am commenting on things as I go through,but my first thoughts have run away with me, so I need to work out a different approach as I read on.

The book sets the issue of homosexuality, same-sex relationships and their increasing acceptance socially and legally, especially in the northern hemisphere, against a backdrop of a wider “tectonic” shift of modernism and secularisation of society in recent centuries. The coining and definition of the word “homosexuality” in the late 19th century marks a particular turning point, as it defines a condition rather than a choice.

It could perhaps otherwise be argued that the movement towards affirmation of LGBT people and their relationships is simply part of a process of social justice, in which greater awareness, especially of historic injustice, leads to greater emancipation. In this sense it might be compared with changing attitudes to black people, with emancipation from slavery and a move in social awareness from racism to full acceptance as equals. As with the latter, the process for LGBT people is not straightforward, and often painfully slow, with setbacks as wells as advances. Modernism may have something to do with this, but social justice might be the greater force than “modernism”. From this perspective, it is not part of a casting off of traditional values and biblical morality – more a casting off of traditional attitudes (prejudice?) which determine how the bible is variantly (wrongly?) interpreted. (Maybe modernism is the essential context?).

It is certainly true that society rather than church has brought about this change of view. You are very even-handed in describing the varying reactions to this development, but sometimes the reaction cries out for evaluation. The concept held by some “traditionalists” of a moral “fall” in the 1960s is mentioned as a way of accounting for the current liberalisation of views towards gay people and their relationships. I found myself thinking that acceptance and legalisation of their relationships was likely to achieve the opposite of a moral fall: the avoidance of the “moral anarchy” which follows from outlawing gay people who would otherwise seek to express sexual attraction within stable, socially acceptable relationships.

Also the “moral fall” might more accurately be described as developments accompanying the two world wars, the second world war in particular, when in this country (UK), moral boundaries in sexual relations (not specifically homosexual) were widely lowered in the light of death being an ever present possibility in towns and cities targeted for bombing. Some commentators seem to think that the 1950s were a moral golden age preceding the fall of the 1960s. In the UK, some of the most vicious miscarriages of justice occurred exactly in this period against LGBT people (the Alan Turing story being a prime example).

But this is an aside. I am currently reading a detailed analysis of the key texts, and how they have been understood.

First, I simply don’t understand Davidson’s argument, as described by you, (warning) - “against discounting the force of the demand ‘that we may know them/him’ ” in Genesis 19:5. I don’t see from this how “the stories imply disapproval of homosexual intercourse, not only of homosexual rape” (as you summarise Davidson’s conclusion). Surely in this story, “knowing” has the force of homosexual intercourse which in this case is crowd rape? I don’t understand how the story is making a subtler distinction in which any form of homosexual intercourse is condemned.

Second, you cite Vines and Bird as presenting a “progressive” interpretation of Sodom’s sins, in describing which Ezekiel makes no mention of homosexuality, or “male homoerotic relations”, and then rebut this by referring to the “abomination” (Ezekiel 16:50) they committed before God (Ezekiel doesn’t mention the angels). You take the “abomination” to mean the same-sex relations condemned in Leviticus 18 and 20, which were expressed in the attempted homosexual gang rape of Genesis 19. The “abomination” is nevertheless not identified, and whatever it was, it was not simply Sodom that committed it, but her “daughters” too - Ezekiel 16:48 (perhaps meaning Gomorrah and “all the land of the plain” – Genesis 19:24-25?). But “Sodom and her daughters never did what you (Jerusalem) and your daughters have done” – Ezekiel 16:48. A broadening of the significance of “abomination” seems to take place in Ezekiel, for which Sodom and her daughters (Gomorroah and all the land of the plain?) were done away with – “They were haughty and committed abomination before me” – 16:50. I don’t think it’s clear enough that Ezekiel means by this the crowd rape committed by the inhabitants of the town of Sodom – Genesis 19:4. For whatever reason, Ezekiel thinks fit to mention different sins by name, and so does Jesus – Matthew 10:15, where the sin is failure to show hospitality (10:14), and homosexual “abomination” is not mentioned - which you might think it should “on the day of judgment”. You cite Philo’s commentary on the “traditional” sins of Sodom (and some others), but as you have pointed out to me, Philo is not always the most reliable of commentators.

