Paul Employing Leviticus: Same-Sex Intercourse Considered Amongst Torah Commandments

Paul Employing Leviticus:  Same-Sex Intercourse

Considered Amongst Torah Commandments


Jon C. Olson


It is sometimes argued that because the New Testament writers set aside circumcision, food laws, Sabbath, biblical purity laws, and welcomed Gentiles, anything in the Old Testament ought to be set aside if unsuitable for the ekklesia.[1] Recently, this argument has been raised with regard to the prohibition of same-sex intercourse in Leviticus.  A seminary professor writes:


We distinguish between a strictly religious taboo and an ethical principle, and we associate the divine imperative with the ethical. …  The ethical and humane take precedence over tribal religious tradition, which in the New Testament is called ‘the tradition of the elders.’  Jesus’ words, ‘The Sabbath was made for humankind not humankind for the Sabbath,’ are a good example of this.  According to this principle, therefore, the cultic taboos may be rejected, modified, or continued in their original form.  This was the problem with which the New Testament church wrestled in the case of circumcision and the clean and unclean taboos. …  The argument from Romans 1:16-17 would be more persuasive except for the fact that there is a crucial theological change in the polemical rules of engagement.  For Paul, the ‘righteousness’ that separates followers of Christ from unbelievers is a faith righteousness (Rom 1:16-17), not that ‘of the law.’ ‘Holiness’ has been redefined as we noted above.  We are not tied to the letter of the Levitical prohibitions. …  Hence it is not in the spirit of Paul’s gospel to simply transfer the legal, blanket proscription of homosexual intercourse in the Levitical code to the New Testament.[2]


A document from the Episcopal Church USA criticizes Paul’s inconsistent positions:


St. Paul, as a first century Jewish male steeped in the tradition that includes Leviticus, was strongly opposed to same-sex relations even though he had reversed his position with respect to the issue of Gentile holiness. If we had Paul here, we might legitimately press him about the logic that crosses one boundary but not another.[3]


The argument implies that because other laws from the Old Testament are set aside in the New Testament, Pauline passages that seem to use the Levitical prohibition of same-sex intercourse either (1) do not truly cite Leviticus; (2) allude to commands without intending they be taken as commands; or (3) are in contradiction to those other passages that set aside various Old Testament laws.

The first part of this article investigates these three possibilities.  It explains the prohibition of same-sex intercourse in Leviticus and surveys opinions concerning the use of Leviticus 18 and 20 in Romans 1:18-32 and 1 Corinthians 6:9.  “Paul within Messiah, Torah, and Judaism,” included in this issue of Kesher, summarizes recent scholarship showing how the letters of Paul assume, or do not challenge, the continued validity of circumcision, Sabbath, dietary laws, and the prohibition against consuming idol offerings.  Both it and the present article conclude that Paul remained an observant Jew within Judaism.  When the previous argument is assessed from this perspective, it is virtually certain that Paul cites the Levitical prohibition of homosexual intercourse, considers the commandment binding, and does not contradict his position on the Law in doing so.

The second part evaluates four hermeneutic strategies for appropriating the biblical witness against same-sex intercourse: (1) the biblical witness is irrelevant to homosexuality today; (2) scriptural principles overturn the scriptural rule; (3) extra-biblical material overturns the biblical prohibition; or (4) other sources of authority help to interpret the rule, but do not have more authority than the biblical witness.  This essay argues that if Paul considered the Levitical prohibition of same-sex intercourse binding, this raises difficulties for each of the first three hermeneutical strategies, but removes difficulties for the fourth strategy.

The third part of the essay brings other biblical themes to bear:  sensitivity to the vulnerable, love of neighbor, reliance upon grace, and empowerment in the Spirit.  The article suggests ways within the ekklesia of living out the scriptural witness against same-sex intercourse as interpreted through these other themes.  This article does not cover all issues relevant to forming a position about same-sex intercourse: for example, analysis of contemporary Western culture,[4] social and biological research,[5] a theology of sexuality,[6] or of discipleship.[7]


Same-Sex Intercourse in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13


Scripture commands the people of Israel, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:7, 20:26).  Leviticus 18 begins and ends with a threefold admonition to follow God’s ways rather than the abominations of other peoples, and the declaration: “I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 prohibit a male to lie with another male as with a woman (i.e. same-sex intercourse), characterizing it as toevah (abomination).  In 18:22 male-with-male intercourse appears between burning one’s child to Molech and bestiality; in 20:13 it appears between incest with a daughter-in-law and marrying both a woman and her mother.

As Leviticus does not limit the circumstances of prohibited male homosexual intercourse, it is usually thought to ban all forms of it.[8] There is probably more than one reason, but some suggested reasons are inadequate or wrong.

Israel is enjoined not to act like the Egyptians or the Canaanites, but instead to keep God’s ordinances (18:3-4).  Homosexual intercourse appears in the list that follows, implying it is among the prohibited practices of Egypt or Canaan.  Almost all the prohibited sexual practices cannot produce children within a socially approved family context.[9] This dovetails with the biblical creation story and does not prevent Leviticus from also basing its sexual laws on principles evident in creation.

In the biblical creation story, woman is taken from man’s side.  A man and woman cleave to one another and become one flesh (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:5; Mark 10:7; 1 Cor 6:16; Eph 5:31).  Leviticus likely condemns same-sex intercourse because it disrupts the creation order by a male’s sexual union with another male rather than a female.  Both same-sex partners are guilty (20:13).  If instead denigration of women motivated the ban, then only the man who took the role of a woman would be guilty.  If only exploitation was condemned, only a dominant male would be guilty,[10] and sex between socially equal males permitted.  Instead, consensual acts are prohibited.  If Leviticus condemned homosexual acts in the context of idolatrous rites, all other same-sex intercourse was prohibited as well, since in the ancient Near East, religious practice was the most acceptable setting for such behavior.[11]

Leviticus does not directly prohibit sexual behavior between women.  The most compelling explanation for this omission is that women do not engage in intercourse, defined as penetration, when they rub their bodies together.[12] If lesbian sexual behavior was unimportant to the biblical writer because women had little worth, that would not account for separate prohibitions of bestiality by a man (20:15) and a woman (20:16)—both of which involve penetration.[13]

The New Testament applies the notion of holiness to the ekklesia, but with perhaps different accent (e.g. Matt 5:48; Luke 6:36, 1 Thess 4:7, 1 Peter 1:15-16).  The ekklesia considered some Levitical commandments applicable to followers of Yeshua, and other commandments not applicable, and assumed that this process of distillation had already begun in the New Testament.  The Levitical prohibition of homosexual behavior was carried into the church.[14] Parallel, in Jewish tradition, homosexual behavior was considered prohibited to non-Jews as well as to Jews.[15]


Romans 1:18-32

In Romans 1:18-32, Paul gives a theological argument in which homosexual behavior is God’s punishment for idolatry.  Punishment for turning away from God takes the ironic form of allowing humans to follow their own passions.  It is the only biblical passage that condemns lesbian sexual activity.[16]

God’s eternal power and deity are clearly perceived in the things that he has made (1:20).  Similarly, the sexual complementarity of male and female can be seen in the way their bodies are made:  the male and female genitals are shaped to each other, and heterosexual, but not homosexual intercourse, can result in new life.  Romans, like the account of human creation in Genesis, premises the marriage and sexual union of male and female on their fittedness for each other.  Yet as darkened minds exchanged the glory of God for images of created things, and served the creature rather than the creator (1:25), they exchanged heterosexual relations for homosexual behavior.[17]

Allusion to the biblical creation account is made by reference to creation (1:20), the Creator (1:25), and the words human/image/likeness/birds/cattle/reptiles (1:23) in the order of those words in Genesis 1:26 except for the inversion of human and likeness.  Romans 1:26-27 also uses female and male in echo of Genesis 1:27.[18]

The echo of Genesis has been denied by those who note that Romans 1 has no Fall of Adam and that the LXX for Genesis does not have the Greek words for natural or nature.  One’s evaluation of the evidence in part rests on the questions:  How often does Paul use Scripture elsewhere in his writings? Was Paul tied to his Jewish heritage closely enough to use Scripture?

