Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why Complementarians are Wrong about 1 Tim 2:12

I recently participated in a conversation about Women in Leadership, and the focus was on Women in the New Testament, and especially 1 Timothy 2:12. 

During the discussion I noticed something that I've not realised before.  Paul's injunction, I am permitting no woman to teach or to dominate a man, is a blanket statement with no exceptions provided.  This is not the way complementarians understand this verse.  Complementarians understand this verse to mean that women are not allowed to teach men, but ἀνδρός, is a separate part of the statement relating to αὐθεντεῖν, and Paul does not say that women are not allowed to teach men, but rather that they are not allowed teach, as well as not being allowed to dominate men.

We are stuck with two options.  Either this blanket prohibition forms a contradiction with a passage like Titus 2:3, where women are to teach what is good (καλοδιδασκάλους); or we understand that this is a contextually determined statement, and the women are not to teach in this situation because they are part of the problem of spreading heresy (1 Tim 5:13-15; 2 Tim 3:6), and thus they are instructed to learn (μανθανέτω). 

The more I read the Pastoral Epistles, the more I am convinced this is a highly contextual letter, and attempts to read it without reference to the socio-historical context are dangerously misleading. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Romans 1 and Same-Sex Marriage for Christians

I was recently asked to participate in a panel discussion on same-sex marriage from a Christian perspective.  More specifically, I was asked to comment on this issue from Romans 1.  Given the popular nature of the discussion, I had to be very careful with the way I phrased things, and so I ended up with the following notes which guided what I said.  I'd appreciate any thoughts or responses. 


The Letter of Romans: Two Stories

Paul’s letter to the Romans tells two stories. The first one begins right at the beginning, in 1:1-16. The first thing to realise, is that first story is the story of good news and it is God’s good news. It is the story of God, who has had a vision for humanity all along. And God made promises to certain individuals and nations, which were told through his messengers in the holy Scriptures. And God’s climactic plan, is ultimately and fully realised in the coming of God’s own Son. This Son was an heir to the people of God through King David. But his true identity as God’s son, was boldly indicated and validated through the resurrection of Jesus by God’s Spirit. And this news is for the whole world, because God’s promises relate to the whole world. And thus everyone is invited to participate in God’s restorative vision for the whole cosmos, and especially humanity - that group that is called to represent Him to others and creation. The story also tells of Paul, who is a slave (a metaphor of pure allegiance and devotion) to God’s purposes and also the Roman churches, who have embraced this fantastic news about who God is, and what God is doing.

BUT - to fully realise the extent of God’s covenant faithfulness to humanity, one has to tell the darker side of this story. The story of how humanity lost its way. And that is the topic of 1:18-32. This is the story of how things are NOT meant to be. It is a tragic story of exchanging truth for lies, of exchanging hope for despair, and of the distortion of God’s creative efforts and design for humanity.

God’s response to humanities disregard for his design and intention is not to enforce his wil. Rather God’s response is to allow us the freedom to make our own decisions, even though God himself is calling and inviting humanity into another way of life. God warns that there are consequences for disregarding his pattern and design, and that is why Paul gives a list of 22 or more, different activities that show that humanity has departed from God’s way. Doing evil, covetousness, malice; being full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, gossiping, slanderers, God-haters, insolence, haughtiness, boastfulness, inventors of evil, rebellion toward parents, foolishness, faithlessness, heartless, ruthless.

Yes, Paul does mention same-sex activity a few verses earlier (he had no clue what an “orientation” was, he was interested in practices that distort God’s design). However, Paul is not focussing on one group of individuals, but rather telling the story of the many and varied activities that humans do that are contrary to God’s design. By including all these vices, Paul reminds us that, “we all have sinned, and done what is wrong in his sight,” and we all have to make changes to our lives. AND there is NO-ONE that is morally superior to anyone else. We are all broken human beings, being called by God back together, so that together we can become a mosaic of God’s gracious intervention, so that we rebuild, and re-imagine ourselves as God’s image bearers walking in the trajectory of Christ.

And that is what the book of Romans sets out to do. So that sets the context in which to analyse Paul’s statements regarding same-sex activity.

