Was Paul unclear in his teaching on sexuality?

I have been engaging on and off in the debates about sexuality and Christian discipleship since around 1978, when Buzz magazine (which eventually morphed into Christianity magazine) produced a slightly risky exploration of the issues at stake. Since then, I have noticed that the discussion has shifted ground, both in wider society and within the church. In wider society, it is quite surprising that we have ended up with same-sex marriage, since that had not really been the main demand in the recognition of gay rights, but it has afforded gay relationships with a respectability and status that was desired. Within the church in the UK, much of the debate has been whether the writers of the New Testament either encountered the kinds of relationships that we know, whether they understood the psychology of sexuality in the way we now do—and whether their negative assessment of same-sex sexual relationships in the very few references that we have is correct.

But more recently, another response has come to the fore, and it is one I encounter almost every time I speak on this issue. ‘The question of what the texts say is all so complicated—and can we really be sure of what Paul actually meant?’ The reason for this is the explosion of literature (in texts like Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian) which popularise the questioning of what has been a strong consensus that the texts are fairly clear, consistent with one another, and offer a uniformly negative assessment of same-sex sexual activity. Vines’ text is written in an accessible style, and comes with supporting YouTube footage, so has sold well and been very influential—but I find it a very hard read, since there are pretty excruciating and basic errors on just about every page, for anyone who knows about how to read ancient texts. But of course most of Vines’ readers don’t, and Vines himself does not even have a first degree in theology. In relation to the New Testament, he often draws on the work of John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality first published in 1980. Boswell’s work did not at the time have much impact on the scholarly consensus of the meaning of the biblical texts, since his methodology was so poor, picking sources that suited his argument and ignoring those that didn’t support his view. But times change, and nearly forty years on much of the church has forgotten some of the basic disciplines of how to make sense of texts.


I have been thinking about two recent examples of this kind of argument—that the texts in Paul are either unclear or do not mean what we thought—one popular and one more scholarly. The popular one can be found in an interview with someone called Ed Oxford, which serves to trail a forthcoming book. It is accessible, and is written in a ‘whodunnit?’ style in which we are led through Oxford’s amazing discoveries about the history of translation of the key terms in Paul. But the methodology is pretty shocking; Oxford seems to think that we understand what terms in the Greek text mean by means of looking at the history of translation, rather than by looking at the prehistory, context and canonical place of these terms. (A similarly poor approach is taking by the substantial Love Lost in Translation which I bought and read and quickly realised why it had been self-published.)

The more scholarly approach is that of Jonathan Tallon, who teaches at Northern Baptist College. Tallon has set up a website with a series of articles on the different texts and issues that arise from them; here I am just considering his article on 1 Cor 6.9.

For me, the problems start with the opening sentences. Tallon poses the issues in these terms: ‘What does Paul say about homosexuality in 1 Corinthians?’ This assumes that there is such a thing as ‘homosexuality’, that we are agreed on what it is, and that Paul thought in such terms. I think each of these assumptions are highly questionable. The next sentence goes on: ‘Is he saying that those who are gay or lesbian won’t enter God’s kingdom?’ He seems immediately to be assuming that, if Paul is expressing a negative assessment of same-sex sex (SSS), then he is also then expressing a negative assessment of same-sex atrtacted people, as if our identity and our patterns of desire and action are fused and can never be separated. As with much discussion on this subject, the assumptions here are implicit rather than explicit, and so might not be noticed by many readers—but they make a massive difference to the shape of the argument and to what is seen to be at stake.

He then points us to Paul’s ‘vice list’ in 1 Cor 6.9–10, which includes the contested terms malakoi and arsenokoitai, but he makes no comment about how such vice lists function in Paul’s writing, how they relate to the immediate context in 1 Corinthians, how they connect with Paul’s pastoral strategy in the letter, or more broadly how they relate to vice lists in either first century Judaism or wider culture (vice lists were common in Stoic literature of the period). Locating the texts in their wider context in the NT and Paul, and locating Paul within his world are actually vital aspects of the task of making sense of texts; I realise that Tallon’s piece is aimed at a popular audience, but this exploration would still be possible in a popular format.


Tallon then discusses the term malakos, the least contentious of the two, and I think I would broadly agree with his conclusions; I am not persuaded by the common conclusion of Tom Wright and others that this is a reference to the passive, ‘receptive’, partner in anal intercourse, with arsenokoites referring to the active, penetrating, partner. This is a possible meaning grammatically, but Tallon is right to point out that it also had a wider moral sense—and the two terms are not grammatically paired with one another, since all the terms in the list are simply separated with ‘neither…neither…neither…’ (oute), a feature which gives the list a particularly high rhetorical impact. But the wording of Tallon’s conclusion is interesting:

My view? I think Paul was referring generally to the morally weak, those who choose to let their lusts lead their actions.

That doesn’t look too far away from a critique of people who let their patterns of desire form their identity.

Tallons’ discussion of the second key term, arsenokoites, is much more problematic. The strong consensus, following the detailed and technical argument of David Wright in in 1984 (in which he comprehensively responds to the arguments of John Boswell) is that Paul has coined the term from the Greek (Septuagint, LXX) of Lev 20.13 in order to describe in the most general terms all forms of SSS. Even if you are not a reader of Greek, you can probably see the very close parallel:

Lev 20.13: καὶ ὃς ἂν κοιμηθῇ μετὰ ἄρσενος κοίτην γυναικός, βδέλυγμα ἐποίησαν ἀμφότεροι

1 Cor 6.9: …οὔτε μοιχοὶ οὔτε μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται οὔτε κλέπται…

Paul is using a plural form here; the singular arsenokoites is even closer to the text of Leviticus, differing in only one letter from the actual text. To coin a contemporary example, if I exclaimed ‘You are just a to-be-or-not-to-be kind of person’, it is likely that you would recognise a citation from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 1, even if you could not give the reference. It is an unusual phrase; it stands out from my usual terminology; and it refers to a very well-known expression. All these things apply in the same way to Paul’s language here.

Tallon notes that words do not in later use derive their meaning from their constituent parts:

But working out meaning this way is dangerous – a cupboard doesn’t necessarily have cups inside; the chairman of the board doesn’t necessarily refer to an item of furniture. And as for butterflies…

The problem here is that, whilst later use is not determined by the elements of a word, the original coining of the term obviously did. As Wikipedia helpfully points out:

The term cupboard was originally used to describe an open-shelved side table for displaying dishware, more specifically plates, cups and saucers. These open cupboards typically had between one and three display tiers, and at the time, a drawer or multiple drawers fitted to them. The word cupboard gradually came to mean a closed piece of furniture.

Given that there are simply no examples of the word arsenokoites before Paul, or after him except where Christian authors appear dependent on him, it is the original sense of the word we are interested in—and Tallon’s argument here actually undermines his subsequent discussion of later use!

Tallon mentions David Wright’s argument that it comes from Leviticus, but dismisses it quickly, commenting:

Just looking at the construction of the word, and its possible source from Leviticus, suggests that it is referring to those who bed males. But those who bed males, not men.

The reason for that, as Robert Gagnon has pointed out, is that the Leviticus text itself is referring back to the creation text, where God made humanity in his image, ‘male and female he created them’ (not, in Gen 1.27, ‘man and woman’). In other words, Paul is citing Leviticus citing Genesis, and so the rejection of SSS is rooted in the sex dimorphic creation of humanity, something that Paul refers to explicitly in Romans 1.18f.

Tallon then suggests that arsenokoites is often associated with economic exploitation (this is the argument of gay scholar Dale Martin, whose article he lists at the end) but this language is actually absent from the text in Paul. (Martin, in a 2008 biographical article, argues that all sex is ethical as long as the way you have sex reflects the nature of your relationship, be that committed, casual or a one-night stand. I think that would be quite difficult to justify from reading Paul.) Tallon also points to the later Christian concern about paidophthorēseistranslated as ‘corrupting children’, but actually referring to what was thought of as the usual practice in Greek and Roman culture, of older men have penetrative anal sex with younger, receptive males. What is most striking here is that Paul himself does not use this term, nor does he use the usual pair of terms for same-sex lovers, erastus and eramenos. Paul appears to have coined a general term, on the basis of Lev 20.13, to refer in the most general way to SSS. (It is also worth noting that we, like later Christian writers, think that SSS between age-unequal partners the least acceptable, because of our focus on questions of consent and equality. But in the ancient world, this was seen as the most acceptable, and the idea of anal sex between adult males was shocking and unacceptable, since the passive partner was the inferior, and this offended against the idea of the free adult male.)


David Wright’s rather technical article reaches this conclusion:

[I]t is probably significant that the word itself and comparable phrases used by Philo, Josephus and Ps-Phocylides spoke generically of male activity with males rather than specifically categorized male sexual engagement with paides. It is difficult to believe that arsenokoitia was intended to indict only the commonest Greek relationship involving an adult and a teenager. The interchangeability demonstrated above between arsenokoitia and paidophthoria argues that the latter was encompassed within the former. A broader study of early Christian attitudes to homosexuality would confirm this.

Robert Gagnon,  well-known commentator in this area, offered a substantial argument on the meaning of these terms in response to the interview with Ed Oxford I mentioned earlier:

As for whether *Paul* intended to limit the word arsenokoitai to men who have sex with adolescent boys, consider the following:

(1) Clear connections to the Levitical prohibitions of male-male intercourse. The compound Greek word arsenokoitai (arsen-o-koi-tai; plural of singular arsenokoitēs) is formed from the Greek words for “lying” (verb keimai; stem kei- adjusted to koi- before the “t” or letter tau) and “male” (arsēn). The word is a neologism created from terms used in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Levitical prohibitions of men “lying with a male” (18:22; 20:13). (Note that the word for “lying” in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Levitical prohibitions is the noun koitē, also meaning “bed,” which is formed from the verb keimai. The masculine –tēs suffix of the sg. noun arsenokoitēs denotes continuing agency or occupation, roughly equivalent to English -er attached to a noun; hence, “(male) liers with a male.”)

That the connection to the absolute Levitical prohibitions against male-male intercourse is self-evident from the following points: (a) The rabbis used the corresponding Hebrew abstract expression mishkav zākûr, “lying of/with a male,” drawn from the Hebrew texts of Lev 18:22 and 20:13, to denote male-male intercourse in the broadest sense. (b) The term or its cognates does not appear in any non-Jewish, non-Christian text prior to the sixth century A.D. This way of talking about male homosexuality is a distinctly Jewish and Christian formulation. It was undoubtedly used as a way of distinguishing their absolute opposition to homosexual practice, rooted in the Torah of Moses, from more accepting views in the Greco-Roman milieu. (c) The appearance of arsenokoitai in 1 Tim 1:10 makes the link to the Mosaic law explicit, since the list of vices of which arsenokoitai is a part are said to be derived from “the law” (1:9). While it is true that the meaning of a compound word does not necessarily add up to the sum of its parts, in this instance it clearly does.

(2) The implications of the context in early Judaism. That Jews of the period construed the Levitical prohibitions of male-male intercourse absolutely and against a backdrop of a male-female requirement is beyond dispute. For example, Josephus explained to Gentile readers that “the law [of Moses] recognizes only sexual intercourse that is according to nature, that which is with a woman. . . . But it abhors the intercourse of males with males” (Against Apion 2.199). There are no limitations placed on the prohibition as regards age, slave status, idolatrous context, or exchange of money. The only limitation is the sex of the participants. According to b. Sanh. 54a (viz., tractate Sanhedrin from the Babylonian Talmud), the male with whom a man lies in Lev 18:22 and 20:13 may be “an adult or minor,” meaning that the prohibition of male-male unions is not limited to pederasty. Indeed, there is no evidence in ancient Israel, Second Temple Judaism, or rabbinic Judaism that any limitation was placed on the prohibition of male-male intercourse.

(3) The choice of word. Had a more limited meaning been intended—for example, pederasts—the terms paiderastai (“lover of boys”), paidomanai (“men mad for boys”), or paidophthoroi (“corrupters of boys”) could have been chosen.

(4) The meaning of arsenokoitai and cognates in extant usage. The term arsenokoitēs and cognates after Paul (the term appears first in Paul) are applied solely to male-male intercourse but, consistent with the meaning of the partner term malakoi, not limited to pederasts or clients of cult prostitutes (see specifics in The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 317-23). For example, the 4th century church historian Eusebius quoted from a 2nd-3rd century Christian, Bardesanes (“From the Euphrates River [eastward] … a man who … is derided as an arsenokoitēs … will defend himself to the point of murder”), and then added that “among the Greeks, wise men who have male lovers are not condemned” (Preparation for the Gospel 6.10.25). Elsewhere Eusebius alluded to the prohibition of man-male intercourse in Leviticus as a prohibition not to arsenokoitein (lie with a male) and characterized it as a “pleasure contrary to nature,” “males mad for males,” and intercourse “of men with men” (Demonstration of the Gospel 1.6.33, 67; 4.10.6). Translations of arsenokoitai in 1 Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10 in Latin, Syriac, and Coptic also define the term generally as “men lying with males.”

(8) Implications of 1 Tim 1:9-10 corresponding to the Decalogue. At least the last half of the vice list in 1 Tim 1:8-10 (and possibly the whole of it) corresponds to the Decalogue. Why is that important? In early Judaism and Christianity, the Ten Commandments often served as summary headings for the full range of laws in the Old Testament. The seventh commandment against adultery, which was aimed at guarding the institution of marriage, served as a summary of all biblical sex laws, including the prohibition of male-male intercourse. The vice of kidnapping, which follows arsenokoitai in 1 Tim 1:10, is typically classified under the eighth commandment against stealing (so Philo, Pseudo-Phocylides, the rabbis, and the Didache; see The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 335-36). This makes highly improbable the attempt by some to pair arsenokoitai with the following term andrapodistai (kidnappers, men-stealers), as a way of limiting its reference to exploitative acts of male-male intercourse (so Robin Scroggs), rather than with the inclusive sexual term pornoi (the sexually immoral) that precedes it….

It is worth reading the whole comment for a comprehensive argument.

I know Robert Gagnon a little; I have attended seminars at which he has spoken, and we once visited the British Museum together. I don’t agree with all of his arguments, and we have very different political outlooks. But what is interesting about his argument here is the number of mainstream, theologically liberal, scholars who cite him. William Loader’s research on sexuality in the New Testament cites Gagnon several times on each page when addressing the issues they both study. Loader recognises the quality of Gagnon’s research and the force of his argument about what Paul actually meant—though Loader takes the diametrically opposite view to Gagnon on the ethical issue of same-sex relationships. He simply thinks that Paul, and therefore Gagnon, is wrong.


Similarly, it is worth noting the approach of the Pauline scholar E P Sanders, in his 850-page magnum opus on Paul from 2015. Sanders had a huge impact on Pauline scholarship with his argument about the nature of first-century Judaism, giving rise to the so-called ‘New perspective on Paul’. This latest volume summarises and draws together his thinking on Paul, rather than engaging with recent arguments—but he has added in (for some reason) a 60-page assessment of Paul and SSS.

Sanders makes some very interesting comments about the function and role of Paul’s vice lists, noting their connections with both Jewish and Stoic lists, though also noting the characteristic emphasis on idolatry and sexual immorality that was a consistent feature of Diaspora Judaism in the period. He also notes the function of the vice lists as a rhetorical device; Paul’s actual pastoral handling of individual cases of sin was quite different—which seems to me to be highly pertinent in the current context. But his conclusion is in line with David Wright, Robert Gagnon and William Loader: Paul is rejecting every form of SSS, drawing on the text of Lev 20.13, and in doing so he sits squarely within the tradition of Diaspora Judaism which took a very similar view. This is striking, Sanders notes, since in many other ways, Christianity adopted many other aspects of pagan culture; this issue was the one where there was sharpest disagreement between Christianity’s two ‘parents’ of Judaism and Graeco-Roman culture, and on the question of SSS, it came down unequivocally on the side of Judaism. He concludes:

Diaspora Jews had made sexual immorality and especially homosexual activity a major distinction between themselves and gentiles, and Paul repeated Diaspora Jewish vice lists. I see no reason to focus on homosexual acts as the one point of Paul’s vice lists that must be maintained today.

As we read the conclusion of the chapter, I should remind readers of Paul’s own view of homosexual activities in Romans 1, where both males and females who have homosexual intercourse are condemned: ‘those who practice such things’ (the long list of vices, but the emphasis is on idolatry and homosexual conduct) ‘deserve to die’ (1.31). his passage does not depend on the term ‘soft’, but is completely in agreement with Philo and other Diaspora Jews. (p 373)

This conclusion is in line with other commentators who have looked carefully at the issue:

It is very possible that Paul knew of views which claimed some people had what we would call a homosexual orientation, though we cannot know for sure and certainly should not read our modern theories back into his world.  If he did, it is more likely that, like other Jews, he would have rejected them out of hand….He would have stood more strongly under the influence of Jewish creation tradition which declares human beings male and female, to which may well even be alluding in 1.26-27, and so seen same-sex sexual acts by people (all of whom he deemed heterosexual in our terms) as flouting divine order. (William Loader, The New Testament and Sexuality, p 323-4)

Where the Bible mentions homosexual behavior at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether that Biblical judgment is correct. (Walter Wink, “Homosexuality and the Bible”)

I think the texts in Paul are much clearer than current discussion would have us believe.


To close this longer-than-usual post, I want to offer four final pastoral observations.

The first relates to Bible translation. It is clear that translators have wrestled with the translation of these two terms in Paul, even in different languages, and come up with some very different answers. Ed Oxford talks about how he discovered the history of German translation of key texts in the Old and New Testaments:

So we went to Leviticus 18:22 and he’s translating it for me word for word. In the English where it says “Man shall not lie with man, for it is an abomination,” the German version says “Man shall not lie with young boys as he does with a woman, for it is an abomination.” I said, “What?! Are you sure?” He said, “Yes!” Then we went to Leviticus 20:13— same thing, “Young boys.” So we went to 1 Corinthians to see how they translated arsenokoitai (original Greek word)  and instead of homosexuals it said, “Boy molesters will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

I then grabbed my facsimile copy of Martin Luther’s original German translation from 1534. My friend is reading through it for me and he says, “Ed, this says the same thing!” They use the word knabenschander. Knaben is boy, schander is molester. This word “boy molesters” for the most part carried through the next several centuries of German Bible translations. Knabenschander is also in 1 Timothy 1:10. So the interesting thing is, I asked if they ever changed the word arsenokoitai to homosexual in modern translations. So my friend found it and told me, “The first time homosexual appears in a German translation is 1983.”

If this is all true, then it is extraordinary. There is simply no reason to translate the Hebrew zakar in Lev 18.22 and 20.13 with the term ‘young boys’ and I know of no English translation that does so. What is happening here is that the translators have conflated the term arsenokoites that Paul does use with the later term paidophthorēseis that Paul doesn’t use—and, seeing the connection with Leviticus, have then read that concern back into the Old Testament! It is a bizarre approach to translation.

Sanders makes a very interesting observation, which I have not come across before, but which explains why there has been such difficulty in translation in the past.

Homosexual activity was a subject on which there was a severe clash between Greco-Roman and Jewish views. Christianity, which accepted many aspects of Greco-Roman culture, in the case accepted the Jewish view so completely that the ways in which most of the people in the Roman Empire regarded homosexuality were obliterated, though now have been recovered by ancient historians. (p 344)

It is one of the many ways in which we now know a lot more about the first century than e.g. Christians in the fourth century, not as a matter of modern hubris but as a result of a two centuries of interest in the classical world. (If you want to explore the literature on Roman attitudes to sex, read this remarkable post by my friend John Pike.) Prior to the modern era, translators were, on these two words, somewhat flying blind.

Many English translations, using language like ‘homosexual abusers’ do capture the rhetorical force of Paul’s language—but they add a whole lot of contemporary cultural baggage at the same time. Perhaps the best way to translate the terms might be to use ‘softies’ for the first, capturing the meanings of malakos as both ‘effeminate’ and ‘morally weak’, and ‘men who have sex with men’ for arsenokoites, reflecting both its etymology and its close connection with Lev 20.13.


The second issue is the confusion that has been created in the debate. It suits those who want to see the Church change its teaching for most members of the Church to say ‘It is all so complicated, and the Bible is not really as clear as I thought’. That climate is created by popularised arguments that ignore the whole range of evidence—and give no indication to their readers (who mostly won’t know how to assess this) that there are other issues that need to be considered. For example, I don’t suppose anyone reading Tallon’s article or watching his video will think to ask ‘But what is the cultural context of Paul? And how does his view connect with other Jewish critiques of pagan culture?’ since there is no hint that this might be an important issue. Tallon is right to offer a bibliography—but how many of his readers will actually look up the articles he cites, not least because David Wright’s is published in a specialist journal for which you have to have an expensive subscription? Atomising the debate—isolating one text from another, and isolating the texts from their context—is a common feature of such arguments, and they lead to confusion.

The third issue is our decision in the light of what Paul says. E P Sanders is very interesting in this regard; like many other scholars, whilst he is clear about what Paul means, he does not see Paul’s view as in any sense binding on his own views as a Christian.

Paul’s vice lists are generally ignored in church polity and administration. Christian churches contain people who drink too much, who are greedy, who are deceitful, who quarrel, who gossip, who boast, who once rebelled against their parents, and who are foolish. Yet Paul’s vice lists condemn them all, just as much as they condemn people who engage in homosexual acts (p 372).

Sanders is spot on here: you cannot pick and choose, and if you take Paul seriously on one issue, you must surely take him seriously (or not) on all issues. Sanders’ conclusion is to treat them all as non-binding—but of course there is an alternative response available.

The fourth then is the question of our reception of gay people in terms of our pastoral response. Sanders makes some very interesting observations about the nature and use of Paul’s vice lists.

Homiletically, vice lists gain rhetorical force partly by length and partly by the equation of relatively minor sins with relatively major ones. It might be quite useful for a preacher to gain the audience’s support by condemning major sins (such as adultery and greed), but then to add that there are lots of sins…which are practiced by some of the people in the pews, and that these count as sins too…This has a healthily purgative effect. (p 338).

He also notes that Paul’s own pastoral strategy is not effected by the vice lists, since he handles actual examples of sin in a different way. Besides, the clear assumption is that the things he lists are now in the past: ‘such were some of you. But…’ (1 Cor 6.11). Sanders sums up:

The accusations in his vice lists are not actually directed at the sins of his converts at all (p 339).

Sanders goes further, noting the significance of Paul saying so little about SSS:

[H]omosexual practices are not very important in Paul’s letters. They figures in his vice lists, as do deceit and malice, but he does not elaborate on them; they are only items in a list. We must assume that he did not actually face a case in one of his congregations; if he had, we would hear a lot more about it. (p 345)

Paul’s language on this issue does not offer us a pastoral strategy for relating to gay people, within the church or outside. What it does do, though, is tell us clearly Paul’s understanding of the moral status of SSS, and with him the view both of Judaism and the early church, and following that most of Christian understanding down the centuries. The heated and (in my view unnecessary) debates about these clear texts not only sows confusion, it also makes gay people feel as though they are the subjects of these debates, which I think is unhelpful all round.

So let’s stop constantly debating the meaning of these texts—amongst all exegetical issues in the NT, these are relatively clear. When we do that, we can move on to the more important pastoral issue of how we engage with each other in relationship.


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379 thoughts on “Was Paul unclear in his teaching on sexuality?”

  1. Yes, the texts are clear enough; and yes, Wink has it right.

    Why do my fellow liberals waste so much of their time on this stuff? As most will admit when pushed, they’d ultimately disregard Paul whatever he said (and many are a good deal more flippant than that), so what’s the point? I’ve yet to see a single conservative whose mind’s been changed by ropey exegesis, and since even attempting it implicitly condones a theological position that’s anathema to liberalism, it’s perilously close to arguing in bad faith.

    Fellow liberals, please, just drop this. You must be as sick of reading these rebuttals as their authors are of writing them. This is a road to nowhere. Paul was who he was, and said what he said. He’s never gonna be welcome on a Pride march, and this ahistorical eisegesis insults everyone’s intelligence.

    Let’s instead make the case on our own terms.

    Reply
      • That’s not the way the battle for truth will be won or lost.
        Progressive interpretations don’t need to be better than other interpretations in order to obliterate traditional teaching. All that needs to happen is for Christians to conclude that it is reasonable to hold a different interpretation and still be a Christian: We must, therefore, agree to disagree because otherwise we’ll be accused of the evil act of splitting the church over it!

        Then, once truth and falsehood are walking hand in hand, the truth has no meaning anymore. It is utterly devalued.
        And when truth has no value, falsehood has free reign.

        Reply
        • I’m not interested in unchurching people, but I just don’t see the point of strapping down the epistles and torturing some fantastical meaning out of them.

          The only people from whom it’s a necessity are theologically orthodox Christians who want to take a liberal line on sexuality (such as John Boswell, who was both gay and a devout Catholic). Well, whatever gets them through the night, but most liberals shouldn’t waste their time on it.

          Reply
          • Have you seen what’s progressing in the Methodist church recently?
            A task group was invited to consider sexual issues to see if their teaching, mainly on same sex marriage, should change. They came back with a paper presenting this sort of shoddy Progressive ‘theology’ and Conference is recommending that this should be discussed in the churches before coming back for a final vote next year.

            So, for the next year, Methodists will be discussing what they think of it. It’s unlikely the church will make a stand claiming one interpretation is true and the other false (which is what SHOULD happen!). Rather, faced with two ‘possible’ interpretations, they will likely agree that they will continue to walk hand in hand in ‘unity’ as I described it.

            So there’s a real life example of the effect of these poor Progressive interpretations being effective, not because they’re any good but because they present an excuse for moving away from truth – on a denominational level.

      • Hi Ian
        Unfortunately I was on holiday when this was published, hence my late and brief response now. Some quick comments:

        Quote: ‘Tallon poses the issues in these terms: ‘What does Paul say about homosexuality in 1 Corinthians?’ This assumes that there is such a thing as ‘homosexuality’, that we are agreed on what it is, and that Paul thought in such terms. I think each of these assumptions are highly questionable.’
        I agree. They are highly questionable. Sadly, they are usually not questioned enough, and modern understandings of homosexuality are projected back into first century culture. For a short piece on this, you can see the article I wrote at https://viamedia.news/2019/05/17/does-the-bible-really-say-anything-at-all-about-homosexuality-as-we-understand-it-today/

        Quote: ‘The next sentence goes on: ‘Is he saying that those who are gay or lesbian won’t enter God’s kingdom?’ He seems immediately to be assuming that, if Paul is expressing a negative assessment of same-sex sex (SSS), then he is also then expressing a negative assessment of same-sex atrtacted people, as if our identity and our patterns of desire and action are fused and can never be separated.’
        I do not assume this at all. But I’m addressing the questions that modern audiences (without detailed knowledge of first century culture) might (and do) ask.

        On the vice lists: you’re right, I don’t address the genre. This was because, as you inferred, it was for a popular audience, and I tried to keep the videos as streamlined as possible to what I considered the most essential points. (The text on the website is primarily that of the videos, with extra comments added at the end and links to resources).

        Quote: ‘Tallon then discusses the term malakos, the least contentious of the two, and I think I would broadly agree with his conclusions’
        Thank you! Nice to get some agreement.

        Quote: ‘The strong consensus, following the detailed and technical argument of David Wright in in 1984 (in which he comprehensively responds to the arguments of John Boswell) is that Paul has coined the term from the Greek (Septuagint, LXX) of Lev 20.13…’
        It actually does not affect the argument greatly either way, but I am less convinced of this. On my to-do list for the future is an article addressing this point – the quick summary is that the creation of the term doesn’t need the Septuagint, and parallel examples exist of similar created terms that are unrelated to the Septuagint. I also think it unlikely that gentile Christians would have got the reference.

        Quote: ‘The reason for that, as Robert Gagnon has pointed out, is that the Leviticus text itself is referring back to the creation text, where God made humanity in his image, ‘male and female he created them’ (not, in Gen 1.27, ‘man and woman’).’
        Not convincing. I have commented on this argument before. If it was really a reference with Genesis, we would expect at the least females also to be mentioned. Lev. 20:13 mixes man and male, which makes a lot of sense if pederasty is in mind, but a lot less if you’re trying to reference Genesis.

        Quote: ‘Tallon then suggests that arsenokoites is often associated with economic exploitation (this is the argument of gay scholar Dale Martin, whose article he lists at the end) but this language is actually absent from the text in Paul.’
        It is absent from 1 Cor., but arguably present in 1 Tim. 1:10. The next item after arsenokoites is slave-traders, who would be the ones who procured boy prostitutes. Economic exploitation is also the background in the first recorded use outside of the New Testament in the Sibylline Oracle 2.70-77.10.

        Quote: ‘Tallon also points to the later Christian concern about paidophthorēseis, translated as ‘corrupting children’, but actually referring to what was thought of as the usual practice in Greek and Roman culture, of older men have penetrative anal sex with younger, receptive males.’
        The first appearance is later, but not by much. It appears in the Didache, the oldest none-NT Christian text we have. I don’t think this is a later concern, I think this is exactly the same concern, but expressed in different terms. Both terms, paidophthoreseis and arsenokoites, appear in similar vice lists in similar positions.

        Quote: ‘What is most striking here is that Paul himself does not use this term, nor does he use the usual pair of terms for same-sex lovers, erastus and eramenos.’
        I don’t find this striking at all. We don’t actually know whether Paul invented this term (this is just the first time we find it in literature – a very different thing). And I can well understand why Paul and other Christians would be reluctant to use terms (erastus and eramenos) which implied that abusive pederasty had anything to do with love. It should be noted that paidophthoreseis is also a word that first occurs in early Christian literature, just like arsenokoites.

        Quote: ‘the idea of anal sex between adult males was shocking and unacceptable, since the passive partner was the inferior, and this offended against the idea of the free adult male.’
        This rather underlines how the idea of a faithful, equal partnership was not (and could not have been) a consideration in the ancient world.

        Quote: ‘The interchangeability demonstrated above between arsenokoitia and paidophthoria argues that the latter was encompassed within the former. A broader study of early Christian attitudes to homosexuality would confirm this.’
        Wright’s argument doesn’t have any evidence. If terms appear to be interchangeable (which Wright admits), the default assumption ought to be that they are interchangeable, not that one means much more than the other or encompasses the other.

        Gagnon: I don’t have space to respond in detail. But note that when Leviticus (and Mosaic Law) is referred to by contemporaries of Paul (eg by Philo) they are talking about pederasty as its application.

        Quote: ‘Perhaps the best way to translate the terms might be to use ‘softies’ for the first, capturing the meanings of malakos as both ‘effeminate’ and ‘morally weak’, and ‘men who have sex with men’ for arsenokoites…’
        No! You have already said how the most culturally acceptable form of male-male sex was men with boys, so why on earth would you translate arsenokoites as ‘men who have sex with men’?!