After recounting how humans exchanged the glory of God for images of creatures, Paul charges that in their punishment they exchange the natural use of their bodies for unnatural use.  This is not an individual exchange of one’s heterosexual orientation for a homosexual one, but an exchange by humankind of what is natural for humankind.  This argument from nature comes from Greco-Roman philosophy and was also adopted by Hellenistic Jewish writers.


For all men who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists.  Nor did they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works … .  Therefore those who in folly of life lived unrighteously Thou didst torment through their own abominations. (Wisdom of Solomon 13:1, 12:23)


The Wisdom passage demonstrates that Hellenistic Jewish writers could apply the term bdelygmata for abominations committed by Gentiles.  The same term is the LXX translation of toevah in Lev 18:22, 20:13 and eleven other places in the Old Testament.[19]

Homosexual acts, a graphic embodiment of fallen humanity, are listed first, along with other vices.  At the end of this list, Paul writes, “[T]hough they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve of those who practice them.” (1:32)

Gagnon delineates possible allusions to Leviticus in Romans 1:


Paul’s word for nakedness, indecent exposure, indecency (aschēmosynē) in Rom 1:27 is used 24 times in the Septuagint translation of Lev 18:6-19; 20:11, 17-21. Paul’s word for uncleanness, impurity (akatharsia) in Rom 1:24 appears in the Septuagint rendering of Lev 18:19; 20:21, 25. Worthy of death in Rom 1:32 may also have called to mind the capital sentence pronounced on man-male intercourse in Lev 20:13.[20]


However, these allusions are resisted by those who believe Romans 1 does not have homosexual behavior in mind, but rather unrestrained sexual behavior, whether heterosexual or homosexual.[21] According to this view, “women exchanging natural relations” refers to unnatural heterosexual behavior by women rather than lesbianism.  Another view is that Paul condemns only pederastic acts.[22] Or, Paul condemns only abusive acts.[23]

Ted Grimsrud argues that Romans 1:18-3:31 is about human injustice; adika in 1:18 therefore means “injustice” rather than “wickedness.”[24] The degrading passions are those demonstrating injustice.  By this reasoning, abusive homosexual relations among men are condemned, but not other kinds.  Neil Elliott suggests that Paul had in mind the scandalous behavior of emperors Caligula and Nero.[25] Caligula was assassinated by an officer whom he had sexually humiliated.  This could be the “due penalty” Paul refers to.  Nero engaged in rape, incest, brothel-keeping, and sexual submission to men and boys.  Paul was not exaggerating human behavior in his vice list, but describing the imperial house.[26] But by this logic, extreme sexual passion in women is also a type of injustice.  Grimsrud suggests that 1:26 refers to female participation in the excesses of the Roman emperors, whether homosexual or heterosexual.

Elliott reads Paul’s letter to the Romans as directed against the Roman imperial ideology.  Emperors were portrayed as the embodiment of divine justice, while in reality they were “prone to every perversion known to mankind.”[27] Paul had to confront imperial ideology, argues Elliott, because through it the non-Jewish Yeshua-believers in Rome looked down upon their Jewish brothers.  In 49 CE, Emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome.  Five years later they were permitted to return at the mercy of Nero.  From the non-Jewish perspective, the Jews were undeserving troublemakers.[28] In response, Paul encourages his audience to enter into the dominion of Yeshua rather than the dominion of Caesar.

Stanley Stowers emphasizes the ideal of self-control and aspects of classical rhetoric for understanding Romans.[29] Jews had limited means to demonstrate loyalty to the state because they refused to participate in the idolatrous official cult.  Philo and Josephus instead called attention to the extraordinary self-restraint cultivated by the Torah, which was admired by non-Jews.  Paul’s intended readers were non-Jews.  The person Paul addresses in Romans 2 is a fictitious Jewish teacher of the Torah, a common rhetorical device.  Paul in Romans thus argues against the notion that non-Jews, by means of the Torah, can acquire righteousness before the God of Israel.  In reality, non-Jews are at the mercy of their passions (Rom 1:24-32).


1 Corinthians 6:9

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul lists those who will not inherit the kingdom of God.  One of the terms, arsenokoitai, is not known prior to Paul’s usage here, but is the compound of two words in the LXX of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, arsenos koiten, which is a translation of the Hebrew mishkav zakhur, “lying with a male,” and used in rabbinic texts referring to homosexuality.[30] The use of arsenokoitai to mean male-male intercourse also appears in Sibylline Oracles 2.73.[31] 1 Timothy 1:10 is considered dependent upon 1 Corinthians 6:9.  Where the condemnation of arsenokoitai appears in Timothy it is ascribed to the law of Moses, likely a reference to Leviticus.

The word malakoi preceding arsenokoita in 1 Corinthains 6:9 means “soft;” it is used with and without a sexual connotation in Greek literature around the time of Paul.  Paired, malakoi and arsenokoitai could mean the receptive and penetrative partners in male-male intercourse.  Robin Scroggs, who believed that Paul derived arsenokoitai from Leviticus, considered malakoi and arsenokoitai to have a narrower meaning than all same-sex intercourse.  Scroggs argued that Paul could only have known of, and had in mind, homosexual prostitution, the sexual use of a slave by his master, or the sexual relationship of a man with a boy.  More restrictively, at 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, Scroggs limits the Pauline critique to the adult use of male prostitutes.[32] Gagnon counters that Paul could have used the words paiderastai (lover of boys), paidomanes (man mad for boys), or paidophthoros (corrupter of boys) if he had wished to mean only man-boy sex.  Gagnon also cites evidence for non-exploitative forms of same-sex intercourse of which Paul could have been aware.[33]

Those arguing for a sexual meaning of malakoi at 1 Corinthians 6:9 interpret malakoi in the context of chapter 5, dealing with incest in the Corinthian church, the four words in 6:9 for sexual sinners (pornoi, moichos, malakoi, arsenokoitai) plus a word for idolaters, 6:12-20 concerning porneia with a prostitute, and chapter 7, dealing with sexual behavior and marriage.  1 Corinthians 6:1-8 dealing with lawsuits is in this schema a digression.

Those arguing that malakoi means soft in the sense of morally lax consider the context of malakoi to be justice, as discussed in 6:1-8, and the words in 6:10 for thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, and robbers.  David Frederickson interprets malakoi as those who lack self control, similar to the elite who run the law courts.  He thus gives a broad interpretation of malakoi (meanings beyond sexuality) and a narrow one of arsenokoitai (only exploitative forms of same-sex intercourse).[34]

Sibylline Oracle 2:70-77 (probably 2nd century) reads:  “Do not accept a gift earned from doing unjust deeds, do not steal, do not betray information, do not arsenokoiten, do not oppress a poor man.”[35] Dale Martin concludes that here arsenokoites “seems to have referred to some kind of economic exploitation by means of sex, perhaps but not necessarily homosexual sex.”[36] However, Martin writes that Paul’s meaning in 1 Corinthians 6:9 cannot be known, and he does not suggest one.[37] Strikingly, among those writers cited above who deny that Paul used Leviticus in his term arsenokoitai, none mention the Septuagint terms arsenos koiten in Leviticus, even in order to argue against influence.