There is no explicit scriptural evidence that the sins of the people of Sodom outside this event were homosexual. The attempted crowd rape at Gibeah in Judges 19 (like Genesis 19, involving a resident stranger who hosts two other strangers), also begins with attempted male rape, before switching to the visitor’s concubine. The detail in the parallel surely merits much more investigation?

Third, were the prohibitions of Leviticus 18 and 20 on same-sex relations generalised, or referring to cultic practice? You say that “not every abomination is a religious practice (eg Deut 25:13-16)”. As far as I’m aware, this particular passage is the only reference to an “abomination” in Deuteronomy which may not have a cultic context. It is argued by “progressives” as well as some “traditionals” (I have mentioned Robert Gagnon) that Leviticus 18:22 is located in a context of pagan cultic practices in particular. Leviticus 20 repeats the Leviticus 18 prohibition.

You then argue that there is no reference to “male cult prostitutes” in the Leviticus 18 & 20 context, and a generalised condemnation of homosexual relations in the passages is reinforced by reference to Deut 23:17 and 1 Kgs 15:12 and 22:46. My NIV describes the “sodomites” (KJV) in these passages as “male shrine prostitutes”. The word used here, qâdêsh, relates to the qâdâsh word group, with associations of the sacred, ceremonial, the sanctuary, and in these instances in relation to idolatry within a cultic shrine. The KJV has it quite wrong, and “sodomite” is an illegitimate word to use in this and other contexts.

I’ve produced far more than I had intended, and in future will be more to the point. I’m finding your range of research really impressive and helpful, and the non-partisan approach refreshing. I know you are going to present a different paradigm for considering the subject, and I look forward to that. This book is a must-read, and I am looking forward to continuing with it, even if, as my kindle has suggested, it is a five and a half hour read.

The non-partisan approach coupled with all the research was really good. After I read it, I was like, “Well, no matter which side you take, your case is going to get stronger after this.”

1. I would need to go and look at Davidson’s argument again, but his point, I think, is that “knowing” in this sexual sense is so widely used of heterosexual intercourse that it associates the demand of the men with that type of activity rather than with violent assault. That is, they want to have sex with these men.

2. Sodom and her daughters (well noted!) were guilty of a range of social sins, but God destroyed them on account of the abomination which he saw (witnessed by the angels). Abomination is singular—this is important. Jerusalem and the surrounding cities have committed abominations. It is not the significance of “abomination” that is broadened but the number of them, giving God all the more reason to destroy Jerusalem in the same way.

I don’t think Matthew 10:5 has to do with the sin of inhospitality. The town or village that rejects the disciples’ message about the coming kingdom of God will suffer a worse fate on the day of God’s judgment of Israel than Sodom and Gomorrah.

3. In Deuteronomy prohibited foods, sacrificing a defective animal, cross-dressing, for a man to take back his divorced wife, and giving false measures are all abominations.

Your points are noted, but I’d just add:

1. If a mob is standing outside the house demanding to “know” the visitors, apart from a possible play on words (“know” as in “know who they are”), the sexual implication doesn’t suggest that they are going to be treated lightly. That’s why I don’t understand Davison. The mob is about to do sexual violence to the visitors.

The word “yada” is also used by the mob in Judges 19:22, where they initially demand the (male) visitor, and then take the concubine. “Yada” is what they do to her - 19:25, using violence. The similarities between the passages suggest that the sexual violence to be inflicted was not a reflection of the town’s sexual preferences, but abuse of unannounced strangers and indirectly of their hosts (who were in both cases were also “sojourners”). It was what we might call a kind of extreme racism, or fear/hatred of “the other”. We’ve seen the same in attacks on East Eoropeans over Brexit.