        Quote: ‘For example, I don’t suppose anyone reading Tallon’s article or watching his video will think to ask ‘But what is the cultural context of Paul? And how does his view connect with other Jewish critiques of pagan culture?’ since there is no hint that this might be an important issue.’
        In a short video for a popular audience, I cannot cover every issue. But this strikes me as unfair criticism, given I do address some of the most pressing issues and try to give some of the first century cultural background (see also the video/article on Romans).

        Quote: ‘Tallon is right to offer a bibliography—but how many of his readers will actually look up the articles he cites, not least because David Wright’s is published in a specialist journal for which you have to have an expensive subscription?’
        Sadly, the economics of academic publishing are beyond my control. But I hope that people do find the annotated bibliography useful (and so prevent the atomising of debate): http://www.bibleandhomosexuality.org/bibliography/

        Quote: ‘So let’s stop constantly debating the meaning of these texts—amongst all exegetical issues in the NT, these are relatively clear.’
        I beg to differ. You basically have three NT texts that are relevant. Two of them use the same word, arsenokoites, used for the first time in known literature. There are clear scholarly differences in how much should be read into this term (I note that you didn’t actually address Dale Martin’s arguments here, but attacked his ethical views). The third (Romans) also generates scholarly debate, with arguments over the context, the references, and whether female-female sex is included or not.

        To make the point more directly, here is William Loader (whom you cite approvingly) on 1 Cor. 6:9 and arsenokoites: “Possibly Paul has that whole range of same-sex relations in mind here or possibly particular kinds which would especially illustrate what he means here by ‘unjust’, although he used that term rather widely as the rest of the list indicates and he might have used more specific terms if he had a narrower sense in mind. It is impossible to know for sure’. (Loader, 2010, 32).

        If Loader is saying that ‘it is impossible to know for sure’ then the exegetical issues are not ‘relatively clear’ at all, and to pretend they are does a disservice to the church generally.

        Reply
        • Hi Jonathan. Can you unpack further the reference to the Sibylline Oracle? I’ve often heard it quoted as you do but can’t see it myself. The immediate context is to do with lying and murder. People tend to quote Dale Martin as if he establishes the economic setting. Rather like Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 Book II seems to be a general list of immoral behaviour. There are references to economic injustice but I can’t see any evidence that makes it a controlling context. Am I missing something? Thanks.

          Reply
    • Yes there is something 1984 about the way that people (without the training) try to make the texts say the opposite of what they do. But it is a very serious matter that trained scholars in high positions are being so selective in their presentations of the evidence.

      Paul was *not* a 21st century western liberal? Perish the thought.

      Reply
    • I wholeheartedly concur! These arguments are as desperate as those which try to argue away 1Tim’s prohibition of women in authority.

      Reply
      • If you know anything about reading the NT, then you will no that this is no comparison at all. ‘Authentein’ is hapax, and in other contemporary literature implies ‘taking another’s life’; the grammar is odd; there is a symmetry between Paul’s instructions between men and women that is usually ignored; the context of Ephesus was a cult of women who did not need men; and the common translation directly contradicts other Pauline comments about women teaching him, exercising authority over their husbands, receiving gifts of speech from the Spirit which are there to teach the whole community.

        You can only think these arguments ‘desperate’ if you are desperately ignorant of the issues here…!

        Reply
  2. Ian writes:
    “….usually pair of terms for same-sex lovers, erastus and eramenos. ”

    Both words are linked to the Koine-greek word for love as “eros” from which we equally get the word “erotic”, but they are NOT linked to the Koine-greek word for love as “Agape”.

    The argument that all the words for love in Koine-greek are interchangeable is completely unconvincing when ancient languages are characterised by having less words than modern languages, so why would Koine-greek have four words for love when English only has one!

    Reply
  3. Sanders is a fine biblical scholar, but his ethical reasoning is weak. He says:

    Paul’s vice lists are generally ignored in church polity and administration. Christian churches contain people who drink too much, who are greedy, who are deceitful, who quarrel, who gossip, who boast, who once rebelled against their parents, and who are foolish. Yet Paul’s vice lists condemn them all, just as much as they condemn people who engage in homosexual acts (p 372).

    I know people in the pew make this kind of argument, but it is so flimsy I’m amazed to see it from the pen of a renowned scholar.

    The obvious response is that no one is defending gluttony, greed, deceit, quarrelling, gossip, boastfulness, rebelliousness and foolishness, or proposing services of blessing for those who make such things central to their identity. Many people may do them, but no one is praising them for it or trying to defend it as good.

    The more pertinent point surely is that same-sex sexual behaviour is the only item on the biblical vice lists that anyone is trying to get the church to endorse.

    Reply
    • Thanks Will. I actually think his point is slightly more coherent that you say, and I think it offers a real challenge.

      You say ‘no one is defending gluttony, greed, deceit…’ but in fact I think Sanders is right: many people are. When Christians say that e.g. opposing abortion excuses a national leader from his lies, aggression, racist comments and serial adultery, they are indeed defending this things, or at least ignoring Paul’s teaching and cocking a snook at the impact of Paul’s vice lists.

      I am always struck when I visit the US how much more accepted multiple divorces and remarriages are in the church than in the UK. Sanders is pressing a point of integrity: you cannot say one item on this list is ‘the test’ of the church when you have, de facto, accepted the others.

      Reply
      • No one is praising those things or wanting to celebrate them in church. Christians who support Trump or Boris, or Corbyn, or Clinton, or almost any politician – they are (almost) all a pretty dubious bunch in one way or another – do so as a calculation of what is best (or least worst) for their country (and the world) at this point in time given the other possible options.

        For Trump I think for Christians it’s to do with religious freedom, abortion and the Supreme Court (and not being Hillary Clinton and part of the fanatically pro-abortion and LGBT Democrats). For Boris it’s mostly Brexit (some Christians see this as very important for various reasons), though he has appointed notably more conservatives (small c) than May, even though he is himself much more liberal than conservative.

        Calculations as to who one supports politically out of the available options can’t easily be translated into a moral code – look at the OT kings whom God uses. And certainly offering qualified support for political leaders with morally dubious personal lives does not equate with endorsing and celebrating the vices/sins themselves, which is what we are talking about here.

        Reply
        • While I could accept reluctant Christian support of the Don on the basis of a Two Kingdoms doctrine (i.e., civil politics is inevitably a sewer, to be judged by different standards to God’s kingdom), the stomach-churning adulation of this dissolute slumlord from Christian leaders who ought to know better goes way beyond that.

          Proper Two Kingdoms may see support lent to Trump as a lesser of evils, but that support would be accompanied by sustained and frank condemnation of his personal conduct, leaving the Don in no doubt that he was an unrepentant sinner in desperate need of spiritual regeneration.

          Reply
    • It’s reasonable that people should try to get their churches to endorse gay and lesbian sexuality (and plenty of churches these days do), because in trying to find examples of how holiness got soiled, Paul wrote from within an intensely religious culture that was hostile to man-man sex. That view was cultural and, unlike more obvious and incontestable things like greed, we now see Paul’s view on gay sexuality as prejudiced.

      It was understandable in his time and religious culture. That doesn’t mean that prejudice should be perpetuated.

      It is not that shocking that people should want the church to stop vilifying gay and lesbian sexuality, considering the harm that vilification can do, and has done, for so many years.

      Christians in more and more churches want their churches to endorse gay and lesbian sexuality because it is tender, loving, devoted, beautiful, pure, precious, lovely, costly, sacrificial – and a model of the fidelity that is of the very nature of God.

      I find it very sad that Christianity – in this day and age – is used as a mandate and platform for bigotry and prejudice.

      I don’t think Sanders’ ‘ethical reasoning’ in this context is weak at all.

      I’d argue he just confronts your paradigms. The justice and the conscience of the matter stands, on its own grounds, in pure reason of what is decent, good, and faithful.

      Reply
      • And even many conservatives accept a version of the cultural argument when it comes to slavery and divorce (usually involving an “arc of meaning” and “direction of travel” across the whole of scripture). Even allowing for the doctrine of biblical authority, I don’t see why this direction of travel must arbitrarily cease at the closing of the canon.

        Yes, granted, scripture is uniformly negative about homosexuality in a way that it isn’t about liberating slaves or empowering women. But allowing for progress within the canon sets the precedent that parts of it can be wrong, and raises all kinds of awkward questions. What if there was zero chance of people embracing certain ideas prior to the fourth century A.D.? Should the church have left the canon open forever? Are we arguing that humanity had reached some state of perfection when it was closed?

        If not, then why can’t we progress further then we were at the Bible’s close? Implicitly, we accept this. Christians widely accept that, say, democracy’s a good thing, and many would reject Paul’s injunction to obey civil governments, however tyrannical. Sauce for the goose …

        Reply
        • James, when you said “And even many conservatives accept a version of the cultural argument when it comes to slavery and divorce…”
          That’s not really true is it?

          Jesus in the Gospels says that divorce was allowed by Moses (not God, but Moses) because the Israelites were hard-hearted. So if we follow Jesus Christ as Christians do (the clue is in the name, “Christian”) then we tolerate divorce exactly the same as Jesus Christ did.

          St Paul’s letter to Philemon is about slavery and is clearly telling the slave owner to accept the former slave back as a brother, i.e. an equal. That letter is in the New Testament precisely because it is a letter for everyone even now. If some society makes someone a slave that person is still our equal and is still valued by God – the issue is more with that society, than with Christians.

          Reply
          • Without doing a redux of the recent epic slavery discussion, yes, Paul says that Philemon should treat Onesimus as a brother, but (if he was a slave, some scholars dispute it), doesn’t order his release. Recognizing the inherent human worth of slaves was mainstream Stoic thinking, radical, but well inside the 1st century Overton Window. (Indeed, it led to sweeping legal reforms within the Empire.) In c.7 of 1 Corinthians, Paul enjoins slaves to be content with their lot.

            As for Jesus and divorce, his more exacting ethic is either no divorce (Mark) or no divorce with a narrow exception for adultery (Matthew). Not being in any kinda position of power within 2nd Temple Judaism, he had no choice but to tolerate it, but it certainly wasn’t his teaching.

          • James, I agree to some extent with you on this (and I don’t think I engaged enough on the thread on the slavery post).

            I think it is useful to read e.g. Seneca’s views on slaves in Letter 47 https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Moral_letters_to_Lucilius/Letter_47

            and there are some observations in common with Paul. But Paul’s views are clearly more radical: to treat slaves ‘with equality’ because we are all slaves of Christ is to go further, and is rooted in an anthropology where all, slave and free, are made in the image of God.

            I am not sure I understand the idea that the ‘ethical’ thing to do would have been to demand manumission; this would have led masters with no-one to do necessary work, and slaves with no income, home or security.

          • Manumission wouldn’t have obliged ex-masters to cast ex-slaves onto the street: as the liberated slave’s patron, they could employ and house freedmen until they wanted to leave. Indeed, it was customary for liberti to become part of the paterfamilias‘s extended family, and Roman society took a dim view of abusing manumission to offload sick or elderly slaves. Several Stoic reforms to slavery laws addressed this (i.e., allowing the state to forcibly buy slaves from neglectful masters, automatically liberating abandoned slaves, etc).

            By any ethical code worth the name, Paul’s instructions to the flock ought to’ve been clear: unqualified condemnation of slavery as the gravest of sins, and a command that all Christian masters liberate and compensate their slaves forthwith (or, in cases where Roman law had started to set limits on manumission, to treat their slaves as free until such time as they could be officially liberated). But hey, I don’t blame Paul for not being that far ahead of his time, and always view the epistles in their historical context.

          • But you too are speaking from a specific cultural context Susannah, and yet you assume yours to be morally superior to Paul’s; why is that? Do years passing mean that we automatically become better people?

            Your view of sexuality is one example of this. Paul’s view is clearly linked to creation ordinances, to the bounds in which sexual activity is to be safely enjoyed. Where does your idea of a “sexuality” that needs to be celebrated come from? Some churches have tried to “reclaim sexuality for God” – with predictably disastrous consequences.

            I’m presuming from your post that you also welcome polyamory at the altar? If not, on what basis? Also, incest, given that we have the technology to ensure no genetically impaired offspring might result?

          • Marcus,

            I believe that God has given us consciences and that we are expected to use those consciences to make our moral choices and best attempts to live decent lives. I believe a gay couple or a lesbian couple, caring for each other, sacrificing for each other, expressing love intimately and in day to day commitment, and living lives of fidelity, is an example of decent life.

            My view is shared by many other people, both inside or outside the church.

            Furthermore, like many others, I believe that when we read the bible, we should take social and cultural context into account. None of this is new. You are well aware, I am sure, that the Church of England harbours both views like mine and maybe views like your (which I don’t claim to fully know).

            I am making a case, specifically, for no longer vilifying sexual love between people of the same sex. I have not mentioned polyamory or incest, mainly because I have no experience of them.

            I’ll leave that to others to debate. My belief is that for every issue in life, we need to exercise our God-given consciences to try to do what we believe is right. There are many issues not even mentioned in the bible, where we need to do this.

            As for Paul, yes, I think he’s pretty clear in his opposition to man-man sex, and that’s what I’d expect from the religious culture and assumptions that existed at that time. Do I think his prejudice should be perpetuated for all time? No I do not. Nor do many other Christians, who get that he was writing in the culture of his time, and drawing on creation narratives to justify his worldview.

            Doing just that, he uses the creation narrative elsewhere to mandate female submission – justifying his view “because Eve sinned first”. Eve didn’t even exist. Most Christians in the Church of England would accept that Eve was a mythical character, that Adam had ancestors because humans evolved from earlier species, and yet… Paul justifies female subordination (in some cases) on the mythical actions of a mythical character.

            Paul lives in a religious culture and a society that was okay with men being the head over women, and with the idea that man-man sex was abomination that would send you to Hell.

            Thankfully we don’t hold those views today, and neither should the Church. Nor would we tell slaves to submit to their masters. We would demand they are all set free.

            Cultures and society change. Paul’s words reflect his time and culture. For our own time and culture, as Christians we are best to reflect prayerfully on each issue, and then exercise our God-given conscience.

            Fundamentally, I believe that gay and lesbian sexuality is decent and lovely, and that gay and lesbian relationships can express fidelity as well as straight ones.

            We can go over and over this, and not share the same views on the issue. This has been going on for 50 years or more in the Church of England. At some point we will have to agree to disagree, and maintain a ‘unity in diversity’ of conscience in this matter. I am willing to do that. I believe the true test out of all this is not winning the debate, but accepting difference and loving one another, praying for one another’s flourishing in our shared unity in Christ, which is the only, and eternal unity – a unity that runs deeper than institutional uniformity.

            If you can suggest a better outcome that is practicable, I’d love to hear it. If you don’t agree with gay sex, don’t have sex with a man. But does that give you the right to dominate another Christian’s conscience on that matter, or the sincere convictions of probably half the membership of the Church of England who think you (and Paul) are wrong in relation to our communities today?

            We are putting off so many young people who are frankly disgusted by the prejudice of a Church that vilifies the love and fidelity and intimacy of… their friends, their cousins, their uncles, sometimes their parents… and in some cases themselves.

            We need a new paradigm to handle the Bible right. We are bringing disgrace on the Bible and the gospel by literalising Paul’s views as if all of them are infallible and applicable for all societies, in all times.

            A lot of people are being put off the Christian message by this perpetuation of prejudice: at the very least, and I think the trajectory of the Church of England is going that way, those priests and church communities who believe in celebrating gay and lesbian commitment (including its intimacies) should be able to do so…

            That is coming, I really believe, as it has come in Scotland. And if it does…

            What will you do?

      • Why is the condemnation of same sex sex ‘cultural’ but none of the other behaviours in Paul’s ‘vice list’ cultural?

        It seems you have arbitrarily assigned it as ‘cultural’ and by doing so can then dismiss it as irrelevant today. Seems very convenient.

        Reply
        • The other behaviours are ‘cultural’ too…

          But whereas greed is still culturally understood to be wrong, man-man sex no longer is.

          Slavery was ‘cultural’ back then. Do you propose that I am arbitrary if I repudiate that too?

          It’s not just ‘convenience’ to call out prejudice and injustice. God has given us conscience. And it’s not just me being ‘arbitrary’. Half the membership of the Church of England accepts gay relationships and does not think man-man sex is wrong. And an even higher proportion of the British public.

          This is not ‘convenience’. It is simple decency.

          Paul was prejudiced, but that was understandable, given the religious culture he lived in.

          We are not obliged to perpetuate that prejudice.

          Reply
          • So to confirm Susannah, if 50% or more of CofE members decided that Paul’s condemnation of greed was just cultural, and we wanted a ceremony to celebrate greed, you’d be fine with that? You’d be happy for newcomers to come to their first church service and hear the vicar blessing an investment banker’s latest statement, and wouldn’t raise any objections because you were happy that we were unified in diversity?

          • Ah so using your logic, if greed became ‘good’ in society’s cultural eyes then it is to be deemed good.

            Is that really how you think Christians and the church should decide on right or wrong!

          • To Marcus and PC1,

            I will only speak for myself. I believe that greed is wrong. What basis do I have for that. Do I base it on Paul? No. I may reflect that greed was wrong in his culture too. But the basis for my view that greed is wrong, is that I exercise my conscience.

            This is what I’m advocating for gay sexuality too.

            I think that Paul was right on one, and wrong on the other.

            And if a majority today championed greed? I’d do the same again, I’d listen to my God-given conscience. And I would oppose their view.

            I wouldn’t leave the Church over it. I don’t believe in schism. But they’d have to put up with my divergent view.

            In reality, the majority of people in the Church of England will never believe greed is right, even though in personal terms many of us may be challenged in prayer of how we spend our money in a hungry and suffering world.

            I think it’s best if we stick to sensible examples. God speaks to us today, through conscience, through people, and none of us are infallible. Neither were the authors of the Bible and neither is the Bible itself.

            We have to pray, and listen to our conscience, and do the best we can. Because in listening to our consciences, we may be opening our hearts a bit more to the love and the grace of God.

            I am a lesbian woman, married to my wife, and loved by our church community. I know first hand, as we all do, that love involves shared joy, shared cost, shared sorrow, shared sacrifice. But for many churches in the Church of England, a marriage like ours is seen as a gift and blessing to the community we share in. It is so lovely.

            And I’d ask either of you: what possible harm does our intimate love do to you? Our fidelity to each other, or the fidelity we try to exercise in loving our neighbours? Our private sexuality? Are you harmed by us?

            And I’d encourage you to try to co-exist, and possibly open your hearts and consciences to the test of love: is what somebody does (say greed, say sexual fidelity) loving?

            Because love is the great commandment, and I believe God still speaks to us today, urging us to seek out the loving, the kindness, the fidelity.

            Paul’s hostility to man-man sex reflects his own cultural views. As I’ve said above, I think his views are clear. However, he was not infallible, and we don’t have to perpetuate those cultural views forever and ever, when God speaks to our consciences and challenges us to open our minds to love.

            We may never agree on this issue, but the test is can we love one another. Can we seek our unity in Christ, when we can’t find uniformity in our humanity? Can we eschew schism? Can we seek each other’s flourishing? Can we live out our Christian lives in maybe diverse communities and expressions in the Church of England, helping the elderly, comforting the distressed, supporting the poor, being servants in the best way we can, in our church communities and the communities up and down the land alongside which we live?

            Through the opening up to love, if not to uniformity, can we serve in various and different ways, and be the Church of England?

            Or do you choose to cut and run?

            I really wouldn’t want you to. I’d want the Church to be precious in all its diverse consciences, if only we try to walk together in love, and recognise the primary call to love our neighbours – and community by community, in our different styles and emphases, try to do just that.

            God bless you.

            Susannah

          • But your conscience could be merely a cultural conscience? Given the importance of downgrading things that are merely cultural, that ought to be significant.

            How do we investigate whether or not it is. By the fact that all of a sudden consciences are telling people that things are ok that were not thought to be ok, and (by coincidence?) just at the time when the media are saying the same.

            That cannot possibly be a biological conscience then. It can only be a cultural conscience, with the downgrade in importance that that entails.

          • I didn’t marry my wife out of “cultural conscience”, Christopher.

            I married her because I love her.

          • I didn’t marry my wife out of “cultural conscience”, Christopher.

            That wasn’t the question.

            Paul’s conscience told him that same-sex activity was wrong.

            Yours tells you that it is okay.

            You think Paul’s conscience was wrong because it was infleuenced by his culture, and therefore can be ignored.

            But — isn’t your conscience also influenced by your culture?

            So if you’re going to ignore Paul’s conscience because it is influenced by his culture, shouldn’t you equally ignore yours because it’s influenced by your culture?

          • We should never ignore our consciences.

            But to repeat, I married my wife out of love, not because it was culturally acceptable (which it is).

            I would have married my wife even if the punishment for marrying her was stoning, or being thrown off a rooftop by ISIS, or vilified by other religious people.

            Culture changes, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. People have to discern which it is. Overwhelmingly people in the UK, and many Christians in the Church of England, believe in good conscience that gay sexuality is fine.

            If *everyone* is influenced by their cultures, as you argue, then it is quite possible Paul was too, and then we’re left in a situation where we have to listen to our consciences (which are God-given) and take responsibility.

            S, you know this debate never ends, because quite simply two large groups of Christians take contrary positions of conscience.]

            Therefore what other resolution can there be, within the Church of England, than to acknowledge both sets of beliefs, and go big on love in all other areas of our Christian service, and especially in our love for one another?

            We can have ‘unity in diversity’ and both groups can carry on going to church each week, serving their communities each week, and living and acting according to their consciences.

            The other options are tyranny or schism.

          • S, you know this debate never ends, because quite simply two large groups of Christians take contrary positions of conscience.

            But this is precisely why the debate should not be about conscience, but about logic applied to the evidence of Scripture.

            We can have ‘unity in diversity’ and both groups can carry on going to church each week, serving their communities each week, and living and acting according to their consciences.

            But that would be a dishonest unity built on ‘constructive ambiguity’, where you find a form of words that both sides can sign up to only because they mean totally different things by them. At a fundamental level, every time the Bible was read, half the congregation would be listening to something completely opposite to the other half.

            That’s not unity. That’s pretend unity. It’s hypocrisy, it’s basically a lie.

  4. I don’t think Paul’s unclear. I don’t think it’s confusing. I don’t think it’s complicated.

    In the religiously intense culture and circles Paul (and earlier writers in the OT) lived in, the view of man-man sex was a negative one.

    That was their problem. It shouldn’t be ours.

    We should not perpetuate their prejudice.

    Also, yet another article on sex. It’s like some Christians are obsessed by the subject.

    In terms of simple implementation, this: if you’re a guy who doesn’t like man-man sex, find a woman.

    But please stop policing everyone else’s privacy, tenderness, fidelity, sacrifice, love.

    There is a world of pitiful poverty, deprivation, abandonment, suffering out there. In fact it’s on our doorsteps. Maybe we should obsess less about people’s private love, and obsess a bit more about the tangible suffering in our world.

    And we wonder why young people are alienated from the Church…?

    To return to your question, Ian, NO… I don’t think Paul was unclear. But I don’t think Paul has the final word. He was closed, it seems, to the loveliness and tenderness of gay and lesbian couples, certainly as we see them flourishing in our society today, bringing blessing and gift to community. That was his loss.

    The Word of God is not the literal verbatim views of the Bible authors. They are fallible, like all humans are, and they wrote from within their own cultures. Is Paul unclear? I don’t think that’s the right or most relevant question to ask. Is Paul wrong about man-man sex?

    I think most people would say he is.

    And they could be right to say so. They could be right, and Paul could be wrong. The real Word of God – the actual person of God who calls us into being and becoming, can open our hearts to that amazing flow of love as we read the Bible (and indeed when we read other books). This God is like water flowing through a conduit. And the Bible is a conduit: the expressions and attempts of fallible human beings to make sense of mystery, trying to comprehend and communicate profound encounters, yet fallible, limited, like we all are.

    The Word of God is not the Bible. The Word of God is a person. And through God’s Spirit, we may find grace to experience our own encounters, to open our hearts and minds, to receive grace, to become (fallible) conduits ourselves for love.

    Revelation does not end with the written Bible. Revelation is emergent, generation by generation, community by community, and it hinges on the interaction of our God-given consciences with the Person of the Holy Spirit, and our encounter with Jesus.

    Paul was trying to make sense of the importance of holiness, writing in the terms and ideas of his own culture, and what they felt was pure and impure. His words get filtered through the very religious community he was living in, and the culture and assumptions of the day.

    I have said before, I think the Bible is negative about man-man sex. I think Paul seems to have been consistent with those cultural convictions or prejudices.

    But we’re reading the Bible in the wrong way, if we try to attribute inerrant wisdom to Paul. He may well have been ‘clear’. He may also be clearly wrong.

    We need a new paradigm.

    A new default way of reading and understanding the Bible: recognising the fallibility and limitations/contexts of the authors. And trying to see past the cultural ephemera to the profundity of what they were trying to express.

    What was he really talking about? He was talking about holiness. Was he qualified to talk about diverse sexuality as we understand it more today? Probably not.

    Are Christians who take him literally? I’m not sure they are either. They present a real danger to gay and lesbian young people, by vilifying this lovely, beautiful, precious aspect of who many of them are. Young people need to be protected from the prejudices of Paul. They need to be told that was just Paul’s time and culture. They need to be affirmed in their sexuality, as they explore it for themselves. They need to be told about the love of God, and the person of Jesus, and how God is far cooler than Paul, and speaks to us NOW… in our lives, in the lives of our friends, who may be gay themselves, even if we are straight.

    The majority of young people are also ‘clear’ today: gay sex is not wrong. I agree with them, not Paul. And I say that because of who God seems to be, and because of the interplay of Spirit and conscience, experience and prayer, compassion and the joy that gay people bring to my church and my community.

    Reply
    • “That was their problem. It shouldn’t be ours.” Succinctly put, Susannah, and exactly my position on this.

      Liberals would benefit no end from ditching the ceaseless debates about reinterpreting Paul. Not only are they exhausting for all parties, but they inspire few (if any), and arguing about what he meant shuts off all debate about its merits. I don’t care if Paul said it: why should I believe it? If that answer’s rooted in an argument from authority, no liberal should give it the time of day.

      So long as this is an argument about biblical interpretation, it’s an argument on conservative terms, an argument that implicitly surrenders to conservative theology, and an argument that’s doomed to failure as a result. Liberals needlessly deny themselves their strongest rhetorical weapon: Paul was wrong. The second those underlying terms are themselves challenged, all bets are off.

      Reply
    • ‘Also, yet another article on sex. It’s like some Christians are obsessed by the subject.’ If so, it is not me. at least 89% of may articles are on others subjects. Yet in the C of E we continue to be faced with a relentless campaign by those who want to see change, and from time to time it is appropriate to offer a response.

      And you then comment: ‘That was their problem. It shouldn’t be ours. We should not perpetuate their prejudice.’ This is the point of difference. The Church of England sees the Jesus of the gospels and the canonical writings of Paul as expressing the ‘word of God written’. So far from it being a prejudice, it discloses God’s will to us.

      Reply
      • Hi Ian,

        Thank you for your response. You write: “a relentless campaign by those who want to see change”… do you mean a bit like those pesky black Americans who wanted to see change?

        And when you say “by those who want to see change”, you do of course realise that “those who want to see change” is actually a majority of people in the Church of England these days. The public, including the majority of people in the pews, no longer believe gay sexuality is sin or abomination, but rather they have come to recognise that gay sexuality is worth celebrating and affirming.

        When you refer to “the Church of England” you seem to gloss over the reality that half the Church of England reads the Bible in one way (which ends up condemning gay sex), and half the same Church reads it a different way (and want to accept gay sex).

        It’s not as if it’s some sect of misfits, an irritant minority, the gays, with their gay agenda. It’s that half (or more) of the Church of England who have no problem with their uncle or daughter having intimate same-sex relationships… in fact it’s so reasonable and accepted in our country that they treat it like other relatives who are in heterosexual relationships.

        This could all be resolved if we implemented ‘unity in diversity’, acknowledging what is already the reality in the Church of England – diverse conscientious views… and then getting on with all the other aspects of loving one another, and serving our communities. The real difficulty arises when an attempt is made to dominate sincere and faithful consciences, and impose just one view on everyone else. Or when discontented clerics raise petitions because they object to bishops giving parishes options over transition recognition in church.

        The problem is the attempt to impose one view on everyone. That’s not going to hold in the Church of England, is it? The trajectory, as I suspect you well know, is towards unity in diversity along the Scottish model.

        And then perhaps we can get on with all the rest of spirituality, because freedom of conscience will have been defended.

        Now, if that ‘unity in diversity’ was introduced in the Church of England (as it very well may be in the future) what will you do? Will you schism (which I’d hate) or will you hold fast to your own understanding of scripture, and accept that others will hold firm to theirs, and journey on together as we finally move forward to focus far more on the dire social and pastoral needs of so many of our communities.

        To recap: “The Church of England sees…” masks the reality of the Church of England today, which is that it actually “sees in various and frequently divergent ways”.

        Our polity needs to reflect that, because the other way is theological domination, and on the ground that is just regarded as risible.

        Beyond the Church of England, in the eyes of the public and especially young people, this vague “Word of God written” assertion (what does it even mean, in specifics) just alienates, because it contorts decent social understandings of intimate love and sexuality, and most people can’t take it seriously any longer.

        If you don’t agree with gay sex, don’t have gay sex. That’s pretty simple.

        But don’t assume to impose your convictions on everyone else, whether in the Church of England or outside it. Unity in Diversity respects the conscientious differences of belief we have. You’ll find people are a bit less relentless, once there is at least that recognition that we are a Church with various views and not just one.

        Ian, I’m debating, not trying to be hostile. I respect your own conscience on these matters. I’d be glad if you could respect the conscience of so many people today in this Church whose conscience is different to your own.

        At the personal level, I really do wish you well, and the flourishing of your Christian life and community. Grace be with you.

        Reply
        • Actually Susannah, when you wrote:
          “….And when you say “by those who want to see change”, you do of course realise that “those who want to see change” is actually a majority of people in the Church of England these days….”
          They are NOT actually a majority in the Church as I have seen at a number of conferences in which lay people have outnumbered clergy, making the conference or event a real success, and show that the ordinary Church member in the pew is, and are, truly fed up with clergy walking away from Christianity.

          Your idea that those in favour of SSM are a majority is a total fiction.

          Reply
        • Dear Susannah,

          When you open by writing:
          “… do you mean a bit like those pesky black Americans who wanted to see change?”
          No Ian did NOT say anything about Black americans, or black people generally, nor did he even allude to anything like that.

          You then contradict yourself in your own suggestion of majority acceptance when you later on write:
          “When you refer to “the Church of England” you seem to gloss over the reality that half the Church of England reads the Bible in one way (which ends up condemning gay sex), and half the same Church reads it a different way (and want to accept gay sex).”
          Half and half does NOT make a majority.

          You are then writing a comment on a website in which a majority of Christians seem to disagree with you, which is precisely why you are writing on this website and not another.