Assessment of how Paul uses Leviticus

Two contrasting assumptions about Paul’s relationship to Torah and Judaism are expressed in how he relates to Torah-based Jewish practices: (1) Paul remained within  Judaism, and teaches or knows that circumcision, Sabbath, food laws, and prohibition against meat sacrificed to idols, are not abolished in Messiah, and that that Jewish observance of all, and Gentile observance of the last is expected; or (2) Paul had separated from Judaism, and teaches or knows that circumcision, Sabbath, and food laws are nullified, and idol food is permitted.  This essay accepts the first assumption, which is based on what Zetterholm calls the radical new perspective on Paul.[38]

Yet Paul, viewed under the second assumption about his relationship to Judaism, is still often thought by scholars of Romans 1:18-32 and 1 Corinthians 6:9 to employ Leviticus 18 and 20.[39] Echoes of Scripture are frequent in Paul’s letters.[40]

In the Romans passage, the creation allusions establish that humans exchange heterosexual for homosexual behavior.  Possible reference to Caligula and Nero, or to Gentile lack of self-control does not silence the echoes of creation, Sodom, and the Levitical prohibition of same-sex intercourse.  Neither the exploitation argument nor the pederasty argument can account for Paul’s mention of females.

In Corinthians, the correspondence to words for “lying with a male” in the LXX for Leviticus and the context makes it probable that both arsenokoitoi and malakoi have sexual meanings. It appears possible that Paul had in mind especially the same-sex intercourse of a teenage boy and a man, but still employs Leviticus, with its wider meaning.[41]

A number of scholars believe that Paul does not take Torah as obligatory.  E.P. Sanders suggested that Paul does not consider circumcision to be a commandment when he writes “circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping God’s commandments is everything.”  Luke Timothy Johnson wrote that “Paul denies the authority of Torah as commandment while upholding its authority as narrative in Galatians 3-4.”[42] Johnson’s and Sanders’ error is in not recognizing that Paul viewed Jews and Gentile as having different Torah obligations.

It is common for ethicists to ask why Believers should keep the sexual ethics of Leviticus since they do not keep the law against mixing fabrics that appears in nearby verses.  Unstated but assumed is that in Messiah there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile regarding commandments.  Rarely is the logic of the Apostolic Decree in Acts 15 mentioned, nor are its stipulations for Gentile behavior considered operative today.[43] The rabbinic discussion of what laws are incumbent upon Gentiles is rarely considered relevant by Believers.  The result of Christian estrangement from Judaism is an inability to understand parts of the New Testament, one’s place in the biblical story, one’s relationship to Yeshua and to God, and whether certain sexual behavior is fitting for a follower of Yeshua.

By contrast, if Paul remained within Judaism, one expects Paul to believe that the Levitical prohibition of same-sex intercourse is a commandment to be obeyed by both Jewish and Gentile Yeshua-believers.  Under the first assumption, 1 Corinthians 6:9 clearly uses Leviticus.  One expects Paul to look in Scripture—including Torah commandments—when listing persons who will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Does Paul employ Leviticus in a manner inconsistent with other passages in his letters?  Until recently, no or almost no Christian scholars thought Paul was inconsistent on this point, because the Torah prohibition of same-sex intercourse is part of the moral law.  However, when some sexual stipulations are reclassified as purity-related but not ethical, and Paul is seen as having done away with many purity-related laws, the question of consistency within his letters looms.[44]

Under the assumption that Paul had left Judaism, combined with reclassification of legal material about sexual behavior, Paul’s use of Leviticus appears inconsistent with other themes: abolition of circumcision, Sabbath, dietary laws, and indifference towards idolatry.  If Paul remained within Judaism, however, there is no contradiction.[45]

Is Paul’s use of Leviticus contrary to Paul’s message of grace through faith?[46] It must suffice here to note that Paul respects the Law and expects its observance in Messiah, Jews as Jews, and Gentiles as Gentiles.  Thus, positive use of Leviticus is not contrary to the gospel.

Employing Leviticus is not contrary to the welcoming of Gentiles.  Rather, employing Leviticus implements the decision to bring Gentiles into the ekklesia as Gentiles.  Paul nowhere disagrees with the Apostolic Decree in the Western version, and perhaps not in any version.  It may even be that Paul means the Apostolic Decree by “the obedience of faith,” (Rom 1:5, 16:26) and “the teaching” (Rom 6:17, 16:17).[47] Paul urges Gentile Yeshua-believers to respect Jewish sensibilities by altering their own eating behavior (Rom 14).

It is likely Paul used Leviticus in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6:9, on the traditional view or New Perspective in Paul, and is virtually certain on the radical new view of Paul.  According to the traditional or New Perspective view that Paul had left a Jewish lifestyle, but made a distinction between ceremonial and moral laws in the Old Testament, Paul’s condemnation of homosexual intercourse is still consistent with his proclamation of freedom from the Law.  Even more so, if the view that Paul continued to live as a Jew is persuasive, there is no basis to charge him with inconsistency if he considered the Gentiles clean when they turned from idols, but same-sex intercourse unclean.

Another implication follows from the radical new view of Paul, through repudiation of the anti-Jewish turn that the church took after the apostolic age. Constantine considered it shameful that Easter was tied to the Jewish date for Passover.  If Constantine’s spirit is wrong, apostolic decisions ought to be valued today even if they have a Jewish basis.  An important example is the Jerusalem Decree (Acts 15), which assumes that Jews remain Jews and Gentiles remain Gentiles after the coming of Yeshua.  The apostles decided that Gentiles who join the ekklesia are obligated to the sexual ethics which Leviticus 18 and 20 enjoin upon both Israel and the sojourner among them. As Paula Fredriksen observes about Paul’s prohibition of idolatry to Gentiles, “This was not an ethical demand so much as a ritual demand. More than this—as Paul surely knew—it was specifically a Judaizing demand.”[48]

Robert Gagnon made a detailed examination of the Bible and homosexual practice.  He argued that the biblical opposition to same-sex intercourse is rooted in the complementary sexual bodies of male and female, narrated in the Genesis creation narrative.  The biblical opposition to same-sex intercourse is absolute, consistent, severe, and counter-cultural.  Gagnon laid out and refuted seven possible objections:


  • The Bible condemns only exploitative, pederastic forms of homosexuality;
  • The Bible primarily condemns homosexuality because it is a threat to male dominance;
  • The Bible has no category for people with an exclusively same-sex orientation; same-sex passion was thought to originate in over-sexed individuals;
  • Homosexuality has a genetic component that the writers of the Bible did not realize;
  • There are only a few texts that speak directly to homosexuality;
  • Believers do not follow many of the other specifically sexual injunctions of the Bible, so why should those against homosexual practice be binding?
  • Since we are all sinners anyway, why single out the sin of same-sex intercourse?


Gagnon’s answers to these objections have never been proved wrong.  Some of his arguments can only grow stronger as our knowledge of the ancient world grows.  For example, it is likely that Paul and other New Testament writers were aware of enduring, loving, egalitarian, same-sex relations that included intercourse.  Greek writers who extolled homosexual love included Aeschines, Protgenes in Plutrach, Pausanias, and Socrates in Plato.[49] It is also likely that Paul was aware of literature about men whose sexual desire was exclusively for men.  Nonetheless Paul never suggests an acceptable context for same-sex intercourse, nor limits the absolute scriptural prohibition of it.

It is common for theologians to advance one of the above objections without engaging with Gagnon’s treatment of it.  Thus, some argue that “[i]f Paul entertains the cultural stereotype that Gentile sexuality is excessive (Rom 1), he does so to show how God's love of Gentiles is also excessive (Rom 11).”[50] This insight is unfortunately not supplemented by adequate attention to what Paul says about same-sex intercourse.  “Excessive sexuality” does not fully address the sinful sexual behavior.

Others have invigorated older arguments.  Neil Elliott’s proposal that Romans 1 has in mind the depravities of the Roman emperor is itself an extension of the excessive sexuality hypothesis.  As argued above, however, the allusions to Genesis and Leviticus in Romans 1 contribute to one’s interpretation of Paul, independently of Elliot’s theory.  In fact, based on the radical new perspective on Paul, one could predict that Paul agreed with the sexual laws in Leviticus even if he had never mentioned same-sex intercourse in his letters.