Romans 1:26-27 For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable 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.

The most important element of this discussion is what Paul means by “natural” and “unnatural.” He is not referring to genetics but rather to God’s design for humanity and creation. God’s natural design is for one man and one women to be brought together into a covenantal relationship of mutual benefit and edification. Unnatural activity is thus anything that goes against this design.

I want to read you two quotes. The first is from Dan O. Via, a New Testament scholar.
Perhaps most importantly he regards same-sex relations as contrary to nature (1:26-27), contrary to the order of the world as created by God.
The second quote is from Luke Timothy Johnson, a New Testament scholar.

There is no need to belabour the obvious point that the classification of same-sex intercourse among vices is characteristic of Paul (Rom. 1:24-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). The issue in regard to such texts and the present-day struggle of communities with homosexuality is not so much an exegetical as a hermeneutical one.
I am not quoting these two scholars just because they agree with what I've said above.  I am quoting them because both Johnson and Via argue for acceptability of same-sex relationships. They do so not on the basis of any ambiguity in Scripture. They both concur that scripture is clear in its injunction against same-sex activity. They do so on the basis that they do not deem these passages relevant to contemporary Christian ethics.

Whereas I would argue, that the Genesis stories set the trajectory for human relationships, confirmed and validated by Jesus in his discussions of marriage, and negatively illustrated by the variety of New Testament authors which note where and how humanity has departed from God’s design. And we cannot just pick and choose which parts of God’s vision we want to embrace.

So what does this have to do with a conversation on same-sex marriage? Well, if Scripture prohibits a key activity that would consummate a marriage between two people, then it follows that for Christians who accept the authority of Scripture, it is not possible to be in same-sex marriage.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Arsenokoités - ἀρσενοκοίτης - Responding to Dale Martin #3

3. Usage and Meaning

Martin draws attention to its various usages in various contexts and claims that these contexts provide the interpretive clues to understanding this term. Martin cites one example where the term is found, “among vices related to economic injustice or exploitation.” And that is in the Jewish writing, Sibylline Oracles. Martin suggests that the term relates to some kind of economic exploitation relating to sex, but not necessarily homosexual activity. How Martin arrives at his understanding that this word pertains to sex, without appealing to some etymological understanding, we are not told. Furthermore, John J. Collins, an expert on the Sibylline Oracles suggests no hesitation in understanding, and translates, μὴ ἀρσενοκοιτεῖν, categorically as, “Do not practice homosexuality” (Sib. Or. 2:73).  When there are other ambiguous words in this writing, Collins provides some comment. But with regards to ἀρσενοκοίτης, he does not. This suggests that there is no ambiguity with regards to the meaning of this word. And contextual factors are obscured by the fact that this writing contains various interpolations that may have separated this section from its original context.

Next Martin appeals to the Acts of John, and makes the kind of argument that this relates to some kind of economic exploitation because it does not occur in contexts which discuss other sexual sins. However, what Martin fails to disclose is the context of the passage, and how critical editions of the Acts of John have translated this particular passage. J. K. Elliott’s, The Apocryphal New Testament, which provides a critical translation of these texts, offers the following translation: “In like manner the poisoner, sorcerer, robber, defrauder, sodomite, thief, and all who belong to that band, accompanied by your works you shall go into the fire that never shall be quenched, to utter darkness, to the pit of torture, and to external damnation” (Acts of John 36). The context is one of the apostle John pronouncing judgement on the men of Ephesus for various activities which shall incur the wrath of God. The list which contains various activities which are illustrative of pagan society that has rejected God and thus shall face judgement. The list is reminiscent of Romans 1:18-32, which is a standard Jewish critique of pagan practice culminating in a pronouncement of judgement by God.

What Martin fails to note, and we may only speculate why, is the specific Christian contexts in which this word is found. 1 Cor. 6:9, issues a list of activities that, if characteristic of the Christian life, will mean a forfeiting of God’s kingdom. In this list Paul appeals to several sexual sins, πόρνοι (illicit sexual activity); μοιχοὶ (adultery); μαλακοὶ (passive homosexual practice); ἀρσενοκοῖται (active homosexual practice). The context here is clearly sexual sins that if habitually practiced will entail a forfeiting of God’s kingdom.

