What do I think of William Loader’s book published by Westminster John Knox Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
William Loader is the scholar in the world who has probably written more on sexuality and the Bible than anyone else. Naturally, the Bible talks a lot about sex. Is it because the Bible is a perverse and dirty book as some would say? No. It’s because people talk about sex a lot and it’s a dominant feature in our society just like it was in the ancient world. Loader aptly gives us a warning on page 5.
“Sometimes wanting to know becomes impatient to the point of jumping too quickly to conclusions or filling in gaps with fantasy instead of coming to terms with the limits of our knowledge. Particularly in dealing with matters of sexuality it is not uncommon for people to become deeply involved emotionally in wanting, indeed, needing texts to say certain things which would reinforce or confirm their own beliefs and attitudes. This can happen from many different angles, both from those wanting to affirm what some might see as conservative positions and those wanting the opposite.”
This is a major point worth stressing. Many of us today want the Bible to side with us. Now we could take a totally foreign approach and say the text has no real meaning, but this is problematic as we should not approach any text this way. Could it be difficult to know what the author meant to say sometimes? Sure. There are matters open to dispute. Sometimes it isn’t and with many of these texts, I think the meaning is clear.
The first place Loader starts with is the texts on homosexuality. Loader looks at the various interpretations of all the texts in the debate and frankly, comes down on a conservative side, and this after looking at what most scholars are saying. This does not mean necessarily he agrees with that. I find it hard to tell frankly, but that’s a strength of Loader’s work. It’s hard to know what bias he himself might bring to the debate and frankly, I can understand much better if I encounter someone who says “Yes. This is what the text means. I just disagree.”
Loader also deals with some of the revisionist ideas such as the idea that the Centurion’s servant is a homosexual lover or that the Beloved Disciple was involved in a homosexual relationship with Jesus. These are times where I really think the homosexual reading is grasping at straws. As Loader indicated above, you can read anything into a text if you want to. We must all be looking to ask “But what does the text mean?”
Loader goes on from there to talk about marriage itself and what the Bible has to say about it. He interacts with ideas of polygyny as well and notes that it was limited, although the Damascus Document was pretty hard on it. Loader thinks this could be a minority position. Of course, polygyny would also be costly so few people would do it. Loader goes on from here to talk about issues of divorce and remarriage and pregnancy and child birth. Naturally, Loader will also touch on the household codes found in Ephesians and Colossians. He rightly states that the way the husband is to act to his wife still is the way Christ does for the church, which is loving and not violent or exploitative.
From there, we move on to adultery in the Bible. Many of the texts are quite clear on this and the idea is that sex is to be between a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage. I was pleased also to see a talk about what lust is in the discussion. I do think the command to lust is speaking about another person’s wife, which makes it a form of covenant, but I think it can also mean an excessive desire, a desire that dehumanizes the person and makes them only an object of sex. After all, today if a man and a woman are dating, it is not a problem I think if the man has sexual desire for the woman. He ought to. If he does not desire her, he has problems.
Now some will wonder about spiritual adultery. What does that mean? Looking at another woman with lust. Frankly, I like what Robert Gagnon said at a talk he once gave on a podcast about this where he said “If spiritual adultery is grounds for divorce, every woman could divorce a man on her wedding day.” Lust is something to be avoided to be sure, but let’s not be extreme in saying everything is adultery. Actual physical adultery is worse.
There’s a lot in the book that is covered and yet it is a short read. If you want a good lowdown on what the New Testament says about sexuality and scholars on both sides, you owe yourself to check out Loader’s work.