The Blog of Jack Holloway

Monday, March 31, 2014

Does Paul's Teaching on Homosexuality Apply Today?

In my re-visitation of the topic of homosexuality, I decided to re-read Victor Paul Furnish's chapter on homosexuality in his book The Moral Teaching of Paul.(1) What resulted was another revision of my thinking on the issue, to include even more nuances. I found this passage particularly challenging, in which Furnish talks about the presuppositions of Paul and the first century mind:
First, it was commonly presupposed that all human beings are erotically attracted to the opposite sex. . . . [It was also] commonly presupposed that all homoerotic sex is against nature . . . because it violates the male's superior and dominant role in relation to the female. The reasoning was that a man who, like a woman, submits to penetration by another male is surrendering his manliness. . . . And sex between females was denounced because imitating the male's role amounted to a challenge of male superiority. . . . [It] was widely viewed as undermining the patriarchal and hierarchical structures of the political order and of society as a whole.
Finally, it was commonly presupposed that all homoerotic sex, consensual or not, is the wild raging of inordinate passions and lusts, the wanton indulgence of one's sexual appetite. . . . None of these presuppositions, and none of the stereotypes that went with them, has stood the test of time. [Because of more] than a century of research in the biological, social, and behavioral sciences . . . , the ancient presuppositions about sex and gender have been rendered obsolete.(2)
This understanding is supported by examples of ancient literature that Furnish provides. Philo said of male homosexual activity that it "forces the male type of nature to debase and convert itself into the feminine form, just to indulge a polluted and accursed passion."(3) He elsewhere described it by saying that men who engage in homoerotic activity "emasculate their bodies" because they "submit to play the part of the women."(4) With regard to female homosexual activity, Furnish provided a quote from Pseudo-Phocylides, who said, "let not women imitate the sexual role of men."(5)

We have to take into account the social constructs under which Paul operated, which included an assumption that natural attraction is towards one's opposite sex, that the proper order of society includes men acquiring women and women coming under men, and that homosexual behavior is a perversion of the natural order.

Because of these presuppositions, homosexual activity was considered perversion from a spirit of perversion, depravity from a spirit of depravity. I am inclined to deny that this idea applies to homosexuality as seen in our culture. Today, there are many people who have never had an attraction to the opposite sex but have only ever been attracted to their own sex. These people often seek a faithful and loving union with one person of their own sex. This is not the result of wild, untamed lust, but merely people following their own seemingly natural attractions.

Could it be that this particular teaching of Scripture does not perfectly represent God's opinion of homosexuality today? Could it be that homosexual activity, which was once thought to be wholly unclean, should now no longer be thought of as such, just like the Gentiles in the early church? After all, the person considered unclean in the story of the good Samaritan was the one who represented Christ. 

These are not easy questions to answer.

For more on this issue, see my blog, "Is Homosexuality Sinful?" (here)

(1) Victor Paul Furnish, The Moral Teaching of Paul, 3rd ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009).
(2) Ibid., 90-91.

(3) Quoted in Ibid., 68.
(4) Quoted in Ibid., 69.
(5) Quoted in Ibid., 68.

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