          You are also writing at a time when it is now very clear how angry 17.4 million people are on how unrepresentative the “elite” are. Ordinary people are significantly moving against an elite that do NOT represent them and only speak for a minority. The CofE is no different where part of the current problem is that General Synod is so distanced from ordinary Churchgoers that ordinary church people do not feel represented in what is supposed to be a discernment process (it is a bizarre in which most ordinary Churchgoers have never even heard of the particular members of General Synod who seem to be better at getting into MSM than even talking to Churchgoers).

          You then write:
          “This could all be resolved if we implemented ‘unity in diversity’, …” Yet we have already seen that the allegation of “diversity” does not equate to diversity at all as it only promotes and puts forward those who agree with a bizarre and narrow PC view, with everyone else discarded irrespective of whether they have been called by God or not (for example the appalling treatment meeted out to Bishop North).

          As you say “The problem is the attempt to impose one view on everyone.”, so it is actually the attempt to enforce the narrow PC view onto everyone regardless. As witnessed by your words:
          “….It’s not as if it’s some sect of misfits, an irritant minority, the gays, with their gay agenda.” (when nobody has ever said that) and then you go on “…..It’s that half (or more) of the Church of England who have no problem with their uncle or daughter having intimate same-sex relationships…” which is where the majority of Christians LOVE other people which is NOT, and is NEVER, the same as agreeing with absolutely everything they do or say.

          “diversity” is actually a means of destroying the Church as it is seeking to water-down and destruct Christianity. To be a Christian means following Jesus Christ, the clue is in the name, and Jesus Christ did not show different opinions on the same subject – ever. Jesus Christ would not simply tell you what you wanted to hear, what he said to one person he would just as much say to another.

          So, NO, the majority do NOT accept SSM, that claim is a fiction that is aimed at shutting people up.

          As part of accepting discussion I expect differing views to be forthcoming.

          Reply
  5. Any 7th grader can read Paul’s passages on homosexuality and understand very clearly that Paul condemned homosexual sex in the harshest of terms. Liberal Christians look like fools desperately trying to reinterpret these very clear statements.

    That said, what authority did Paul have regarding Christian morality? Jesus never said a word about same-sex sex or relationships. We have ZERO good evidence that confirms Paul’s claim that he had seen Jesus or that he had received divine revelations from Jesus. Neither James, Jesus’ successor, nor any one of the Twelve ever confirm Paul’s claim of apostleship nor the divine inspiration of his writings. In fact, the Jerusalem Church seemed upset by Paul’s preaching and forced him to offer a sin sacrifice in the Temple.

    Why not ignore Paul altogether and stick to the teachings of Jesus?

    Reply
    • Jesus condemned sexual immorality, and I can pretty much guarantee that as a 1st century Jewish Rabbi that would have included same-sex sex. Jesus taught primarily Jews so perhaps the reason why He didnt specifically mention gay sex was because there was no need – all Jews understood it to be sinful. The recipients of Paul’s letters would have been a mixture of Jews and Gentiles, and Paul was making it clear what was unacceptable for the people of God.

      I would also ask the question – just because we have no record of Jesus explicitly condemning same-sex sex, does silence automatically mean He approved of it? I think not.

      But then, from your pov Gary, you dont believe the Gospels are reliable so how do you know what Jesus taught anyway?!

      Reply
  6. Gary & Susannah

    The Apostle Peter had some significant words to say about the Apostle Paul’s authority and scriptures.

    ‘…as he [Paul] does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures…’ 2Pet3v16

    This statement is very significant in the light of what Peter says earlier in the same letter:
    ‘Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’ 2Pet1v21

    It would seem Peter credits Paul as writing prophetic Scriptures, which are inspired by the Holy Spirit, speaking for God and having their origin in God. Presumably that holds true for Romans1 even if today’s zeistgeist is at odds with the Scripture inspiring Holy Ghost.

    Reply
    • Almost all modern Bible scholars consider the Epistle of Second Peter to be a forgery; the Apostle Peter did not write this book. Even in the early Church, this book was controversial. It was not universally accepted as part of the canon until the time of St. Jerome, several hundred years after Jesus’ death.

      Let’s ignore Paul and stick to the compassionate humanistic teachings of Jesus.

      Reply
      • I can’t really leave my belief at your ‘humanistic’ Jesus, Gary. I agree that Paul and whoever wrote Peter’s epistles do not have to be taken as fountains of all truth and literal authority: indeed, addressing Simon’s resort to Peter for authority, that ignores the possibility that of Paul was not always right, Peter (or his ghostwriter) may not have been either. They may both have held religious assumptions and ideas, set in their religious culture, and meant well, and indeed have been touched by the grace and love of God… and yet still be human and fallible.

        I don’t buy that “The Bible is always right because the Bible says it is always right.”

        I don’t buy that Paul is always right because Peter says he is.

        I do believe both of them had profound experiences, and tried to make sense of them, and so I do believe that the Spirit of God very much did influence their human and fallible lives, but it did not make them infallible any more than the pope is infallible.

        We infantilise ourselves if, in an age which has benefitted from the insights, knowledge and truths of the Enlightenment, we still defy the changes in our societies with the mantra that the Bible is an authority for everything: it isn’t.

        But moving on to where I disagree with you (I suspect) profoundly, Gary… I don’t see Jesus as some guy with humanistic values, and that was all he was: I believe that he was and is the supernatural person and presence of God, in deeper realms of reality. And that is how we (reportedly) advertised himself. Encounter and experience with Jesus Christ over 40 years has convinced me that is true.

        But if you take him as a good example as a human being, then I’ll go with that as true. Everything suggests to me that he was awesome and compassionate and decent. The accounts we have are, frustratingly, filtered through the people who tried to make sense of what they saw or had handed down to them, or experienced in their own lives. To be honest, Jesus comes across as an enigma. He wrote nothing himself, except possibly some scrawlings in the sand when they were about to stone the adultress.

        Maybe that in itself is telling.

        The ordinary people who journeyed with him, struggled to make sense of him, but they could tell his decency and his compassion. Yet he often spoke in parables and language that tried to open people up to key principles.

        Common sense and rational coherence suggest to many people (including many Christians) that the authors of the Bible need to be read and critically evaluated in the context of their culture, assumptions, agenda, and taking into account understandable prejudices they may have been inculcated with from birth – especially views on human sexuality, which was probably fiercely policed in their religious communities.

        We need to read the bible in that context.

        If we take everything they say as incontestable truth, then I think we do a disservice to decent people’s intelligence, consciences, and lived situations.

        But we can go on and on about these things. Paul was certain. Christians today aren’t (in many cases). Far from it. My church is Anglican, inclusive, and not only tries to be ‘nice’ to gay and lesbian couples: it celebrates their lives, including the tender intimacies.

        Paul is simply outside the loop and understanding of that felicity and tenderness and openness and inclusion. To him their tender intimacy was ‘abomination’ which would send them to hell. To most decent people today that is rightly risible.

        That’s what goes wrong when you ‘literalise’ and ‘eternalise’ every last syllable the old guy wrote. He has superb insights and I find much he writes profound. But if we’re going to be grown up about the Bible, we should maturely look past what is cultural and temporary, to the heart of the points he was making, that may be truly important.

        Reply
        • Hi Susannah,

          You and I have discussed this issue before: You interpret the Bible according to your personal feelings, perceptions, and experiences. If Paul’s teaching on sexuality is incongruous with your personal feelings, perceptions, and experiences, you reject them. However, if Paul’s teaching that faith in Jesus as the Christ is the only means of eternal salvation is congruous with your feelings, perceptions, and experiences, you accept this teaching as a universal truth.

          I find your method of discerning the truth as highly subjective and highly unreliable.

          I on the other hand do not believe that one individual’s personal feelings, perceptions, and experiences are sufficient grounds to make sweeping universal truth claims, such as that: Jesus, a first century Galilean peasant, came back from the dead, is still alive, and at this moment rules the universe from a golden throne on the edge of the universe (or from another dimension).

          A universal truth claim is true for all people, in all places, at all times. My choice of ice cream, professional sports team, and life partner are not universal truth claims. I would never say that Vanilla Swiss Almond ice cream IS the best ice cream on the planet because that is a personal opinion or preference, not a universal truth claim. Yet you make all kinds of similar universal truth claims based on nothing more than your subjective opinion and preferences.

          I suggest, that Susannah, that you use the same method to determine universal truths that you use to choose your favorite ice cream. That doesn’t seem wise to me.

          Reply
      • Lo, Jesus of California lives!

        Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t a chilled humanist; he was a devout Jew who, in the Beatitudes, taught that we should hold to a moral code even more demanding than the Law of Moses (no divorce, no hate in your heart, etc), and who believed that Adonai was about to intervene decisively in history (we’ll leave the nature of that intervention to one side for now). Yes, he was compassionate, but also morally exacting, and was clear that the unrighteous would be sent to suffer in the flames of Gehenna.

        Since the origin for the condemnation of the vices listed by Paul in Romans is the law of Moses, I have no doubt that Jesus would’ve agreed with every word of it.

        Scholars have, to their great credit, embraced the Jewishness of Jesus and his theology, and shown its continuity with other contemporary Jewish teaching. Playing Jesus and Paul off against one another gets us nowhere.

        Reply
        • “the unrighteous would be sent to suffer in the flames of Gehenna.”

          Other than a few fundamentalists, most Christians today believe that Jesus was using figurative language when he spoke of Gehenna. I seriously doubt that Christians such as Ian believe that Lord Jesus is at this very moment casting recently deceased non-believers into literal flames of fire.

          The Law called for adultresses to be stoned to death. Jesus called on us to forgive them and leave them alone. I believe he would have done the same with people engaging in same-sex sex.

          Reply
          • Maybe “most Christians” do believe that Jesus’ talk of Gehenna was figurative, but it’s certainly not the consensus among scholars, including “liberal” scholars such as Dale Allison (who wrote an essay on the subject, “The Problem of Gehenna,” in his book Resurrecting Jesus).

            As for the adulteress, yes, John’s Gospel presents Jesus as merciful; but as Ian says, certainly not condoning her adultery. I doubt an equivalent attitude to homosexual relations would go down well with liberals today!

          • Soon as the movie rights are optioned. 😉

            Meanwhile, my privilege to share my opinions on your blog. 🙂

          • Jesus may have told the woman caught in adultery “go and sin no more” but he did not call the authorities to have her jailed or killed. He let her go. He left her alone. Christians today should do likewise. Christians are entitled to their opinions regarding sexual behavior, but leave gay people alone. Stop trying to impose your Bronze Age morality on gay people and on the rest of us. Be Christ-like and leave us alone.

            Please.

        • “Maybe “most Christians” do believe that Jesus’ talk of Gehenna was figurative, but it’s certainly not the consensus among scholars, including “liberal” scholars such as Dale Allison (who wrote an essay on the subject, “The Problem of Gehenna,” in his book Resurrecting Jesus).”

          I have a very hard time believing that the same Jesus who was so loving and gentle toward children during his life time is at this very moment standing at the edge of the Abyss, tossing the souls of recently deceased, un-baptized five year olds into literal flames of fire! Your twisted version of Jesus is a sadistic monster.

          Reply
          • It’s not “my” Jesus, it’s the gospels’. That’s the whole point. And who said anything about tossing un-baptized five year olds into Gehenna? Certainly not the gospels! That kinda barbaric legalism’s the opposite of their message.

            What they do record, repeatedly, is Jesus warning of Gehenna. See Matthew c.25 for a particularly vivid example, where “the Son of Man” will sit on a throne and separate the saved and the damned. The criterion’s not empty legalism, but heartlessness shown to the needy.

            You can argue that all this is a later interpolation if you like, but it fits perfectly with millenarian thinking, and I don’t believe something just ’cause I want to. As E.P. Sanders said, l’m from the liberal Protestant tradition. It’s a fine tradition, and I’m glad to be a part of it, but there’s no reason to believe that Jesus of Nazareth shared it.

          • If you believe that Hell (Gehenna) has real flames of fire, what is its purpose but not to torment the souls of unbelievers? If you believe that Hell now serves as a place of punishment for non-believers, how can you be so certain that un-baptized five year olds are not being punished there as well? Are you an evangelical who believes in the Age of Accountability?

          • Looks like we’re at cross-purposes, Gary: it’s not about what I believe, but what the gospels can tell us about the historical Jesus. (Since you asked, and as a courtesy: no, like Dr. Allison, I don’t believe in Gehenna or any other kinda eternal fiery torement; and no, I’m not an evangelical who believes in the age of accountability.)

        • One can always find a handful of fringe scholars who disagree with the consensus majority. The question is: Why do *you* choose to believe the fringe, PC1?

          Reply
          • In the history of science, for example, it is sometimes those who stand alone and disagree with the ‘consensus’ who end up being right – the Big Bang theory is a good example. So we shouldnt dismiss any scholar who challenges the conclusions of the consensus opinion.

            The issue is not who says something but rather is what they are saying reasonable. Did you bother to read the article? He challenges the reasons why other scholars conclude that 2 Peter was not authored by the apostle. I think his arguments against such a conclusion are perfectly reasonable.

            Peter

          • As do most educated people today, I trust consensus expert opinion.

            Just as I wouldn’t spend the time to read an article by a fringe expert who believes that the moon landing was staged, I am not going to spend time reading why most scholars are wrong about II Peter being the work of a fraud artist. I trust the consensus of experts who say it is a fraudulent document. Fringe experts can frequently concoct very convincing arguments for their fringe claims, but just because they can make a good sounding argument doesn’t mean that I as a non-expert should buy their argument.

            Yes, the majority of experts can be wrong. But most of the time, they are right. Trusting the consensus of experts is the foundation of modern, advanced, industrialized nations. Distrust of expert opinion (and dependence on conspiracy theories) is the demise of any society.

  7. A key part of your argument (Ian) is that sexuality – what someone wants to do – need not be the same as sexual behaviour – what they do do.

    So for consistency your headline should be “Was Paul unclear in his teaching on sexual behaviour?”

    Reply
    • Technically, possibly—but his attitude to behaviour is rooted in his understanding of human sexuality, that it is rightly expressed in line with God’s creation intention. So I think probably both/and, though as you say I mostly explore the text of behaviour here.

      Reply
  8. In addition to the very clear Pauline theology on homosexuality outlined above, Ephesians 5 makes it plain that sexuality and marriage are not secondary issues but indissociable from the crucial dynamic between Christ and the church. If we embrace an unraveling on marriage, gender and sexuality to fall in with the non-Christian world we demote Christ and make ourselves Lord – or Ephesians 5 means nothing.

    Reply
  9. Ian, as a Muslim in broad terms I share your understanding of human sexuality and the impermissibility of all extra-martial sex – including homosexual acts. Islam is unambiguous about this mater.

    There are powerful cultural and political forces shaping Christian discourse on sexual ethics. Brave souls such as yourself are a heartening voice in the secular waste land. These forces are now working on the ummah as Muhammad predicted they would:

    The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “You will follow the ways of those nations who were before you, span by span and cubit by cubit so much so that even if they entered a hole of a lizard, you would follow them.”

    We said, “Do you mean the Jews and the Christians?”

    He said, “Whom else?”

    Reply
    • How disturbing that Christians and Muslims are now patting each other on the backs in their mutual, ongoing, persecution of gays and lesbians. Those of us who love liberal, democratic values must oppose the imposition of Bronze Age morality on secular societies by either one of these religions.

      Reply
        • Dear Ian,

          You may support civil legislation that gives gays and lesbians equality, but by refusing to treat gays as equals in your church, you perpetuate the belief that gay people are evil. Although I support your legal right to make your own rules in your churches, I believe that it is imperative that those of us who hold liberal, democratic values dear to our hearts speak out against your tacit support of hateful bigotry and discrimination.

          Reply
          • Not agreeing that SSS has the same more status as traditional marriage does mean I am not treating people equally. You are confusing ‘equal’ with ‘identical’.

            And suggesting I support ‘bigotry and discrimination’ is not acceptable language. The number and volume of your comments on the blog is coming closing to trolling; you are welcome here, but please make sure you are addressing issues not clobbering people, and that your responses are proportionate.

          • I would be curious how the prohibition on same-sex marriage is different from the historical prohibition of inter-racial marriage in the Church of England. Have mixed-race couples always been allowed to marry in the C of E? If not, what was the basis of the prohibition, and what was the reasoning for abolishing the prohibition?

            When I was growing up, mixed-race marriage was taboo. Bible passages were quoted to support its prohibition.

          • It is different because there are not the explicit repeated rejections of inter-racial marriage in Scripture, and it is not rooted in the creation reality of male and female. So there is no connection at all…

          • Ok. What about the Church’s dramatic change of position on divorce, an act explicitly forbidden by Scripture and Jesus himself?

          • No Gary
            Neither Scripture NOR Jesus Christ forbids divorce completely and so it is NOT “an act explicitly forbidden by Scripture and Jesus himself”.

      • “Those of us who love liberal, democratic values must oppose the imposition of Bronze Age morality on secular societies by either one of these religions.”

        The Bronze Age? That was about 3000 BC – 1200 BC!

        Muhammad died on 8 June 632 AD.

        But you Gary slavishly follow a system (democracy) developed around the sixth century BC in the Greek city-state of Athens.

        Islam is much more recent than that.

        Reply
        • Paul,

          I deeply respect the power of Christianity and Islam to inspire people to live more loving, more generous, more caring lives. As a nurse, I am often deeply impressed (for example) by the care and respect that Muslim families show to elderly and sick relatives. In fact it inspired me to read the Quran (along with the witness of some of my Muslim nursing colleagues and their upright decency). I have seen similar traits in Christians.

          At the same time, I also believe there are profound dangers that spring from literalism and fundamentalism, and that impacts on both religions too.

          I think you will be aware that within Islam, as well as within Christianity, there are different ways in which people read and understand the religious texts. Some take them literally, others read them more critically, taking context into account.

          There is a struggle going on within Islam around these diverse pretexts.

          Inspired by my colleagues, by the families of my patients, and by the Quran itself (admittedly in English not Arabic, but it so obviously emphasises the dominant trait of an all-loving Holy One who you address as Allah), I was moved to ask if I could attend mosque to find out more.

          I think it’s respectful to do that, especially in a society where the media can be appalling towards Islam.

          So I went to East London mosque (the largest mosque in London I believe) and asked to see the Imam.

          I felt nervous because I am a transgender female, and I had no idea if I would be slung out, because I simply did not know how I would be received.

          But it was the opposite. The Imam (and chaperones) listened to me as I explained my life, my history, and why I was there.

          Then he consulted and came back to me, and it was humbling with goodness and good will. ‘This was the way it was for you,’ he said, ‘right from early childhood. We accept you and we welcome you, and I invite you to join our woman’s group and to learn from the sisters.’

          And so I did. Every Saturday I would go to mosque for 3 hours, and listen, and laugh, and share, and learn. Each Saturday the imam would join us (behind a screen) to engage in dialogue and answer questions. And the women befriended me and showed an acceptance that I can’t say I have received in every Christian church I have visited. And they have given me a lifelong respect for Islam as a force for good in the world.

          That said, as with Christianity, conservative and fundamentalist elements in some churches and mosques can lead to different worldviews, and we see that in the carnage of wars over Christianity, and the carnage of wars within Islam itself. It is really sad. Fundamentalism is a blight on our world.

          The point I am making is that, actually, open-mindedness and more subtle cultural awareness does exist within Islam, as well as the populist or fundamentalist strands.

          At the heart of both religions we are given a message, more strongly than any other, that God/Allah is all-loving, and that we should open our hearts to this.

          Peace be with you.

          Reply
          • The question I encourage you to ask yourself, Susannah, is this: Did the “liberal” elements in Christianity and Islam develop from within those religions or did they develop due to the influence of secular forces, such as the renaissance of Greek and Roman philosophy, culture, and art?

            Just because some aspects of a belief system are good, does not mean that the underlying belief system is good. There are many good people in Christianity and Islam, but the underlying belief in both religions is blind faith to an ancient text. Faith is not a virtue. For the good of all humankind, our beliefs must be based on evidence, not on our feelings, perceptions, and subjective personal experiences (faith).

          • Hi Susannah

            You claim “There is a struggle going on within Islam around these diverse pretexts.”

            Actually there isn’t. You will not find eminent Islam scholars in Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, or Indonesia questioning whether Islam condemns SSS. There are numerous authentic hadith with condemn this practice, and it can result in the severest of punishments. The sharia is very clear about this.

            The question remains open if the Muslim masses will resist the West’s militant secular ideology which justifies this sinful behaviour. Perhaps the powers that be in the media will persuade many Muslims in the USA and UK to abandon their faith on this matter.

            I hope not.

          • “There are numerous authentic hadith [which] condemn this practice, and it can result in the severest of punishments.”

            This is exactly why all democracy-loving people must oppose allowing any religion from imposing its beliefs on a society. Religionists, whether they be Christians, Muslims, Hindus, or ultra-orthodox Jews, are welcome to believe as they choose, but they should not be allowed to impose “the severest of punishments” on anyone in a society. Keep religion in churches, mosques, and synagogues and out of the public sphere!

            Stand up for secular democracy, my friends! It is under threat all over the world.

          • Gary

            The underlying belief of Christianity is not blind faith to an ancient text. Even for those who believe in inerrancy.

        • Am I “slavish” to the democratic principles of freedom from tyranny, political or religious? You’re damn right and proud of it!

          Reply
  10. I agree with Will above; outwith the bizarre US Christian Right’s approval of Trump, EP Sanders’ point about dismissing Paul’s vice list has always seemed such a weak argument as to not be an argument at all.

    Ian, surely the fact that you can recognise an instance where people are (for example) excusing or ignoring greed or gossip, doesn’t mean there is no difference between a problematic moral blind spot in a congregation, and a call to bless and celebrate a sinful act? If EP Sanders really thinks that, is he open to the idea of hosting wasteful, gluttonous parties in church; not to celebrate a worthy event, but simply as a celebration of greed itself?

    Reply
  11. ‘So let’s stop constantly debating the meaning of these texts—amongst all exegetical issues in the NT, these are relatively clear.’

    – that’s simply not going to happen. Why? Because the main thrust of the argument made by those who claim God approves of same sex sexual relations is that the church has either misunderstood the teaching in the Old and New Testaments (by misunderstanding the meaning of individual words or the context in which they were written) or that modern day same sex sexual relations were unknown in Paul’s day and therefore his teaching on the subject is irrelevant today. Of course those are false, but they will continue to be argued, justifying acceptance of same sex sexual relations in the church. I know of one leader in the Anglican church who works in the area of ethics who has been going around teaching just these things, trying to justify such relations as good in God’s eyes. Steve Chalke is another example. Sadly many listen to such people.

    Reply
  12. I’ll just repeat: this fixation with gay sex just goes on and on in the Church of England.

    It’s been going on for 50 years, while society has moved on and just regards us as weird.

    There is one simple way out of the impasse: unity in diversity.

    Same as we have unity in diversity over women priests.

    You can’t impose your conscience on someone else’s conscience, therefore those of us who want to stay in the church of England have to agree to disagree in the end, and learn to co-exist, and hunker down on our unity in Jesus Christ as we serve the poor, the sick, the elderly, the abandoned, the hopeless, the marginalised, the homeless, and everyone else we live alongside in our communities.

    Unity in diversity has been adopted as a principle in the Episcopal Church in Scotland. In the end, it’s the only way the Church of England is going to be able to move on. I’m happy to respect, and co-exist with, your different conscientious view. Are you?

    So: Unity in Diversity.

    Are readers here willing to accept the principle of unity in diversity, to accept we have different views but are each trying in good faith to follow Jesus, and to accept that we should not dominate one another’s conscientious faith?

    Yes or no?

    Reply
    • I do not understand why gay people would want to belong to an organization which has tormented, tortured, and murdered so many gay men and women for the last two thousand years.

      Reply
      • Unless you understand this “why” then you cannot understand them rest.

        Few of us here think the Church is simply or merely an “organisation”, frail as it can be.

        Reply
        • How about “institution”?

          I do not understand why gay people would want to belong to an institution which has tormented, tortured, and murdered so many gay men and women for the last two thousand years.

          Reply
    • Yes or no? NO. Unity is not the be all and end all. If the church simply kowtows to society’s understanding of appropriate behaviours then really whats the point?

      Reply
    • Thanks for your replies Susannah. If I’ve come across as curt it’s for the sake of brevity, I do appreciate you replying and sharing your views.

      I think it’s unfair to suggest the church is “obsessed with gay sex”, for the same reason that I get frustrated with an apparent lack of engagement on one particular aspect of this debate from the other side: The fact that there is a fundamental difference between responding to human weakness, sin and failing which we all display (graciously, I hope) and declaring something many of us believe to be wrong as good/pure/right/beautiful.

      I think due to natural prejudices, lack of sympathy/humanity etc, the church has really failed people with same sex attraction. I also think that, in this complicated creation, many aspects of a same-sex relationship (trust, mutual respect, support, companionship to name but a few) are good things, and “of God” as much as anything else. But I don’t think we can use these things to justify homosexual practice, in the same way that love/trust/companionship between man and dog or brother and sister does not make sexual activity between them a moral act.

      The “if you don’t like X, don’t do X” completely disregards the fact that as Christians engaged with society, we have some duty to speak up for what we believe God’s will is for human life in general, and also the fact that we love the church and don’t wish to see her promoting these choices. Declaring holy things evil and vice versa is about the most serious, fundamentally immoral act someone can commit. Try to extend the same reasoning to moral positions you take as self-evident, and consider whether you’d feel the same, i.e. similarly able to take a “live and let live” approach.

      This is why the incest/polyamory/bestiality examples get raised repeatedly; believe it or not it isn’t to demean or shame homosexual people by association. It’s to test the limits of your own reasoning. Believe me, if there was a broad, sustained campaign in the church to bless zoophilic unions, I’d seem as “obsessed” with bestial intercourse as you accuse me of being with gay sex. And whilst you shrug off and move on from this point, I don’t think you need experience of these instances to be honest and acknowledge that you would be very likely to object if your church institution starting “marrying” man and dog, and claiming it was as pure and beautiful and valid as a human marriage. I really doubt your objection would stop at simply not marrying a sibling yourself.

      You asked “what harm” to me if you choose to marry a woman. Immediately and directly, very little. But no man (or woman, or couple) is an island. I think that marriage is fundamentally about children and family in fact; I would certainly not be an inquisitor into people’s personal lives if there was any prospect of a respectful mystery being allowed over people’s relationship status. However, by claiming/demanding “equal marriage” in both state and church, a whole Pandora’s box of connected moral issues arises. The expectation of a “right” to children, and therefore the use of surrogates, of increased embryo creation and destruction with IVF, of increasing numbers of children born with unclear parental contributions and rights. All of these issues are real and imminent, and it’s not fair to ignore them simply because we want to be as nice as possible to the couple directly in front of us, or to just “work them out as we go along”, after committing to a major change in social norms.

      Finally, your point about simply allowing diversity, and “unity, not uniformity” – will I stay or leave. I could envisage staying, if thr C of E limits itself to blessing same sex relationships. The church conducts blessings of numerous things I might disagree with or find odd; nuclear submarines, crib scenes or trees at Christmas. If this was the extent of it, I could as you say simply not seek such a blessing myself, and/or not attend such ceremonies. And I can reason to myself that whilst I don’t believe God blesses the decision to engage sexually, I hope He does bless all other aspects of a strong human relationship. It is specifically the insistence that it is a marriage, that it is equivalent to heterosexual marriage, that it is a sacrament and an obedience to the creation ordinance etc. that I find so objectionable, and the idea that a same-sex union is a basis that God ordains for the purposes of procreation.

      Reply
      • Dear Marcus,

        It was really refreshing to read such a calm and engaging response to some of the things I have been posting here. Of course, I am not coming at things from the same premises as you, when it comes to my view of the bible and how it should be handled. But I do appreciate your intent to reach out and reason, in a non-hostile, thoughtful way. Thank you.

        Starting at the ending: I expect blessing of same sex relationships (including marriages) to be introduced in the Church of England. I think that is highly probable in the coming years. And as you say, in such circumstances, it would be essential and respectful of your conscientious views, that you would have the right to decide whether to attend or not attend such blessings, with no obligation to officiate if you are a priest.

        Out of the same respect for conscientious views, the case is made by people like me for allowing that kind of choice to bless couples because we believe it is right, and so what I advocate is a new provision that allows for the our diverse consciences to be protected and respected. I think this will come.

        If I was arguing against myself, and trying to be empathic with you, I am realistic that it might well not end there. Once blessing is allowed, you might reasonably suspect that the pressure would continue, in a step-by-step movement for even more. Being candid with you, I would completely support that: I know first-hand the beauty and intimacy and fidelity of my marriage to my wife, and I think it’s a dismay that decent loving couples cannot be married in the Church of England. It is really sad.

        My concern, in the protective sense, would be if these changes were introduced into the Church of England, and we then ended up with a Bishop of Sheffield scenario. Having brought in change, but promised all parties full participation and integrity in the Church of England, to later renege and start marginalising one group from some roles and places in the Church seems to me to be wrong.

        I have corresponded with Bishop Rod of Maidstone, and I respect his conscientious views, and I appreciate his willingness to make clear those views frankly. I am clear that for some people, and possibly you, the nature of marriage is a ‘first order’ salvation issue. So I do appreciate the scale and difficulty if things were introduced beyond blessings.

        That said, even blessings may face opposition. If you look at the (what I perceive as deeply disappointing) petition against blessing of transition, promoted right here, it does seem to me that crisis will kick off, even if it is just blessing of gay partnerships that is allowed. And yet I believe such blessings will indeed be allowed. But I wanted to show you that I appreciate the difficulties changes may cause, and the sincerity of belief of people like yourself or Rod.

        I’ll end here, because I’m trying, at Ian’s fair behest, to limit the length of my posts: but obviously there are other things to reflect on and maybe respond to in your measured and temperate post.

        Thank you. Your civility is refreshing.

        Susannah

        Reply
        • Some form of blessing was mooted in the work of the Pastoral Advisory Group, but I understand that legal and liturgical advice was that this would contradict the Church’s current teaching on marriage (which I think it patently true) and so was ruled out of court as a kind of compromise ‘fudge’.

          Reply
          • Then the current teaching will need to change, Ian, to accommodate the reality that the Church of England (which includes its membership) does not conscientiously believe only one definition of marriage.

            The Church’s current teaching on marriage does not reflect the clear diversity of belief on the ground. The Church of England, as you must surely know, is divided almost down the middle on this issue.

            The supporters of keeping things as they are – the current status quo – will not indefinitely be able to impose that partisan view on the large part of the Church that holds a different conscientious view, and holds it with a sense of pastoral urgency.

            We all know this.

          • ‘Then the current teaching will need to change, Ian, to accommodate the reality that the Church of England (which includes its membership) does not conscientiously believe only one definition of marriage.’

            Why? Why not teach people what the doctrine of the Church is? It is almost never taught as far as I can see.