The assumption that the attempted crowd rape in Genesis 19 represents a society which has sunk to the lowest level of degeneracy by its widespread homosexual practice (hence KJV and others: “sodomites”) lacks basis, at least in the biblical text. It also perhaps demonstrates how embellishments can grow around texts which then become accepted as textual fact. (Eg by Paul, with the moving rock in the desert (1 Cor. 10).

2. Your first point here is taken, though if anything the abomination was the attempted gang rape, not a cultural practice. The other sins mentioned by Ezekiel, plus her “haughtiness” (which accompanies the “abomination” statement) must also be taken into account.

The condemnation by Jesus of the towns in Matthew 10:15 was of both their refusal to show hospitality to the disciples (on which Jesus dwells at greater length), as well as their refusal to listen to their words. Hospitality (or lack of) towards the stranger is the striking connection between the Genesis 19 and Matthew 15 passages.

3. Your point taken, though “abomination” in the Leviticus 18 & 20 passages is part of the “holiness code” which separates ritual uncleanness from cleanness, and does connect appropriately with the only evidence provided in the OT of same-sex practice, which was male prostitution in the shrines.

I had intended to make comments on “End of Story” in bite-sized portions, in some real-time responses as I worked my way through the book. I think I will need to press on to read the whole book before further comments, as I may need to revise interim comments in the light of the whole.

At the moment, I’m in awe at the range of reference and allusion in this book, both to current authors on the subject and to literature in the classical and ancient Jewish world which provides a background against which Paul’s limited utterances in the NT may be located and perhaps better understood.

I’m also impressed with how Andrew takes details of the Pauline text, and subjects it to forensic examination, at the same time informed by a range of opinion which he is able to quote, without necessarily having a dogmatic leaning to one side or the other. A great example of this, which I have in the past myself (mis?)used in discussions, is the little word physis, the significance of which is greater than its 5 letters or limited usage in the NT would suggest, and less than some would make it out to be!

I’ve stumbled somewhat over the connection (or not) between the Leviticus 18 & 20 prohibitions and male same-sex cultic or shrine prostitution. Was cultic shrine prostitution the only expression of homosexual sex that Leviticus (and the OT) had in view? There are some serious arguments to suggest it wasn’t, but at the same time the few references in the OT to what the KJV endearingly calls “sodomites” (and Genesis 19 apart, that’s another whole issue) seem to be related solely to male cultic prostitution - ie they relate more to “shrine” (or sacred place) than “land”. All the references: Deut 23:17, 1 Kg 14:24, 15:12, 22:46, 2 Kings 23:7 use the same word qâdêsh, which as previously mentioned, not only excludes homosexual sex in general, but also homosexual sex outside pagan cultic practices.

The only allusions to the temple in these verses are Deut 23:18, where the earnings of female or male prostitutes - “the price of a dog”, were not to be brought into the temple, and 2 Kings 23:7, where the houses of the “sodomites” (KJV), more accurately cult prostitutes, are located in close proximity to the temple, but apparently not within the temple or part of its rituals. Here the women wove “hangings for the grove” (KJV), presumably referring to the place where the pagan cultic rituals took place beyond the temple. Why the houses were there is unexplained, but Josiah made sure they were removed.

If these are references to cultic practices, there is no reason why they should not be regarded as contaminating “the land”, since that is where the shrines (or sacred places) were situated.

It does however come back to the distinct possibility, in the light of the evidence of the OT, that the Leviticus 18 & 20 prohibitions were limited to cultic practices. In the end though, the argument goes back and forth through lack of enough material to substantiate one side or the other. The traditionalists do seem to outwrigh the progressives in number (but (Jesus was often in a minority).

