Angels from the realms of glory, wing your flight o’er all the earth…

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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).