            And it is not a ‘partisan view’; it is what almost all Christians in almost all places and times have believed, that is, it is the ‘catholic’ view of the church. Why should we detach ourselves from this?

            If we change our doctrine on this to match what people ‘in the pews’ actually believe, why not on other issue? Research shows that many Anglicans don’t believe in the orthodox understanding of either the person or work of Christ, so don’t actually adhere to the Nicene understanding of the Trinity.

            Why not change our doctrine to match the reality here too?

          • “Why? Why not teach people what the doctrine of the Church is? It is almost never taught as far as I can see.”

            I think we all know what the Church teaches about marriage being between a man and a woman, because it’s enshrined in law (and we’re all living with the carnage of that law).

            As to teaching the justification and the background (which I suppose is what you mean) well ask that of the priests in the church. Some will teach it. Some won’t. Some believe it. Some don’t. You can’t exactly expect priests or anyone else to teach things that in good conscience they don’t believe.

            The country doesn’t believe it. And maybe half the people in the pews don’t believe it, reflecting their experience in society. And many priests don’t believe (mine certainly doesn’t). The legal position of the Church of England is an embarrassment, and it’s clear that very many people in England now switch off from Christianity in part because they see it as homophobic… especially the young.

            And it is not a ‘partisan view’; it is what almost all Christians in almost all places and times have believed, that is, it is the ‘catholic’ view of the church. Why should we detach ourselves from this?

            “If we change our doctrine on this to match what people ‘in the pews’ actually believe, why not on other issue?”

            It’s not only people in the pews. It’s priests. It’s theologians. More and more people are persuaded, conscientiously, that gay sexuality is not a sin, is not an abomination, and that the Church should not vilify it. In a country where society has understood this, it is a significant pastoral problem.

            As to the other issues you cite, let any issue be addressed, but you know full well the issue of human sexuality is the one that dominates in Church debate, in church communities, even here on Psephizo – just analyse the number of comments every time you post another article on sex or gender. So the problem needs resolution.

            On an issue of such acute public and pastoral concern, the Church of England cannot just “do an Anglican Covenant” on the issue (that failed here in England anyway). Nor can it do a Bishops’ Pastoral Letter (Synod rejected that). The Church of England cannot ‘top down’ continue to impose a status quo of what it claims it believes, on people’s strongly held consciences and convictions to the contrary. What the Church of England (in reality, and on the ground) believes is at least 2 things when it comes to human sexuality.

            Human sexuality is an acutely personal and precious (many of us who are gay or lesbian would attest sacred) thing. It is precious to gay people. It is precious to straight people (many of whom have much loved gay relatives, friends, colleagues – I am sure you do too). It is too intense and intimate and integral to be vilified, and that’s what the C of E’s ‘legal’ doctrine does: it theologically vilifies.

            Say what you will about the other issues – this issue needs to be resolved.

            Since there are 2 conscientious views running through the Church of England, and some kind of resolution is imperative, common sense says, as Scotland has said, well accommodate both integrities. If Scotland can, England can, and yes that may need changing the law on marriage.

          • ‘Since there are 2 conscientious views running through the Church of England, and some kind of resolution is imperative, common sense says, as Scotland has said, well accommodate both integrities. If Scotland can, England can, and yes that may need changing the law on marriage.’

            It is not possible to have ‘two integrities’. A Church cannot believe that SSS is both sinful and blessed by God at the same time. If so, someone could enter SSM, then move to the next diocese and face discipline. It is not possible.

            And in Scotland and other places like that it has not happened; those with traditional views are marginalised and most often leave.

            The ‘majority’ in England (if they actually are; I am less convinced the more I talk to people) are a minority in the world and history.

          • “And it is not a ‘partisan view’; it is what almost all Christians in almost all places and times have believed, that is, it is the ‘catholic’ view of the church. Why should we detach ourselves from this?”

            Sorry. Those were your words not mine. I meant to delete them from my previous post (careless cut and paste because of scrolling too and fro).

            But since I did not address it, briefly:

            Looking collectively over 2000 years of ‘Church’, women have been subordinated, slaves have been kept, people have been burnt at the stake, female ordination would also be a no-no using your argument.

            Culture changes, sometimes for the better.

            Meanwhile, some kind of resolution is direly needed in the Church of England on human sexuality. We see the same pastoral and cultural developments going on variously, up the road in Scotland, in New Zealand, over in the US and Canada.

            There is a theological case (though one you don’t agree with) for affirmation of gay and lesbian sexuality. Just like there was a theological case for women’s ordination (which you agree with).

            And yet for nearly 2000 years the latter was ruled out in the Church.

          • “It is not possible to have ‘two integrities’. A Church cannot believe that SSS is both sinful and blessed by God at the same time.”

            It already does.

          • By ‘believe’ I meant, of course, believe in its statements of doctrine.

            And, no it doesn’t. It has a single doctrine. Some dissent from it (as some always have on all sorts of issues.) But no-one is able now to conduct SSM using C of E liturgy.

            So your comment is not true.

          • ‘Looking collectively over 2000 years of ‘Church’, women have been subordinated, slaves have been kept, people have been burnt at the stake, female ordination would also be a no-no using your argument.’

            I think you need to read a little more widely on your history. Augustine through slavery was the result of sin; Aquinas prohibited between Christians i.e. in Christendom. Women have been in leadership at just about every point in history in different movements; in the Salvation Army, it was compulsory for wives of those ordained also to be ordained.

            You’d enjoy this: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bearing-False-Witness-Debunking-Anti-Catholic/dp/0281077746/

          • Ian
            I don’t believe that’s true. Tradition is not univocal. Som of the Church Fathers read Genesis and some of the gospel traditions (on marriage)very differently from us.
            Ditto slavery, ditto women.

          • You are agreeing with me. The tradition on women and slavery is indeed not univocal, as Susannah appears to think.

            But it is univocal, until very, very recently, on SSS.

          • “But no-one is able now to conduct SSM using C of E liturgy.”

            Yes they are. The services are being conducted, and then the couples get a scrap of paper at some point from the civil registrar. But priests are already conducting same-sex marriage services using Church of England liturgy, and marrying couples before God, and before the people of God.

            They are brave if they do, because they risk discipline. But the marriage is real in the eyes of God.

            The scrap of paper before or afterwards is as meaningless in spiritual meaning as paying a bill for a car repair.

            Meanwhile, there are many more church communities and priests who affirm gay sexuality, and want the Church to resolve this impasse and provide more options and freedom of conscience.

            I think you know which way the tide is moving on this issue. Yes, a minority of churches are mounting a rearguard action because they can see things will come to a head (you and Andrea are some of the cheerleaders in Synod), but most Church of England churches just want to get on with parish life, and will. They don’t want schism.

            The problem for you, I think, is that you’re not carrying most church communities who really don’t care if we welcome LGBT people and bless them, you’re not carrying the country (because that train has left the station already), and you’re not carrying Parliament. This last factor is significant, because the Church of England is not a sect, it is the National Church, established and indivisible from the governance of the country and its laws and values.

            Same-sex blessings are going on all over the place, thank goodness, regardless of ‘the doctrine’, and full liturgy same-sex weddings are being held (in smaller numbers for protection from sanction) and I’ve attended one of those (so lovely) but I know from simple hearsay of 4 other weddings carried out this summer, just in my diocese.

            It’s not good enough for one group in the Church to say “This is the doctrine” when they know it is not the belief of very significant numbers of priests and laypeople up and down the land. People are already ignoring that in conviction and practice, but in the end the pressure will build to do the logical thing and change the doctrine, at the very least to accommodate *both* groups.

            As I said before, Scotland took that decision. We can too. There is no consensus. That is the de facto doctrine in the Church of England. We hold diverse teachings on human sexuality. In their hearts, more and more people are ignoring the doctrine.

            We should not dominate people’s consciences.

          • “You are agreeing with me. The tradition on women and slavery is indeed not univocal, as Susannah appears to think.”

            How many female priests were there in the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church between the 4th Century and the late 20th Century?

            Nil.

            That does appear fairly univocal on ordination of priests.

            So conscientious belief can change, because today the church of England is so different.

            Change happened. Culture changing contributed to that, and maybe helped inform theology and conscience.

            The same with human sexuality, where culture has changed enormously.

            If doctrine can change on ordination, it can change on sexuality and marriage. It already has in some Anglican provinces.

            In England many faithful people in the Church of England are ready and willing to see it change here too. It should. We don’t have to perpetuate Paul’s cultural assumptions or indeed prejudices.

  13. As usual many interesting comments, but at the root of much of it is our perspective of Scripture, and as you suggest Ian, how to interpret it. Tallon says: “Adulterers translates moichoi, and has a narrower meaning than in English. Legally, only sleeping with someone which violated honour was adultery – so sleeping with slaves or prostitutes (who had no honour) wasn’t adultery.” Which legal system is this? I suggest (and Ian you make similar comment?) that Paul’s context was Hebraic rather than Greco-Roman. In the Hebraic mind (literal) adultery had only meaning—it was when a married woman had sexual intercourse with a man not her husband. But in this the C of E has gone with Tallon not Paul. None, I suspect, are free from a post NT cultural interpretive hermeneutic.

    Reply
    • Thanks Colin. I agree with your comments here–except your last. C of E teaches only permits remarriage in Church of divorcees under quite strict guidelines.

      Reply
      • I meant in the definition of adultery. The acceptance of the modern definition (marital sexual unfaithfulness) is widespread throughout Western Christianity. So much so that people look at you puzzled when you question it. And often cannot understand at all what you talking about. Such is our Greco-Roman mindset.

        Reply
        • So, for example, one of your bloggers above articulated the widely held view that Jesus said divorce was allowed for adultery. But he neither said, nor I suggest, did he mean such. Otherwise, if a husband had sex with a prostitute a wife would not be allowed a divorce. This basic confusion on the biblical terminology on sexual matters is prevalent. As we mentioned at Tyndale I think it is right that evangelicals are “geeky” about the actual scripture text.

          Reply
          • Previously on here, I’ve used “sexual immorality,” but since it was incidental, I didn’t want to get bogged down in the minutiae of that term (or alternative translations).

            🙂

          • Hi James. Ok. However, many believe that Jesus meant adultery – which they redefine. But substituting a redefined adultery for sexual immorality, and then assuming that Jesus was addressing wives as well as husbands fundamentally changes the Gospel divorce teaching. Most evangelical teaching on divorce is based on these misunderstandings.

          • If adultery is the pre-condition for divorce then almost all men can probably be divorced: because Jesus is reported to have said that if men even think of another woman with lustful thoughts they have committed adultery. I would say that’s a bit harsh, but maybe he was trying to highlight the moral self-righteousness implicit in singling out adulterers and pointing the finger at others. Whichever way, if you apply Jesus’s reported terms, adultery is adultery and unfaithfulness extends to your thoughts, or self-pleasure fantasising over other women, and basically human imperfection by either party may lead to separation and divorce in reality.

            What really matters is the positive quality of our relationships with our partners, and when that becomes hollow and deteriorates, that’s when the distancing begins.

            We don’t ‘own’ other people (even though some Bible authors seemed to think we do, at least men owning their wives). If either party decides their marriage has broken down, there should be freedom to start afresh, and if you love someone, you should be willing to let them go and desire they find happiness, notwithstanding the undoubted hurt and loss. I hate sexual possessiveness. I love fidelity founded on positive love, sacrifice, care through the ups and downs of life.

            I don’t think marriage and adultery should be reduced to a few sound-bites, or proof texts. We need to confront the real quality of our relationships, and our sexual fidelity includes channelling our sexual love and desire towards our partner, and not just going through the motions and relieving desire via page three models, expending the sexuality we should be giving to our partners on our fantasies about other women.

            Jesus could be pretty challenging. I doubt he really objected to self-pleasure, and I’m sure he understood our God-given sexual natures, but he does call out those who think that adulterous acts put them in the clear as morally superior.

            If adultery is a let-out clause for a couple being divorced, and if the Bible should be believed and applied, then I’d say almost all couples have grounds for divorce if they seek it. You can’t keep people together against their wills anyway. But the couple themselves, if they both resolve to, can work at re-dedicating their marriage every single day.

            Just some thoughts.

    • “In the Hebraic mind (literal) adultery had only meaning—it was when a married woman had sexual intercourse with a man not her husband.”

      I’m glad you added the word (literal), Colin. Because Jesus is reported to have said that adultery occurs every time a man looks with lust and desire at a woman. And how many of you guys present commit adultery from time to time, or is all your self-pleasure pure and focussed on your wife (don’t answer!)?

      It is somewhat ironic that the fidelity of gay and lesbian couples is vilified as abomination, by usually male critics who in many cases, on Jesus’s terms, are adulterers and unfaithful.

      Forgive the indelicacy of my point, but you get what I mean I suppose.

      I’m not condemning either. I think self-pleasure is healthy, though it can grow morbid if it becomes habitual. But I think gay sexuality is healthy and lovely and decent too.

      It’s the focus on gay sexuality that gets me: it reminds me of when I ran a sex offenders’ centre, and all the other prisoners felt so much better to scape-goat ‘the nonces’, because it made them feel less condemned themselves.

      Gay sexuality is a minority trait, and as always it is such an obvious target to scapegoat.

      And yet all this secret adultery is going on, with seemingly respectable straight religious people, and Jesus called that out. About men who had sex with men, he said not one word.

      Double standards in my view.

      Reply
      • Susannah, I understand your point. But there are many things Jesus did not specifically address, for example rape, which Scripture elsewhere specifically condemns, or the tenor of its teaching would lead one to expect him to if he had been asked. I do think that same sex sexual relations is one of them.

        Reply
        • Colin,

          I certainly think the Bible is negative towards man-man sex. However, I think we need to exercise caution over making any assumptions about what Jesus himself thought.

          For example, on the basis of the Old Testament, where God allegedly commands the slaughter of the Canaanite children, we might therefore draw false conclusions about what Jesus thought about the sanctity of children, unless we also had the record of him saying “Let the little children come to me.”

          It seems hardly conceivable that the same God expressed both sentiments. As in other Bible passages, one may be drawn to the conclusion that some of what is written in the Bible is in fact the expression of fallible human beings.

          Why should that not be so? We would deride the idea, I suppose, that the Pope is infallible. Why then should we suppose that Paul is infallible, or the authors of the Old Testament were infallible?

          We may not agree on this issue of how we approach the Bible, but my main point is this: even if people believe Paul is right (and, reverting to the OP, I do think he seems pretty clear, and the rest of the Bible too, on man-man sex), how do you deal with the indisputable fact that in the Church of England today people are divided on this issue, largely because of the way they read and understand the Bible and the extent to which it should be treated as infallible authority.

          How do you deal with difference of view in the Church? Do you ultimately have to schism (which I don’t advocate at all)? Or do we realistically recognise that diverse views exist, and resolve to love one another even so, in order to keep serving Christ in our dispersed communities, maybe with different emphases, but with love for the people we live alongside, who are often in all kinds of practical and spiritual need?

          I believe in brothers (and sisters) dwelling together in unity (by which I don’t mean uniformity).

          I think that is a precious principle.

          I think it focusses on the priority of love, and the sacrifice and cost of love. It is arguably easier to cut and run from each other. But actually living with one another’s differences, and respecting the sincerity of diverse conscience in the pursuit of faith, is more challenging, more uncomfortable, but arguably makes us draw more on grace to open to love, even (or especially) for those we disagree with.

          What do you think?

          Would you walk out of the Church of England if the option of celebrating gay relationships was offered, while protecting the right of priests not to do that? Would you reject ‘unity in diversity’? Would Ian (I’m curious to know)? Would Rod of Maidstone (who I like, but who holds different conscientious beliefs to me on sexuality)?

          Do we rend the Church of England apart?

          Returning to your point, no Colin, I do not think we can assume that Jesus thinks gay sexuality is an abomination. It seems you do. We reflect large numbers of people in the Church of England with diverse views on the matter.

          I believe the Bible attitudes to men having sex with each other are cultural attitudes. They reflect the assumptions of their religious communities, and the conservative attitudes of their communities. Yes, I believe there is reasonable likelihood and even clarity that they are hostile to gay sexuality. But I feel Ian is asking the less relevant question. The real question is: are they right? Is the Bible right on this issue?

          I do not believe it is.

          But there is still so much love to be done. Come, let us co-exist, and pray for the flourishing of all the rest of one another’s Christian ministry and service.

          Compassion entreats us to do that. We do not have to ‘divorce’ from one another, when we can co-exist, and walk humbly in a unity in Christ.

          What else can, or should, we do?

          sincerely, and thank you for your calm and respectful discourse,

          Susannah

          Reply
          • ‘As in other Bible passages, one may be drawn to the conclusion that some of what is written in the Bible is in fact the expression of fallible human beings….’

            ‘I believe the Bible attitudes to men having sex with each other are cultural attitudes. They reflect the assumptions of their religious communities, and the conservative attitudes of their communities. Yes, I believe there is reasonable likelihood and even clarity that they are hostile to gay sexuality. But I feel Ian is asking the less relevant question. The real question is: are they right? Is the Bible right on this issue?

            I do not believe it is.’

            I think this is the nub of the issue: is the Bible right? My article is tackling what I think is actually the intellectually dishonest position of claiming that you can read the text in a different way.

            But here is the challenge: James Byron is quite right to say that Jesus and Paul would have been of one mind on this. From all we read in the gospels, Jesus was a radically Torah-observant Jew, who saw the demands of the law not just about outward behaviour but about inner attitude. He repeatedly reinforces the core of OT ethics, and that core is that humanity was created male and female, and so sexual intimacy should be only between male and female in marriage. It is very hard to avoid that.

            So if ‘the Bible is wrong’ then what that means is that Jesus was wrong, and possibly just trapped in his first-century Jewish culture.

            If that is so, the he is not the Word of the Father who reveals the Father to us. So we very quickly get into other, much larger problems…and this takes us rapidly outside anything resembling orthodox Christian belief.

          • Thank you Ian, that was a powerful and well-argued comment.

            You wrote: “My article is tackling what I think is actually the intellectually dishonest position of claiming that you can read the text in a different way.”

            Well I have made clear that I believe the text IS hostile to man-man sex. So I disassociate from the arguments that try to explain Paul wasn’t really hostile. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that people arguing that way are being dishonest. I think they are presenting reasoned points of view with sincerity. I don’t share those views though.

            But I am unclear whether your criticism of those “claiming that you can read the text in a different way” refers to those who argue that Paul wasn’t criticising every kind of man-man sex, or whether you are extending the criticism to ANYONE who believes that bible text should be read in a different way to you (for example, my view that the Bible needs to be seen as fallible and culture-influenced).

            I don’t think it’s dishonest to identify conflicts between moral decency and some of the assertions that bible writers make. We don’t need to anaesthetise our consciences and kowtow to attitudes or assertions that are ill-informed, or culturally primitive.

            In short, you are well aware that biblical criticism is a wide-ranging field, and many theologians do indeed believe “you can read the text in a different way” to (for example) fundamentalists, or some conservative evangelicals with an elevated view of the authority of scripture narratives as beyond critique.

            To parse your statement, it sounds like you don’t accept ways of reading the bible unless they conform to yours.

            You make a good case for attaching Jesus to anti-gay attitudes, and I do understand the logic of your argument, but I can respect logic without endorsing the premises that you select.

            You write: “So if ‘the Bible is wrong’ then what that means is that Jesus was wrong, and possibly just trapped in his first-century Jewish culture.”

            That is a huge claim, based on the assumption that the Bible ‘knows’ what Jesus thought, and reports it definitively. However, if the authors are fallible in fully understanding the enigma of the living God, then their accounts may be partial in understanding too. What we get is a provisional view of Jesus. We get photoshots of Jesus, and incidents, and recollected words that Jesus spoke.

            But Jesus wrote nothing Himself, so we are dependent on the often very precious witness statements, probably written at some chronological distance… with the followers of Jesus (fallible human beings) trying to recollect, trying to make sense of profound encounter, trying to make sense of mystery.

            What I see when I read the New Testament gospels is what seems like conscious enigma on the part of Jesus, because Jesus wants to draw us out from the mentality that we can know and define the deeps of God, and instead, the key messages of Jesus involve some degrees of surrender of understanding (instead of thinking we can define Jesus, point by point, and pin down the living God).

            It seems to me that the key message of Jesus is to open our hearts to the presence of God, and God’s love… and to open our hearts to the flow of that love, in our lives, in our actions… in a baptismal process of letting go, and being buried in the love of God, and through that way actually finding ourselves more whole, and finding God more as well.

            The challenge does not seem to me to be about defining morality (though the Holy Spirit will speak to our consciences about morality) but about letting go, and understanding less, and trusting more. And opening our hearts, not so much to theological ideas, but to the actual presence and person of God.

            You say “Jesus was a radically Torah-observant Jew, who saw the demands of the law not just about outward behaviour but about inner attitude.”

            I believe Jesus understood the background of Law that he was born into as a human. But I don’t at all believe that Jesus affirmed earlier so-called commands of God to stone sinners including those men who loved other men. I don’t believe Jesus agreed with all the laws in the Old Testament. As God, he would be able to differentiate between insights that spoke of the nature of God (such as covenant love) and assertions that were frankly the words of men.

            When you say He “saw the demands of the law not just about outward behaviour but about inner attitude” yes, his reported words suggest the inner attitude of heart is all-important, but no, when you say “not just” outward behaviour you are implying Jesus was also maintaining every external law as well…

            …I don’t think that means he is affirming everything that was claimed and written in the scriptures (though he knew the scriptures contained profound insights about God, and indeed Him).

            Ian, if I am going to be consistent and argue that the Bible is written by humans (it certainly was) and those humans were trying to make sense of mystery and encounters with God, but did so from their own understanding and culture and worldview and assumptions… then I also extend that to the Gospels themselves, because they too are written by humans trying to make sense.

            Now I think the gospels are absolutely wonderful and profound, but (a) I don’t think we are supposed to stop at the surface level, but to open our minds to the fundamental priorities that shimmer through the pages; and (b) I don’t think they define, or contain, Jesus. How could they? How can we ever do that to God. The authors and their handed down witness recollections clearly tried to get a narrative across. It was a narrative understood through the filters of their minds, their limits, their amazement, their religious cultural contexts.

            Yes, Jesus spoke of marriage in the terms it existed in their society (which at that time was only between men and women), but he does NOT define his views of man-man relationships and sex. He simply doesn’t. The authors of the Bible (especially Paul) try to systematize things. He very much wants to construct a theological structure.

            But JESUS…

            the living and eternal GOD…

            what we can really be sure of is a bit like picking up shards of pottery or catching a flowing stream…

            we get glimpses of understanding, but most of us nit-pick the minutiae of detail, but risk missing the core and shuddering heart of his coming…

            that in coming to earth, God was revolutionising the way we think about God and understand God…

            and revealing vital lessons about alongsideness and sharing and community… and welcome, and acceptance…

            and presenting a challenge to all our religiosity, and prioritising love and compassion, again and again…

            …until we finally realise that the gospel is about opening to the flow of love, the love of God, and letting it flow into more and more rooms of our souls, and flow out, in loving action and surrender to fate, and death to self-centredness… to open our hearts to (quoting that recollected snippet) the ‘streams of living water’ that well up within us, because God dwells within us.

            And yet, I am still grasping for words, because God is unfathomable and enigma, and I agree with those who believe in biblical critical techniques that try to de-construct the narratives and uncouple the authors’ core messages from the cultures and ignorance, and inherited assumptions, religious and social… so we home in on that key baptismal process which is not about Bronze age laws, but about becoming who we are called to become: members of God’s eternal household, sharers in the consciousness and conscience of God, finding our whole being in the God who dwells at our core.

            Opening our hearts and souls and minds to the love and shared consciousness of God.

            I’ll shut up, because words always end up trailing off, when we encounter God.

            Relationship, love, fidelity, trust really matter because they are core issues of eternal existence shared with God.

            And do you really think the Bible is infallibly authoritative on all matters?

            And if not (and I believe not) then what are we really supposed to draw from its narratives… all the flawed and limited and fallible, but amazing narratives?

            I believe we are still being revealed to, still being called into new and emergent being and understanding, still being invited to open our hearts, and use our God-given consciences.

            And to re-assert: vilification of gay and lesbian people is a social stigmatisation, a resort to the scapegoat, an othering of a different group, and although you seem a sane, kind and decent person, when you say you/your version of Church does not ‘persecute’ gay people… I’m sorry, but gay and lesbian people are discriminated against, ordinands may be stopped from getting ordained, gay people are expected to live in celibacy, which is cruel and unnatural, hospital chaplains get chased out of jobs, gay couples are technically not supposed to have their most precious personal and social status affirmed in church… and the very act of vilifying gay lives adds mandate to the less sugar-coated bigots on the street, who can use church condemnation as a mandate for their hate, their threats, their violence.

            The Church of England is still vilifying decent, loving, devoted, caring people and describing their intimate, sacrificial, tender love as abomination.

            Working with teens in school, I can assure you they recognise how weird and disgusting that seems to them, and maybe they wonder: this Jesus you talk about, would he be calling my gay friends abominable too?

            And I don’t believe he would.

            I think the living and eternal God sees far far deeper than those Bronze Age human edicts… sees to the heart and the covenant and the fidelity of people who tenderly love each other and, as human beings, express that tenderly and intimately and sexually.

            But perhaps NEITHER of us can really claim to know, nor the fundamentalists, nor the liberal theologians… but if that is so…

            Don’t we each have to live in the best fidelity and conscience we have, to open our hearts to the love of God? And can we not stop trying to dominate one another’s consciences, and accept we hold different views… in faith and conviction… and just focus on keeping on loving each other, across the whole Church of England, and keep focussing on community and alongsideness in our communities, expressing our faith perhaps in diverse ways, but always, always trying to open our hearts to God.

            The REAL Word of God is NOT the Bible. The real Word of God, is that creative love that proceeds every day from the living and eternal God, calling us daily to open our hearts, to love, to serve, to share. And God has given us prayer and consciences, and can appeal to us day by day, and not just through the narratives of the Bible authors, profound as they can be.

            Which is where, frankly, we differ. I don’t disdain the Bible. I treasure it. But I feel more justice is done to it, more respect given to its integrity, if we accept it is fallible and human, as well as in many places inspired. We may “read the text in a different way” and yet still face the same challenge to love and to try to make sense of our calling, just as the early disciples – confronted by the enigma of the Living God – had to try to make sense.

            None of us do that perfectly, but there is still time to find grace in our day to day lives, to find God in prayer, and finding God in the people we encounter each day.

            So God bless you. In the Church of England many people hold different views. We do, though I trust we both yearn for God and want wholeness in God. So God bless you.

          • OK–so for you the real Jesus is not the Jesus we read about in the gospels, but the Jesus you experience in your own heart, and where your heart disagrees with the gospels, then your heart is right and the gospels are wrong?

            Have I understood that correctly?

          • Ian,

            Obviously it is both. No-one experiences God for themselves except through personal relationship and encounter.

            But God may inform our attempts to make sense of those encounters, so we grow to understand and trust God more… through other people in our lives, through the example of good and decent people, through beauty, through the compassion of others, through music, through prayer and contemplation, through suffering and trials, through science, through history, through the lives and accounts of people of faith, through ideas, through myth, through the numinous, through nature… and yes, also through the glimpses we get in the Bible narratives.

            I think you would probably agree with all that, apart from maybe the way I’ve placed the Bible in a list, because you clearly think it is a stand out authority that overrules other experience or encounter. (I hope I have understood you aright.)

            You are very fairly asking (and I thank you for your engagement): “so for you the real Jesus is not the Jesus we read about in the gospels, but the Jesus you experience in your own heart, and where your heart disagrees with the gospels, then your heart is right and the gospels are wrong?”

            No, I cannot subscribe to your ‘allegation’ that for me the real Jesus is NOT the Jesus we read about in the gospels.

            That is WAY too absolutist. Of course I draw hugely on the glimpses of Jesus we get offered in the Gospels. The incidents and descriptions of Jesus that get recollected, handed down, and reported, are very helpful and indeed wonderful… and they help and encourage me to feel attraction to Jesus, to God, to what Jesus may have been teaching us through his life, his message, his death, his resurrection.

            So please do not pre-suppose or label me as someone who throws out the baby with the bathwater and repudiates the entirety of the Bible. I don’t. I treasure it. It is a conduit through which we, too, may come to open our hearts to God.

            Secondly: “the Jesus you experience in your own heart”… this is not divorced from the many lessons and understandings I may draw from the Gospels… the Gospels ‘deliver’ God, but yes of course, we also need to experience God, to encounter Jesus, in our own hearts as well. That is the whole point and process.

            The Bible is not some kind of political manifesto that is simply cerebrally believed and followed: it is one of the ways through which we may find ourselves moved, and persuaded, to open our hearts and encounter, believe, and trust.

            The experience of God in our own heart… the experience of the Holy Spirit… the opening up of our hearts to the love of God… the recognition of God in the person of Jesus we catch sight of in the gospels… this is personal, this is inevitably subjective in experience, and I would say, this is the living Word of God who calls us into being each day, as God extends grace and encounter and trust and love, day by day, helping us open up more, helping us become who we are uniquely created to be, helping us to find God at the heart and center of our being, in a kind of sharing and tender relationship with God, a relationship based on attraction and trust.

            And the Bible helps me hugely in that opening up. Encounters other people try to put words to… including the encounters that witnesses handed down about Jesus, but also the prophets, the psalmists, and Paul (in all his fallibility)… these contribute and engender trust. I can read and recognise for myself.

            Thus personal experience does not imply closing one’s mind to the precious insights and narratives in the Bible: that would be an absolutist parody of what so-called ‘liberal’ Christians like myself believe (though I’m actually ‘conservative’ in some aspects of my faith).

            But certainly, yes, the ‘real’ Jesus is the Jesus I encounter in prayer and in relationship: personal, present, unfathomable, intimate, numinous, sweet, wonderful. God is relational. The Trinity is relational. Our invitation to faith is an invitation to a relational ongoing encounter.

            Is my understanding of God identical with the understanding of God I had in youth when I sung in church? or the understanding I had on the day of my conversion and encounter? or even the understanding I had after 10 years of fundamentalist belief? No.

            Our understanding of God evolves out of relationship. It matures. It hopefully grows in trust. It becomes a little less dependent on certainties. And through all the vagaries of our lives, God for God’s part remains faithful, dear, and each day longs to engage and share at a personal level of experience, which can open us up more to who God is.

            The Word of God is alive and active: speaking to us today, and every day, through people, through life, through struggles, through books, through films, through the Bible… and continually calling us, vocationally, into more and more of our being in God.

            And then your key question, Ian, posed on the basis of your pre-suppositions of how we should encounter, use and apply the Bible: “where your heart disagrees with the gospels, then your heart is right and the gospels are wrong?”

            Again, it’s not either/or. Your questions inserts an absolutism that I don’t recognise in my journey with God. I look to the heart of the gospels: the baptismal ordeal of Christ, and the same baptismal ordeal that we are called to open up to and live out. And that heart of the gospels is NEVER wrong.

