Book Plunge: The New Testament and Homosexuality

What do I think of Robin Scroggs’s book published by Augsburg Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ve been doing some research lately on the Romans 1 passage on homosexuality for a class I’m taking and wanted to read some of the books I could find on the passage that were written from a perspective that is different from the traditional one that the passage condemns homosexual activity. Scroggs was one that I had heard about. I purchased his book then to see what he had to say.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Scroggs did much of a study. If you check the bibliography, his sources as far as I can tell are all of the opinion that homosexual behavior is okay. Of course, he should have some of those sources. The problem is if those are the only sources you really have. It’s like saying “I want to study the age of the Earth” and then reading only people who think the Earth is young and lo and behold, you conclude the Earth is young.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Scroggs gets everything wrong. There are some points I agree with. He says “At the same time, I confess equally that I see no way of reading the Christian gospel except that it is one which totally accepts in love all persons, regardless of inadequacies or moral failings.” (Location 21) Naturally, all of us want to have a robust view of the good news. The good news is Jesus does love you just as you are. I would want to add that He also loves you so much He doesn’t want to leave you as you are.

Scroggs is also correct in saying “Until we know what the biblical authors were against we cannot begin to reflect upon the relevance of those writings for contemporary issues.” (Location 59) This is indeed the case. We need to understand what the text meant to the people back then and then look and see what it means to us today. I agree entirely.

Who also would disagree with the statement that “Each of us needs to know why we hold the views we do and what are the implications and presuppositions of our views. At the same time we need to hear sympathetically the views of others who differ, to understand the logic of their positions. What we need is a little less heat and a little more light.” (Location 127) Again, all of this sounds good. What needs to be asked is if Scroggs will give us more light.

Well let’s see what some early commentators said. How about chapter 11 of book 1 of the Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus?

1. ABOUT this time the Sodomites grew proud, on account of their riches and great wealth; they became unjust towards men, and impious towards God, insomuch that they did not call to mind the advantages they received from him: they hated strangers, and abused themselves with Sodomitical practices. God was therefore much displeased at them, and determined to punish them for their pride, and to overthrow their city, and to lay waste their country, until there should neither plant nor fruit grow out of it.

2. When God had thus resolved concerning the Sodomites, Abraham, as he sat by the oak of Mambre, at the door of his tent, saw three angels; and thinking them to be strangers, he rose up, and saluted them, and desired they would accept of an entertainment, and abide with him; to which, when they agreed, he ordered cakes of meal to be made presently; and when he had slain a calf, he roasted it, and brought it to them, as they sat under the oak. Now they made a show of eating; and besides, they asked him about his wife Sarah, where she was; and when he said she was within, they said they would come again hereafter, and find her become a mother. Upon which the woman laughed, and said that it was impossible she should bear children, since she was ninety years of age, and her husband was a hundred. Then they concealed themselves no longer, but declared that they were angels of God; and that one of them was sent to inform them about the child, and two of the overthrow of Sodom.

3. When Abraham heard this, he was grieved for the Sodomites; and he rose up, and besought God for them, and entreated him that he would not destroy the righteous with the wicked. And when God had replied that there was no good man among the Sodomites; for if there were but ten such man among them, he would not punish any of them for their sins, Abraham held his peace. And the angels came to the city of the Sodomites, and Lot entreated them to accept of a lodging with him; for he was a very generous and hospitable man, and one that had learned to imitate the goodness of Abraham. Now when the Sodomites saw the young men to be of beautiful countenances, and this to an extraordinary degree, and that they took up their lodgings with Lot, they resolved themselves to enjoy these beautiful boys by force and violence; and when Lot exhorted them to sobriety, and not to offer any thing immodest to the strangers, but to have regard to their lodging in his house; and promised that if their inclinations could not be governed, he would expose his daughters to their lust, instead of these strangers; neither thus were they made ashamed.

Or what about Against Apion Book II?

And why do not the Lacedemonians think of abolishing that form of their government which suffers them not to associate with any others, as well as their contempt of matrimony? And why do not the Eleans and Thebans abolish that unnatural and impudent lust, which makes them lie with males? For they will not show a sufficient sign of their repentance of what they of old thought to be very excellent, and very advantageous in their practices, unless they entirely avoid all such actions for the time to come: nay, such things are inserted into the body of their laws, and had once such a power among the Greeks, that they ascribed these sodomitical practices to the gods themselves, as a part of their good character; and indeed it was according to the same manner that the gods married their own sisters. This the Greeks contrived as an apology for their own absurd and unnatural pleasures.