Then, the list in 1 Tim 1:10, is prefaced by a statement affirming the goodness of Torah (1 Tim. 1:9), and then Paul offers a list that echoes various elements of the Torah, and perhaps even the Decalogue. This provides a contextual clue for how Paul understood ἀρσενοκοίται, and confirms the appeal to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. The Mosaic moral code is explicitly appealed to as an aid to instruct those who engage in the list of vices mentioned in these verses. The addition of the phrase, “and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me” (1 Tim 1:10-11), suggests that this list is not exhaustive, but rather illustrative of vices that are destructive for God’s people.
Finally, we may appeal to another specific from the early Christian letter of Polycarp, who writes the following to younger men in the city of Philippi.

Polycarp, Phil. 5:3
Similarly, the younger men must be blameless in all things; they should be concerned about purity above all, reining themselves away from all evil. For it is good to be cut off from the sinful desires in the world, because every sinful desire wages war against the Spirit, and neither fornicators nor me who have sex with men (whether as the passive or as the active partner - οὔτε μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται) will inherit the kingdom of God, nor will those who do perverse things. Therefore one must keep away from all these things and be obedient to the presbyters and deacons as to God and Christ. The young women must maintain a pure and blameless conscience.

The context given here is specifically that of sexual desires and activities that may defile the community. Polycarp appeals to the congregation to have self-control concerning these desires, and in a passage reminiscent of 1 Cor. 6:9, warns of the devastating consequences of those who participate in such activities.

Why has Martin not mentioned these contexts in his contextual analysis? Is it because it radically undermines his case that the word relates to economic exploitation? His case rests on one contextual case from the Sibylline Oracles which is plagued with textual issues, and experts who offer no comment on the supposed ambiguity of the word; one reference from the Acts of John, which does not help his case; and finally the avoidance of counter-evidence which directly undermines his case. Martin’s contextual argument has not been demonstrated, and fails to convince. Rather, a contextual analysis confirms the etymological analysis provided above, that this word was created with reference to Lev. 18:22 and 20:13, with which most scholars agree. Furthermore, this fits accurately within the context of Second Temple Judaism, with its overwhelming critique of homosexual practice.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Arsenokoités - ἀρσενοκοίτης - Responding to Dale Martin #2b

At this point we must cite the conclusion of Dan O. Via, a New Testament scholar who advocates for homosexual unions. 

I believe that Hays is correct in holding that arsenokoitēs refers to a man who engages in same-sex intercourse (Hays 1997, 97). The term is a compound of the words for “male” (arsēn) and “bed” (koitē) and thus could naturally be taken to mean a man who goes to bed with other men. True the meaning of a compound word does not necessarily add up to the sum of its parts (Martin 119). But in this case I believe the evidence suggests that it does. In the Greek version of the two Leviticus passages that condemn male homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13) a man is not to lie with a male as with a woman each text contains both the words arsēn and koitē. First Cor 6:9-10 simply classifies homosexuality as a moral sin that finally keeps one out of the kingdom of God.
Dan O. Via and Robert A. J. Gagnon, Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 13.

Thus, there is no ideological bias here.  Our quest here is historical accuracy, with little thought for the practical consequences that follow from the conclusions reached. 

Arsenokoités - ἀρσενοκοίτης - Responding to Dale Martin #2

2. Etymology

ἀρσενοκοίτης is a compound word which is derived from two words, ἄρσην (male) and κοίτη (a bed; sexual promiscuity). To decipher it’s meaning, it would be helpful to look at other similar compound words. Wright provides a list of various compound words which have the -χοίτης suffix. These are, χλεψιχοίτης, refers to someone seeking illicit sex; δουλοχοίτης, refers to sexual relations with slaves; μητροκοίτης, to sexual relations with one’s mother; πολυχοίτoς, sexual relations with many people; and ἀνδρoχοίτoς, one who has sex with a man. These compounds are important to note, because they offer direct evidence against Martin, who claims that, “It is highly precarious to try to ascertain the meaning of a word by taking it apart, getting the meanings of its component parts, and then assuming, with no supporting evidence, that the meaning of the longer word is a simple combination of its component parts.” All of the above compound words gain their meaning from their component parts and thus do provide supporting evidence that there were many variations of the -χοίτoς, group that gained their meaning from their component parts. Thus Martin’s appeal to an etymological fallacy on the part of those who take this as a reference to same-sex activity is mistaken.