            It’s baptism into the love of God.

            So I fundamentally don’t disagree with the gospels because I agree with what the gospels are all about – their primary message and purpose and calling.

            Do I read the Bible with critical method? Yes, you know I do. I believe the Bible should be read intelligently and analytically, taking into account limitations in people’s attempts to make sense, to narrate, to report encounter; and taking into account cultural influences, prejudices, assumptions, religious ways of thinking (the authors, not Jesus, obviously, because Jesus is eternal).

            So I draw on my sources to make sense of my life and my faith. I try to do that sincerely.

            My sources are the Bible, but my source is also the living and dynamic Holy Spirit, in my day to day life, and prayer, and encounter. And sometimes, just sometimes I may find an incongruency… and at that point do I kill off my conscience, my lived engagement with God, my sense of justice, my brain? I don’t think any Christian should.

            I am a contemplative. It is my life. And as many contemplatives would assert, we confront a ‘cloud of unknowing’ as well as all the things we claim to know about God. Because God is God, and so deep and unfathomable.

            And through that relationship across the cloud, we inevitably draw on trust, on love, on belief in God’s fidelity. And sometimes, just sometimes, God may choose to reward us deeply for that watch we keep.

            But the further I have journeyed in my faith, the less I have depended o everything being certain and defined. If it was all certain, I wouldn’t have to grow in trust. I believe God has other intentions.

            So if I find a contradiction between, say, Paul’s vilification of gay lives and the value God attaches to fidelity, kindness, devotion, covenant, relationship, sacrifice – all qualities of gay relationship, as I know in my own relationship to my wife – then what should I choose to do?

            I trust.

            I don’t try to know all the answers. Nor do I trust entirely on the narratives of the Bible authors, some of whom write with reprehensible cultural assumptions, and some with sublime insight to the fidelity of God.

            I simply trust in God.

            At that point, at that hiatus of understanding, what should we do. I believe we should draw on our God-given conscience, I believe we should listen to God’s Holy Spirit who is constantly renewing our world and our lives, and then… we act in as good faith as we can.

            With sincerity and desire to love God.

            Ian, I think we have quite different approaches. And we speak to/at each other across a divide of paradigms, over how exactly we should read and relate to the Bible.

            But the bottom line is not the Bible itself, but God who flows through the Bible, flows through nature, flows through people, flows through lives, and longs to flow through us.

            We are invited by this sweet and patient God to open perhaps one more room of the many rooms in our souls, each day, and to trust, and to let go, and to let the flow of God’s love and grace infect our lives and bless the lives of others.

            Biblical rectitude and dogmatism can be so dry and so arid. It can harden us if we’re not careful. We all know people who’ve become hard in their rigidity and righteousness. I believe the gospels sense that too as a danger.

            But God is a river in flow. And that flow is love and grace and (as the gospel delightfully describes it) the Spirit is not just wind among the reeds, but also a wind of love that blows where it wills, and sometimes becomes a tide, a flood, a rushing wind… the rushing rushing wind of the ruach… oh my!

            We may approach things differently, but we may both love God dearly. And this is the case across the Church of England today. It should not be about sides. It should be about opening to the fullness of the great imperative, and opening to the love of God.

            Therefore I do, genuinely, like and love your fidelity and love of God, and wish and pray for your flourishing in relationship, in service, in sharing your life with Jesus Christ.

            What we are undoubtedly called to do is to love one another. That becomes so obvious, both through the Bible and through other things in life. And through our opening to God in our ‘experience’ and encounter.

            In this we can share, and should share, as a Church. It’s not our differences or uniformity that are key, but our willingness to love, and to journey in baptism with the God who out of compassion came and shared in suffering too.

            “I have a baptism to undergo” Jesus said about his impending death… and “You will be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with.”

            It is the message of the whole Bible, pre-figured by the narratives of Noah, and the Exodus, and Daniel (severally), and Jonah (the key sign Jesus alluded to), and Ezekiel, and Jesus’s cousin.

            Covenant love involves a fidelity of trust and surrender – not to the literal ‘rules’ of a book, but in a relationship, a living relationship, a relationship where we’re expected to exercise God-given conscience… but above all to trust.

            Perfection comes from God alone. We are never perfect. We are dressed in love. But God, who we can never understand except in fragments, becomes a foundation of trust through relationship. We know God through relationship. God becomes familiar.

            God also remains numinous and inexplicable.

            Our best help (in my opinion) is the glimpses we get of Jesus Christ, firstly perhaps in the gospels, and subsequently in relationship and prayer. The two do not cancel out each other. It is not a zero-sum thing. And we need to live with uncertainties, and at that point, God-given conscience becomes an essential gift if we are to take responsibility for the world we live in, and justice, and opening to love and the possibilities of love where previous societies maybe could not envisage it.

            “You send your Spirit to renew the face of the earth.”

            Vocation and calling are living and emergent. That, too, is the Word of God.

            God bless you, Ian,
            Susannah

          • Is there any chance you could keep your contributions shorter? It is just not possible to engage in discussion with such mammoth ‘stream of consciousness’ postings.

          • Where myself and Ian part company is over the theological implications of Jesus’ fallibility.

            I see no logical progression from “Jesus was capable of error” to “therefore, he couldn’t be the Logos incarnate.” Just the opposite: if he was fully man, as the creeds proudly state, then human fallibility’s an intrinsic part of that. Strip away such a crucial part of humanity, and we’re perilously close to Docetism.

            In the moment that Jesus cried out that God had forsaken him (when by orthodox theology God had done the exact opposite), what was he doing? Making some theological point so enigmatic that it flirts with gnosticism? Or having a genuine human momentum of anguish? If the second, that anguish rests on a bed of human error, completely understandable and relatable, but inescapable.

          • Are there? Where? And are they rooted in God’s intention in creation, and is the practice affirmed by both Jesus and Paul?

            If not, what is the relevance of this comment?

          • Colin commented that scripture specifically condemns rape. It does, occasionally. At other times, it is treated as normative or the lesser evil.

          • At other times, it is treated as normative or the lesser evil.

            Neither of those amount to condoning, though, do they? So you ought to explicitly withdraw the claim that ‘there are texts [in the Bible] which condone rape’.

          • The treatment of the Midianite virgins in Numbers 31 is pretty ugly (not to mention the slaughter of the non-virgins). The victors had the right to take the virgins of the defeated army. You dread to think what that was like for them. Moses is basically being an asshole in this passage, in my view. Ordering the killing of women in warfare is cowardly and disgusting. Letting your soldiers take the virgins for themselves is not how God views the precious dignity and value of each human being. This is Bronze Age spoils of war. Don’t tell me a lot of them weren’t raped.

          • When you attribute commands to God, and claim to be a spokesman for God, speaking with an authority invested in you by God, then no, not always any difference between the reported narrative and the condoning of the commandments you ‘deliver’ from God.

            Personally I think you should read Elizabeth Johnson’s ‘She Who Is’ to gain greater understanding of the frankly toxic masculinity we see in many narratives in the Old Testament (in particular) and the systematic chauvinism that (for example) implies that a rapist should marry his rape victim, which is staggeringly ignorant and dismissive of the trauma the woman experiences, her violation, her abuse. Old Testament narratives are written from within the contexts of a society that was deeply patriarchal in a way that reduced women to subordination and frankly makes some of the narratives unreliable from the viewpoint of how women should be valued, treated, and empowered. As in all things this is not absolutist. Those scriptures also sometimes offer ameliorating provisos, but the underlying attitude to women is primitive, harmful, and fundamentally condones a status quo that gives almost all the power to men.

            In Numbers 31, I think it is fair to claim that Moses is “condoning” the slaughter of women, and “condoning” the right of the Israelite victors, once they’d slaughtered the married Midianite women, to take the virgins for themselves.

            That is not just reporting. That is both condoning and commanding, and the passage is introduced by God speaking to Moses, and Moses claims to be speaking and acting for God.

            “Save for yourself every girl who has never slept with a man.”

            That’s the spoils of war.

            That’s more of less one guy saying to the soldiers “Have a good time, lads.”

            Even if marriage and protection of the virgins was behind it (why just the virgins?) do we really believe in the history of war that many of the women were not raped… forced to have sex… and besides, what choice do the women have? None.

            And Moses condones and commands it. No Ian, he is not just ‘reporting it’.

            This is Bible narrative at some of its most brutal and primitive. It is patriarchal. It lacks compassion. It is disgusting and frankly toxic reading for any woman who has been raped or sexually abused.

            A classic example of why we should differentiate between the fallible, culture-bound authors of the Bible, and the real heart and person of God.

          • Hagar

            Isn’t condoned, indeed was spcifically against God’s instructions.

            parts of Ezekiel

            Be specific.

            Lot’s daughters

            Isn’t condoned, the mob are clearly depicted as being in the wrong and their demands immoral.

            Rachel’s and Leah’s slaves

            Isn’t condoned, Rachel is specifically said to be acting out of jealousy, so her actions are hardly to be excused.

          • Nonsense, S. Rape of slaves was normative. Lot’s daughters are the vicarious victims, far better that they are raped than the honoured male visitors. That’s the horror about this text.
            Ezekiel 16.

          • Rape of slaves was normative.

            As is depicted. But depicting something is not the same as condoning it.

            Lot’s daughters are the vicarious victims, far better that they are raped than the honoured male visitors

            But again, the mob’s (intended) actions are not condoned by the text; quite the opposite, in this case they are condemned and punished.

  14. I think it’s worth saying two things here. Firstly, people were previously punished for various sexual acts because they were thought unnatural. St Paul stands in that tradition. Our understanding of biology has developed such that we no longer think them unnatural. So we need to seek opinion on whether these acts- oral and anal sex for example between consenting adult couples – are unnatural or not. If we no longer view them as unnatural, it is quite possible that Paul would no longer view them as unnatural if he were writing today.

    And secondly I find this observation by Richard Beck helpful:

    “….you have to own the fact that you are Protestants (as am I). Which means that you are never going to land on an uncontested “biblical view.” Protestants have never agreed on what the Bible says. Just look at all the Protestant churches. Underneath the conversation about the “biblical view” what you are searching for is a hermeneutical consensus, the degree to which your community can tolerate certain hermeneutical choices.

    Stretch the hermeneutical fibers too thin and the consensus snaps. People can’t make the leap. The view is deemed “unbiblical.” But if you keep the changes within the hermeneutical tolerances of the community the consensus holds and the view is deemed “biblical.” “

    Reply
    • Our understanding of biology has developed such that we no longer think them unnatural

      But biology, being as it is inevitably the study of an already fallen, corrupted world, cannot tell us whether something is unnatural or natural.

      If we no longer view them as unnatural, it is quite possible that Paul would no longer view them as unnatural if he were writing today

      That depends on whether you think Paul was writing his own view, or being inspired by God to write His view. If Paul were writing God’s view under God’s inspiration, then obviously as god’s view doesn’t change with the shifting tides of culture then neither would what Paul would write.

      Protestants have never agreed on what the Bible says. Just look at all the Protestant churches

      True but irrelevant. Just because it’s not obvious which intepretation is correct (and hence there is disagreement), does not mean that some interpretations aren’t obviously incorrect (in the sense of clearly being not what God is attempting to communicate to us through the passage in question).

      Reply
      • “If Paul were writing God’s view under God’s inspiration”.

        I’m sure Paul was writing under God’s inspiration. But as neither of us has been able to evidence what that key phrase might actually mean this is where we part company.
        Paul could clearly be wrong in his writing – hence his observations about the imminent parousia.

        Reply
        • I’m sure Paul was writing under God’s inspiration. But as neither of us has been able to evidence what that key phrase might actually mean this is where we part company.

          We can, however, at least agree that whether Paul was right or wrong about this issue, the one thing he definitely wasn’t was unclear: yes?

          Reply
          • But Paul seemed pretty clear Christ was going to return in his one lifetime and was wrong about that so by your reckoning S Paul could have got it all wrong couldn’t he?

          • It is well understood that Paul expected the return of the Lord.

            Someone like John Piper can say: “I think when Paul says, “We who are alive . . . until the Lord’s coming,” he’s simply referring to those who are alive at the Lord’s coming and is including himself in that in hope”

            And Paul Woodbridge (Oak Hill):
            “It would seem that in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, Paul expected the parousia to come quickly, so quickly that it would take place before his death. In 1 Thessalonians 4:15-1 7, Paul twice uses the expression, ‘We who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord’, which may be taken to mean ‘we Christians who survive until the parousia’. A similar idea may be seen in 1 Corinthians 15:51f., where the ‘we’ that is emphasised in verse 52b (‘we shall be changed’) indicates that Paul placed himself among the survivors at the parousia.”

            And Paul’s advice about the reasons not to marry….

            Of course if what you are saying is that we need to interpret and put Paul in context, then of course that changes everything. (And who knew?!)

          • ‘It is well understood that Paul expected the return of the Lord.’ Sure—as do I! I would use exactly that kind of language—but it doesn’t mean that I don’t make ethical decisions that will stand the test of time, and neither did Paul.

            So I don’t see that this sense of expectation makes Paul’s ethical understanding of sexuality different. Why would it change his assessment of SSS?

            Btw, delighted to see that you are reading material from Oak Hill!

          • I think it was a cultural religious thing. Apocalyptic literature was everywhere, and there was a widespread expectation that the end was near and imminent.

            I attribute this to the prevalent religious culture at the time.

            You still see it today among fundamentalists. They ‘read the signs’ and hate their circumstances so much that they want the end times ushered in, and want the end to come, and they often sincerely believe that the we are in the final seconds of the very end of all things.

            I take a different view. I have a 90% expectation that our planet, our universe, will still be here in a billion years. I think that’s a reasonable expectation based on science. And I simply don’t believe Paul believed in those kind of timescales. So whether he was talking about his lifetime, of a bit of time after, I think he may have been influenced by the apocalyptic mood and literature of his time.

            I view it very differently. Rather than predicting the end of all things, I believe each of us is wise to recognise that we are living in our own end times. Life is so fleeting. Each one of us lives along the margins of time and space, and the end comes for each of us like a blink of an eyelid in the vast reaches of time and the universe.

            And yet… today… we are alive… we are known… we can love and be loved.

            That is miraculous and a privilege.

            And every morning, I think we should be expectant that Jesus, that God, will come to us, and accompany us, and help us open up to love and grace.

            *These* are our end-times.

            We need to live them.

          • Ian: S has made the point many times that if one part of the bible is unreliable, then all of it could be/must be. So if Paul is unreliable about the timing of the return of the Lord (Paul expecting it in his lifetime and it not happening), then he might be unreliable about SSS.

          • John is an example of someone whose eschatology went from classic futurist to classic realised. This may be to some extent a psychological progression. Paul (influenced by Heb?) did the same, in that in Eph and Col (slightly prefigured in Php) he newly majors on our present heavenly session with Christ, which neatly rounds off his ‘in Christ’ model (suffering & death – burial – resurrection – ascension and exaltation). There is no hint that they are not still awaiting the man from heaven as Php puts it. 2 Ptr gives much the same ultimate picture as 1 Thess, despite being written much later; but its background (a sense of delay rather than a sense of more imminent expectation) is different. Of course the hand of Silas may be in both. Futurist eschatology tends to be on the ascent in times of crisis, realised eschatology in times of lull.

          • Ian

            “We who are alive…..”. I believe that Paul#s expectation of the eschaton changes from early letters like 1 Thess. to the realisation in Phil. that he was not likely to live to see the second Advent. Some crisis j happened before the writing of the 2 Corinthians letter(s).
            Not a currently fashionable view, I know. Nor popular amongst scholars who believe that the post call Paul didn’t develop and change his theology.

          • I agree with you that the period before 2 Cor is a time of crisis.

            The break with the Galatians.
            Riot in Ephesus.
            Everything attested to by 2 Cor 1 – crushed almost to death.
            Thorn in flesh.
            His operations are now over a wider area, and becoming hard to control. He is losing territory (Galatia).
            He is 55 or so and not getting any younger.
            I too thought to connect this with a developing eschatology.
            But I am not sure Paul held eschatologies for *psychological* reasons.

          • Christopher

            Just when were breaking into agreement over Paul’s eschatology 🙂
            I believe that after his call and in his early letters Paul, like other Christians, expected an imminent return. After suffering and a crisis, his expectations changed and he longed to be with Christ. He still expected the Parousia, but not necessarily to be alive when it happened.

          • I agree on the chronology but not necessarily on the connection. I can see that we can say that Paul laid less emphasis both on the return itself and on his witnessing it, as time went on. That we can assign a primarily psychological cause to this is very unclear. It may be the case, it may not be. It may be instead that that was how he read the likelihoods at different times. The crisis he had in 55 had multiple causes already without adding any others.

            The parallel case of John shows us a Mark II eschatological worldview replacing the Mark I. I am not sure they ever exactly contradict each other. They are likely to be related to circumstances. Immediate expectation in time of crisis; realised in time of lull.

          • I did read what you put. I disagree. I think that lack of clarity will tend to produce unreliability.

            And please read again the reasons I suggested you e mailed me: it was to prevent other people wading through endless comments back and forth and to save me missing a question of yours. Nothing about not being public.

    • Our understanding of biology has developed such that we no longer consider it important that vast numbers of young and not so young people are falling victim to HIV, HPV, throat cancer and anal cancer because we assiduously omitted to advertise the harms of these newly popular behaviours.

      Reply
        • I just mean a notable rise in the graph since the sexual revolution. Things that go out of fashion and come back into fashion can be called ‘newly popular’.

          Andrew and all – do let us know if there are any other equally successful biological advances and enlightnments.

          Reply
          • ? What an odd question. Such things have been newly publicised over this period. But even if that had not been, the appropriate diseases have broken out in precisely the period when the things that cause the diseases have been publicised.

            You are saying that is a coincidence. (?)

          • Graph aka frequency. They are the same thing.

            (1) Unless you can either convince people that OI and AI were equally common in days when they were not spoken of let alone analysed.

            (2) Or that the attendant diseases broke out without people noticing them at higher rates than they did when there were acknowledged epidemics.

            Which of (1) – (2) are you attempting? Or both?

          • Christopher
            We don’t know. That is my point.
            We don’t know the rates of oral and anal sex in:
            The Greco-Roman empire
            The Ottoman empire
            Mediaeval Europe.
            Nor do we know the rates of cancer in these societies.
            And, even if we did, correlation?

  15. S and others

    Yes, Paul was clear. However, what he was clear about was the proscription of some (male) same-sex activity. (We can be reasonably sure about how he used the term malakos and his neologism, arsenokoites). These words proscribed acts, not sexual identities. For Paul (and Jesus, probably) these were not contested identities, simply because (contra James and John Pike with whom I usually agree), sexual identities weren’t a part of either Grec-Roman or Israelite culture.

    Thus, to use the term homosexuality or homosexual behaviour/activity/relationships, as several commentors have done is anachronistic. I don’t (unlike Wink, Johnson et al) think the Bible is wrong about homosexuality. It isn’t an ‘issue’ which the Bible addresses .

    For an interesting take on modern hermeneutics lenses on the modern reading that Genesis 2 is all about sexuality see the first chapter of Ken Stone’s ‘Practicing Safer Texts’. Good on early Xian exegesis too.

    I do agree with James and Ian that the textual debate gets us nowhere.
    ‘These debates produce exhaustion and boredom and have done little to advance thinking about sexuality or to deepen theological reflection’. Linn Tonstad, God and Difference.

    Reply
  16. Nobody can “win” the arguments about human sexuality, when every effort to convince one another has failed to change contrary convictions and conscientious views for at least fifty years. But unless the issue is resolved in some way, the Church can certainly ‘lose’.

    So setting aside the divergent views on human sexuality, as a debate that goes nowhere, what can we in the Church of England actually do, to reduce the pressure on at least two conflicting consciences on these issues? Because we need to do something.

    And I’d argue, we could do what Scotland has decided to do, which is effectively to acknowledge two integrities on these issues, but major on love and unity, and opt for ‘unity in diversity’.

    If a priest cannot in good conscience marry or bless a gay couple in church, then they should not have to.

    If a priest cannot but marry or bless a gay couple in church, because of conscience, then they should be allowed to.

    And instead of dominating each other’s views, we say, okay, we differ on that, so you do what your conscience says and I’ll do what my conscience says, but let’s get on with all the decent and precious church work we need to do, and the eucharist, and the service of the community.

    If Scotland can do that, why can’t we?

    And if it’s alright for us to operate ‘unity in diversity’ over women priests, then why not over human sexuality?

    Because we need to resolve this, and I see no other way of resolving it. And as Penny points out, it is really really boring and exhausting after all these years. And it’s not going away. So it has to be sorted.

    Reply
    • And if it’s alright for us to operate ‘unity in diversity’ over women priests, then why not over human sexuality?

      Because if, as we seem to all agree, the Bible is clear in saying that certain acts are sinful, then the disagreement is really over whether the Bible is reliable.

      And I don’t think it’s possible to have some people in a church who think the Bible is reliable and some who don’t.

      That’s what it boils down to. It’s not about sex. It’s about the Bible. Because if the Bible isn’t reliable then everything is up for grabs and you can end up with nonsense like denying the physical resurrection, or God giving spiritual orgasms, which is definitely nothing I could remain in ‘unity in diversity’ with.

      Reply
      • But we don’t agree that the bible states that certain acts are sinful. Tell me where the bible states that oral and anal sex are sinful?

        Plus you haven’t answered the question about Paul and the parousia.

        Reply
        • But we don’t agree that the bible states that certain acts are sinful.

          Hang on I thought we agreed that Paul’s position on male/male sex at least was perfectly clear. Are you going back on that?

          Plus you haven’t answered the question about Paul and the parousia.

          Because someone else is doing that perfectly well and I see no point in needless repetition.

          Reply
          • I don’t think it’s at all clear. I think it’s clear about certain situations, but not permanent faithful relationships.
            And I asked you where the bible is clear about certain acts.

          • That’s a bit like saying ‘I know that the roadsign prohibits all motor vehicles—but it doesn’t actually mention my particularly motor vehicle, so that doesn’t apply.’

            Why do you think that Paul’s rejection of SSS in any form at all might be set aside when SSS takes place in the context of a more-or-less monogamous committed relationship?

          • I don’t think it’s at all clear. I think it’s clear about certain situations, but not permanent faithful relationships.

            So what do you think it is clear about, then?

          • That ground has been covered so many times before S. No point in going over it again.
            If you can produce evidence that what Paul thought then applies now without ifs or buts then please do. If not, it’s simply enough to respect that Paul was writing for his time and if a tradition within the church wishes to adhere to that, then I respect that. But other views are available.

          • If not, it’s simply enough to respect that Paul was writing for his time and if a tradition within the church wishes to adhere to that, then I respect that. But other views are available.

            So in other words, you are saying that the Bible isn’t reliable. Which is the point I was making. The reason that ‘disagreement in unity’ is not possible over this issue is because it’s not really about sex, it’s because one side holds a totally different view about the Bible to the other, and that is foundational.

          • As I have said several times before, I think the bible reliably tells us what the writer and early church thought on certain matters and in certain situations. And we must always be mindful of them. But tradition, reason and human experience must also be taken in to account.

            The bible is reliable. It isn’t infallible. It doesn’t always cover situations that have arisen since its authorship. God still speaks. It isn’t the last word. It is sometimes ‘lost in translation’.

          • As I have said several times before, I think the bible reliably tells us what the writer and early church thought on certain matters and in certain situations.

            But you don’t think that it is a reliable souurce of information about God. You think it is only a reliable source of information about what some people thought about God, and that those people might have been right, might have been wrong, might have been blinkered by their cultural context, etc.

            So surely you can see that that is a fundamentallly different view of the Bible from someone who thinks that the Bible is a reliable source of information about God?

            So fundamentally different, in fact, that it would be impossible for people who hold such different views on the nature of the Bible to remain in the same church in ‘disagreement in unity’?

            And that it is this, the nature of the Bible, not the stuff about sex, which is the heart of the theological liberal / theological conservative divide, and that is why it must ultimately result in some kind of separation?

          • “…a reliable source of information about God?”

            S: I was taught as an RE A level student that some of the early Church Fathers taught that we couldn’t say anything reliable about God. That God was beyond our comprehension. So we either remained silent (as of course some of the apophatic tradition did) or we had to use words, being aware of the limits of their meanings. Some of the Fathers went on to say that ‘words were helpful to man rather than descriptive of God’. I agree with that sentiment still.

            As to unity in diversity. Firstly, you aren’t a member of the C of E are you? So why does that bother you?
            Secondly, we have maintained that unity in diversity over the ordination of women, so we can do it again over this issue, I’m sure. I don’t think there is any other choice.

          • I was taught as an RE A level student that some of the early Church Fathers taught that we couldn’t say anything reliable about God. That God was beyond our comprehension. So we either remained silent (as of course some of the apophatic tradition did) or we had to use words, being aware of the limits of their meanings. Some of the Fathers went on to say that ‘words were helpful to man rather than descriptive of God’. I agree with that sentiment still.

            I’m guessing that’s your long-winded way of saying I’m right, and you don’t think the Bible is a reliable source of information about God.

            As to unity in diversity. Firstly, you aren’t a member of the C of E are you? So why does that bother you?

            It doesn’t. I am an interested disinterested observer saying what I see.

            Secondly, we have maintained that unity in diversity over the ordination of women, so we can do it again over this issue, I’m sure. I don’t think there is any other choice.

            That’s different though. The discussion over the ordination of women is about whether the Bible permits or prohibits women preaching. Nobody as far as I know was saying, ‘Yes, the Bible clearly prohibits women preaching, but we should allow it anyway because we know better than the Bible’, which is the liberal position on sexuality.

            Obviously you can have disagreement in unity when both sides accept that the Bible is reliable, but disagree on what it says, because when the two sides share premises they can have a constructive engagement.

            But if one side totally rejects the entire premise on which the other bases its case, then there is no shared basis for discussion; the two cannot talk to but only past each other, and a split is inevitable.

            You accept, I assume, as a basic truth of logic that if two people argue from different premises then they can not only never agree but never constructively disagree either?

          • Ian, you say “That’s a bit like saying ‘I know that the roadsign prohibits all motor vehicles—but it doesn’t actually mention my particularly motor vehicle, so that doesn’t apply.’ ”

            I’d argue the roadsign is not the (culturally influenced) assertion that man-man sex is wrong. I’d argue that the roadsign is that we should try to live holy lives.

            That’s the core message.

            The man-man sex thing, I’d argue, is ephemera. It’s an ice cream van we drive past on our way, and all the children are crowding round it. We drive past it, and it is gone.

            But the road sign is telling us to try to live holy lives.

            When we read the Bible we need to look past the narrator and their cultural assumptions to the heart of what he’s really trying to say.

          • “I’m guessing that’s your long-winded way of saying I’m right, and you don’t think the Bible is a reliable source of information about God.”

            No. I am very breifly explauning whart tradtion has to say about information about god. And I trust tradition more than I trust you.

            “The discussion over the ordination of women is about whether the Bible permits or prohibits women preaching.”

            Nope. It was about ordination. Headship. Leadership. Oh yes, and ordination. Preaching had been resolved many years before. And people argued that the bible could not permit it. So we achieved unity in diversity.

          • “I’m guessing that’s your long-winded way of saying I’m right, and you don’t think the Bible is a reliable source of information about God.”

            No. I am very breifly explauning whart tradtion has to say about information about god. And I trust tradition more than I trust you.

            So you do think the Bible is a reliable source of information about God? Not just about what some people (who might have been wrong) thought about God, but actually reliable about the nature of God (and therefore also reliable about the natue of God’s creations, eg, us)?

            “The discussion over the ordination of women is about whether the Bible permits or prohibits women preaching.”

            Nope. It was about ordination. Headship. Leadership. Oh yes, and ordination. Preaching had been resolved many years before. And people argued that the bible could not permit it. So we achieved unity in diversity.

            Oh, you and your funny ideas about ordination. Anyway. The point is: did anybody argue that the Bible didn’t permit it, but we should permit it anyway, because we know better than the Bible?

          • “…did anybody argue that the Bible didn’t permit it, but we should permit it anyway, because we know better than the Bible?”

            I am certain they did!

            The bible doesn’t permit it, does it? Isn’t Paul clear about it? Isn’t 1 Timothy 2:12 really clear?

          • I am certain they did!

            Forgive me if I do not condier your memory a reliable source. Can you point to any record of someone at the time making that argument?

            The bible doesn’t permit it, does it? Isn’t Paul clear about it? Isn’t 1 Timothy 2:12 really clear?

            It’s not clear, no, especially as elsewhere Paul refers to women who lead groups.

            But, the point is, there’s a massive difference between ‘we both accept the authority of the Bible but we disagree on what it says’ and ‘we agree on what the Bible says, but we disagree on whether the Bible is authoritative’.

            In the former case there is the possibility of unity in disagreement because there is basis for discussion. In the latter case there is no possible basis for discussion so there can be no unity.

          • S: you are quite capable of searching General Synod transcripts. Just as capable as me. I am certain many people in Diocesan Synods up and down the country would have argued that as well.
            Why isn’t 1 Timothy 2:12 really clear? What else can it mean? And if elsewhere Paul refers to women who lead groups then isn’t Paul inconsistent? Therefore unreliable? Please explain?

          • you are quite capable of searching General Synod transcripts. Just as capable as me.

            I’m really not. I have no idea where they are or what format they are written in or what terminology I would be looking for.

            So could you provide a reference? Or I’m afraid I will have to assume that it never happened because your memory is not a reliable source.

          • “So could you provide a reference? Or I’m afraid I will have to assume that it never happened…”

            I’m afraid I don’t have time or need to wade through transcripts of GS proceedings dating back to the early 1990s.

            But of course it happened because as the reference from 1 Timothy I quoted is so clear, it had to happen.

            This discussion has shown two areas where Paul is inconsistent and therefore according to you S, unreliable. One about the way women may be in church. And one about the Parousia. And you can’t explain either. That’s interesting.

          • I’m afraid I don’t have time or need to wade through transcripts of GS proceedings dating back to the early 1990s.

            That’s a pity.

            This discussion has shown two areas where Paul is inconsistent and therefore according to you S, unreliable. One about the way women may be in church. And one about the Parousia. And you can’t explain either. That’s interesting.

            So you do think the Bible is unreliable as a source of information about God, then.

          • Its seems, rather, that you think it’s unreliable S. You can’t explain why Paul says one thing about the ministry of women in one place I Timothy 2:12 quite clearly. You say it isn’t clear but don’t explain why. You then say elsewhere Paul refers to women who lead groups. It would be helpful for you to explain that.

          • Its seems, rather, that you think it’s unreliable S.

            Oh, I absolutely think it’s reliable. Do you?

          • I explained my view quite clearly higher up in this thread S. At 10.32 am. Easy to check.
            Please could you explain why 1 Timothy 2:12 isn’t clear?

          • I explained my view quite clearly higher up in this thread S. At 10.32 am. Easy to check.

