Do plausible interpretations of relevant passages require unity with respect to same-sex marriage? Posted bydialogosstudiesJuly 29, 2020Posted inUncategorized Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like Loading... Related
5 thoughts on “Do plausible interpretations of relevant passages require unity with respect to same-sex marriage?”
This argument reminds me of my long struggle with accepting women in church office in the CRC. It would be be sad if your denomination had to split because of differences of interpretation in this matter. However, being a gifted woman with plans to serve God’s people in ministry is not the same thing as advocating sexual deviance (as we have all long thought). For a woman to seek ecclesiastic office is a noble thing (1 Timothy 3:1). But is seeking a lover or marriage partner in the same gender the same sort of nobility? I don’t think so.
I don’t think so because the two evaluations score differently in the mind of St. Paul. He is the one who gave up on sexual unions and who advised us all to live a single life in order to pursue the kingdom of Christ without distraction, as he did. The Apostle might have advised sexuality and marriage as concession to base lusts (1 Corinthians 7) but he would never consider same sex partnerships as “noble”. He didn’t have to invoke the pantheon of kinkiness portrayed in Isis or Diana. The whole idea of Christian devoting themselves to carnal pleasures and reproduction would have sickened him because Christians ought to have have bigger fish to fry, so to speak.
Which brings me to my last point. Is this essay by Dr. Peabody the best exegesis the “for” side can can up with? And your response — the traditional, the literal, straightforward reading, the “historical” — that is the best your denomination can manage is giving the members wisdom on such matters now weighing heavy on our culture’s minds? Dipping willy-nilly into the historical context of Paul’s Romans 1 and making us believe that the cult of Isis was exactly what was on the Apostle’s mind is, as Peabody himself says, is sheer imagination and nothing more. To milk this out of Paul’s words in Romans 1:26-27 would require an obvious clue or some signal that this is how the hearers should hear it.
When I personally worked through the woman in office question, my research led me to believe that Paul was citing incipient Gnostic teachings, teaching which promoted women as unique oracles of wisdom (sophia) so long as they threw off their shackles of the old creator god who had enslaved them and their offspring with a life of subjugation and childbearing. Paul was simply admonishing the heresy then troubling Timothy and his the church. This exegesis might sound fantastic according to centuries of sound, “straight-forward” (i.e. traditional) l readings of the text except that the Apostle himself signals he had these Gnostics in mind when he points them out in the first chapter. He points to them as troublemakers disruptive to the peace and prayers of the church, as ill-motivated and confused in chapters 3 and 4, judging from their inability to articulate what leadership means and affirm the good in creation. In the last chapter he chides them as people puffed up with so-called “knowledge”.
But there is no clue or signal sex-cult shenanigans in the Letter to the Roman church, though the Imperial court in Paul’s day had plenty of immorality at play and was probably the real background for the Apostle’s insights in the first chapter.
Be that as it may, it is not good enough to simply dismiss Peabody’s interpretation as less than straightforward, even convoluted and likely contrived. A thorough interpretation of 1 Romans 1:24-27 will have to do more than that. Why is this immorality singled out when the purpose was to prove ALL are sinners in the same category of depravation and idolatry? Why doesn’t the Catechism, as a summary of what we confess and live by faith, spend no words on this ‘ultimate’ sin? (It does no good to say it doesn’t mention alien abductions either because the Catechism and the Three Forms of Unity are indeed to speak where God has spoken with a highlight marker!) Why are gays and lesbians to be shamed in the community of faith when Christ would likely show them compassion if their true ambition was only to love and serve and please one other of the same sex? Indeed, if this is the greatest horror of idolatry, why is it given so little space in Holy Writ? An exegete will do well to remember that any teaching supported by very sparse analogies in Scripture should handled carefully and never be the basis of major doctrine unless it follows clearly, logically and theologically from the major analogies of faith. Especially when major analogies of faith may well clearly contradict it.