Hermeneutical Use of Scripture in Moral Deliberation


The priority of Scripture over tradition, reason, and experience as a source of moral authority is grounded in the authority that Yeshua accorded it.  Yeshua warns that his teaching should not be misunderstood as setting aside the Torah (Matt 5:17-20).  Rather, it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for a single letter to be dropped (Luke 16:17).  Glen Stassen and David Gushee suggest that Yeshua interpreted the Law through the prophets, especially Isaiah.  He emphasized the heart, and expression of love, mercy, and justice toward the most vulnerable people.[51] The commandment to love one’s neighbor was the key to interpreting and applying the commandment to love God (Mark 12:28–31; Deut 6:4; Lev 19:18).

Ethicists appeal to the Bible for narrative, rules, principles, paradigms, and symbolic world.  All of these are important, and narrative in particular.  Hays adopts the traditional position that Scripture is the un-normed norm, while tradition, reason, and experience are useful for interpreting Scripture, but do not have greater authority than Scripture.[52]


Hermeneutical Appropriation of the Biblical Witness against Same-Sex Intercourse

Here are four hermeneutical paths for using the scriptural witness against same-sex intercourse.  The first option is to posit that homosexuality today is so different from homosexuality in the ancient world that nothing in Scripture prohibits same-sex intercourse in loving relationships.  A precedent for this approach is the change in the meaning of usury, which was prohibited in the biblical and medieval worlds.  “In modern culture this has changed, but not because debt, greed, and extortion have disappeared.  A new economic system has changed the nature of money.”[53] Swartley observes that the analogy is apt if both capitalism and the homosexual phenomenon as we now experience it are both largely social constructions, from which little escape is possible.  The appeal in this approach is that the truth or authority of Scripture is not questioned, and neither is the possibility of a collision between worldviews entertained.[54] Difficulties with the first option are that the lack of structural complementarity in the physical bodies in same-sex intercourse has not changed; the prohibition in Leviticus is absolute; the Apostolic Decree affirmed for Gentiles the Levitical lists of prohibited sexual unions;[55] Paul employed the creation account and Leviticus within the theological context that he placed homosexual behavior (Romans 1); and Paul likely knew of loving, egalitarian, and lifelong same-sex relationships.

A variation of the first option is that Paul erred in thinking that every person who turned to homosexual intercourse previously practiced heterosexual intercourse and changed sexual behavior as a result of worshipping idols, or that homosexual preferences and orientation are deliberate choices.  Thus nothing he writes about homosexuality needs to be heeded.[56]

This interpretation is incorrect for several reasons.  First, Paul probably thinks corporately in Romans 1, as he often does elsewhere.  “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice (singular), holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1).  “You (plural) are God’s temple and God’s Spirit dwells in you (plural)” (1 Cor 3:16).  Fornication with a prostitute is wrong because it defiles the body of Messiah (1 Cor 6:15).  For Paul, “the church is analogous (though not identical) to Israel as portrayed in the holiness code.”[57]

Second, it was easily observable in Paul’s day that Gentiles grew up in an idolatrous culture; such individuals did not choose it.  In the first century, idolatry permeated Roman society, including politics, business, and meals.  The emperor and gods were worshipped in civic rites.  One rabbi said that the Gentiles of his time were not true idolaters because they merely practiced the customs of their ancestors.

Even if Paul thought of individuals in Romans 1:18-32, he considered them morally culpable for actions that they did not freely choose.  All are under the power of sin (3:9) and are slaves to sin (6:17).  The nature of sin is that it is not freely chosen.[58]

Even if Paul thought of homosexual behavior as always following an individual’s choice for idolatry, Genesis and Leviticus may not have.  For the biblical prohibition of same-sex intercourse to be invalidated, both Genesis and Leviticus must lack authority apart from Paul, and Paul must not refer to those scriptures.  But Paul refers to Genesis and Leviticus where he mentions same-sex intercourse, and considers them authoritative.

A second hermeneutic option is to use broad scriptural principles such as love and justice in order to overturn specific biblical rules.  Hays treats Reinhold Niebuhr as an example of this approach with regard to the Sermon on the Mount.  Niebuhr neglects biblical narrative, tradition, and ecclesiology (and Hays’ focal images of Community and New Creation), but places high value in reason and experience for his consequentialist ethic.[59] There are additional difficulties with the second option.  First, if Yeshua and Paul kept the Sabbath and biblical dietary laws, such behavior provides no basis to overturn specific biblical rules today.[60] Second, Leviticus cannot be dismissed by Yeshua-believers simply because it is Leviticus.  As previously argued,[61] Paul does not oppose the Apostolic Decree, and does not consider Leviticus nullified in Messiah.  Thus, in order for this hermeneutic option to be effective, a scriptural principle would have to overturn Paul’s writings with regard to same-sex intercourse, Acts 15, Leviticus 18 & 20, and probably the verses in Genesis that Yeshua cited for his views on human sexual expression.[62] Third, one would still have to make the case that giving priority to love and justice, reason, experience, science, and consequentialism lead to conclusions different than specific biblical rules.

A variant of the second hermeneutic option is to overturn the prohibition of homosexual intercourse through analogy between Gentiles and homosexual persons.  Thus, arguing that God’s love for homosexual persons warrants same-sex marriage:  “if Paul entertains the cultural stereotype that Gentile sexuality is excessive (Rom 1), he does so to show how God's love of Gentiles is also excessive (Rom 11).”[63] However, authorizing same-sex marriage would contravene the Jerusalem Decree and Leviticus, and would be an analogy that displaces the plain sense rather than supplementing it.[64]

A third hermeneutic option is to critique the Bible using extra-biblical resources.  The traditional position of Scripture as highest authority is rejected.  Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza exemplifies this approach.  She evaluates the Bible from the view of women’s experience, offering an historical reconstruction of women’s roles in the early church that has gained widespread assent.  However, only a few texts have revelatory authority for her, and Hays’ focal image of Crucifixion is neglected.[65]

Kathryn Greene-McCreight has appraised the work of Schussler Fiorenza and other feminists who propose to reconstruct Christian doctrine.   The hermeneutic of Schussler Fiorenza employs a non-narrative reading of Scripture.  Like much modern theology, she reasons that whatever is true or right becomes an authentic doctrine, which the religious community is bound to teach.  In contrast, most religious communities hold that some truths exist outside the community, and which the community is not bound to teach, but whatever is an authentic doctrine of the community is true and right.  Any community that adopts the first schema loses any stable identity.[66] In addition, all the difficulties with the second hermeneutic option carry over to the third option.

A variation of the third option does not involve judgment that something within Scripture is bad and something outside Scripture—which should replace it—is good. Rather, it begins from the premise that Paul’s ethical prescriptions bear no connection to his theological proclamation, since he allegedly conforms to the ethical thought of his contemporaries.[67] From such premises, Yeshua-believers can adopt contemporary ethical positions simply because they are contemporary, perhaps with the tacit understanding that ethics need not bear any relationship to theology.  Such relativism is congenial to a post-modern culture, and one that values new over old, but is nearly impossible to hold together with a high view of Scripture and belief that Paul consistently adhered to Jewish practices.

Conceivably, if one adopts the radical new view of Paul, but nevertheless considers his witness to the distinction of Jew and Gentile to be wrong, one might critique Scripture using resources from outside Scripture.  One might argue that since (Gentile) Christians disregard other parts of the Holiness Code (which were never imposed upon Gentiles by Leviticus or the Jerusalem Decree), they should disregard the commandments regarding same-sex intercourse.  For consistency, one would presumably also disregard the Levitical commandments concerning incest and other sexual behavior.

Appealing to either the second or third option, an objection might be lodged that churches in modern society reached positions against slavery despite strong biblical arguments justifying slavery.  Do these precedents not justify efforts to bring justice and equality for gays in the church despite what the Bible appears to say about homosexual intercourse?

There are indeed similarities in these situations, and the ekklesia needs to hear and respond to the voices of the marginalized.  Reason, experience, science, and tradition should inform the ekklesia’s response.  Mark Noll identified the slavery issue in America as a crisis over the Bible, resulting in church schisms.[68] The certainty with which many thought they could determine the biblical position on slavery appears to some people today to be as misplaced as the certainty with which many feel that they can determine the biblical position about same-sex intercourse.