            Yes, that’s where you wrote that you think the Bible is a reliable guide to what some people thought about God, but that as those people might have been wrong or blinkered by their cultural context you don’t think it is actually a reliable guide to God Himself.

            You think it is, as it were, second-hand evidence about God at best.

            Right?

          • Wrong!

            Ah, do you do think the Bible is a reliable source of information about God, not evidence of what some people thought about God!

            Glad we got there in the end.

          • No. You can easily see what I think by reading the comments at 10.32 and 11.12 today.

            I see you are not able to answer the question I put to you. That says a great deal.

          • No. You can easily see what I think by reading the comments at 10.32 and 11.12 today.

            You wrote:

            ‘I think the bible reliably tells us what the writer and early church thought on certain matters and in certain situations.’

            So you think the Bible is a reliable source of information about what ‘the writer[s] and early church’ thoguht about God.

            But you don’t think it is a reliable source of information about God Himself because you think the ‘the writer[s]’ and early church’ got some things wrong and were blinkered by their cultural context.

            I can’t see any other way of interpreting what you wrote. What have I got wrong? Do you think the Bible is a reliable source about God or don’t you?

          • Andrew, you ask ‘Why isn’t 1 Timothy 2:12 really clear? What else can it mean? And if elsewhere Paul refers to women who lead groups then isn’t Paul inconsistent?’

            I do find it odd when liberals offer fundamentalist-style proof-texting in their argument to demonstrate anything. I also find it odd when you seem to demonstrate no awareness of the exegetical discussion on texts that you cite as proving something. Have you not read the literature here? You could do worse than starting with my Grove booklet where I address this text (along with the others in Paul) https://grovebooks.co.uk/products/b-59-women-and-authority-the-key-biblical-texts

            In short, there are numerous reasons why this text is not clear:

            1. The grammatical structure of the phrase ‘I am not permitting’ is unusual in the Pauline literature.

            2. It is not immediately clear whether Paul is using ‘gune’ to mean ‘woman’ or ‘wife’.

            3. ‘authentein’ is a hapax legomenon in the NT, and extremely rare in non-NT Greek literature. Where we do find examples, it has a sense of aggressive or violence dominance, even the sense of taking someone’s life. That is odd, and all of this would normally be a massive red flag when it comes to translation and interpretation.

            4. The word commonly translated ‘silent’ doesn’t mean silent in our usual sense of the word (i.e. not saying anything), but something more like ‘absence of quarrelling’.

            5. The appeal to the creation order in the next verse holds some puzzles, partly because what comes last is usually best in the creation order, and partly because Paul inverts the logic of this in 1 Cor 11.

            6. In v 14, ‘gune’ acquires a definite article when it is anarthrous in v 12.

            7. Does ‘saved through children’ have a durative or instrumental sense?

            8. Most interpreters miss the sense of symmetry between these few verses and the previous ones addressed to men.

            9. We are not clear what teaching was happening in Ephesus, but the Artemis cult seemed to include the idea that women were sufficient without men, and that to be ‘spiritual’ meant eschewing the bodily task of bearing children. Without knowing more about this context, it is harder to understand the point of the text here.

            If you were aware of these issues, then your question is odd: it is pretty evident that these (along with 1 Cor 11) are some of the most obscure verses in the NT. If you weren’t aware of these issues, then you should probably steer clear of citing them as an example of ‘clear Pauline teaching’.

            By way of contrast, what Paul says in 1 Cor 6.9 is very clear: SSS is prohibited, since followers of Jesus are empowered by the Spirit to reject the ‘works of the flesh’ and obey the Levitical commands on sexual purity, which are rooted in the creation ordering of male and female.

          • Thanks Ian. I was aware. My question was to S as I wanted to know if he/she was aware. He obviously wasn’t.

          • Thanks Ian. I was aware. My question was to S as I wanted to know if he/she was aware.

            Does that count as arguing in bad faith? It certainly seems disingenuous if not dishonest.

          • It’s neither S. It’s old fashioned rhetoric. But Ian’s answer ably demonstrates two things than you seem to deny.

            1. Paul is not always clear.
            2. Things get lost in translation.

          • It’s neither S. It’s old fashioned rhetoric.

            Saying something you know to be false is ‘old-fashioned rhetoric’?

            Where I come from we called that old-fashioned lying.

            But Ian’s answer ably demonstrates two things than you seem to deny.
            1. Paul is not always clear.

            Wait what? I was the one saying that Paul wasn’t always clear. You were the one claiming that Paul was clear in the passage where I said he wasn’t and it turned out you knew he wasn’t. I have never claimed that Paul is always clear. Paul is quite often very unclear.

            He’s not unclear about same-sex activity, though. Not at all.

            2. Things get lost in translation.

            I’ve never denied that either. Of course they do.

            On the other hand you have denied that you think the Bible is a reliable source of information about God, and denied that you think the Bible isn’t a reliable source of information about God.

            Have you made up your mind yet?

          • “Paul is quite often very unclear.”

            At last we agree! Alleluia!
            in that case he can’t *always* be reliable can he?

          • “Paul is quite often very unclear.”

            At last we agree! Alleluia!
            in that case he can’t *always* be reliable can he?

            Of course he can. ‘Clear’ and ‘reliable’ are not synonyms. Someone can easily be both reliable and unclear.

          • Andrew, I agree with S. What you call ‘rhetoric’ looks rather like arguing in bad faith in order to score cheap points.

            I think there are much better uses of this comment space and both of your time.

          • Ian I apologise. However, it is extremely frustrating that S seems never to answer direct questions and remains anonymous, seemingly with your encouragement. Might I suggest that if that could be gently addressed I suspect the exchanges might be more productive?

            All good wishes

            Andrew

          • it is extremely frustrating that S seems never to answer direct questions

            Leeeettle bit of a pot / kettle colouration dispute there, no?

          • “Someone can easily be both reliable and unclear”

            Well, let’s imagine I am in Devon and ask someone the best way to Birmingham. He says he knows the way and tells me to go along the South coast all the way around to the Fens and then make my way inland where I am bound to see a sign for Birmingham. He suggests I use a tiny road that exists but hardly anyone knows about.
            He doesn’t seem clear at all to me so just to check I get the friend who is travelling with me to ask him as well, in case I have misunderstood.

            He tells my friend that we should go via Wales and then head for the M4 East and hope that gets us near. The friend finds him equally unclear.

            Would you think this person has *reliable* directions to Birmingham?

          • Would you think this person has *reliable* directions to Birmingham?

            The directions are reliable if, if you follow them, they will get you to the destination.

            The directions are clear if they are easy to follow.

            Therefore directions can be both clear and reliable (they’re easy to follow, they will get you there); unclear and reliable (they will get you there, but they’re difficult to follow); clear and unreliable (they are easy to follow but you’ll end up in the wrong place) or unclear and ureliable (they’re difficult to follow but even if you manage it you’ll still end up not where you wanted to go).

            So as you can see the clarity and the reliability are entirely independant axes.

          • Well they are also inconsistent in this case. Lack of clarity will generally tend to makes things unreliable.

            By the way, if there are ever questions you find I have not answered the best and easiest thing to do – and will also avoid questions being missed here, and other people having to wade through them – is to e mail me, as I have suggested many times before. I will always answer.

          • Well they are also inconsistent in this case. Lack of clarity will generally tend to makes things unreliable.

            No, it doesn’t. Did you not read what I wrote? Reliability and clarity are totally different things. It’s entirely possible to be crystal clear and unreliable, and to be totally reliable but vague and unclear.

            By the way, if there are ever questions you find I have not answered the best and easiest thing to do – and will also avoid questions being missed here, and other people having to wade through them – is to e mail me, as I have suggested many times before. I will always answer.

            Why would I be at all interested in answers that aren’t public?

          • I did read what you put. I disagree. I think that lack of clarity will tend to produce unreliability.

            And please read again the reasons I suggested you e mailed me: it was to prevent other people wading through endless comments back and forth and to save me missing a question of yours. Nothing about not being public.

          • I did read what you put. I disagree. I think that lack of clarity will tend to produce unreliability.

            I don’t see how that can be. Can you explain? If the directions, followed correctly, will get you to the right place — but they are unclear — then how are they unreliable? They are by definition reliable if you can rely on them to get you to the right place. That is what ‘reliable’ means.

            They could also be, say, vague, or ambiguous, or otherwise unclear. But that doesn’t chang etheir reliability. Those are different flaws.

            You know the difference between ‘precise’ and ‘accurate’, right? It’s a bit like that.

            And please read again the reasons I suggested you e mailed me: it was to prevent other people wading through endless comments back and forth and to save me missing a question of yours. Nothing about not being public.

            Personal correspondence will not be entered into.

          • S: if the directions are not clear then it is quite possible that some people will not be able to follow them. Some may arrive in Birmingham, some may not because the directions are not clear. Therefore they are not reliable.

            They may cause some people to lose their way because it isn’t at all clear which turning you should take. The giver of the directions is confused or does not have up to date information about new roads so is an unreliable guide.

          • S: if the directions are not clear then it is quite possible that some people will not be able to follow them.

            True but irrelevant to the reliability of the directions.

            Some may arrive in Birmingham, some may not because the directions are not clear. Therefore they are not reliable.

            They are reliable. The directions are reliable if, when followed correctly, they will get you to the wrong place.

            Of course if you follow reliable directions incorrectly you will get to the wrong place! That doesn’t make the directions unreliable. It just means you didn’t follow them correctly.

            They may cause some people to lose their way because it isn’t at all clear which turning you should take. The giver of the directions is confused or does not have up to date information about new roads so is an unreliable guide.

            If the giver of directions is confused, then the directions are unreliable. But they might still be perfectly clear. A confused direction-giver might say: ‘take the left turn’ because they are confused and have got mixed-up and it’s actually the right turn. Those directions are perfectly clear, as clear as they could possibly be, but they are unreliable because the direction-giver is confused.

            The clarity of the directions has nothing to do with how confused the direction-giver is. A reliable, non-confused direction-giver might still be perfectly clear. They might say something like: ‘take the left turn after the big green building’. And then when you get there there are lots of green buildings of various sizes and it’s not at all clear which left turn they meant.

            But the directions are still completely reliable because if you follow them correctly —if you identify the correct building — then you will get to the right place.

            So you see — yet again — clarity and reliability are totally independant things.

          • Sorry; editing error. ‘ A reliable, non-confused direction-giver might still be perfectly clear’ should read ‘ A reliable, non-confused direction-giver might still be completely unclear’.

          • S: if the directions given are not *clear* whether you need to take a left or right, for example, then you might end up in Manchester instead of Birmingham. Therefore unclear directions will not reliably get you to Birmingham. They can’t be relied upon. They are therefore unreliable.

          • if the directions given are not *clear* whether you need to take a left or right, for example, then you might end up in Manchester instead of Birmingham.

            But whether you end up in the wrong place is not a good indicator of whether the directions were reliable. Because, as mentioned, even with the most reliable, most clear directions, you could still en dup in the wrong place if you don’t follow them correctly.

            Therefore unclear directions will not reliably get you to Birmingham. They can’t be relied upon. They are therefore unreliable.

            They can be relied upon if followed correctly.

            Obviously no directions, clear or unclear, reliable or unreliable, will get you to the right place if you follow them incorrectly.

            A reliable set of directions is one that will get you to the right place if you follow them correctly. If you don’t follow them correctly then you will end up in the wrong place, of course you will, but that is no reflection on the reliability of the directions, it’s a reflection on your own inability to follow them correctly!

          • We have to disagree S. If directions are not clear whether you should go left or right then they can’t be relied upon to get you where you are going, and therefore not reliable.

          • I admire the stamina of the two of you…but I am not sure this exchange is getting very far. I think you are pushing the metaphor too far—besides, the issue is not whether the *directions* are clear or not, but whether I understand them clearly. That is quite a different point.

            If the instructions are written in French, and if my French is not very good, then if I make a mistake and take a wrong turn, the problem lies with the standard of my French, and not necessarily with the instructions, which might be perfectly clear to someone who is fluent.

            That is what we are faced with in relation to reading Paul.

            But of course, the question is, are Paul’s directions unclear? Andrew, you appear to have avoided addressing the question I asked at the top of this thread:

            [You comment about faithful, loving relationships] is a bit like saying ‘I know that the roadsign prohibits all motor vehicles—but it doesn’t actually mention my particularly motor vehicle, so that doesn’t apply.’

            Why do you think that Paul’s rejection of SSS in any form at all might be set aside when SSS takes place in the context of a more-or-less monogamous committed relationship?

          • …which is fine, except that ‘men who prey on men’ as a translation of arsenokoites flies in the face of all the evidence I have listed above.

            . the phrase is hapax
            . it is identical apart from one letter with Lev 20.13 LXX
            . it has a very general form ‘lying with men’
            . there is no reference to pederasty
            . it avoids all the usual terms for SSS of different forms
            . there are no economic indicators anywhere in the text
            . it links with Lev 20.13 connection with Gen 1.27, and so connects with Paul’s argument in Rom 1
            . it fits perfectly with Diaspora Judaism’s rejection of all forms of SSS.

            If you were going to have a long exchange with someone on this page, I don’t know why you’ve gone off on a tangent with S. The material issue is the meaning of 1 Cor 6.9.

          • Ian: I’m afraid I’m more persuaded by Marcus Green on this. The context of the sixth chapter of 1Cor is important and I’m not persuaded that Paul’s use of those particular words is conclusive in the way you suggest.
            As to a long exchange with S? When he gets back from Manchester, having turned right instead of left, maybe he can explain why he refuses to use e mail.

          • (Readers might like to know that Marcus Green is on the biblical working group of the living in love and faith project and therefore his opinion on this text is important. )

          • Yes Marcus is part of the group, along with others of different views.

            What will be happening there is scrutinising different interpretations of the text *for evidence*. I have offered quite a lot here; the group definitely won’t be doing what you and he appear to be, which is choosing the reading you prefer.

            If you do have any responses to the wide range of *evidence* I have offered here at any point, then I’d be glad to read it.

          • Ian: it seems very odd that you suggest that Marcus Green is not producing *evidence* but rather just a preferred reading. Perhaps I have misread you. He produces evidence on that blog in just the same way that you have produced evidence on yours here. That two biblical scholars disagree about a particular reading is nothing new of course. As you say, the LLF group will be sifting a whole variety of interpretations.

          • Is Marcus Green a biblical scholar? Can you point me to some of his academic publications and journal articles on this?

            Martin Davie has considered the argument Green sets out on Via Media – see https://mbarrattdavie.wordpress.com/2019/06/22/on-misunderstanding-paul-a-response-to-marcus-greene/.

            Davie quotes at length Eugene Rice’s article on Paul for the online GLBTQ encyclopedia, which is worth reproducing here:

            ‘At 1 Cor. 6:9-10, Paul lists a heterogeneous group of sinners whom he bars from the kingdom of God. The sexual offenders consist of fornicators, adulterers, and two kinds of men: malakoi and arsenokoitai–the nouns are plural and masculine.

            The meanings of these Greek nouns have been the subject of lively debate, largely provoked by gay authors anxious to show that Paul and the early church had not intended to condemn homosexuality per se as harshly as has been traditionally supposed, but only a degraded type of pederasty associated with prostitution and child abuse.

            Recent scholarship has shown conclusively that the traditional meanings assigned to these words stand. So do the traditional translations: the Latin translation “commonly used in the church,” and therefore known as the Vulgate, and the English King James Version (KJV).

            Malakoi

            Malakoi (Latin Vulgate: molles) should have caused no problem. There is ample evidence that in sexual contexts, in both classical and post-classical times, malakos designated the receptive partner in a male same-sex act, a meaning decisively reconfirmed in late antiquity by the physician Caelius Aurelianus when he tells us that the Greeks call malakoi males whom the Latins call molles or subacti, males, that is, who play the receptive role in anal intercourse.

            Paul’s malakoi, we can say with certainty, are males–boys, youths, or adults–who have consented, either for money or for pleasure, for some perceived advantage or as an act of affectionate generosity, to be penetrated by men.

            Arsenokoitai

            The word is a verbal noun, and its earliest attestation is in this verse of Paul’s. It is a compound of arsen = “male” and koités = “a man who lies with (or beds).” And so we have, describing Oedipus, metrokoités, “a man who lies with his mother,” doulokoités, “a man who lies with maidservants or female slaves,” polykoités, “a man who lies with many,” and onokoités, “a man who lies with donkeys,” said of Christians in a graffito from Carthage of about 195.

            Arsenokoitai are therefore “men who lie with males,” and the Vulgate’s masculorum concubitores (where masculorum is an objective genitive), renders the Greek exactly to mean “men who lie with males,” “men who sleep with males,” “men who have sex with males.”

            The source of arsenokoitai is in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible known as the Septuagint (finished around 130 B. C. E. for the use of Greek-speaking Jews). The Septuagint of Leviticus 18:22 reads: Kai meta arsenos ou koiméthés koitén gynaikeian, and of Lev. 20:13, Kai os an koiméthé meta arsenos koitén gynaikos . . . ; Englished we have, “With a male you shall not lie the bed/intercourse (koité) of a woman,” and “Whoever lies with a male the koité of a woman, [both have done an abominable thing, they shall be put to death.]”

            The dependence of Paul’s arsenokoitai on the Levitical arsenos koitén demonstrates unequivocally its source and confirms his intended meaning. The word was almost certainly coined by Greek-speaking Jews. Understood in the context of what we know about role playing in most ancient same-sex relationships, malakoi are the receptive parties and arsenokoitai the inserters in male-male anal intercourse.’

          • Andrew, no Marcus Greene is not producing ‘evidence’, and his and my articles bear little relation to each other.

            For example, he comments ‘I’m not a fan of discussions on sexuality that take their arguments from the wider play of classical literature.’ That is not a statement of evidence; it is a statement of Marcus’ decision not to consider evidence. And the evidence he decides not to consider is evidence that would refute his position, as Will has shown in the quotation above.

            He is also doing what Jonathan T does: disguise from his (non-specialist) readers where he has done a cover-up, so that they are not able to ask the right questions.

          • I’m not sure if Marcus Green would count as a biblical scholar actually. Or if Martin Davie would either? (Martin Davie, in the response you cite, can’t even get Marcus Green’s name correct!).
            Both Marcus and Martin are evangelicals.
            Hmm…
            What I do know is that Marcus Green is on the Biblical Studies working group of the Living in Love and Faith project and has been selected for his study in this area .

          • It wasn’t the opinion of Davie I was drawing your attention to, it was that of Rice summarising the scholarly consensus and its basis, which Green (who is not a scholar in a relevant field) is in conflict with. Favouring Green’s view over the well-founded scholarly consensus is just not a rationally justifiable position to take.

          • Andrew, no, Marcus was invited as a vocal gay man. The group has a mixture of scholars and others; he has in no sense been appointed as an ‘expert’.

            And his way of reading the Bible doesn’t really bear any relation to anything within the historic evangelical tradition, which makes a point of reading things in context, regardless of what label he chooses for himself.

          • Will

            I hope this nests in the right place, this thread is very long!

            It may surprise you to learn that I agree with you – at least about arsenokoites.
            However, the one thing that no conservative scholar seems able to appreciate or understand is that a prohibition of one male same-sex act does not constitute a theology of homosexuality. It doesn’t engage with male homosexuality as we understand it. And it doesn’t mention female homosexuality. Nor, probably, does Romans – and here I disagree with liberal scholars, like Stephen Moore.

            This is my constant refrain. Not that we ignore or jettison the texts. But that we examine them in context.

            I believe scripture has as much to say about homosexuality as it does about heterosexuality, I.e. not much.

          • Penny

            ‘It may surprise you to learn that I agree with you – at least about arsenokoites.’

            It is good to know that you are prepared to follow the evidence—unlike Andrew Godsall here, Marcus Green on the ViaMedia blog, and David Runcorn in his comments here and on Facebook (did you mention this to him when you met for coffee?)

            Scripture does not say anything about ‘homosexuality’ or ‘heterosexuality’ because its anthropology does not admit of defining human identity by patterns of desires, but by bodily form. This is not out of ‘ignorance of modern science’, since Lisa Diamond has demonstrated the instability of patterns of desire, so she (as a lesbian academic campaigning for gay rights) doesn’t believe in these ‘identity’ approaches either. Rather, it springs from the creation principle that God made two sexes only—male and female.

            No, I am not on AC as a vocal heterosexual, since (unlike the LLF process) there is no explicit aim to be representative. AC does, however, have three gay partnered members out of the main membership of 20, and I suspect they are not the only gay members. So around 20% of AC are gay, which is about 10x the proportion of the population as a whole. It is curious then, when we talk of LGBT+ as marginalised in the church.

          • Ian

            Thank you for replying. I hope this follows your reply – finding the origins if these threads is becoming increasingly difficult.
            I must confess that I had to go to yoga and take practice some deep breathing yesterday evening after reading your comments about Marcus Green and others.
            Firstly, I thought you knew that, broadly, I agreed with this translation of arsenokoites. As I have said before, I simply don’t think it has any relevance to sexuality. I probably do disagree with Andrew, John Pike and David Runcorn (though actually David’s ‘this’ is not ‘that’ is close to my own view). They don’t seem to have a problem with that. I also disagree with Wink, Johnson, Dale Martin et al, and I don’t have any problem with that.
            I’m glad you recognise that LLF is supposed to be representative and that this is why Green is there as a vocal gay man. There are supposed to be vocal trans and VSC people there too, but that hasn’t been without problems. I pleased that AC has gay members, partnered and otherwise and pleased too that the proportion is above the national average: partly because, with LGBTi+ people still marginalised, having a higher representation is a bonus; and because the proporton of gay people in the church seems to be higher, at least among the clergy.
            I am surprised to find you misrepresenting Diamond’s research. Her sample was small. mostly lesbian, and her conclusion that fluidity was not willed. Whatever its ontology (and, frankly, I don;t think it matters) being gay is not ‘fallen’. Nor do i believe that God created only two sexes, or that this is what Genesis teaches. This is quite a modern notion and I would once more recommend reading Ken Stone.
            Lastly ( and I suppose I should address this to Will too), I find your disparaging of Green, Jonathan Tallon and others rather distasteful. I don’t know Green’s background, but Tallon, like you, is a biblical scholar. They are not doing a ‘cover up’; that is a disgraceful accusation. You seem to assume that your scholarship and, say Davie’s, is wholly disinterested, objective and trustworthy; but that others are somehow partisan and biased. It may not be obvious to the ‘ordinary believer’, but every scholar’s hermeneutical slip shows beneath their exegetical and theological skirts. Davie is sometimes very partisan (for example, in his commentary on the Shared Conversations resources, including your own essay). And Gagnon, despite some very good exegesis, must surely trip over his hermeneutical slip.
            I do not, however, accuse either Gagnon or Davie of bad faith, I merely put on my ‘oh I know where they are coming from’ specs when I read them, as I do with anyone (and advise students to do the same).

      • “And I don’t think it’s possible to have some people in a church who think the Bible is reliable and some who don’t.”

        But define ‘reliable’.

        Some people believe the whole Bible is literally true.

        Some people believe the Genesis openings are myth, while still drawing wisdom from the metaphors/stories involved.

        Some people believe the New Testament is literally to be applied in all it teaches, but that the Old Testament rules and regulations can be kind of glossed over as the old and superceded way.

        Some people believe that the Bible is very very reliable in much of what it says, but also includes cultural aspects that need to be understood as cultural (the way women are treated and viewed for example) in some parts of the Bible.

        Some people believe that to extract reliability from the Bible you need to read critically and intelligently, not merely taking everything at surface level, to draw out the priority meanings that drive the central command to love.

        Some people view Bible reliability one way, some another.

        But do we open our hearts to God’s grace and God’s love.

        The Bible is a chipped, dented, fallible conduit… a container… like a water pipe in some ways… through which the actual Holy Spirit and the love of God can flow. And what ultimately matters is not how precisely and dogmatically we try to analyse the container itself (which is a book) but whether through the words and descriptions of encounters in the past, we are spurred to open our own hearts to encounter and love.

        Does someone view biblical reliability in a different way to me. So be it. I can still open my heart to God, and I can leave other people’s consciences and relationships with God to them.

        Essentially, belonging to Jesus, belonging to the Church of England, living life as a Christian, is not about judging how my neighbour is understanding the Bible… it is about opening my heart to God. We should cut one another more slack. We should love more, and judge less.

        If you look at church history, and the thousands of denominations that have sprung up across the globe, schism and splintering has occurred because one group felt it was holier and more ‘right’ than the other group. And that way leads to division and separation, until only ‘him’ and ‘me’ are right, and I’m not sure about ‘him’.

        The truth is: we are all one in Jesus Christ in eternity. We are called to open far more to love. We are not required to be totally right about everything – we are human and fallible. We are invited, rather, to love.

        Love includes keeping on loving those who hold different views to my own.

        Your term ‘reliability’ almost suggests a need for certainty. Our faith is tremulous and uncertain, but what’s a constant is LOVE: the love, the fidelity, the compassionate presence of God.

        The Bible is not God, it is a conduit, a vessel of recorded encounters, written by people who try to make sense of their experiences. It contains so many insights which we find reliable, and which inspire us to open our own lives to God.

        But ‘reliability’ is a selective term. Who can know the mind of God on all issues? If ‘reliability’ is used as a criterion for church membership (and heavenly membership?), when applied to the Bible’s narratives, who can know it all?

        We are called, not to be all precise, packaged, dogmatic… but in our fallibility and imperfection to open our hearts to the perfect God.

        God already awaits within us. What the Bible incites us to do, is to open the doors of our hearts to the God within us, so the love may flow, and we may find our deepest selves in finding God.

        If our understanding of the Bible has to be uniform and perfect, then we’re probably doing what Jesus criticised religious people for doing, and we miss the point. It is ALL about the human heart and its relationship with God. Each person is unique. Each person’s spiritual journey is unique. But God invites us all, and calls us all, to journey together, to share in the love, in the service, in the compassionate flow of love.

        And by the way, you may not have experienced spiritual orgasm, but to deride such things as nonsense is – I feel – a little ungenerous and unthinking. It belittles someone else’s walk with God. People relate to God, and experience God, in many different ways. Mystics through all the ages have sometimes used the allegories of love and ecstasy in relation to their encounters with God. Others experience a different flood and flow, in the speaking in tongues, or the experience of shared community, or the opening of love at a hospital bedside.

        Let us try to live with difference and variety. But let us try to open our hearts to God’s grace and those ‘streams of living water’ which the Bible tells us about: the flow of the Holy Spirit, the flood and flow of love, the coming of God in our lives.

        best wishes, Susannah

        Reply
        • Nope, sorry, got about a third of the way down that and my eyes glazed over. Would it be possible for you to be a little more concise when you make your points (yes, I am aware of the irony of me asking this)?

          Reply
          • I am admittedly a bit rhapsodic in my style.

            In short, I believe we have more in common than we have in differences. I think we need to love each other more, rather than trying to insist on uniformity. I would hate people to leave the Church of England. Schism is such a sad thing. We can get along together, and all share a love of God and Jesus, even if we understand things with some differences: one local church approach things one way, another do it another way, but all of us try to love.

          • In short, I believe we have more in common than we have in differences

            It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. Surely you can see that we might agree on 99% of things, but if the 1% on which we disagree is of fundamental importance such that it means we see the world in completely incompatible ways, then we cannot co-exist in the same oragnisation / institution / whatever you want to call it?

            Similarly we might disagree on 99% of things but if the 1% on which we agree is the 1% which fundamentally defines our world-views then we can stay together, whatever our other differences.

            The nature of the Bible, and whether it or our own whimsy is the final source of authority about the nature of God, is, I think, of obvious fundamental importance for Christians.

          • ‘In short, I believe we have more in common than we have in differences.’
            Susannah, I assume (correct me if I am wrong) that you are making a general statement and not just talking about our disagreement about sexuality. If so, I say again that I believe that our fundamental difference is what the message of the gospel is. To me and to many, and according to the doctrine of the Church of England, that message is made up of a terrible warning, that we all face from birth onwards the wrath and condemnation of God, and a wonderful gracious, sincere and genuine invitation and exhortation to all of us to repent of our sins and submit to Christ in faith, love and obedience, and so be delivered from that wrath and condemnation by the One who bore in our place that condemnation and retribution we all deserve because of original sin and our personal sins, and rose from the dead to bring those who believe into a new, personal and living relationship with God.
            The difference between those who believe and proclaim both parts of that gospel message and those who don’t outweighs what we have in common.
            Do you believe and proclaim both parts of that gospel message? Do you believe that the majority of Church of England ministers believe and proclaim both parts of that gospel message?
            Phil Almond

          • Phil,

            I do believe in profound judgment, through which God confronts us with our selfishness and wrongdoing.

            And I do believe in profound reconciliation, and “a new, personal and living relationship with God”, as you say.

            I believe both those things. I have no idea whether most “Church of England ministers believe and proclaim both parts of that gospel message.”

            But let me turn it on its head: what do you think Christians who read the Bible with diverse methods and understandings have most in common?

            Let’s keep things positive rather than negative. I’ll give you a clue what I think: it comes from God and it begins with L.

            And by faith, the Holy Spirit helps us open up to it. Indeed, in God we live and move and have our being. What we have in common is God, and that is far greater than our differences of doctrine if we have them.

            We are One in Christ, for ever and ever. Though fallible now, and diverse, and maybe lacking some uniformity, in the end God will show us the greater part of the whole.

            We don’t all have to exactly agree. But we do have to love. We can get on with that, as a Church, even with our different ways and emphases.

          • I’ll give you a clue what I think: it comes from God and it begins with L.

            But the word ‘love’ can mean lots of different, sometimes mutually contradictory things. I am pretty sure that when you use the word and when I use the word we have utterly different meanings in mind. Things you think are examples of love, I do not, and vice versa.

            ‘Love’ — the word — does not unite us. Instead it brings our fundamental differences into stark relief.

            It is because of what I gather you mean when you say ‘love’ that I am certain we do not believe in the same God.

          • Let me ask another question:

            Why would I walk away from my church when it does so much good? And I’d extend that question to the Church of England as a whole: why would I walk away from it?

            In community after community, up and down the land, Christian faith inspires local church communities to love their neighbour: to help the elderly, visit the sick, include the outcast, comfort the bereaved, build community through activities and facilities, encourage the young.

            And as well as that, the administration of the eucharist, and lives of prayer, and lives lived alongside the community outside the church.

            Why would I walk out from that? I’m not leaving.

            If others choose to walk, I think that’s really sad. That schism seems a shame to me, because I think the real challenge is to live in community, and love one another, not walk away from each other.

            I am so proud of my church, and the sacrificial service it offers to our community. So moved by the grace I see in people. I give thanks to God. Why on earth would I want to walk out on so much grace and love and kindness?

          • Why would I walk away from my church when it does so much good?

            If you just want to do good, why not join a local community group? There are thousands of secular groups dedicated to doing good.

            What makes a church different is that a church has the truth. If a church doesn’t have the truth, what’s the point in it?

