Is the Levitical Holiness Code Still Binding?
Responding to what I had believed to be a rather clear presentation of what Leviticus meant by its prohibition of homosexuality, Nathan repeats his argument:
In The Bible and Homosexual Practice: An Overview of Some Issues", Robert A. Gagnon explains why we can't discount the laws of Leviticus:
The strong prohibitions against these forms of sexual activity represent the closest analogues to the prohibition of same-sex intercourse. This is particularly true of the incest prohibition which, like the prohibition of same-sex intercourse, rejects intercourse between two beings that are too much alike. Leviticus refers pejoratively to sex with a family member as sex with "one's own flesh" (Lev 18:16-17; 20:19). Bestiality is wrong for the opposite reason: it is sex between two beings that are too much unlike.
Nathan is treading on thin ice if this is his argument. Joe Dallas carries the argument to its logical conclusion: "if the practices in Leviticus 18 & 20 are condemned because of their association with idolatry, it logically followed that they would be permissable if committed apart from adultery." Homosexuality is mentioned in the same context as incest, adultery, bestiality and child sacrifice -- to suggest that these can be discarded because they are 'merely' laws of ritual purity abrogated by the Church is simply preposterous.
Nathan tries a different strategy:
The moral tradition of Christianity retained the prescriptions against other sins mentioned in Leviticus as well (adultery, incest, beastiality) -- the fact that the Church no longer applies or recommends he penalties doesn't negate the fact that it regards such practices as immmoral.
Nathan again reiterates:
The Holiness Code of Leviticus specifies a variety of laws governing a wide range of behavior, not all of which is on the same level. Israel's reason for prohibiting homosexuality along with other acts of sexual immorality transcend the relationship to idolatry, paganism, or ritual cleanliness. As Gordon J. Wenham had shown ("The Old Testament Attitude to Homosexuality"): "it seems most likely that Israel's repudiation of homosexual intercourse arises out of its doctrine of creation. God created humanity in two sexes, so that they could be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth."
Sexual complementarity and teleological purpose according to Genesis carry more weight here than Nathan acknowledges. This is the basis for both the Jewish and Christian objection to homosexuality. But we'll get into that in my final post.
Do the Letters of St. Paul Prohibit Homosexual Behavior?
Regarding the proper interpretation of Romans 1:27-27, Nathan responds by quoting a rather lengthy passage from Dr. Rembert Truluck (Six Bible Passages).
Truluck begins by saying that "Romans 1:26-27 contains some words used only here by Paul. Familiar words are used here in unusual ways. The passage is very difficult to translate." I can only wonder: Difficulty translating for Truluck? or scripture scholars in general? -- Some of the scholars I've read, Robert A. Gagnon especially, demonstrates great proficiency at translation and interpretation of St. Paul. But I'll let you be the judge. First, let's look at the passage:
Dr. Truluck asserts that verse 25 is a clear denunciation of idol worship, and that as Paul wrote from Corinth, he was probably referring to one of the more prominent of the thousand religions in that city at the time: the fertility cult of Aphrodite, worship of Apollo, or the Delphi Oracle across the bay. Then he gets down to business:
Truluck's argument is also made by William Countryman, who Thomas Schmidt critiques in Straight & Narrow:
What about Truluck's claim that "We do not know the meaning of "burn" [ekkaio] in 1:27, because Paul never used this particular word anywhere else, and its origin is uncertain"? According to Schmidt, "this imagery has a sinful connotation that Paul employs similarly in 1 Corinthians 7:9 (by means of a different verb, pyroo)." Schmidt offers three other examples of association of fire imagery with self-destruction by sexual sin: two passages from Philo (De Gigantibus 34 and De Decalogo 49) and Sirach 23:16 ("For burning passion is a blazing fire, not to be quenched till it burns itself out"). So while Paul did not use the exact word, it is certainly not the first time fire-imagery has been used in relation to sexual desire, and taken in the context of the entire passage the meaning is clear.