Willard Swartley identifies several fundamental differences.[69] First, there are biblical texts on slavery that appear to support both sides of the debate, while all the texts that concern same-sex intercourse disapprove.  Second, prohibiting something that Scripture allows (but does not mandate) is different than allowing (or blessing) something that Scripture prohibits without exception.  Third, Scripture consistently takes an equally or stronger negative view toward homosexual intercourse than the culture around it, but not a more positive view of slavery than the surrounding culture.  Fourth, some biblical provisions are already identified within Scripture as accommodation to “hardness of heart.”  Yeshua said that Moses permitted divorce because of hardness of heart, but from the beginning it was not so (Matt 19:8; Mark 10:5; cf. Deut 24:1-4).  Similarly one could claim that Scripture permitted and regulated meat-eating (Gen. 9:3; Deut 12:20-23), kingship (Deut 17:14-20; 1 Sam 8:7), and slavery (Lev 25:39-55; Deut 15:12-18) because of hardness of heart.  But same-sex intercourse is neither part of the original design for human sexuality given in the creation story, nor the biblical vision of restored humanity.

The truth in the second and third hermeneutic options is that values of love and justice should be used to interpret the biblical prohibition of homosexual intercourse.  Yeshua and Paul, by their table fellowship with outsiders, model how love of neighbor leads one to become “all things to all people.”  Yet Yeshua and Paul did not break or abandon the commandments of the Torah, though accused of doing so.

A woman taken in adultery was presented to Yeshua.  Yeshua refused to condemn her, but told her “go, and sin no more” (John 8:3-10).  In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul commands the excommunication of a man who was in an incestuous relationship, rather than the death penalty given in Leviticus 18.  The rabbis so restricted the conditions for which a rebellious son must be stoned (Deut 21:18-21) that it was practically impossible to carry out the sentence.[70] Do these innovations suggest that the ekklesia can cancel the biblical prohibition of homosexual intercourse?  No.  By making a sentence impossible to carry out, the rabbis did not mean that the behavior of the rebellious son was blameless.

Debate about homosexuality is often carried out by opposing parties living different paradigms.  Some might propose that debate about the meaning of biblical texts, even about the relative authority of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, can accomplish little until those currently opposed to all expressions of homosexuality graduate to a new paradigm.  However, even here, the ekklesia’s debate must no longer take place within an anti-Jewish theological paradigm antagonistic to the New Testament adoption of Torah commandments.

The fourth hermeneutic option is to acknowledge that the scriptural witness against same-sex intercourse enjoins followers of Yeshua from engaging in it.  This option is compatible with the narrative-based hermeneutic strategies of Stanley Hauerwas, Karl Barth, and John Howard Yoder.

Hays summarizes Hauerwas’ theological ethics as “Character shaped by Tradition.”  For Hauerwas, the ekklesia must already be a community formed by the story of the kingdom of heaven in order to read Scripture correctly.  One learns to read Scripture through observing the lives of saints and through the liturgy.  Although an unfaithful body of believers could cause Scripture to fall mute, in regard to homosexual intercourse, tradition has been no less disapproving than Scripture.[71]

Barth’s ethics simply do not focus on correlation of Scripture with other sources of authority.  The command of God is not merely a general rule but a specific prescription and norm for every case.  Hays rejects Barth’s claim that the divine command needs no interpretation, only a decision to obey.[72] Yet, on the subject of same-sex intercourse, Barth’s hermeneutic yields an absolute prohibition.

Yoder seeks to demonstrate that the model of Yeshua as a politically relevant ethical example is consistent throughout the New Testament.  Yeshua’s life in faithfulness to God is characterized by self-emptying, servanthood, and forgiveness.  The calling of the ekklesia, through participation in Messiah, is to continue the unmasking and disarming of the Principalities and Powers (Col 2:15).  Yoder describes the paradigmatic use of the New Testament as an exercise of analogical imagination.  Tradition, reason, and experience all have roles, but the portrayal of Yeshua must be foundational for ethics.[73]

Why use the Bible for ethics at all?  Walter Moberly says that when you have found the pearl of great price, it is foolish to let it go.  At stake are not petty rules, but one’s whole understanding of life and death.  If one ceases to believe in God as depicted in Scripture, eventually one also ceases to believe that humans are made in God’s image, and the understanding of what it means to be human changes.[74] What keeps Wesley Hill committed to the biblical teaching concerning sexual expression is the overall story in Scripture.[75] Eve Tushnet finds that the theology of the body articulated by Pope John Paul II, based upon the creation narratives of Genesis, provides an account of sexuality that resonates with her own experience.[76]


An Ecclesial Position


Should followers of Yeshua appeal directly to Levitical commandments that proscribe behavior?  Is it better to make arguments in the ekklesia from philosophy, possibly also from the New Testament, and possibly from Genesis?  Hays argues (contra Tomson) that in Paul’s treatment of the issue of idol meat, he does not point to the authoritative teaching of Yeshua or the Apostolic Decree.  However, “Paul’s reluctance to specify narrow behavioral norms was perhaps one of the factors that led to trouble in the Corinthian community.”[77] Luke, writing after Paul, emphasizes that Yeshua and his Jewish followers, including Paul, were Law observant.  It seems to me that the situation today warrants overt mention of Leviticus, unless anti-Judaism is so strong that one expects it to lead to a Marcionite response denying Leviticus a place in the scriptures of the ekklesia.[78]

Most congregations have too little experience of God’s power for transforming difficult situations to support homosexual persons who wish to pursue celibacy or the change that would enable heterosexual marriage.  Such congregations should not teach a sexual ethic that they are unwilling to support.  This sober advice prompts two questions.  What kind of congregations could interpret Scripture rightly?  What kind of congregations could offer a way of life that is more compelling to homosexual persons than one that included same-sex intercourse?[79]

Within the Holiness Code, nearby the prohibited sexual unions, are commandments to care for vulnerable people.  When you reap the harvest, leave the gleanings for the poor and sojourner (Lev 19:9-10).  Do not withhold wages from your hired servant (19:13).  Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind (19:14).  Love your neighbor as yourself (19:18).  Love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (19:34).

Immediately after Paul’s denunciation of those Gentiles whom God gave up to a base mind and improper conduct (Rom 1:28), and who deserve to die (1:32), he announces that “in passing judgment on him you condemn yourself (2:1).  Further, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (3:23).  What then becomes of our boasting?  It is excluded (3:27).

After listing those who will not inherit the kingdom of God, Paul reminds his readers what God has done for them.  “And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Messiah Yeshua and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11).

The congregation ought to be a place “where all sinners are truly welcome and given the time, space, and love that will form them in [Messiah] and in… community—so that they might live whole and holy lives.”[80] Gay seekers or Yeshua-believers who are homosexually active might be viewed as in the talmudic category of a Jewish child who was raised with no understanding of Judaism.[81] The analogy between the welcome of Gentiles into the early ekklesia, and homosexual persons today can be fruitful, so long as the analogy supplements rather than displaces the stipulations for Gentile behavior in Acts 15.[82] This would include recognition of the activity of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people with same-sex attraction.  Hays’ focal images of Community, Cross, and New Creation are useful.[83] Gay Yeshua-believers desiring to live chaste celibate lives need to be heard.[84]


The differences that lead to moral growth on the pattern of the incarnation, of Christ and the church, are those, as Gregory Nazianzen says, that turn our limits to our good.  The differences that turn our limits to our good are those that cause us to need one another, since love can exist only as relationally possessed.[85]


Mark Thiessen Nation names seven convictions that the ekklesia and local congregation should embrace: (1) homosexuality is not the most important issue facing Yeshua-believers today; (2) Yeshua-believers must embrace the call to pursue justice, compassion, and welcoming the stranger; (3) if we are to call for sexual fidelity within the ekklesia we must care for those who desire to be so committed but who fail from time to time; (4) if we call for sexual fidelity we must attend to the relational needs of those who are single; (5) we must love those among us who feel marginalized or even sinned against by our moral positions; (6) though we must speak the truth we must speak it in love; (7) we must never forget our own fallibility.[86]