          • What is the point of belonging to my church?

            The church is loving, the church is caring, the church has Jesus, the church has God, the church prays, the church shares the eucharist, the church tries to follow truth as best as it can, and so it’s not just like a social work department, though a lot of what the church should be doing is indeed social work.

            I have every reason to want to stay in my church.

            Do you think we aren’t Christians? Do you think we have no faith?

            As a church community we are trying to walk with God, and love God, and love our neighbours.

            That is not a bad thing.

            I will not leave the Church of England. I believe it is a conduit for the Love of God.

          • “What makes a church different is that a church has the truth.”
            I don’t think the church has the monopoly on truth. What makes the church different is that it has Jeaus Christ. And Christ can lead us into truth. So once again I’m with Susannah.

          • Do you think we aren’t Christians?

            Either you aren’t or I’m not. I’m not going to be so presumptuous as to claim that I’m definitely right, but if you’re right about what it means to be a Christian, then I am most definitely not one because we clearly believe in totally different things.

  17. I don’t have a facsimile of Luther’s Bible so I don’t know what he wrote (yes, I could look it up but lazy etc) but I do have the 2017 Revision of the same. Leviticus 18.22 now clearly says:
    ‘Du sollst nicht bei einem Mann liegen wie beir einer Frau; est ist eine Graeuel’ but 1 Cor 9.9 and 1 Tim 1.10 still say ‘Knabenschaender’ ( = ‘molesters of boys”), so one verse has been corrected but not two. But my 1967 ‘Das Neue Testament in heutigem Deutsch’ reads: ‘mit Partnern aus dem eigenen Geschlecht verkehren’ in 1 Cor 6.9, which is clear – well if you know German… 🙂

    Reply
      • It’s the sister edition of the Good News Bible and was produced ecumenically by Protestants and Catholics. I haven’t traced down any more recent translations that haven’t been shaped by the Lutherbibel (which casts a great shadow over all German Bible translation, maybe even more than the KJV). In 1967 the LGBT movement didn’t really exist. Bible translations are no doubt affected by cultural trends.

        Reply
  18. If I have understood correctly what Susannah views are (and others who agree) are saying with regard to sexual ethics and divine revelation in general, then we have far more in difference than we have in common.

    Reply
    • Chris,

      We have God in common. That’s a pretty substantial thing (person) we have in common.

      Are you in the Church of England? I am. And I deeply value it. I agree within this Church we may have diverse views, but I’m staying in the Church of England (unless I return to Scotland, in which case I’d probably end up in the Episcopal Church).

      I think we have God in common, and desire to love God, and prayer, and pastoral care for people in our communities, the poor, the sick, the elderly, the marginal… we have so much in common, and there is work to be done.

      The trajectory of the Church of England is in the direction of a recognition that we cannot resolve the sexuality thing, so we will probably go down the Scottish route in the end. I hope we do.

      That would mean we respect each other’s differing views, but walk together as a Church in the love of God and the service of our neighbours.

      If unity in diversity does emerge, will you stay in the Church of England. I hope so. I will. And I will want people who believe gay sex is not okay to be protected, and people who affirm gay sex to be affirmed.

      And then we get on, and love, and pray, and share eucharist.

      Reply
      • We have God in common

        But we [to butt in] really don’t, because what you mean by the word ‘God’ is so radically different from what I mean by that word that there is really no point of commonality at all.

        I probably have more in common with a staunch atheist, vis-à-vis God, than with someone who thinks God gives people spiritual orgasms.

        Reply
        • And as those early church fathers said, words are helpful to us rather than descriptive of God. So what you mean by the word God is no more reliable than what Susannah means. And probably both of you have aspects and echoes of the truth. Hence Susannah is absolutely right to say that we have to stick together, however hard that might be. Our quest is the same.

          Reply
          • Hence Susannah is absolutely right to say that we have to stick together, however hard that might be. Our quest is the same.

            How can we stick together when we are going in opposite directions? Our quest may be the same but she thinks our goal lies north and I think it lies south, so how can we possibly journey together?

          • Andrew

            ‘….we have to stick together…’ Do we? ‘our quest is not the same’ is it?

            When one person claims their God celebrates SSS and another claims God condemns it, I suggest we may have not merely a different hermeneutic or a different ethic, but a different God?

          • there is only one God

            There’s only one real God.

            But there are many fictional gods and many, many idols that people mistakenly think are God.

          • I still don’t understand what problems you have with orgasms

            A God who gives spiritual orgasms? I don’t believe in a God who is God of hedonists. It’s pagan ‘gods’ who reward their followers with orgiastic ecstasies.

          • Okay – if, to try to engage you, I switched the word ‘orgasm’ to ecstacy… “spiritual ecstacy”… would you still be opposed to Christians experiencing those.

            You don’t give me the impression of an ill-educated man or woman. So you will surely be aware that ecstatic experience has been reported through much of Christian history.

            God is relational. Why would God not sometimes express love and relationship through an ecstatic state?

            My use of the term ‘spiritual orgasm’ was an attempt to explain, to describe, what ecstatic state can feel like. Including elements of love and desire.

            If you’re uncomfortable with God involving love and desire and climaxing delight in a Christian’s relationship, then maybe, for you, a more cerebral relationship with God is the way you and God will find you go?

            But does that mean that other people’s precious and intimate relationships with God have to conform with what you personally experience?

            Ecstatic experience is a recognised and respected part of what Christians have encountered with God over the centuries.

            I am not ‘hedonistic’ in my relationship with God. Indeed, there can definitely be a danger, with spiritual experiences, that they become a distraction, and lead an individual to desire and seek a repeat of the experience, when what we should be desiring and seeking is God.

            But frankly, except in ‘fake’ experiences where the ‘hysteria’ is simulated and worked up by the individual, often for needy reasons, the Christian state of ecstasy is never achieved by the individual: it happens, if at all, at God’s own initiative. It is unsought.

            At the heart of faith I think we find quiet spirit, trust, patient relationship, givenness, love. How that love is expressed, I think is dependent on God, and how God interacts with each unique human being.

            So if I set aside the term ‘spiritual orgasm’ in my discourse with you, and replace it with terms like ‘ecstasy’ and ‘climax of delight’… would that be admissible to you? You must surely see that it’s a bit inappropriate to ‘police’ how other Christians encounter God. You must surely understand that ecstatic experience can be bona fide, positive, and authentic in some Christians’ lives. Deep tender love can involve desire and delight. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.

          • So if I set aside the term ‘spiritual orgasm’ in my discourse with you, and replace it with terms like ‘ecstasy’ and ‘climax of delight’… would that be admissible to you?

            Why would changing the words, but referring to the same things, make any difference? It’s the concept I have a problem with — the words were just the icing on the cake. You can’t make an unacceptable idea acceptable just by dressing it up in different words. That’s what politicians try to do.

            You must surely see that it’s a bit inappropriate to ‘police’ how other Christians encounter God.

            Who’s policing? I’m just saying that whatever you’re encountering, it’s not God as I understand Him. Maybe you’re right and I’m the one whose understanding is wrong. Maybe you’re the real Christian and I’m not.

            I can’t ‘police’ what you do or stop you believing what you believe. But I can point out that what you believe in is absolutely not what I believe in. That’s not policing what you believe, it’s just being clear about what I believe.

          • Also, in 40 years of Christian faith and personal relationship with God, I can count the number of ecstatic experiences I have had on the fingers of one hand. So that averages about 1 every 10 years.

            For the rest of my daily life, I suppose my energy and attempt to live out faith, through nursing, involves clearing up shit and blood, and is practical and not romantic, except that it’s also, I guess, love.

            It does grate to be charged with ‘hedonism’. And may I note, it’s you who brought this term ‘orgasm’ back up – without any relevance to what we were discussing in this thread, I suppose in order to discredit my arguments about the Bible.

            It’s kind of ad hominem in its methodology.

            You may be more (or less) hedonistic than me. I have no idea. But we were talking about ways of reading the bible. Then suddenly, bam, you raise a comment I made months ago.

            I suppose you’re trying to suggest that my subjective and intimate way of relating to God makes me an unreliable witness or something! I have no idea really. Anyway, God be with you.

          • “You can’t make an unacceptable idea acceptable.”

            Why is ecstatic experience unacceptable? I honestly don’t understand.

            “Maybe you’re the real Christian and I’m not.”

            I think we’re both Christians.

            In the end, God knows the answer to that.

          • S
            I think we have a problem here. Firstly, why is orgasm hedonistic?
            Secondly, as you say below, you have a problem with the ecstatic in religion.
            We have had this conversation before when I cited saints and mystics from the Church Fathers and well beyond the Reformation, who experienced ecstatic visions of Christ (and St Paul, of course).
            This seems to me to be expected in a religion which is wholly incarnation all. We worship in body, mind and spirit. Now, I dislike worship bands and worship songs. I find them repetitive and emotionally manipulative. But that’s just me. If they move the people who love them, to worship God, who am I to object and say that they are not Christians.
            OK ecstasy isn’t for you, either of the Bach or the Graham Kendrick kind. But don’t dismiss centuries of saintly witness

          • I mean St Paul experienced ecstatic visions. Not that people experience ecstatic visions of St Paul. Though they might, of course!

          • I mean St Paul experienced ecstatic visions

            Not of the ‘spiritual orgasm’ kind, I don’t think. They were ‘ecstatic’ in the etymological sense, not in the modern usage of the word.

          • S

            I’m not policing. I wrote that you find your religious experience where you find it. I simply observed that dismissing centuries of saints is as foolish as me dismissing worship bands and Jonathan Edward’s.
            I also think you somehow think of orgasm as something fallen. It is not the word imwould choose to describe Paul’s mystical assent, though the involuntary nature of his experience makes the word not inappropriate.
            I think it is appropriate for the ecstatic experiences of Bernard and Teresa; they felt themselves entirely possessed by God. These were not ‘intellectual’ experiences.
            And when we listen to the St Matthew Passion or a particularly moving worship song, our bowels movd (as the Biblical writers would have out it).

          • I’m not policing. I wrote that you find your religious experience where you find it. I simply observed that dismissing centuries of saints is as foolish as me dismissing worship bands and Jonathan Edward’s.

            It’s not if those ‘saints’ were in fact mostly nutters, as I suspect they were.

            I think it is appropriate for the ecstatic experiences of Bernard and Teresa;

            Yes, nutters.

            And when we listen to the St Matthew Passion or a particularly moving worship song, our bowels movd (as the Biblical writers would have out it).

            I didn’t get the impression that what was meant by ‘spiritual orgasm’ was at all the same thing as being moved by art.

          • S,

            I think you found my use of the term ‘spiritual orgasm’ (months ago) intemperate. I have suggested alternative terms. Maybe ecstatic experience is the best I can suggest.

            But I feel you are yourself using intemperate language when you resort to describing Teresa de Avila as a “nutter”.

            At that point I fear you lose your audience, because that really does sound like the sweeping hysterical rhetoric of some stridently anti-Catholic, extreme fundamentalist sect.

            Those of us in the Church of England would take a far more temperate view of Teresa de Avila. I commend Rowan Williams’ excellent book on her:
            https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/teresa-of-avila-9780826473417/

            It’s superb.

            I belong to the fellowship of an Anglican convent, and we practise many of the disciplines of Carmelite spirituality which Teresa herself practised.

            This practice and discipline is widely respected and valued in both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.

            It may not be your own style and approach, but I think as Christians we should respect that spirituality may be faithfully exercised in traditions and ways that are either not our own, or which we do not understand.

            Do you understand the practice of contemplation, S? And the strong traditions of this practice going back hundreds of years? I commend in particular ‘The Third Spiritual Alphabet’ by Francisco de Osuna – a really wonderful volume. Or here in England, the tradition of contemplative spirituality which brought us works like ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’.

            For myself, much as people here tend to see me as a liberal progressive (which perhaps I am on social issues), the heart of my spirituality is more conservative – and my spiritual heartland is really the Counter-Reformation in 16th Century Spain and the spirituality of the Discalced Carmelites.

            You are free to dismiss Teresa de Avila as a ‘nutter’. But I am free to suggest you educate yourself.

            Your view is a frankly marginal one, if we locate the discussion within the context of the Church of England and its future.

            That does not mean you yourself are marginal. None of us are marginal to God. But to call Teresa de Avila a “nutter” is controversial and, I suggest, extreme.

          • I think you found my use of the term ‘spiritual orgasm’ (months ago) intemperate. I have suggested alternative terms. Maybe ecstatic experience is the best I can suggest.

            The issue isn’t the language.

            But I feel you are yourself using intemperate language when you resort to describing Teresa de Avila as a “nutter”.

            I would say ‘blunt’ rather than ‘intemperate’.

            At that point I fear you lose your audience, because that really does sound like the sweeping hysterical rhetoric of some stridently anti-Catholic, extreme fundamentalist sect.

            Only if you think of standard Protestantism in the vein of Zwingli, Calvin, etc as a ‘stridently anti-Catholic, extreme fundamentalist sect’, but I accept that some in the Church of England (which was never properly reformed) do think that.

            That does not mean you yourself are marginal. None of us are marginal to God. But to call Teresa de Avila a “nutter” is controversial and, I suggest, extreme.

            If you think that’s extreme, wait until you hear about Oliver Cromwell…

          • I would say ‘blunt’ rather than ‘intemperate’.

            And, actually, according to the Wiki-paedia she may have had a kind of epilepsy, in which case too blunt. So if it’s true that her nutty ideas were actually the result of a bona fide neuropathological illness (which of course at this distance we can’t know for sure either way) then I absolutely in that case would not call her a nutter, any more than I would anyone else who suffers from epilepsy.

          • Teresa’s ideas, experiences, and practices are in line with many people over many centuries, including Rowan Williams, and Christians whose prayer life involves contemplative practice all round the world, most of whom do not suffer from epilepsy.

            It’s a profound and quite widely-practised expression of Christian life, not a physiological illness.

            It’s not the only form of Christian prayer life, but it’s one.

            It hinges on silence, devotion, receptivity, trust and love. It’s a way some Christians find helpful to open up and grow aware of the God who dwells within (which of course, is scripturally comprehensible).

            It just works for some people. It could be a temperament thing. And indeed a vocation thing.

            We are all created as unique individuals, and I think God calls each one of us, knowing who we are, and who we may become.

            God bless you in your call and life as well, S.

          • S

            Susannah is, as you have no doubt observed, kinder than I.
            St Paul may also have had epilepsy. That does not negate their mystical visions.
            Frankly, if you think Bernard and Teresa were ‘nutters’, there is little point in engaging with you. Traditional and orthodox you are certainly not.

          • Susannah is, as you have no doubt observed, kinder than I.
            St Paul may also have had epilepsy. That does not negate their mystical visions.

            I only mentioned the point about epilepsy to make clear that I wouldn’t call someone who had such experiences a ‘nutter’, as that would be unkind because if they have epilepsy it isn’t their fault. If they didn’t have epilepsy then they (Bernard and Theresa, not St Paul) were just over-excitable fantacists, in which case I stick with ‘nutters’.

            Frankly, if you think Bernard and Teresa were ‘nutters’, there is little point in engaging with you. Traditional and orthodox you are certainly not.

            I think this is a pretty orthodox Protestant view, broadly in line with Zwingli and Calvin on the matter, and you don’t get much more orthodox than them.

      • The whole idea of being in the Church of England gives me immediate claustrophobia. The very idea of giving first place to a group that defines itself nationally rather than in any other way! When the main factor in producing heresy is importing one’s own national (or other) culture.

        At the time when our topic is something utterly cosmic, the very thought that anyone would want to reduce things to a country – let alone a culture. Rich though they both most certainly are.

        Nevertheless, we often have fellowshipped in C of E, including the last 11 years. Anyone who is a member of the Church of God is delighted to belong to any faithful local flock.

        Your misconception that there is *disagreement* here rather than a mixture of research conclusions and wishful thinking (2 things that are utterly different from one another) I think is the fundamental one.

        Reply
  19. I agree on the chronology but not necessarily on the connection. I can see that we can say that Paul laid less emphasis both on the return itself and on his witnessing it, as time went on. That we can assign a primarily psychological cause to this is very unclear. It may be the case, it may not be. It may be instead that that was how he read the likelihoods at different times. The crisis he had in 55 had multiple causes already without adding any others.

    The parallel case of John shows us a Mark II eschatological worldview replacing the Mark I. I am not sure they ever exactly contradict each other. They are likely to be related to circumstances. Immediate expectation in time of crisis; realised in time of lull.

    Reply
    • (The above displaced from a reply to Penelope above.)

      Re the point that people say ‘The texts are unclear – how can we be sure what Paul meant’ – so much can be said.

      (1) Something minor unclear (at the least) can be found in any text. That does not make the whole text unclear. This looks like an excuse. And excuses are made only by the dishonest.

      (2) Frequently the thing(s) unclear are not the salient things! The salient things are clear.

      (3) So long as we can see that homosexual acts are universally (without exception), without differentiation, and *strongly* condemned, then what is the issue?

      (4) Supposing a text were in fact unclear. Is the way to solve that to say that the text means something opposite to what it seems to say?? If it is not 100% clear what it says, how can one with any confidence impose an *unlikely* or nonstraightforward meaning on it that does not jump out at one?

      (5) If a text is unclear, then there may potentially be 10000s of possible meanings. Why should the very one of these 10000s that people ideologically prefer be the one that is selected?

      (6) In reality, only 10 meanings or less are likely to be at all plausible. That means that even in the case of unclear texts, the number of meanings ruled out is almost infinitely larger than those that are possible.

      (7) In what way is Paul’s opposition to same-sex acts less straightforward than his opposition to lying, stealing and so forth? After all, people’s conceptions of all of these thing evince cultural differences between different ages and lands. What else would one expect?

      Reply
      • “So long as we can see that homosexual acts are universally (without exception), without differentiation, and *strongly* condemned, then what is the issue?”

        The issue may be that the author is culturally prejudiced.

        As to the clarity of the Bible authors on man-man sex, I share the view that they’re hostile to man-man sex. You and I can agree on that.

        But I think those authors are prejudiced and wrong, reflecting cultural stigmatisation of men who are attracted to other men. I believe this vilification of gay people’s relationships is unjust, unfair, ignorant, prejudiced. Most people in the UK would agree. And very many in the Church of England.

        The position of the fallible and human authors of the Bible may be “clear”. But they may just be reflecting their culture.

        We’ve gone over this, over and over again. When does this ever end? We just have different opinions: people in the Church of England have for at least 50 years.

        The clarity of the Bible statements is not the issue. The nature of the Bible, and how to read it, is the issue.

        But an even greater issue than that is: can we still open our hearts to each other in love? The real test is love, not dogmatic debates. We simply need to love one another more, even (or especially) those we disagree with. We don’t walk out on each other. We try as best we can to pray, and love, and be loved by God.

        Reply
        • How can you say that something is ‘the issue’, when you know as well as anyone that there are several issues, not one? This is one that I never seem to get a direct answer to.

          You and I read the Bible the same way – we both begin by saying it may be correct or incorrect in what it asserts. The other approach is circular: its ‘finding’ or conclusion is one with, and the same as, its presupposition.

          You are, further, treating the question of whether we can open our hearts to each other in love as an alternative question rather than a quite separate and complementary one. Answering that question (whose answer we already know) will not help the first question be answered.

          That people in the C of E have certain opinions is a truism. Largely they will be more than averagely culturally conformist by Christian standards. It is no coincidence that so many of them have undergone a supposed Damascus Road experience at just the precise time that the media has been shoving their intolerant one-party-system (as it were) down everyone’s throats. Essentially most people feel uncomfortable with being more than a little culturally nonconformist. That has nothing to do with what they ‘believe’. It is a tribal matter, a matter of fitting into your peer group, virtue signalling, whatever. Quite different from a reasoned conclusion. Exactly the same people who go with the majority now were also going with a different stance when that was the majority. This is not thinking, it is just being scared of not siding with the majority.

          So I think you misconstrue what I said in numerous ways, not least in wrongly characterising the way I read the Biblical texts.

          Reply
          • Thank you.

            Quite the most interesting and informative response I think you have given me.

            I recognise and like: “The other approach is circular: its ‘finding’ or conclusion is one with, and the same as, its presupposition.”

            “The Bible is true because the Bible says it is true” leads us to discover, that, well, what the Bible says is true.

            Only – sometimes it isn’t.

            On Issues (and I’m not referring to the publication on human sexuality) I think although there are countless issues a Christian may feel need to be addressed, there is arguably one primary imperative (or apply convention and call it the Great Commandment): to open our hearts to the love of God through relationship and trust in God.

            I’d argue that many of the other issues benefit from openness to that primary imperative.

            Indeed, I believe the entire Bible needs to be subordinated to that imperative, and read and understood in its great context.

            best wishes, goodnight,
            Susannah

          • Well yes – but how does that solve the specific questions. it is the right mental and interpersonal attitude, but we have all known that, and agreed with that, for decades. Do understand that when people make this ‘move’, it is regarded as evasive and not relevant, leading to the further question of why the issues are not being addressed. It *looks like* a diversionary tactic (which would never be employed by the honest) whether or not it actually is.

          • What ‘moves’ and what ‘issues’ are we specifically talking about.

            You’ve kind of lost me, Christopher!

            I’ve been addressing the issue of the Bible’s hostility to man-man sex for ages.

            I don’t even know what more there is to be said, except the rational logic that since it is clear people are not going to agree on the specific, we need to resolve how we live with that and move on.

            What do you *personally* believe the Church of England should do to resolve the impasse?

            As well as playing the inquisitor (and I’m not putting down the technique, though it can become a bit exhausting), what resolution would you personally advocate, what positive steps, or are we just speaking in abstracts?

            To avoid the charge of ‘evasion’ yourself, Christopher, I should be genuinely interested to hear your proposal for handling these differences of interpretation and approach in the life of the Church of England?

            And on that subject, what Christian denomination (if any) do you attend in your daily life? I ask that to try to understand your own preferred church expression, and to clarify if you have personal involvement in the Church of England?

            And in asking that, I don’t rule out the possibility that your interest is more detached, or possible agnosticism or atheism. I don’t know you, so forgive me enquiring on what faith basis our discourse is being carried out.

            Answers on a postcard ; )

          • The local flock we are part of is at present C of E, but that is neither here nor there as it is more importantly part of the Church and we are Christians.

            I.e., we are in the army* (and that is a marvellous thing, marvellous on a cosmic level). The fact that our regiment may be e.g. the Coldstream Guards pending possible future relocation (or not) may also be great at its own rather less cosmic level but it’s trivial by comparison.

            *Army/bride/household/family/temple/priesthood/nation – delete as appropriate.

            I have said numerous times what should be done. What should be done is that people should stop the pretence that it is of any relevance what ‘views’ people have. This is because ‘views’ is unarguably an incoherent concept. It covers the entire spectrum from research conclusions gained over many years to unresearched private personal preferences. Everybody already agrees that these are not even remotely the same thing, and also that the former is worth considerably more than the latter.

            Currently many people are acting as though ‘views’ were a coherent concept, and as though merely holding a view were enough. However much chattering etc has been done, if those doing the chattering etc are not informed about what the science says (and/or not versed in the biblical disciplines) then there should be more studying and less talking, or alternatively listen to those who have done the studying already. The main gist of the multifaceted research findings on homosexuality do not usually greatly change over time, and the basic picture has been clear for decades.

          • Thank you very much for your reply, Christopher.

            So if, as you advocate, we set ‘views’ to one side as inappropriate for determining policy and practice, are you then advocating that the present status quo remains in place?

            I’m trying to understand the actual and practical resolution you think can be used to address the deeply-held divides of opinions on human sexuality in the Church of England.

            If my supposition (first paragraph) is correct, you are effectively proposing that the current status quo should be *imposed* on the whole Church of England, and enforced, as it is technically supposed to be today.

            But if I am correct, and people don’t accept that, how do you resolve the likely breakdown in authority, especially given that the bishops and the General Synod may give ground, to try to meet the conscientious beliefs of those who do not agree with the status quo?

            Firstly, the status quo is already being ignored in a growing number of parishes, because most of the church members in those churches don’t agree with the status quo. Services of blessing are already taking place, and even services of marriage in all but the legal document that also has to be obtained elsewhere. If the leadership of the Church of England does not give ground, that resistance will spread and grow.

            Secondly, as the Episcopal Church in Scotland has demonstrated, ‘unity in diversity’ (respect for other people’s consciences, rather than imposing one practice on everyone) is viable as a possibility, and from my dialogue with over 50 bishops in England I am pretty clear that the trajectory is in this direction, albeit with grave concern that this might lead to some churches seeking separate leadership or leaving the Church of England altogether.

            But realistically, your proposed solution, that we set aside the ‘views’ of that large section of the Church of England that affirms gay sexuality, is unlikely to be the end of this. It hasn’t ended it yet, and it’s been going on, with growing urgency, for 50 years or more.

            I guess I’m saying that the most likely outcome in the coming years is that there will be a decision to allow ‘blessing’ of gay couples who have married or are in relationship, and that will very possibly then lead by the step-by-step process to an eventual change in the law to allow gay and lesbian marriages to be carried out in Church of England churches.

            At what point do your ‘Coldstream guards’ relocate in these possible eventualities?

            If you look at the Scotland model, it does not seem as if many churches there have gone full schism and relocated.

            The reality on the ground in England today is that most communities in England are okay with gay sex, and within very many churches in the Church of England, people in the pews don’t actually want to leave the Church of England: they want the continuation of their service of the local communities where they live, and the continuation of the way of life involved in Church of England parishes.

            I would argue that a better resolution is the Scottish model, allowing priests to marry gay partners if they choose to; allowing priests to bless, and probably later marry gay couples in their churches in the presence of the community; and at the same time protecting those priests or congregations that do not want to participate in the affirmation of gay relationships, by giving them the right not to do so, and ensuring there is no obligation to go against their consciences.

            Do you seriously believe the current status quo will be maintained? I really don’t. Study the Bishop of Manchester to see the way bishops are going, and he’s one of the upfront ones, or the Bishop of Chelmsford, but I’ve been speaking to over 50 behind the scenes, and some express great dismay at the present status quo, and would welcome an outcome along the Scottish lines.

            When the ‘Bishops Letter’ was rejected by General Synod 2 years ago, one Bishop wrote to me: “I had been hoping for a new direction to emerge through the Shared Conversations process, and was hugely disappointed by what came to GS. I am encouraged by GS’s rejection of that paper; I hope the message this gives will be heeded. Your reflections about Unity in Diversity almost exactly mirror my own.”

            The present status quo will crumble I think, and there is huge pressure for change. I know of 5 church weddings this summer myself (just the ones I’ve had links to), 3 gay and 2 lesbian. Church blessings are going on everywhere. I attended one. The whole congregation was joyful.

          • ‘Do you seriously believe the current status quo will be maintained? I really don’t. Study the Bishop of Manchester to see the way bishops are going, and he’s one of the upfront ones, or the Bishop of Chelmsford, but I’ve been speaking to over 50 behind the scenes, and some express great dismay at the present status quo, and would welcome an outcome along the Scottish lines.’

            But the reality is that, in Manchester and Chelmsford, orthodox churches and clergy have pushed back. They have tended to leave Liverpool, because Paul Bayes is so dogmatic and determined in pushing the pro-gay position, and I think as a result the diocese might well face some serious financial challenges.

            But the ‘Scottish’ approach could not be adopted here without a complete revision of C of E of its marriage liturgy and canon law. It is quite hard to see how that could even be approached without a massive split taking place, and diocese after diocese going into both ministerial and financial meltdown.

            The reason? The biblical texts are pretty clear, so to make this change would involve detaching the C of E from Scripture.

          • “The reason? The biblical texts are pretty clear, so to make this change would involve detaching the C of E from Scripture.”

            Not from Scripture, Ian.

            From the way Scripture has traditionally been read, and recognising the fallible and cultural aspects of interpreting and understanding it.

            Very few liberal Christians, who I know, repudiate the Bible. They treasure it deeply, as I do, and draw from it endlessly. But they read it in a less ‘infallible’ way, recognising that some expressions may reflect cultural contexts and social assumptions of the fallible human authors.

            Recognising this is not dislocating from Scripture. It is treating it with deeper respect.

            But yes, this reflects a New Paradigm which has been breaking upon Christendom at least since the Enlightenment.

            If the Scottish church can see this and accommodate it, why not the English church?

            Finance and threats of walk outs is hardly a persuasive theological argument.

            Ian, you are a Christian and I am a Christian. We approach the Bible with differing perspectives. Along with the hundreds of thousands of like-minded people on both sides of this human sexuality debate, we need to be mature enough to recognise that consciences may differ and yet there may still be fidelity and love of God in all, and we should be talking the language of resolution and mutual respect, not schism and departure.

            That’s the view of those of us who believe in ‘unity in diversity’ anyway, and I believe we should not dominate other people’s consciences, but love those we disagree with, and pray heartfelt prayer for one another’s flourishing, and keep opening our hearts to the Love of God.

            Unity not uniformity.

            Unity not schism.

            And in all things, love.

          • You speak of opinions, but opinions are exactly the same as ‘views’. It is no good following them unless they are coherent or based on something. And it is no good following those that are based on less when one can follow those that are based on more.

            Consequently you do not understand my central point. You think that people having a stance somehow validates that stance!! That is obviously untrue, and everyone knows it. My stance on the light inside the fridge is (hypothetically) that a little man too small to see switches it on every time I open the door. It’s a stance, one among many, so hey it must be respected. At the next astrophysics conference you must listen to my talk – because I have ‘views’ on such matters (however halfbaked). But you won’t listen to me in the same way as you will listen to a specialist. Or if you will, few others will, unless for comedy purposes. Is this not obvious?

            Well then, if views are irrelevant, divides are also irrelevant. The question is whether the divides are warranted or not. For sure as eggs, anything that is based on selfishness, desire, or mere preference is founded on sand. That is the Christian view, the accurate view and the commonsense view. If it is views that you want.

            These things seem obvious to me.

          • Very few liberal Christians, who I know, repudiate the Bible. They treasure it deeply, as I do, and draw from it endlessly. But they read it in a less ‘infallible’ way, recognising that some expressions may reflect cultural contexts and social assumptions of the fallible human authors.

            But that is repudiating it. To repudiate something it to deny the truth or validity of it. You deny the truth of the Bible: you say it is not true, because the authors were fallible humans who got things wrong.

            If I say that Marx got his analysis of value totally wrong, I am repudiating Capital. If you say that the Bible is wrong, you are repudiating the Bible. That is what ‘to repudiate’ means: to say something is wrong.

            Be honest. Don’t claim not to be repudiating the Bible when that is exactly what you are doing

          • Christopher

            If I may. What an odd way to read the Bible. I don’t read it to ascertain which texts are correct or incorrect. I read it for what it shows me of God.

          • I don’t read it to ascertain which texts are correct or incorrect. I read it for what it shows me of God.

            How can it show you anything of God if it’s incorrect? You have to work out which texts are correct or incorrect before you know whether you can rely on anything they show you about God.