Like Truluck, William Countryman also argues for a neutral interpretation of "against nature" [para physin, in contrast to "with nature" kata physin]. According to Schmidt, although there are neutral uses of this term elsewhere in Paul, one can demonstrate that his terminology in Romans 1 fits with contemporary usage:
Schmidt goes on to cite related passages from Philo (the men of Sodom "threw off from their necks the law of nature (De Abrahamo 135) to mount males, "not respecting the common nature physin with which the active partner acts upon the passive") and the Jewish historian Josephus, who makes reference to the same-sex relations of the citizens of Elis and Thebes as para physin.
The point is that Paul's use of para physin in the particular context of Romans 1 is consistent here with that of his contemporaries, and in such cases it always has negative connotations. As mentioned in my previous post, Paul's point is that "Gentile sin, including homosexual sin, is a result of humanity's corporate rebellion against the Creator." The traditional interpretation of this passage stands: "God's judgment allows the irony of sin to play itself out; the creature's original impulse towards self-glorification ends in self-destruction. The refusal to acknowledge God as creator ends in blind distortion of the creation" (Richard B. Hays ("Relations Natural and Unnatural: A Response to J. Boswells Exegesis of Romans 1," Journal of Religious Ethics 14 Spring 1986).
What about the meaning of "commmitting indecent acts" in 1:27 ("committing shameful things" in the USCCB's version cited above?) Truluck contends that this is merely the term for indecency, as in 1 Corinthians 12:23 ("those parts of the body that we consider less honorable [indecent] we surround with greater honor") or 1 Corinthians 13:5 ("love does not behave indecently"). Truluck notes that in Deuteronomy 24:1 it has more serious connotations, providing grounds for divorce (if a man finds within his wife "something indecent"), but when Jesus commented on it "he did not define the term." Consequently:
The word for "indecency" in Rom: 1:27 in original Greek is aschemosyne; The Hebrew word for "indecency" is ervah, has multiple uses (nakedness, uncleanliness, improper behavior, exposed or undefended). When placed in the same context as the other terms in Romans 1: "sexual uncleanness" (akatharsia), "dishonorable/degrading passions" (pathe atimias), "contrary to nature" (para physin), the connotations are clear. In his condemnation of various sexual practices in the New Testament, Paul had in mind the prohibitions of Leviticus and the Jewish moral code. Robert Gagnon asserts: "That Paul had the Levitical prohibitions partly in view is evident from intertextual echoes to Lev 18 and 20 in Rom 1:24-32." And in a footnote to this comments:
Having addressed Truluck's reading of Romans 1:26-27, I recommmend that Nathan re-think his conclusion that "St. Paul was describing something which would have been the logical result of the idolatry that he was observing around him" [and that] the passage does not seem to have a sexual connotation when examining the original Greek" -- and his motivation for appealing to such a conclusion.
Paul's use of the word arsenokoites and malakoi
As I mentioned in my previous post, the explanation for the rare use of the term arsenokoites in the New Testament (and that it cannot be found in the Greek of St. Paul's time) is because evidence suggests he coined the term himself, referring to the the prohibition against homosexual behavior in Leviticus. This has been aptly demonstrated by a number of scholars, although the discovery is attributed to David Wright.
It is interesting to note that when later Christian preachers had something to say about homosexuality, they did not use arsenokoites. This includes, for instance, St. John Chrysostom [who was fluent in Greek].
By "other scholars" Nathan is alluding to the late John Boswell, in whom they find their source (Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality). Boswell's treatment of arsenokoites is summarized by Guenther Has of Redeemer College, Ontario ("Hermeneutical Issues in the Use of the Bible to Justify Acceptance of Homosexual Practice" Global Journal of Classical Theology Vol. 1, No. 2. February 1999). I'm going to repeat it in full, since it clarifies somewhat better than Truluck does how they arrive at the notion that St. Paul could have been referring to "prostitutes" in Corinthians 6:9 and Timothy 1:10:
The second component of Boswell's argument entails the usage of arsenokoitai in the first two or three centuries of the church. He contends that this term is never used by the patristic Greek writers of the early church. He supports this with the further claim that from the time of the apostle Paul in the first century until Aquinas in the thirteenth century I Cor. 6:9 and I Tim. 1:10 played no role in the development of Christian European attitudes toward homosexuality.