Mark Yarhouse and colleagues identifed church-based ministries that are considered ex­emplary in their outreach or ministry to persons who experience same-sex attraction or who struggle with sexual identity concerns.   They asked the following question: “If you could give advice to another church on how to minister to individuals who experience same-sex attraction or have sexual identity concerns, what would you say?” Several themes emerged: Safe Place, Leadership, Training/Supervision, and Loving People Where They Are.  One person responded, “If the leaders of the church don’t make it a safe place to tell the “truth” about per­sonal struggles, whatever the struggles are, then it would be difficult to minister to hurting bro and sis.”  Another said, “Build a leadership team of individuals who truly have a mis­sionary’s heart for this issue and will commit to pray­ing without ceasing.”   A third aptly stated: “Go somewhere and intern or train.”  A fourth shared, “Reach out, love and accept all who come through your doors.”[87]



Paul probably refers to Leviticus 18 & 20, where homosexual intercourse is prohibited, in Romans 1:18-32 and 1 Corinthians 6:9.  Paul likely understood the Levitical prohibition of same-sex intercourse as a commandment to be obeyed by all disciples of Yeshua, Jews and Gentiles alike.  This use, and understanding of Leviticus is not contrary to any Pauline writings that treat circumcision, Sabbath, Jewish dietary laws, and food offered to idols.  Rather, such respect for Scripture, including commandments, is explicitly supported by Paul.  That Scripture generally, and Levitical same-sex prohibitions specifically, were authoritative for Paul, supports a contemporary ecclesial prohibition of same-sex intercourse, and makes more difficult the hermeneutical use of biblical or extra-biblical principles to teach otherwise.  The biblical witness against homosexual intercourse should be combined with biblical themes of community, cross, new creation, love, and justice.



Jon C. Olson, DPM, DrPH, is Clinical Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts School of Public Health.



[1] Usually “church” and “Old Testament” are mentioned together, but this essay uses “ekklesia” and sometimes “Torah” to emphasize that Jewish followers of Yeshua who affiliate with Judaism are included.

[2] C. Norman Kraus, “Making Theological and Ethical Decisions:  Contextualizing the Bible,” in C. Norman Kraus, ed., To Continue the Dialogue:  Biblical Interpretation and Homosexuality (Telford, PA.:  Pandora Press, 2001), 258, 264-65, 273-74.  Kraus (270-71) identifies Ephesians 4:24 as the clearest example of the New Testament shift in the definition of holiness.  Eph 4:30 & 5:3-5 say that the Holy Spirit is grieved by fornication, impurity, obscene and vulgar talk, and greed which is identified with idolatry.  Kraus says that the Holiness Code is thereby dissociated with ritualistic taboos and given a thoroughly ethical definition.  2 Cor 6:14-7:1 he calls consistent with the Mosaic Torah but without the accompanying social codes.  Three other passages that Kraus cites (Mark 7, Rom 14, 1 Cor 6) are discussed in this essay or elsewhere in this Kesher issue.  See Jon C. Olson, “Paul within Messiah, Torah, and Judaism.”

[3] To Set Our Hope on Christ: A Response to the Invitation of Windsor Report paragraph 135. (New York:  The Office of Communication, The Episcopal Church Center, 2005), 22.

[4] Willard M. Swartley, Homosexuality:  Biblical Interpretation and Moral Discernment (Scottdale, PA:  Herald Press, 2003), 74-92; Eve Tushnet, “Homosexuality & the Church: Experience & Tradition,” Commonweal 134/12, June 15, 2007.

[5]Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse, Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate, (Downs Grove, IL:  Intervasity Press, 2000), 11-152; Stanton L. Jones and Alex W. Kwee, “Scientific Research, Homosexuality, and the Church’s Moral Debate:  An Update,” Journal of Psychology & Christianity 24/4 (Winter 2005), 304-16; Stanton L. Jones, “Same-Sex Science,” First Things 220 (February) 2012, 27-33; Leonard Levy, “Same-Sex Attraction and Halakhah,” EH 24.2006c, [online<>].

[6] Jones and Yarhouse, Homosexuality, 153-83.

[7] Helpful are Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (San Francisco:  Harper, 1996); Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee, Kingdom Ethics:  Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (Downer’s Grove, IL:  Intervarsity, 2003); Oliver O’Donovan, “Good News for Gay Christians,” (2007) [online<>].


[8] Ted Grimsrud curiously argues that “in the absence of a clear universalizable basis” for such a condemnation, one cannot generalize it to all forms of male/male sex.  Ted Grimsrud and Mark Thiessen Nation, Reasoning Together: A Conversation on Homosexuality (Scottdale:  Herald, 2008), 149.

[9] Grimsrud and Nation, Reasoning Together, 148. Myron S. Geller, Robert E. Fine, and David J. Fine, “The Halakhah of Same-Sex Relations in a New Context,” EH 24.2006f, argue that Leviticus opposed homosexual intercourse because it was sex outside marriage, but Leviticus no longer applies where same-sex marriage is legal.  The marriages of Abraham to a half sister and Jacob to two sisters, subsequently prohibited in Lev 18, shows that “sexual sin” is relative to culture and that such culture has changed, they argue. [online<>]; accessed May 16, 2012.

[10] As in Middle Assyrian Laws 19 and 20; see Robert Gagnon, “A Critique of Jacob Milgrom’s Views on Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13,” note 18; [online<>]  Accessed June 11, 2012.

[11] Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice:  Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2001), 131.  However, Reuven Kimmelman argues that Deuteronomy’s diatribe against idolatry does not include homosexual intercourse, while the prohibition of the Kadesh and K’desha in Deut 23:18 appears in a list of moral wrongs, indicating that homosexuality is understood in the context of immoral sexuality, not idolatry.  “Homosexuality and the Policy Decisions of the CJLS,” EH 24.1992c, 677, in Responsa 1991- 2000: The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement (New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 2005); [online<>]. Accessed May 13, 2012. Joel Roth, “Homosexuality Revisited,” EH 24.2006a , 2, similarly argues that Kadesh and K’desha do not refer to cult prostitution, which moreover was absent from ancient Israel; [online<>]; Accessed May 13, 2012.

[12] This is also the understanding of Joel Roth, “Homosexuality,” EH 24.1992b, 617; [online<>]; Accessed May 13, 2012.

[13] It is also possible that lesbianism was too rare to mention.  But bestiality by a woman must have been rare too, yet it is mentioned.

[14] “As Boswell’s study amply documents, the mainstream of Christian ethical teaching has been unrelentingly hostile to homosexual practice” (Hays, Moral Vision, 397.)  Richard B. Hays, “Relations Natural and Unnatural:  A Response to John Boswell’s Exegesis of Romans 1,” Journal of Religious Ethics, 1986, 184-215, at 202, lists Romans, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Testament of Naphtali [if it indeed is a Christian text], the Apostolic Constitutions, Clement of Alexandria, Minucius Felix, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome.

[15] Hays, “Relations Natural and Unnatural,” 212, note 7. These distinctions are reflected in rabbinic rulings, codified by Maimonides, that the Torah prohibits male Gentiles from six types of intercourse (with mother, father’s wife, sister by a common mother, another man’s wife, a male, and an animal) but does not prohibit Gentiles wearing a garment of mixed fabrics, and other ceremonial laws.  See Aaron Lichtenstein, The Seven Laws of Noah (New York:  Rabbi Jacob Joseph Press, 1981); Chaim Rapoport, Judaism and Homosexuality:  An Authentic Orthodox View (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2004).

[16] The rabbis prohibited female-female sex based on Lev 18:3; see Sifra 8:8; Yevamot 76a; Shabbat 25a.

[17] Gagnon, Bible and Homosexual Practice, 246-69.

