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Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Is the Bible contradictory on sexuality?

Is the Bible contradictory on sexuality?

A recent essay by Walter Brueggemann on the Bible and 'homosexuality' has received wide circulation (I put 'homosexuality' in inverted commas since, although it is included in the title to the essay, it is not a word I ever use in this discussion, since it is poorly defined.) Brueggemann sums up his argument in these closing paragraphs:

The Gospel is not to be confused with or identified with the Bible. The Bible contains all sorts of voices that are inimical to the good news of God’s love, mercy and justice. Thus, “biblicism” is a dangerous threat to the faith of the church, because it allows into our thinking claims that are contradictory to the news of the Gospel. The Gospel, unlike the Bible, is unambiguous about God’s deep love for all peoples. And where the Bible contradicts that news, as in the texts of rigor, these texts are to be seen as “beyond the pale” of gospel attentiveness.

Because [of a range of issues in interpretation], all of these angles of interpretation, taken together, authorize a sign for LGBTQ persons: Welcome!

Welcome to the neighborhood! Welcome to the gifts of the community! Welcome to the work of the community! Welcome to the continuing emancipatory work of interpretation!

Along the way, Brueggemann makes some important and illuminating observations—but he also smuggles in some massive assumptions about what the Bible is and what it isn't, and all of these throw important light on the nature of the discussion about the Bible and sexuality.

Perhaps the most interesting and significant thing that Brueggemann says, in the context of current discussions about the Bible and sexuality, come right at the beginning of his piece. He sets out by citing the 'boo' texts in Lev 18.22 and Lev 20.13, and adds to them Paul's comments in Romans 1.23–27 (though, for some reason, he does not cite 1 Cor 6.9, which deploys a term that Paul coins from Lev 20.13). He then comments:

Paul’s intention here is not fully clear, but he wants to name the most extreme affront of the Gentiles before the creator God, and Paul takes disordered sexual relations as the ultimate affront. This indictment is not as clear as those in the tradition of Leviticus, but it does serve as an echo of those texts. It is impossible to explain away these texts.

This is fascinating, and cuts right across much popular debate at the moment: 'It is impossible to explain away these texts.' Without feeling any need for explanation, he simply rejects attempts by popular writers like Matthew Vines, drawing on the largely discredited work of William Countryman and James Boswell, to claim that the 'boo' texts don't really mean what they appear to mean. In taking them seriously and at face value, Brueggemann is agreeing with the vast majority of scholars on these texts. 

It is very possible that Paul knew of views which claimed some people had what we would call a homosexual orientation, though we cannot know for sure and certainly should not read our modern theories back into his world.  If he did, it is more likely that, like other Jews, he would have rejected them out of hand….He would have stood more strongly under the influence of Jewish creation tradition which declares human beings male and female, to which may well even be alluding in 1.26-27, and so seen same-sex sexual acts by people (all of whom he deemed heterosexual in our terms) as flouting divine order (William Loader, The New Testament on Sexuality pp 323–4).

The post Is the Bible contradictory on sexuality? first appeared on Psephizo.

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