There.. I have given you some advice as a brother in Christ. I have no idea how this email came to me and how it just now alerted me to your troubles as a denomination. Compassion. Compassion. Compassion. And to have the humility to let the Scripture speak for itself — grammatically, historically, and theologically.
Once again I want to affirm Dr. Peabody’s concern for unity within the church. Our Lord Jesus Himself in His high priestly prayer prayed for unity:
“…that they may one as we are one…so that they may be brought to complete unity.” On this basis he advocates that those of us in the Reformed Church in America are divisive and creating disunity because we hold to the Biblical teaching that same-sex marriage ought not to be sanctioned in the church because it is immoral. That raises two questions that need to answered. First, does Scripture teach that same-sex sexual relationships are immoral and unbiblical? Dr. Peabody responds to justify his position by claiming that the Apostle Paul’s writing in Romans 1:26-27 as “So a reading of the entire passage would seem to show that Romans 1:26-27 is just a part of Paul’s apostolic diatribe against the prevalent cultic practices of the Imperial City of his day . . .”
I don’t doubt the the immorality in the Roman culture distressed the Apostle greatly, but on what basis can Dr. Peabody make such a giant leap of assumption that Paul was addressing the abusive homosexual lifestyle of the surrounding culture while not including the loving same-sex relationships of others? Granted he can point to other theologian like Dr. James Brownson to find support, but that is not the CLEAR teaching of Scripture, and such a view is not supported by John Calvin or other great expositors of the Bible!
Is Dr. Peabody implying that the Apostle Paul totally disregarded the Old Testament law as recorded in Leviticus 18 and 20? This behavior was detestable to the Lord. But in one swoop he disregards key N.T. teachings as
1 Corinthians 5:1, 18-19 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 as not pertaining to the issue of unity. His position is that the New Testament is unequivocally CLEAR with the morality of “a loving marriage between committed same-sex partners of either gender who want to live under the vows of wedlock and who see Christ as central to their lives and their life together”. Is it as clear as he would have us believe?
The clear teaching of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments do not advocate or condone same-sex relationships. That brings me to my second question, how did our Lord Jesus explain a marriage relationship? In Matthew 19:1-7 Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees concerning the lawfulness to divorce one’s wife. Jesus responds by basing his answer on the Genesis account of God’s original design for the marriage relationship. “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Jesus defines marriage as between two different beings, a male and a female. Because they are created in Gods image and God joined them together, marriage must be regarded as sacred.
Because it was God’s plan and His unique physical design of men and women the sexual act is designed not only for their pleasure and to deepen their companionship, but also to produce children. Scripture is very CLEAR that this was God’s plan and design from the beginning. Because of the sacredness of the marriage relationship the participants and sex must have boundaries to protect it. Jesus clarified the standard for marriage that must be upheld: marriage is sacred, loving, monogamous relationship between a male and female. With God’s blessing it becomes the environment in which children are born, nurtured, protected and equipped for maturity and to serve the Lord.
There is nothing obscure about this. If Christ’s standard is clear, then it’s also clear that anything departing from His standard is morally wrong! The unity within the Godhead on this matter must be the unity Jesus calls for and we in the church must strive for.
Respectfully submitted for your consideration
Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Struikmans
I would love to reply to Dr. Stephen Struikmans comment on what is “clear” but I am presently writing a more extensive reply to Herb Kraker. If he can be patient, I will give him a more than adequate response since his critical essay is exactly what sort of interpretation, devoid of the theological context, is I take issue with.
with love, Norm Prenger
This essay is a response to Herb Kraker’s “Same-Sex Marriage: Do Plausible Interpretations Require Unity”
One of the things that stands out in the above debate is how some truths in the Bible are elevated as matters of “morality” and are especially sacred, as opposed to mere Bible teaching, doctrine, spiritual wisdom, or the eschatological sayings of Jesus. As Reverend Doctor Stephen P. Struikmans puts it, “If Christ’s standard is clear, then it’s also clear that anything departing from His standard is morally wrong!” This statement is fundamentally flawed since what is not “clear” at all is how Jesus’ forsaking of marriage can be the clear standard for marriage. My objection is that this concern for ultimate morality creates a tension and a canon within the canon (ala Martin Luther). An unwieldy hermeneutic. In fact, my hypothesis is that the whole notion of sexuality as the ultimate locus of human nature and morality is simply antithetical to the gospel. It is altogether “worldly” in the New Testament sense.