But what about Ezekiel 16?

49 “‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. 51 Samaria did not commit half the sins you did. You have done more detestable things than they, and have made your sisters seem righteous by all these things you have done. 52 Bear your disgrace, for you have furnished some justification for your sisters. Because your sins were more vile than theirs, they appear more righteous than you. So then, be ashamed and bear your disgrace, for you have made your sisters appear righteous.

However, Ezekiel is referring to the holiness code here and the word he uses for detestable things is the word for abominations that is used in Leviticus 18 and 20 that describes homosexual practice. That would mean that Sodom was violating the holiness code. The end of Leviticus 18 and 20 also indicates that the other nations were expelled for following these practices.

When we get to Romans, we see this at Location 224.

“What is even more important, the persons Paul condemns are manifestly not homosexual; what he derogates are homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual persons.” Paul is stigmatizing persons who have gone beyond their own personal nature to commit homosexual acts. But this means they must be by nature heterosexual. Thus Paul does not address the situation of persons who are “by nature” homosexually oriented. This argument depends heavily, of course, on the distinction between inversion and perversion described above.”

Of course, the problem with this is that it’s saying Paul had no problem with the practice automatically which is the statement under question. It’s also amazing that we’re told regularly Paul did not understand what it meant to have a homosexual orientation and yet the whole argument presumes that he does. We could also just as well ask would Paul have had a problem with incest if he knew the person was someone who had an incestual nature and was from birth attracted to family members for sexual gratification?

In fact, when we speak about homosexual relationships we read that “That Paul would have actually known people who participated in such relationships is hardly likely. What he ‘knew’ probably originated rather from the rumor mills of the day, particularly perhaps from Jewish suspicions about Gentile activities.” (Loc. 503)

Okay. So let me get this straight. Paul is definitely a Jew, but he’s a Roman citizen who grew up in a Greek culture and is well familiar with Greco-Roman thought and rhetoric and traveled throughout the Roman empire, but somehow, we can be sure he was not familiar with what the Gentiles did? The same one who said the Corinthians were guilty of an evil not even found among the pagans? Methinks Scroggs presumes too much. This is even more interesting since at 516 we’re told that Paul and his disciple who wrote 1 Timothy were firmly embedded in Greek culture. Which is it?

Scroggs has several references on the term “para phusin” which means contrary to nature. The term is used to describe homosexual practice often. It’s important that when it’s described in the Laws of Plato, it also speaks about female mating with female. Scroggs goes from this to loc. 701 where he argues that Paul’s usage of the term in the passage is a stereotype of Greco-Roman attitudes. It was pederasty being condemned.

It’s hard to really find this convincing, especially since it starts with women on women and since Paul uses language that goes back to Genesis 1, such as the description of animals, male and female, and the creator. Paul is not getting his ideas from culture so much as he is from Genesis 1 and 2.

At loc. 942, we’re told that Hellenistic Jewish attitudes were more homophobic than Palestinian.

Because, you know, we needed more light and less heat….

At loc. 1091, Scroggs says the Gospels do not mention homosexuality at all nor does Acts or the book of Revelation. It’s only in the epistles. Sure, but there are several sins not mentioned in those books. That does not mean they did not matter. It could just as easily mean, these were open and shut cases. Jews did not need to be convinced. I have never heard a sermon at a church about the evils of incest and how we shouldn’t practice incest, but that does not mean all the churches I have been to affirm incest.

At 1098, we’re told that pederasty was the norm for homosexual relationships, so it must be a presupposition that pederasty is under view. Nice to know that all of this is done before we even get to the documents themselves. If we are beginning with any view, wouldn’t it make more sense to begin with Paul’s Jewish view?

I really wish there was more relevant to this, but unfortunately, there isn’t. It looks like Scroggs set out to read only that which agreed with his conclusion and lo and behold, reached his conclusion. Beware always the sound of one-hand clapping. The Christian is on good position in going with the traditional interpretation. Of course, it could be for the sake of argument that the Bible is wrong in what it says, but let’s be sure we’re clear on what it says.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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