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

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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.