[18] Robert Gagnon, “A Comprehensive and Critical Review Essay of Homosexuality, Science, and the “Plain Sense” of Scripture, Part 2.” Horizons in Biblical Theology, Volume 25 (2003), 179-275. [online<>] Accessed June 11, 2012; Hays, “Relations Natural and Unnatural,” 203.  There is also evidence for allusion in Romans 1 to the story of Sodom as recounted in Testament of Naphtali 3:3-4.

[19] Hays, “Relations Natural and Unnatural,” 212, note 7.

[20] Gagnon, “Comprehensive and Critical Review,” 233, note 115.

[21] David E. Fredrickson, “Natural and Unnatural Use in Romans 1:24-27: Paul and the Philosophic Critique of Eros,” summarized in Swartley, Homosexuality, 57.

[22] Robin Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality, summarized in Swartley, Homosexuality, 57-58.

[23] Several other theories are compatible with Pauline dependence on Leviticus, and often the critics object to Leviticus for the same reason they object to Romans.

[24] Grimsrud and Nation, Reasoning Together, 151.

[25] Neil Elliot, “The Apostle Paul on Sexuality.”  [online<>] Accessed June 11, 2012.

[26] Grimsrud and Nation, Reasoning Together, 156.

[27] Magnus Zetterholm, Approaches to Paul: A Student’s Guide to Recent Scholarship (Minneapolis:  Fortress, 2009), 204, summarizing Suetonius.

[28] Neil Elliott, The Arrogance of Nations, summarized in Zetterholm, Approaches to Paul, 201-09.

[29] Stanley Stowers, A Rereading of Romans, summarized in Zetterholm, Approaches to Paul, 139-47.

[30] Hays, “Relations Natural and Unnatural,” 211, note 2, based on Scroggs.

[31] Richard B. Hays, 1 Corinthians (Interpretation Bible Commentary Series:  John Knox Press, 1997).

[32] Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality, 121-22, cited in Gagnon, “Comprehensive and Critical Review,” 204.

[33] Gagnon, Bible and HomosexualPractice, 350-360.  Furthermore, pederasty was not necessarily seen as exploitative or unloving.  David F. Greenberg, The Construction of Homosexuality (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1988), 147-48, writes that the idealized homosexual relationship in classical Greece involved a male between ages 20-30 and an adolescent whose beard had not begun to grow.  Ideally the older partner strove to win the admiration of the younger through exemplary conduct, and the younger sought to emulate the older.  The sexual relationship ordinarily ended when the boy reached maturity.  For convincing evidence that rabbis of the Talmud knew of non-exploitative, loving, monogamous same-sex sexual relationships between male equals, and the possibility of same-sex marriages, see Roth, “Homosexuality,” 621-23.  Roth, “Homosexuality Revisited,” 3, summarizes John Boswell’s 1994 book, Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, as showing that the Greco-Roman world knew of four types of homosexual unions: exploitation of males owned or controlled, concubinage, lover relations, and formal unions.  Similarly for women, Bernadette Brooten, Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticisim (1996).

[34] Gagnon, “Comprehensive and Critical Review, Part 2,” 229.

[35] Don Blosser, “Why Does the Bible Divide Us?,” in Kraus, ed., To Continue the Dialogue, 138.

[36] Grimsrud in Grimsrud and Nation, Reasoning Together, 160, citing Dale Martin, “Arsenokoites and Malakos:  Meanings and Consequences,” in Brawley, ed., Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality, 118-19.

[37] Dale B. Martin, “The Misuse and Abuse of Scripture and Tradition,” June 15, 2007. [online<>] Accessed June 11, 2012.

[38] See Olson, “Paul within Messiah, Torah, and Judaism.”

[39] Swartley, Homosexuality, 71.

[40] Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven:  Yale, 1989).

[41] Anthony C. Thiselton, First Corinthians (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2006), 91 offers similar assessment.

[42] Luke Timothy Johnson, Scripture & Discernment: Decision Making in the Church (Nashville:  Abingdon, 1996), 41.

[43] Jon C. Olson, “The Jerusalem Decree, Paul, and the Gentile Analogy to Homosexual Persons,” Journal of Religious Ethics, 40.2 (June 2012), 360-384.

[44] John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980), 101, writes that the LXX distinguishes in toevah between violations of law or justice (anomia) and infringements of ritual purity or monotheistic worship (bdelugma).  The proscription of homosexual practice falls in the latter category, and this carries over into the New Testament.  Boswell argues for the irrelevance among Christians of Levitical prohibitions termed abominations, based upon  the priority of the interior infidelity of the soul in Luke 16:15, Rom 2:22, and Titus 1:10-16.  But see Hays, “Relations Natural and Unnatural,” 194, and Gagnon, Bible and Homosexual Practice, 441-2.  N.T. Wright, The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture (San Francisco: Harper, 2005)  attempts to justify contravention of the Old Testament in the New Testament, while disallowing contravention of the New Testament by contemporary Christians.  John Perry, “Vocation and Creation:  Beyond the Gentile-Homosexual Analogy, “ Journal of Religious Ethics 40.2 (June 2012), 385-400 reasons that contravention of the Torah through welcoming Gentiles into the people of God as Gentiles sets a precedent for contemporary Christians to contravene the New Testament.

[45] Hays, Moral Vision, 310, proposes ten guidelines for use of the New Testament in ethical reflection.  The second assumption about the New Testament in relation to circumcision, Sabbath, dietary laws, and idolatry, weakens these: (1) we should not override the witness of the New Testament in one mode (rule, principle, paradigm, world-view) by appealing to another mode; (2) extrabiblical sources stand in a hermeneutical relation to the New Testament; they are not independent, counterbalancing sources of authority; (3) it is impossible to distinguish “timeless truth” from “culturally conditioned elements” in the New Testament.  The first assumption about the New Testament, recognizing distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, strengthens these guidelines.  For an ecclesial proposal based on the first assumption see Mark S. Kinzer, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People (Grand Rapids:  Brazos, 2005).

[46] See Olson, “Paul within Messiah, Torah, and Judaism,” Douglas Harink, Paul Among the Postliberals: Pauline Theology Beyond Christendom and Modernity (Grand Rapids:  Brazos, 2003), Lloyd Gaston, Paul and the Torah (Vancouver:  University of British Columbia Press, 1987), Peter J. Tomson, ‘If this be from Heaven…’: Jesus and the New Testament Authors in their Relationship to Judaism ( Sheffield:  Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), and the discussion in Zetterholm, Approaches to Paul.   “The law is always accusing us, always cutting us down, and making us miserable, so we reciprocate and try to cut the law down to our size.  We find ourselves slipping into moral relativism, accepting things that are totally contrary to the law of God….  ‘Christ is the end of the law.’  This means that the law is abrogated insofar as it accuses and condemns us.”  (Carl E. Braaten, Justification:   The Article by Which the Church Stands or Falls [Minneapolis:  Fortress, 1990], 150, 152.)

[47] Nanos, Mystery of Romans, 166-238.

[48] Paula Fredriksen, “Judaizing the Nations: The Ritual Demands of Paul’s Gospel.” New Testament Studies 56 (2010), 232-252, at 251.

[Online<>] accessed June 11, 2012.

[49] Gagnon, Bible and Homosexual Practice, 351-60.  Gagnon cites Louis Compton, Thomas Hubbard, Bernadette Brooten, William Schoedel, and Martti Nissenen as scholars all supportive of same-sex unions who see Paul condemning all forms of homosexual eroticism although knowing of persons with exclusive same-sex attraction and of the view that it was inborn.  Philo was probably aware of persons with lifelong homosexual proclivity, and the rabbis and Church fathers knew of semi-official same-sex marriages. See also Gagnon, ‘The Bible and the “Gay Marriage” Question:   A Response to Prof. Lee Jefferson’s op-ed piece for the Huffington Post,’ July 8, 2011; [online< >] (accessed June 11, 2012).