David F. Wright critiqued Boswell's argument in "Homosexuals or Prostitutes: The Meaning of Arsenokoitai (1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10)," Vigiliae Christianae 38 (1984): 126-29). As the article is not available online, I will rely again on the summary of Guenther Has:
Wright also surveys the use of arsenokoites, as well as arsenokoiteo and arsenokoitia, in the patristic literature. Not only does his survey find that church fathers from Eusebius to Chrysostom use these terms to condemn male homosexual activity, but he also discovers numerous appeals to I Cor. 6:9 and I Tim. 1:10 for the same purposes. This certainly undermines Boswell's claims concerning the early church. And it calls into question his scholarly ability, if not his scholarly integrity.
Dr. Gagnon addresses Boswell's charge in "On Boswell and "Men who lie with a male" in 1 Corinthians 6:9", in which he points out: "Boswell's arguments have not persuaded most New Testament scholars. Even a number of those supportive of homosexual practice (e.g., Dan Via, William Schoedel) accept that the terms malakoi (not malachoi, as Harwood and Porter incorrectly transliterate) and arsenokoitai collectively designate a general condemnation of male-male intercourse."
Forgive me for reiterating Wright's discovery here, but it appears Nathan has not entirely ingested it -- again, Has's summary of Wright:
- Lev. 18:22 - meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten gunaikos
Lev. 20:13 - hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gunaikos
The use of the terms arsenos and koiten in both verses, especially their juxtaposition in 20:13, presents an obvious parallel to Paul's use of arsenokoitai. Since it is clear that the Hellenistic Jews condemned the homosexuality they encountered in the Greek world, the reasonable conclusion is that arsenokoitai came into use in the intertestamental period, under the influence of the Septuagint of Leviticus, to designate that homoerotic activity the Jews condemned. The plausible conclusion is that the verses in Leviticus not only encouraged the formation of the term but also informed its meaning.
Responding to the claim that there is "scant" evidence for Paul's opposition to same-sex intercourse, Dr. Gagnon mentions a list of "pro-gay" scholars who concede to the obvious, including "Gay and Lesbian Studies" author Louis Compton:
Are St. Paul's Letters Even Relevant?
Nathan had suggested that the Church's teaching on homosexuality should be revised, just as the Church revised its teaching on usury. I responded that economics was an entirely different field than sexual morality. Nathan concedes, but responds:
Nathan's point betrays an ignorance of contraception and natural family planning, but that's a whole different issue and one capably handled by Prof. Janet Smith or Christopher West's explication of John Paul II. But I've dealt with this in the first part of our discussion of "homosexuality and natural law".
Likewise, Robert Gagnon lists some difficulties with the analogy of homosexuality to slavery:
One can feel a "natural" inclination to do all kinds of things. Heterosexuals may feel "naturally-inclined" to seek out more than one partner. But the focus of Paul's criticism of homosexuality, as that of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is on actions, and it judges those actions to be contrary to God's vision of sexuality and the created order as articulated in Genesis.
So that ends my discussion of Leviticus and Paul (and the interpretation of the destruction of Sodom).
I'm not an expert -- as you see, I'm reliant upon the teaching and knowledge of others. I've learned a great deal about what the Jewish and Christian traditions have to say in the process.
At this point Nathan may be tempted to investigate the works of other biblical revisionists in hopes of bolstering his stance. If he does so, I would encourage him to take up Gagnon's The Bible and Homosexual Practice, which I discovered in the course of writing these posts, and -- assuming he identifies himself as a Catholic -- keep his mind open to the teaching of the Magisterium and the Catechism of the Catholic Church as well.