Someone concerned for the theological interpretation of Roman 1:26-27 may well hold out 1 Peter 2:11 as an antidote to such moralism. Struikmans has made it abundantly clear that in his mind all the parameters and possibilities concerning sexuality and marriage are summarized in the union of Adam and Eve and their blessed and fruitful union. “As it was in the beginning”, as our Lord said. But it is also true that the New Testament presents us with an eschatological framework in which marriage (as Struikman clearly defines it) is something that is a preliminary state that will pass away die. It will die. Perhaps very soon.
Marriage and the Eschaton
There are a number of passages in the Bible which elevate human sexuality and gender, not as complementary or conventional descriptions of human life as we categorize them today, but beyond these notions. For example, our Lord taught eschatological views of marriage and procreation which may be found in Matthew 22: 23-30, in Mark 12:18-25, and in Luke 20:27-36. Our Lord invites us to beyond our matrimonial and biological allegiances to embrace his new definition of what it means to be a person of kinship in Luke 14:26. For example Jesus elevated “eunuchs”, not maleness nor femaleness, as the kingdom ideal in Matthew 19:3-12.
Instead of elevating marriage and childbearing as a summary of all morality and human aspiration, he sometimes saw it as an obstacle to the coming kingdom (e.g. Luke 17:27). The penultimate must give way to the Ultimate, after all. The shadow and types must give way to Reality (John 4:23, 5:25). Our Lord saw himself as the eschatological flame, dividing just as much as unifying – that is, he is transforming and birthing a new creation (Luke 12:49). Even we experience this as already/not yet paradox of the kingdom of Christ, there is no question how powerful His mustard seed is.
As an Eastern Orthodox theologian pointed out to me, Jesus’ parable of the kingdom banquet features three turned down invitations. It is telling that only in the third invitation, where a man snubs the invite on account of his recent marriage, that no apology is offered. I have two questions for the Master who told this parable this way. Is this because no apology is necessary? Or is this indicative of pride in the new status as a happily married and perfected man, therefore in no need of a greater celebration to come?
Finally we must remember Jesus redefined kinship beyond the normal biological and matrimonial categories (Mark 3:5; Matthew 12:46–50; Luke 8:19–21) such that the newly creation “family” of God would have been an jarring to ear in ancient times as same sex marriage sounds to us today. For all our high sounding, natural and principled definitions of the creation order, it should give us pause to see how recreative our Lord is in broadening these categories and even eliminating them.
In the first centuries after Lord’s ascension, these teachings were crucial to converts and influenced their understanding of what it meant to be part of a new creation in Christ. Gnosticism took advantage of this ambiguity and patriarchal authorities in the church over-reacted to claims posed by Gnosticism. Still, as the Apocryphal Acta Pauli et Theclae demonstrates, how the church struggled with this new eschatological view of human nature! Like Thecla, many Christians in the first centuries wished to be faithful to the Apostle both in his Christlike lifestyle as well as in his teaching. As my Eastern Orthodox brother reminded me, even in the late 5th century/early 6th, Dionysius’s (the pseudo-Areopagite) summarized all the sacred rites in the church in his day. Marriage is never mentioned in his Ecclesiastical Hierarchy. Far from being a sacred state, the early church and its clergy considered marriage to be “profane” gift given to all. In my tradition’s parlance, it was a common grace to be enjoyed by pagan and believer alike.
