Thursday, April 06, 2017

Homosexuality in the time of Paul

This is the famous passage from Romans against homosexuality: 

 “For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” (NRSV)

Sarah Ruden's fabulous book Paul Among the People explains homosexuality as practiced in the Roman world of his time. 

The concept did not change over the next six hundred years. Paul's Roman audience knew what justice was, if only through missing it. They would have been surprised to hear that justice applied to homosexuality, of all things. But many of them-slaves, freedmen, the poor, the young-would have understood in the next instant. Christ, the only Son of God, gave his body to save mankind. What greater contrast could there be to the tradition of using a weaker body for selfish pleasure or a power trip? Among Christians, there would have been no quibbling about what to do: no one could have imagined homosexuality's being different than it was; it would have to go. And tolerance for it did disappear from the church (71).

5 comments:

Mr. Green said...

no one could have imagined homosexuality's being different than it was;

To be honest, I have trouble imagining anything's being different from what it is, because, uh, then it would be something else. But perhaps I'm just missing the point.

Victor Reppert said...

Well, that's the big question, isn't it. I think gay defenders think that gay relationships are just like straight marriages except the couples are same-sex instead of opposite-sex, but I don't think the evidence quite looks like that.

Mr. Green said...

The passage from St. Paul seems pretty clear though; he doesn't mention "power trips" or "weaker bodies". If Ruden is arguing that there is a new kind of "homosexuality" that involves men having natural intercourse with women instead of each other, then, sure, I guess the Church could accept that.

Victor Reppert said...

Ruden's argument is simply that given what we know of homosexuality at the time, it made perfect sense for Paul to bash it. One can imagine that gay Christians today might say "Oh, but we don't do it that way, so Paul's condemnations don't apply to us. I think I saw some videos from the Metropolitan Community Church that look as if they make that case, based on Ruden. But Ruden doesn't bring that up.

It's also open to critics of homosexuality to argue that homosexuality has a "natural" tendency to go that way, even if less egregiously than in ancient Rome. But her main argument is that Paul doesn't deserve his reputation as a homophobic queerbasher.

Mr. Green said...

Ruden's argument is simply that given what we know of homosexuality at the time, it made perfect sense for Paul to bash it.

But it doesn't make perfect sense to phrase it that way — we might imagine Paul's referring metonymically to some other aspect of the relationship as a euphemism for the sexually explicit aspect, but that's exactly what he doesn't do. Is there any evidence that St. Paul meant it that way instead of the way he actually said it... or any of the Church Fathers in the first centuries, or the Church (or Temple) before or since?

It's also open to critics of homosexuality to argue that homosexuality has a "natural" tendency to go that way,

Sure, and since abusus not tollit usum, their argument would be just as poor.