[50] Deirdre J. Good, Willis J. Jenkins, Cynthia B. Kittredge, and Eugene F. Rogers, Jr., “A Theology of Marriage including Same-Sex Couples: a View from the Liberals,” Anglican Theological Review 93.1 (2011), 51-87, at 81.

[51] Stassen and Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, 91-5.  See also Peter J. Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles (Minneapolis:  Fortress, 1990), 240; Kinzer, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism, 62–3.

[52] George Lindbeck notes that communal authority in the Christian sphere depends upon consonance with the Bible.  “There is agreement on this among all the major traditions despite their differences on the interrelations of Bible, tradition, and magisterium.”  Lindbeck, “Scripture, Consensus, and Community,” in Biblical Interpretation in Crisis, ed. Richard John Neuhaus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 91, quoted in Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Feminist Reconstructions of Christian Doctrine (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2000), 166.

[53] Walter Moberly, “The Use of Scripture in Contemporary Debate about Homosexuality,” Theology 103 (July-Aug 2000), 251-58, at 253.

[54] Hays, “Relations Natural and Unnatural,” 210.

[55] Olson, “Jerusalem Decree.”

[56] Johnson, Scripture & Discernment, 146.

[57] Hays, Moral Vision, 392.

[58] Ibid., 390.  On addiction and sin see Kent Dunnington, Addiction and Virtue:  Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011), especially 128-31.

[59] Hays, Moral Vision, 213-25. Niebuhr violates Hays’ guideline that we should not override the witness of the New Testament in one mode by appealing to another mode.  See also Olson, “Jerusalem Decree.”

[60] The sole exception is Paul’s argument for bringing Gentiles into the covenant through Yeshua but without circumcision.  Circumcision functions here not as a commandment, but as a means of assuming Jewish status and obligation to all the commandments.

[61] Olson, “Paul within Messiah, Torah, and Judaism;” Olson, “Jerusalem Decree.”

[62] “We justified the Ordination of Women by appealing to the very texts of Scripture we are now being asked [by Lutheran Concerned] to ignore for the sake of ordaining practicing homosexuals (Genesis 1 and 2; Galatians 3).”  Bishop J. Robert Jacobson, Bishop’s lecture C, St. John Lutheran Church, Barrhead Alberta, October 31, 1989.

[63] Good et al, “A Theology of Marriage,” 81.

[64] See Olson, “Jerusalem Decree.”

[65] “At the present time, it appears that Schussler Fiorenza has found relatively few followers who are willing to imitate her example of rigorous engagement with scholarly exegesis; on the other hand, she has found many followers who are glad to adopt her recommendation that contemporary experience must control the interpretation of the Bible.  In the long run, it is hard to see how the latter development could lead to anything other than the dissolution—or at least serious schism—of the Christian church.  The more the weight of theological authority is placed on present experience, the more difficult it becomes to see why anyone should bother to recover hypothetical memories of women’s history from ancient texts.  The more ‘God’ becomes identified with a divine principle within the (feminine) self, the more uncertain is the need for a gospel about Jesus of Nazareth who strangely died on a cross.  (It is hard to imagine what Prisca and Phoebe and the other early Christian women whose contributions Schussler Fiorenza has highlighted would make of these theological developments.  Presumably, as Paul’s colleagues and co-workers, they preached the gospel of human reconciliation to God through the death of Jesus, not a theology of ‘self-affirmation’ through ‘deciding their own spiritual-political affairs.’ ” (Hays, Moral Vision, 281).

[66] Greene-McCreight, Feminist Reconstructions, 15-19.

[67] Hays, Moral Vision, 17-18, attributes the view to Martin Dibelius and Hans Dieter Betz.  Hays dissents.

[68] Mark A. Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 2006).

[69] “The new way, argued by abolitionists, pacifists, and feminists, emerges from God’s redemptive action, grace, and kingdom justice.  It contrasts to practices in that culture in which slavery, war, and hierarchical gender structures prevailed.  God’s way is different, liberating and loving, replacing dominion and self-defensiveness with mutuality and trust.  In contrast, homosexual practice is not related to grace-energized behavior in even a single text.  Nor is the practice regulated by permeation of or juxtaposition with a qualifying gospel ethic.  For example, the husband-wife hierarchy is virtually transformed by the Christian ethic of mutual submission and christologically rooted husband’s self-giving live in Ephesians 5:21-33”  (Swartley, Homosexuality, 17-18).

[70] Milgrom’s unconvincing argument that Leviticus prohibits only incestuous homosexual intercourse perhaps demonstrates moral urgency directed toward ameliorating the plight of homosexual persons today.  See Gagnon [online<>].  Accessed June 11, 2012.

[71] Hays, Moral Vision, 397.  Jewish tradition strongly opposes same-sex intercourse and homosexual sexual behavior; Roth, “Homosexuality,” and “Homosexuality Revisited.”

[72]Hays, Moral Vision, 228.

[73] Ibid., 252.

[74] Moberly, “Use of Scripture,” 253.

[75] Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).

[76] Tushnet, “Homosexuality & the Church.”

[77] Hays, Moral Vision, 43.

[78] Cf. Hays’ analysis in “Relations Natural and Unnatural,” 213, note 13, that George Edwards’ treatment of Romans 1 is Marcionite and defames Judaism.  Edwards had argued that Paul presents not his own understanding of God’s judgment but that of Jewish tradition, as if they were radically divorced from one another.  Hays replies by contrast that God’s wrath and judgment plays a major role in Paul’s apocalyptic theology.  Gagnon responds in Bible and Homosexual Practice to Brooten’s charge that Paul’s use of Leviticus diminishes his morality.  Markus Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word:  Refocusing New Testament Study (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 225, notes uncomprehending mockery of Leviticus in certain mainline Protestant church debates over hermeneutics.

[79] Dunnington, Addiction and Virtue, 193-94, asks if the church can embody the purposive, ecstatic, and all-consuming love of God in a way that is more compelling than the life of addiction.  This suggests an analogous question for the ekklesia and gays.

[80] Phil Kniss, “Hitching our Cart to a Horse Gone Lame,” in Michael A. King, ed., Stumbling Toward a Genuine Conversation on Homosexuality (Telford, PA: Cascadia, 2007), 254.  Kniss advocates groups small enough for genuine involvement in each others lives, diverse enough that discernment comes from a healthy struggle with differing viewpoints, committed enough to share freely, generously, and compassionately, and structured enough to have life-giving mechanisms for accountability both within and without (ibid, 256).  Henri Nouwen, on the subject of small group living and depression, warns that the solution to the problem of loneliness might wrongly be sought in demanding and exhausting friendships.  To avoid narcissism, the group should have a purpose of serving others, not internally focused.  Henri J.M. Nouwen, Intimacy:  Essays in Pastoral Psychology (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1969), 79-105.  Dunnington, Addiction and Virtue, provides a critical appreciation of twelve step groups, which are skilled at friendships because they demand people enter into friendships and mentoring relationships that are structured toward certain ends.  Belief in and experience of God’s power to transform other difficult situations, and the mussar approach to one’s own character traits, might shape congregations into places where gay Yeshua-believers and others could form friendships, reveal their struggles, and pursue spiritual growth

[81] Rapoport, Judaism and Homosexuality, 48-86.

[82] Olson, “Jerusalem Decree.”

[83] Hays, Moral Vision, 391-94, 400-03.

[84] Hill, Washed and Waiting, writes of the loneliness of homosexual Christians who choose chastity and their need to feel desired.  The church should be sensitive to those, both married and unmarried, with such burdens. “When one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:26).

[85] Quoted from Good et al, “A Theology of Marriage.”

[86] Grimsrud and Nation, Reasoning Together, 217, here substituting “Yeshua-believer” for “Christian.”

[87] Mark A. Yarhouse and Trista L. Carr, “The Exemplar Project: Finding What Makes a Church Exemplary in its Ministry to Persons who Experience Same-Sex Attraction or who Struggle with Sexual Identity Concerns” Edification: The Transdisciplinary Journal of Christian Psychology 4.2.(2010), 32-40; [online:<>].

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