Wright’s list of compound words lists ἀνδρoχοίτoς, one who has sex with a man. This raises the question about why Paul used ἀρσενοκοίτης instead of ἀνδρoχοίτoς. The reason for this is clear when we see the origin of ἀρσενοκοίτης.

Lev. 18:22
  •  καὶ μετὰ ἄρσενος οὐ κοιμηθήσῃ κοίτην γυναικός βδέλυγμα γάρ ἐστιν
  • You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
Lev. 20:13
  •  ὃς ἂν κοιμηθῇ μετὰ ἄρσενος κοίτην γυναικός βδέλυγμα ἐποίησαν ἀμφότεροι θανατούσθωσαν ἔνοχοί εἰσιν
  • If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.
As you can see, the bold/underlined parts of the Greek phrase are strikingly similar, almost exactly so, to the word ἀρσενοκοίτης.  Hence, most scholars take this as the idiom from which the word ἀρσενοκοίτης was coined. As Wright notes, “If, as seems likely, the ἀρσενοκοίτ- group of words is a coinage of Hellenistic Judaism or Hellenistic Jewish Christianity, the probability that the LXX provides the key to their meaning is strengthened.” Thus, the component parts of the word contribute to its meaning, and the LXX references to Leviticus provide the origin and context of this specific word, both suggest that the meaning relates to male homosexual activity.
We may now explore whether there are further reasons to accept this basic understanding, or whether it gained some specific nuanced meanings in other contexts.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Arsenokoités - ἀρσενοκοίτης - Responding to Dale Martin #1

In this brief section I will offer critical comments on the meaning and usage of ἀρσενοκοίτης (and cognates), as well as a critical interaction with the proposal of Dale Martin.

1. Lexical Definitions

The first place to begin any serious investigation of biblical texts, is with the original languages. This raises several questions of interpretation and nuance in understanding the semantic range of particular words under consideration. When faced with the complexities of New Testament linguistic investigation, the student of these scriptures has several standard tools which have been tested through decades of scholarship and remain the standard and primary reference tools for scholars. These resources are periodically updated to keep up to date with the latest in scholarship, and they also represent a wide variety of ideological views, thus eliminating biased approaches. The quickest way to identity linguistic ambiguity in a given word, is to see the semantic range given by the various lexicons and dictionaries.

If there was ambiguity with the word ἀρσενοκοίτης, we would see this ambiguity reflected in the definitions offered by the following representative lexicons and dictionaries.

• BDAG, “A male who engages in sexual activity with a person of his own sex.”

• Louw-Nida, “Male partner in homosexual intercourse – ‘homosexual.’”

• Balz & Schneider, “Referring to a male who engages in sexual activity with men or boys.”

• NIDNTT, “male homosexual, pederast, sodomite.”

• LSJ, “lying with men, N.T.”

• Gingrich, “one who engages in same-sex activity, sodomite, pederast.”

There is no ambiguity mentioned in any of the lexicons above, and these are the standard tools for academic lexical, philogical and semantic analysis. The only lexicon to offer any semantic range beyond that of same-sex activity, is Louw-Nida which suggests that, “It is possible that ἀρσενοκοίτης in certain contexts refers to the active male partner in homosexual intercourse in contrast with μαλακός, the passive male partner (88.281).”  Note, it says that it is possible, not that it always works like this.  Bruce Winter has provided a substantial argument for this position in 1 Cor. 6:9 [See B. W. Winter, After Paul Left Corinth]. 

Next we'll offer a critique of Martin's appeal to the etymological fallacy.