With regard to the panoranic breadth of citation from writers in the classical world, I still wonder whether there is really enough evidence of “stable, committed, life-long monogamous same-sex relationships” to say with any certainty that this is also what Paul had in view in Romans 1:18-32 (alongside other forms of same-sex activity). The wealth of reference is too great for me to comment in detail, but I did get the impression that the literature of the classical world reflects paederasty as the major form of same-sex relationship (see for instance the illustration at the head of this post). As such, it was a relationship largely (if not exclusively) intended to last only for as long as the one partner was pre-pubescent. It may have been intended for companionship rather than sex, though this may only have been a respectable facade, and there seems to have been some stigma attached to those who continued to demonstrate same-sex interests beyond the time when they should decently have acquired a wife.

So I still wonder what Paul was actually visualising in his strictures against same-sex activity in Romans 1:24-27. But as we have only those few verses, and the three very meagre references to malakoi and arsenokoitai, it is difficult to draw firm conclusions with confidence.

What I can say with confidence is that the few same-sex Christian couples I know (and one non-Christian couple), six couples in all, do not show any of the signs of extreme depravity which Paul highlights in the Romans passage, or which might place them alongside the more obvious sins in the sin-lists. On the contrary, they have moved from being deeply trouble individuals who struggled with their identity, to stable and content partnerships, at peace with themselves and the world. (Actually, two of the couples never did have struggles - they always accepted themselves and their stable relationships).

I could say more about the book so far, which develops on a very well laid out plan, and is full of gems of insight and clear thinking. That may or may not have to wait until a future contribution. I know which way the plan is going, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Andrew presents his particular understanding of how eschatology reframes the whole subject. I’m just interested at present to see whether the argument and the references make a “progressive” interpretation of the story as it has been understood less convincing. Some of the detail certainly does, but I’m less convinced so far that the main foundations for a “progressive” interpretation have been refuted. We’ll see. But it’s a great book, and should be required reading for anyone who takes the issue seriously, which at this time should be all of us.

So I’ve just finished the book with Andrew’s introduction and rolling-out of his vision of a post eschatological landscape, perhaps more akin to a Shakespearian history play in three parts rather than Tom Wright’s five act drama, where the first part is the biblical age leading up to the fall of the idolatrous Graeco-Roman empire.

The picture of our current age, the post Christendom world of ‘modernism’, is sympathetically drawn, with the church given the challenge of offering a better vision than that offered by secular humanism. In this vision, same-sex relationships may find their place, no longer suffering under the ban of unclean idol worship, and whatever its counterpart was in the Christendom era. If the question were raised why these relationships should have been banned in the Christendom era, I don’t recall the book providing pointers.

It might be thought that the kind of engagement with history which Andrew advocates through a narrative historical paradigm might be something that the church should be doing under any paradigm if it is to be effective and not easy prey to unseen and unchallenged cultural and historical trends. But the power of the appeal of the final section is lyrical, and one is swept along by the rhetoric. It is an appeal which advocates of any paradigm would find hard to resist.

It remains for me to go back over the detail of the argument and the enormous research which underpins it. You don’t have to agree with the argument to appreciate it as a valuable resource. I will no doubt need to have misreadings and misconceptions corrected in the process (if not by more direct correction). But quite simply, this is one of the best books on envisaging same-sex relationships through a biblical framework and beyond that I know of, with its balancing of the views of multiple authors on the subject as well as huge reference to and citation from relevant literature in the ancient world. Buy a copy and read it.

Thank you for this. Much appreciated.

2 Kings 23:7 - the KJV translates asherah as “grove”. It might more accurately be translated “image”, in which case the image might well be located in the temple itself, to which the women took their woven hangings.

Otherwise there is plenty of evidence that cultic shrines were located in “high places”, where no doubt male (and female) cultic prostitution took place.

My first mea culpa. More to follow. Probably.

Please note., The article and blog belongs to Keith Giles and NOT the Australian evangelical scholar Kevin Giles.

Bad mistake. Thank you for pointing it out. I’ve corrected it.