Paul and the Eschaton
Paul also described the new vision of human nature via negativa in Galatians 3:28 (no ἄρσεν nor θῆλυς). In case it is contrived that such negations apply only to our soteriology (justification by faith alone), via negativa is used in Colossians where we are called to live in unity as one new creation, transforming our relationship to God as well as with each other, as the penultimate gives way to the ultimate. While the male/female category is notably absent in the Colossian passage, it took centuries of struggle in the church to realize this truth in Christ – whether it was Jew versus Gentile, slave versus free, aristocracy versus plebeian. Even to this day, we are still working out “neither ἄρσεν nor θῆλυς” as the clear standard for our new identities in Christ.
Here are some of the other Pauline injunctions which mitigate against the “historic morality” (canon within the canon) in which human being is biblically defined:
For the Apostle Paul we are encouraged to embrace the single life, just as he and Christ practiced it, because it is “better” than the married life with all its worries and distractions (1 Corinthians 7:32-35, 38). When Paul’s teaching is framed by our Lord’s instructions about human nature in the eschaton (and not the other way around), it is amazing how his words are often directly contradicted by today’s Christian traditionalist morality. “Whatever else he may be saying, he is certainly not arguing that singleness is the “standard” for human life” (Focus on the Family website—but isn’t Jesus the standard for human life?). The Apostle was once a devout Pharisee and he would have known how Jesus contradicted both the Pharisees and the Sadducees concerning human nature in the next life (Matt.22: 23-30). The Sadducees did not believe in an afterlife. The Pharisees believed in an afterlife which would look very much like this present life, complete with marriages, weddings, and childbearing. Jesus has shown us a third way beyond such Jewish speculations. The Apostle was well aware of it.
In addition to a different conception of life in the new Paradise, Paul often posited the battle between a human heart invaded by the Spirit of Christ versus the heart still attached to our fleshly existence which is doomed to pass away (e.g. Romans 8:7; Galatians 5:13; 2 Corinthians 5:22; 1 Corinthians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 5:17; Philippians 3:20-21). Properly understood, the Christian life is one in which we presently experience an outbreak of Christ’s resurrected life , even if it is never fully realized until death. The Apostle John had this view (Revelation 21:1) as did the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews (12:27 — if the Author is not a Pharisee, it can only mean that Adam’s heterosexual desires are “shaken” so that only the new creation desires become permanent fixtures of a glorified human experience). Even the Old Testament prophets foresaw a day coming when our ordinary forms of life will be radically transform in wonderful ways (e.g. Isaiah 51:16; Zechariah 14:20), ways which we can’t begin to imagine except that the Holy Spirit instructs us.
Too Narrow a Point to Faithfully Render the Whole New Testament Witness
My point is not to pose an argument from what is admittedly “unseen” and speculative. My point is we unfortunately frame the same sex debate far too narrowly to reproduce the aspirations of the Apostles for the church. Why do we pick Romans 1:26,27 as the lynch pin (Herb Kraker) of same sex marriage argument, for example? Why not start with Christ’s compassion for the lost ones, or his tenderness towards the broken in a society where this brokenness is often shamed and shunned or openly mocked.
We are not Phariseed, only concerned for the outward appearance of morality and building walls of exclusion to protect “the faith” or the institution. As my Orthodox collogue put it in his article, since when does inviting others to enjoy a true good destroy the good, like inviting women to vote or inviting non-hunters to enjoy the benefits of a fish and game club? Aren’t the benefits enhanced not threatened when others, like same sex marriage partners, come to experience the joy of committed monogamy? A Pharisee is always in fear that his religion is under threat by outsiders. This fear drives us to be concerned for the fine points of morality and moral appearances while forgetting that Christ has called us on a journey beyond arguments straight and gay, one that will deeply unmake us and remake us in his glorious image.
The Apostle never intended to write a letter to the Romans only to single out and shame homosexuals or simply to use them as examples of how not to practice a life of faith. No. He intended to summarize how all of us are equally perverse idolaters and so we all are paying the price due to us for our errors. We are all “immoral” beings worth of death (v. 32). Somehow each and every one of us must recognize ourselves the passage, no matter what our gender or orientation. The offense that is so repugnant to us moral folk as we decipher Romans 1 is in fact located right in our own personal sin nature (Colossians 3:5). Hence the second chapter begins: “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges.”
Does anyone see the irony of this debate (if not the hypocrisy) here?
The Apostle Peter and the Eschaton: “Abstain from Sexual Desire, I Beg You”
The very same word used in Romans 1, translated as ordinary “desire” or “lust”, is also used in 1 Peter 2:11. “Beloved, I beg you as foreigners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts (σαρκικων επιθυμιων), which war against the soul.” Where in Romans 1 our “ordinary desire” (ala Kraker) is censored because it has the wrong sex for its object, in 1 Peter 2 it is lust in every form and with every possible flesh which is deemed by the Apostle inappropriate to our Christian pilgrimage. Christians are by definition people at war with our own “natural inclinations”, including our sexual inclinations. We are destined for a sexless eternity even though we are born in a world of biological reproduction, natural sexual attractions, deeply mired by sin.
Remember this when we discuss the “immorality” of same sex attraction. Remember this when we consider how marriage, be it beautiful and gracious, is really a concession to a greater definition of what it means to be a human being. Remember this when counselling a lonely lesbian or homosexual Christian man who is hoping to enjoy the same solace that we enjoy as our concession to a greater glory. With them, we also know what the warfare is like and how God’s mercy is our only defense. Surely, we can walk this road together and sing the same songs of mercy with one voice.
Pilgrims can’t be covetous by nature. It drags us down and distracts us from the destination. Just as Peter described us a priesthood created by the mercies of God, so we are defined by our mercy towards others who keep forgetting that the sexual yearnings and attractions, powerful as they may be, are but a poor inkling – just a shadow really – of our deep spiritual craving for the Living God.
Norm Prenger, retired pastor in the Christian Reformed Church
Acknowledging the 2016 article in Religion
“Marriage and Sexuality in the Light of the Eschaton: A Dialogue between Orthodox and Reformed Theology” by John Panteleimon Manoussakis, Department of Philosophy, College of the Holy Cross and Faculty of Theology and Philosophy, Australian Catholic University, Australia
Thank you, Rev. Prenger, for your post here. There is certainly a considerable amount to take in here.
There is one thing here in particular that I would like to comment on. It seems one of the key thoughts is contained in the following quote:
One of the things that stands out in the above debate is how some truths in the Bible are elevated as matters of “morality” and are especially sacred, as opposed to mere Bible teaching, doctrine, spiritual wisdom, or the eschatological sayings of Jesus . . . In fact, my hypothesis is that the whole notion of sexuality as the ultimate locus of human nature and morality is simply antithetical to the gospel. It is altogether “worldly” in the New Testament sense.
If I have written material that gives the impression that sexuality is the ultimate locus of human nature and morality, that was not my intent. If I need to revise existing material I would be happy to do that. You make a number of very good points such as Christ considering eunuchs as capable of serving in a very special role in the kingdom (Matthew 19). Two very clear examples in this regard are Christ Himself and the apostle Paul. It would seem unavoidable that any concept of “sexuality as the ultimate locus of human nature and morality” would rule both of them out as far as being the ultimate locus of human nature is concerned.
It would seem that what is contained in your post is but the mere tip of the iceberg. As a forum, blogs offer a wonderful opportunity to discuss topics. But they also have their limitations. I would strongly encourage you to contact me in addition to this for the sake of developing more of these thoughts in a broader way. Some of these concepts could be very useful on other pages of the website. The specific focus right here is whether unity is a higher priority above the question of whether same-sex marriage is right or wrong. Now, it is true that examining the question of whether sexuality is given a higher status than it should have could ultimately resolve the question of whether or not Christian unity must prevail regardless of our understanding of sexuality. However, I think that question is better suited by being addressed beyond this blog here. Perhaps delving into that as a special focus could result in material that would be worth sending out to all the pastors involved here.