            Otherwise — if it’s incorrect — it might be leading you up the garden path and filling your head with false ideas about God, mightn’t it?

            ‘Correct or incorrect?’ must come before anything else.

          • Penelope, your comment is astonishing. You know very well that:

            (1) I did not say that the purpose of reading the Bible was to ascertain which bits are correct. Only that one had to be open minded in one’s initial attitude, otherwise what was the point.

            (2) However, should that be one purpose of Bible reading, it is a noble and good one.

            (3) Nor did I say that there was one sole purpose for, nor aspect of, reading the Bible.

            (4) Also ‘what it shows me of God’ is itself circular, albeit not 100% so.

          • ‘From the way Scripture has traditionally been read, and recognising the fallible and cultural aspects of interpreting and understanding it.’

            So the question then is: what is mistaken about the ‘traditional’ interpretation, and how should we revise that?

            In my piece above, I reject some traditional readings, but offer good reasons why we should confidently understand Paul is rejecting all SSS regardless of form, based on creation and law in the OT.

          • Good morning Ian.

            Well as you probably know, I agree with you when you “understand Paul is rejecting all SSS regardless of form.”

            I’m less confident that his view was solely “based on creation and law in the OT” because I should think it would be reasonable that he might share some of the contemporary cultural hostility to man-man sex that must have been strongly present in the kind of religious circles he espoused both before and after conversion. I realise, those very hostilities drew strongly on the passages you cite, but I’d argue there was also prejudice and probably homophobia.

            Turning to the OT law on the subject, obviously I think that was reprehensible though socially understandable. The OT law reflected not only profound encounter with God but also the human dimension of fallibly trying to make sense of those encounters, and constructing social patterns and law to (in this case) communicate the dedicated holiness needed, based on people’s own cultural ideas of what was morally bad and therefore ‘unholy’.

            You ask what is wrong with the ‘traditional’ way of reading and interpreting the Bible. My answer would be that it attributes too much authority as a blanket principle to a text that contains both profound spiritual insight and fallibly human ideas. What should be done? I’ve said it before: we need a radical paradigm that no longer ‘idolises’ the Bible as a ‘magic text’, word for word, from God; and that approaches the Bible texts with an understanding that these are humans writing it, and struggling to make sense of mystery and God, and they’re struggling (with inspiration through the Holy Spirit in their encounters and ardour for God) and that what we have is a mixture of stunning spiritual insight and mundane human understanding and views that often reflect and are limited by the culture and society and time they live in.

            Taking the Creation narratives that you cite – and setting aside the fact that it’s mythical and not an account of actual events as I think you’d agree with me, because otherwise your credibility would be shot – to the extent that Paul (or we) use those narratives as mandate for human conduct, I think we need to be clear that in doing so, we are applying it for purposes that are not set our in the narrative itself. So it’s potentially a theological manipulation.

            In 1 Timothy, for example, Paul uses the creation narratives to curtail and subordinate some female activity. I know you are an authority on this because I’ve read your work (with interest). But there is still a sense in which Paul is innovating and ‘bolting on’ his own views to the ancient texts, and using those narratives as a mandate as he constructs frameworks of theology. So the justification he gives for (some specific) female subordination is that a mythical woman committed a mythical first sin in a mythical scenario, and therefore *real* women should (in some specific circumstances) be subordinated. That’s not at all what the creation narratives were about: it’s a bolt on addition Paul makes to argue his case. I suspect Paul, in far pre-Darwinian times, was probably envisaging a “real” Eve who sinned, and a “real” first human without ancestors, but even setting aside that, his argument is weak if the original first sin of the non-existent woman never actually happened.

            The idea that Adam was formed before Eve is a cultural inaccuracy, based on limited science in those days. It’s a false assertion. And yet Paul uses it, and the idea that this mythical Eve sinned first (was the one who was easily deceived), to indicate a weakness and susceptibility in women – but it never happened. It was primitive myth. As myth it’s superb and resonates. The danger is when it’s literalised.

            So appeal to creation narratives can be problematical. I’m not convinced at all that Genesis creation narrative should be used to oppose gay sexuality, which is a perfectly normal though minority human phenomenon that the narrative never singles out.

          • There seems to be an idea that unclarity (to whatever *small* degree, and even in an *unrelated* matter) is a valid excuse for imposing any overall meaning one likes.

            How does the logic of that work? If there is really unclarity (at least in the salient parts of the text) – and there isn’t always – then one ought to be cautious about imposing a meaning. Least of all one that is culturally distant!! The unclarity would make such an imposition *less* rather than more justifiable.

            The ‘thinking’ goes:
            1- Readers disagree (which would be the case even if one person out of 7.5bn came up deliberately with a ‘new’ slant).
            2- Therefore we cannot be sure of the meaning.
            3- Therefore any meaning is permissible (or at least: the meaning that we like that is closest to plausibilty is permissible).

            Anyone can see the illogic.

          • Thank you Christopher.
            S. I don’t know what you mean by correct. The Bible isn’t a textbook. It is ‘incorrect’ about many things if we read it as a textbook. The question is, surely, not is it correct, but is it true?

          • I don’t know what you mean by correct. The Bible isn’t a textbook. It is ‘incorrect’ about many things if we read it as a textbook. The question is, surely, not is it correct, but is it true?

            The word I usually use is ‘reliab;e’, but okay, ‘true’ will do just as well. So yes. The first question we must ask about the Bible is: is it true?

            And the liberal theologians’ answer seems to be, ‘not when it disagrees with modern cultural values, it isn’t’.

            To which the reply is, ‘then what reason, if you think the bits you don’t like aren’t true, do you have for thinking any of it is true?’

            And answer came there none.

          • Penny, ‘true’ *of all words* should not be used in a subjective sense. yes here by making true seem quite different from correct (I know they are not 100% the same, but how different can they be?) you are crossing over into that subjectivity. Subjectivity is dangerous and dubiously scholarly at the best of times. All the more so -par excellence- when it encroaches on the topic of ‘truth’.

          • Christopher: If truth is an objective word, what is your *evidence* for the bible being true?

          • Hi Susannah,

            On 1 Timothy 2, you must realise that this is generally acknowledged as a difficult passage to understand. That Paul is expounding general principles is not actually clear. “I do not permit” suggest that this is his practice. The verb translated by NIV as “assume authority” probably has a much more violent sense, such as the “usurp authority” found in the KJV. The most surprising thing in the passage in the cultural context is the instruction that women “should learn”.
            What about the use of Genesis 2 and 3? Is this drawing on creation accounts to subordinate women? If so, why the use of Genesis 3? A different interpretation which I have read is that it is illustrative, using a known story, rather than prescriptive.
            The man is created first, and receives the instruction that he should not eat of the fruit of the tree. The woman is created after this. It seems that the woman did not receive from the man the actual instruction, since she says that she may not touch the tree. She was badly taught. As a result of that poor teaching, she was open to temptation and the the rest is history. It is a story of the serious consequences of letting untaught women have their way. So, women should learn. Perhaps then they can be granted (rather than siezing) positions of leadership. Paul certainly seemed to know and praise women in this kind of position: consider Pheobe (the word translated by some as ‘patron’ is the noun form of the verb used in 1 Tim 3 for what overseers do), Priscilla and Junia in Romans 16.

          • Hi Andrew

            I am amazed that you think that the objectivity of truth is some private idea of mine. Of all concepts in existence, truth must be objective even if nothing else were.

            As for ‘the Bible’ I have scores of times upbraided those who treat the Bible as a book rather than a library. It is obvious that truth is a property of assertions, and because the biblical writings contain thousands of assertions, these need to be tested one by one. As does any overall picture that the various assertions combine into..

          • Christopher I don’t think it’s a private idea of yours at all.
            Do you know that poem, Tell the truth but tell it slant? I suspect that is what the bible does.
            My question remains though – what is the evidence you have for testing the truth of the various assertions you mention? Are some of the assertions in the bible not true? And how would we know?

          • So the entire Bible (which is a multi-author, multi-culture, multi-era, multi-genre collection written over a millennium) manages to have in common that it ‘tells the truth but tells it slant’?

            None of it is accurate in the normally accepted sense, yet somehow all of it is true in some other sense.

            That would be a very odd combination for even one assertion. For it to hold true for all the millions of assertions in the ‘Bible’ library would be trillions to one against.

            That sums up the main thing which I think is wrong with liberalism, and why I rank it so low among the competing philosophies.

            It is not only a sweeping generalisation about something diverse, but it is simultaneously something utterly improbable even on the small scale, let alone the large.

            Why share with the fundamentalists the perspective that it is possible to make sweeping generalisations about this diverse body of writings? At least their generalisations are more probable than this one.

          • Christopher: you seem to be suddenly very subjective?
            I absolutely don’t think it’s possible to make sweeping generalisations – and that’s my whole point in discussion with S, who wants to make a vast sweeping generalisation about the bible the whole time, and won’t even accept that it is a library. (See another thread for why)

            But you still don’t want to answer my question and I have no idea why! So please tell me what your evidence is for testing the validity of the “millions of assertions” in the bible? And are some of them untrue? Or are all of them, as you put it, “true in some other sense”? That sounds terribly vague and subjective!

          • Why would the criteria (plural, note!) be any different for the biblical texts than for other texts? I don’t follow that.

            Tests include:
            CORRESPONDENCE TESTS
            -corroboration by historical accounts
            -corroboration by science or cosmology
            -corroboration by experience of finding a perspective that makes things fall into place in a unified system
            -tested reliability of sources
            -the inner witness of the Holy Spirit (to be used in conjunction with the others because we have to ensure that what we understand to be the Holy Spirit and/or conscience is not the product of culture or partly the product of culture)
            -corroboration by statistical findings that show which things are beneficial and which things are harmful (which we can measure by how far they produce happiness and/or health)

            COHERENCE TEXTS
            -are there internal inconsistencies or self contradictions? Is the logic sound?

            Obviously not all assertions can be satisfactorily fully tested – because there is not enough data sometimes.

            As for ‘subjective’ – no, I hope I am never that.

          • Christopher

            Of course you are subjective.
            As were the writers of the Tanakh,
            the writers of the Gospels,
            Paul,
            Clement,
            Origen,
            Augustine,
            Aquinas,
            Luther
            Calvin,
            Barth,
            Tom Wright,
            Robert Gagnon,
            Dale Martin,
            Sarah Coakley,
            Ian, you, me and Andrew.

            You get the picture.

          • Christopher you are delightfully vague! And you still don’t answer a key question: “true in some other sense”? That sounds terribly vague and subjective! Please tell us what this other sense is?

          • Christopher you are delightfully vague!

            So are you, when it comes to what point you’re actually trying to make. Is it that there is no reason to think that Bible is true and so we should all give up being Christians?

          • The ‘true in some other sense’ which you quoted was my caricature of the liberal position, and represents the opposite of my own understanding.

            That understanding has been laid out in the section ‘Literal and metaphorical’ in my chapter 10 in What Are They Teaching The Children?

            It is much simpler than people see. Any individual proposition is either true or untrue. ‘The Bible’ cannot be generalised about. Even one book or one verse of it cannot be generalised about.

          • Penny – you know that it is possible for people also to be objective. At least to some degree.

            You secondly know that the people that are the more capable of objectivity are the more intelligent not the less. Your list seemed like a list of more rather than less intelligent people. Their degrees of objectivity will therefore be comparatively higher and their degrees of subjectivity comparatively lower.

            Your premise that people are either 100% objective or 100% subjective is very far indeed from being accurate.

            Andrew looks like he thinks that the odd idea that the Bible is true ‘in some other sense’ is my own idea rather than my caricature of the liberal position which I rank lowest.

          • Christopher: yes, I assumed it was some kind of caricature. But I’m afraid its meaning is lost on me and so I’m asking you to explain it. It seems that you can’t. It is a caricature without evidence, and one that is looking for meaning.

            “. ‘The Bible’ cannot be generalised about. Even one book or one verse of it cannot be generalised about.”

            Now that I agree with. Sadly, S doesn’t and not many conservatives I have met do.

            Your position opens itself up to the fact that some books or verses might not be true. That I also agree with.

            So I come back to a question to you Christopher: would you agree with the possibility that some parts of the bible may not hold universal and eternal truth and might have been true at the time of writing but that other evidence has now rendered them inaccurate? And if not, why not?

          • (1) May not hold eternal and universal truth?
            A large number of the truths are factual, historical and contingent. Joshua is the son of Nun. That is not an eternal truth on which we meditate. That is obvious.

            (2) May have been true at the time they were written?
            You are definitely wrong here, 100%. Nothing that is true at the time of writing can fail to be true later. Likewise things that are false remain false. If the assertion is ‘Assyria is a world empire’, it is understood that this refers to the time spoken of, and it remains a true assertion regarding the time spoken of.

            (3) But ‘now’ not true?
            No – truth, unlike fashion, is not a matter of now and then. By definition.

            So I would refute all those 3 points. Your other point is trivial – obviously if we investigate at all, it is on the basis that we do not yet know what we will find. In some cases we know already and in those cases we do not need to investigate in the first place.

            A high proportion of these points are obvious, aren’t they?

          • Thank you Christopher. So I assume you believe it to be still true that the world is a flat disc floating in an ocean? And that cosmology and physics pre Copernicus and Newton should hold sway? Science can never find truths formerly held to be untrue? Things that were once held to be true can not be developed and changed by more recent understanding?

            (And yes I am aware that other views existed before Copernicus)

            I recommend Thomas Kuhn’s book to you, nontheless.

          • Christopher
            I didn’t say that the people I cited were 100% subjective (is anyone 100% anything?). Though you seem to have a far higher opinion of objectivity than I do. Give me a passionate, partisan scholar any day.
            I’m interested by your example of truth.
            Do you think Joshua and Nun really existed?

          • The point I am making, and with which it seems you agree, is that what is held to be true is not necessarily the same as what is actually true. That is basic.
            So whilst some may believe that Paul is clear, it doesn’t not necessarily and logically follow that Paul was true. He may even have believed that he held the truth.
            And not too many years ago I would have been required to swear my canonical oaths on a bible that said that St Paul wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews. Some still hold that to be true.
            So whilst, of course, “what was once true must always be true”, is quite different to “what was once held to be true must always be true”.
            St Paul no doubt held a number of things to be true.

          • Hi Andrew

            You were patronising twice: first by (in time-honoured and cliched fashion) saying ‘thank you Christopher’ which implies that finally you have got an answer out of me. Quite the contrary – I would never even think of withholding any answer and I am curious as to any evidence otherwise. You will find none in your conversations with me. Is it that that is the kind of impression you are trying to give of me?

            Secondly, in recommending a book you do not think to ask whether I may already be aware of that book.

            You talk about St Paul ‘being true’. That does not make sense, but I know what you mean. It is once again such a huge generalisation that responses is impossible. Generalisations are a block to discussion (and to meaning) – if you are specific about anything it will be possible to address your points. But in the meantime I am not sure why you do not just read books by specialists on the topics you are asking about.

            Penny, if someone were partisan I would not even give their opinions the time of day.

            Yes, I should imagine Joshua and Nun existed, but I am not an OT specialist.

          • Andrew: “The point I am making… is that what is held to be true is not necessarily the same as what is actually true.”

            PRECISELY.

            This is pivotal.

            Paul may have regarded it as a true fact that man-man sex was immoral and an abomination, but that may not actually be true.

            If people think the Bible is absolutely inerrant and always infallibly true, then what Paul wrote trumps any later perception that actually man-man sex is not immoral and abominable.

            However, it is a reasonable and credible theology that argues that the Bible texts are the expressions of their authors and are not all necessarily expressions of true and correct facts.

            Such a theological approach seems to get belittled here at times, but it is a serious and credible line to take, and I do wonder if sometimes people condemn man-man sex today out of fear of their systematic view of the Bible being subverted if they give ground (as many evangelical Christians actually do want to give ground) for fear that this ‘high’ view of scripture’s ‘truth’ would be subverted.

            That said, and reverting to the Original Post of Ian’s, I do also wonder if the reason why some evangelical Christians try to explain away the Bible’s hostility to man-man sex is motivated by exactly the same nervousness of a Bible that may ‘leak’ and be wrong in places.

            Both groups in my opinion are mistaken, if they are trying to maintain a ‘watertight’ Bible. I recognise the fear from their own frequent complaints: “If one verse in the Bible is not true, how do we know that any of the verses in the Bible are true?”

            But I don’t buy it. You trust. You pray. You try your best to discern and you listen to your God-given conscience.

            But some statements in the Bible may be the mistaken words of their authors, and may not actually be true.

            Once we acknowledge that, we can start to handle and use the Bible maturely and with moral integrity.

          • I had no intention of being patronising at all and offer an apology for it coming over that way. I was and am genuinely grateful for your responses.
            This thread has gone on long enough. I can only conclude by saying that I find St Paul partisan – passionately so – and therein lies much of his appeal. I imagine that Penelope will agree with me here! I certainly give his opinions the time of day, but I put my what Penelope refers to as ‘oh he would say that wouldn’t he’ glasses on. So, for example (as you invite me to be specific), we have no real idea what his opinion of LGBTi issues in 21st century Corinth would be, were he writing today. (And it probably being more liberal than 21st century Britain).

          • You think we don’t? Was 1 Cor 6 written in vain?

            We also have no idea what his view was on the Lord’s Supper. Ch11 was written in vain.

            We also have no idea what his view was on spiritual gifts – chs 12-14 were written in vain.

          • Susannah, what is pivotal about it? It is a classic example of the bleedin’ obvious, n’est-ce pas?

          • Views on spiritual gifts = partisan
            Views on the Lord’s supper = partisan
            Views on same sex relationships = partisan

            2000 years later ……

            Views on spiritual gifts = still partisan
            Views on the Lord’s supper = still partisan
            Views on same sex relationships = still partisan

            BUT The major difference 2000 years later is that societal views on same sex relationships have completely changed because of development of human understanding and are entirely legal and celebrated openly in Corinth.

          • The major difference 2000 years later is that societal views on same sex relationships have completely changed because of development of human understanding and are entirely legal and celebrated openly in Corinth

            But what is perceived as true in modern-day Corinth is not necessarily what is actually true.

            (Besides which… is that actually much of a change? Weren’t same-sex relationships entirely legal and some forms of them celebrated in the Corinth to which Paul was writing?)

          • Christopher

            If you don’t want to read a partisan scholar I suggest you avoid Gagnon and Davie.
            I’m not a HB specialist, but I think it unlikely that Joshua and Nun existed. I can’t really see the point of their relationship being true or correct. If they are legendary, they can still be father and son.

          • OK

            A question to all on the truth, reliability, inerrancy or ‘correctness’ of scripture.

            Christians generally regard abortion as immoral; Jews, generally, do not. (This is a generalisation, bear with me.)
            We read the same scriptures, so how do we reach such different ethical conclusions?

          • That’s right. We never understood before, in the dark old days, that human beings can have different sorts of desires. But now we have become scientific.

            We never knew before the link between certain behaviours and certain diseases. How our knowledge has advanced! Now we can allow those diseases to proliferate. Isn’t progress wonderful. The Corinthian lifestyle was best all along. Being de-washed, de-sanctified, de-justified

            Ah, progress! Don’t you love it…

          • Penny, because (a) that is as you say too much of a generalisation, (b) culture and tradition are very strong, and (c) most of the people involved would have a nuanced view anyway. Mine is not nuanced at all in this case, nor would I wish it to be.

          • Christopher
            Firstly, Corinth’s reputation as a hotbed of vice may have been exaggerated, at least by the time Paul got there.
            Secondly, we do not speak of vice, we are discussing homosexual relationships.
            Thirdly, re abortion. You are quite right to observe that culture and tradition often trump scripture. This happens sometimes on here. But I was asking about hermeneutics: why do Christians and Jews read scripture so differently on this issue?

          • Penelope “…Christians generally regard abortion as immoral; Jews, generally, do not. (This is a generalisation, bear with me.) We read the same scriptures, so how do we reach such different ethical conclusions…”

            Christians are a ‘religious’ group, ‘Jews’ as you put it are a racial group.

            If you mean to contrast the ethics of abortion in Christianity and Judaism, then generally the views of Judaism reflect a similar spectrum to that of Christians. The weight given to the inspiration & authority of Sacred Scriptures will determine whether they are more robustly pro-life or pro choice. Orthodox Judaism is vehemently opposed to abortion. Reform Judaism supports abortion based on the well being of the Mother or whether the child was conceived in rape or incest.

            The more liberal and loose sitting to Scripture, the more the emphasis on human freedoms and rights to choice (except of course the right of the unborn to life).

            I think you are right to probe the question of whether one’s view on abortion, as indeed on all ethical issues, is predicated on how we read the Scriptures. I think ethical views become more culturally conditioned and doctrinally and ethically liberal depending whether one believes the Texts are written by God through people, or written by people about God.

            If the former then the texts have greater authority, if the latter then the author is expressing ‘their’ opinion and modern reasoning and free reader response can choose to dismiss such, as evidenced by some in this thread, rejecting Paul’s ethics as merely Paul’s view and not divinely inspired, true and currently authoritative.

          • Simon: I don’t understand your either/or about the authorship of scripture so please help me understand your view? Do you think the ‘authors’ of scripture – the names we know them by, Paul, Luke etc etc – were infallible in writing down what God was saying? Was there any possibility of human error?

          • Andrew –
            I believe the Bible is true in all it affirms – divinely inspired and thus its truths infallible. I think the ethical statements stand as true and authoritative which is why I balk when I read Susannah say Paul was against SSS but he was wrong. I dont believe God gives us a bum steer by inspiring, preserving, collating, transmitting and translating Scripture to us today which says something God doesnt believe.

            This is not his opinion, it is God’s speaking through him. I believe the Bible is God’s Word – needing to be heard in its language, culture, context, idiom etc but it remains God’s word and is not to be whittled away depending on prevailing cultural norms and claims to higher ‘newer’ knowledge.

            in haste – off to an all age service 🙂

          • Thanks Simon but I’m going to press you harder. You think there is absolutely no possibility for human error? Every sentence is infallible? (I realise you are in haste but it’s not a long answer that I need!)

          • Hi Simon

            I wish someone would start a new thread; this is exhausting!
            Hope the service went well.
            I should have course said Judaism and Christianity.
            I was thinking of Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism. Both allow abortion, but not simply for the good of the mother, but because they read the texts differently. Life begins with breath.
            My point was the we read the same texts differently. Abortion is one example; there are others. The Fall and original sin. Judaism (and indeed [Christian] Orthodoxy in the case of os) do not read those doctrines from the Genesis texts.
            Nor does Judaism read an essential binary into the creation of humans in Gen. 1 and 2. Orthodox (and other) Judaisms recognises 6 (sometimes 7) genders – which is why it has no problem with transgender ‘issues’.
            I think this indicates that scriptural texts are more plastic than we sometimes allow. Different cultures and traditions read attentively, but arrive at different truths.

          • Just to be clear why I don’t think your either/or works Simon. You said: “….depending whether one believes the Texts are written by God through people, or written by people about God.”

            I don’t believe either of those exclusively. I believe, and I think most Christians have to believe, that the writers of scripture were interpreters of God. I don’t think there is any other possible explanation. But interpretation can always suffer from poor translation and error where humans are concerned.

          • I believe, and I think most Christians have to believe, that the writers of scripture were interpreters of God

            Can you explain in plain English what you mean by ‘interpreters of God’?

          • No more than I can explain texts being written by God, no. Everyone one knows what an interpreter does.

          • No more than I can explain texts being written by God, no. Everyone one knows what an interpreter does.

            That’s true. An interpreter works at, say, the UN< and they listen to Vladimir Putin speaking in Russian and then they repeat what he said in English for the benefit of those who don't speak Russian.

            So are you saying that the writers of the Bible heard God speaking in some kind of Heavenly language (maybe in a vision? In a dream?) and then wrote down what He said in Hebrew, or Greek, for the benefit of those who don't speak that Heavenly language?

            Because that's what 'interpreter of God' would mean to me in plain English, given everyone knows what an interpreter does. So I assume that is what you mean. Yes?

          • S: this thread is already long enough and I’m not keen to get into a long exchange on the nuances involved here as it will be complicated logistically for one thing. And I’m simply keen to have Simon’s reply here. But as always I would be happy to correspond via e mail.

          • Andrew, if it is limited, then it is wrong in the claims it makes for itself to be the ‘God-breathed word’ to us, wrong in its claims to offer a universal vision of what it means to be human and to respond to God’s grace, wrong in the claims it makes to be the trustworthy testimony to God’s final Word to us in Jesus—and the Church has been wrong to attribute to it canonical status as the foundation of our faith and as ‘God’s word written’.

          • I think I need to ask you both to continue this discussion elsewhere. It is unedifying and fruitless.

            ‘And of course your actual evidence for thinking the bible is reliable? Zero.’ That is a comment from a sceptical atheist. I just don’t understand what place is has coming from a professing Anglican when the reliability of the Bible is deeply embedded in the history and theology of the Church.

            But enough now—please continue elsewhere.

          • Ian: you are, of course, taking my comment out of context and if you bothered to read the whole thread you would know that. I have indicated many many times that my view about the bible is not one of inerrancy or infallibility. I take an entirely Anglican view and am happy to back that up in any way. Please stop taking comments out of context.

            As to continuing elsewhere. Once again, I have offered many times to correspond with ‘S’ and to meet. Although from what you have said before he/she doesn’t even provide a valid e mail address, let alone a name so that’s hardly going to be possible is it? Why you allow such anonymous and often vicious comments is beyond me (and others here).

        • this thread is already long enough and I’m not keen to get into a long exchange on the nuances involved here as it will be complicated logistically for one thing

          That is very disappointing. It is just because you wrote:

          ‘I believe, and I think most Christians have to believe, that the writers of scripture were interpreters of God’

          and, as I am sure you realise, ‘interpreters of God’ is a very vague and ambiguous phrase. I mean, I can think of things it might plausibly mean that I would wholeheartedly agree with. But then I can also think of things that it might plausibly mean that I would never in a million years sign up to.

          So as you think ‘most Christians’, which presumably includes me, ‘have to believe’ it, I am curious as to whether I do believe it or not. You can understand that curiosity, can’t you?

          But of course I can’t tell whether I believe it or not until I know precisely what you mean by it.

          So will you really not explain what you mean by it? I mean, how complicated, logistically, can it really possibly be to just give a simple explanation in plain English?

          Reply
          • Andrew
            been away on conference since monday
            I tried to upload a long reply that got lost/did not upload

            The gist of it was this: I am not a fundamentalist nor an inerrantist.
            I believe in the inspiration and Infallibility of the text. Whatever the culture, context, semantic range or psychological personality of the author, I believe God chose them to write his Word to us. It is not hidden in some hard to crack nut, nor does it change as inspired infallible and thus authoritative. And the notion the Scriptures are written by mere ‘interpreters of God’ is dangerously slippery slope placing the emphasis on human subjectivity rather than God’s agency. The Church treasured, suffered for, kept safe, transmitted and collated these particular texts because they had the breath of God on them and not merely the handwriting of men. Not mere interpretations by men but inspired interpretations giving revelation of God.

            The slippery slope is the one dear Susannah has crashed on as evidenced by her “Paul was wrong” opine. He may have been if he alone was the source of his writings – he cant be wrong if God was speaking through him. His interpretation must be right or God is wrong. Yes, I understand the positivism and circular nature of my view – but you gotta stand somewhere and its a place that has stood the test of time.

          • Thanks Simon and no worry about the delay.

            I don’t personally think there is anything ‘mere’ about these interpretations and have no problem with ‘inspired interpretations giving revelation of God’. I can’t, however, see infallibility in that and have personally to accept that things do get lost in translation and that there is yet more light and truth to break froth from God’s word.

          • Thanks Andrew

            Infallible – from Latin – in(not) fallere (lead astray)
            The Scriptures wont lead astray from God’s will/way
            So, what Paul says is what God says and we are to believe and follow

            I have no real problem within the apostles as interpreters as long as God is inspiring their interpretation.

            The worry is if the interpretation is relativised to being the subjective opinion of a man, and erroneous

            The question here is, do you like Susannah, think Paul is wrong? One thing to say we read him wrong, quite another to say he is wrong

          • I think Paul was not so much wrong as limited. For example, limited by being human, limited by being in a particular culture and time and limited by being a man.
            And I come back to that view of the early church fathers that God is much much greater than we could ever possibly have the words for. So that’s another limitation.

          • “The slippery slope is the one dear Susannah has crashed on as evidenced by her “Paul was wrong” opine. He may have been if he alone was the source of his writings – he cant be wrong if God was speaking through him. His interpretation must be right or God is wrong.”

            Simon, God may speak through any of us and, like Paul, we may for example find ourselves comforting the sick and finding words from God to help them, as we open our own hearts to God.

            So we may be absolutely right, and open at times, to what God is saying through us. And yet at other times we may be wrong. I do not regard Paul as some kind of perfect human who was always right about things. That is like a mythologised picture of someone who was, after all, irascible, flawed, ardent, urgent, opinionated, devoted and all kinds of diverse things, as all human beings can be.

            Just because he sometimes spoke things based on his own experience and view of the world does not “make God wrong”. That’s non-sensical. It just doesn’t follow. I think you’re taking a very absolutist view of scripture because you seem to want it all to be watertight.

            On the contrary, I take the view that the scriptures are written by fallible human beings, writing in the contexts of their own times and cultural circumstances, and “trying to make sense of things” as best as they can. I just think that’s plain realistic, and treats the scriptures with more realism and respect.

            What you call “human subjectivity” may at times actually be the exercise of God-given human conscience as we interact with God in our own lives, just as Paul interacted with God in his. The Word of God is alive and active and He speaks to us, and calls to us, today. He continues to emerge and reveal and incite and love.

            The Bible itself is a conduit, not the perfect Word of God Himself. If we raise the Bible to the level of God’s own perfection I believe we are in some ways idolising it. It’s a dented, rusty, leaking conduit… and yet, as those old writers of the past struggled and tried to make sense of their spiritual encounters, their words may open us up to our own spiritual encounters too. But their imperfect words are a conduit for the perfect and Holy God, who can speak to us through their attempts to make sense, or through a beautiful view, or through a little child, or through passionate protest, or through sharing in community, helping the sick, protecting the helpless… all kinds of ways in which we experience and encounter the perfect Go, even though we ourselves are imperfect and sometimes get things right and sometimes get things wrong.

            If Paul sometimes made assumptions based on his own limited culture and experience, that doesn’t make God wrong, it simply makes Paul wrong in an assumption here or there.

            You write with a pre-supposition that the Bible is never wrong. In that, I believe you impose the strait-jacket of your own theology upon something that is far more flexible, dynamic, provisional… expressing attempts to ‘make sense’.

            And we, in our own turn, have to try to ‘make sense’.

            And that’s challenging in part because God is so unfathomable and beyond our controlling analysis. But we have prayer, we have conscience, and living with God in the present should not mean anaesthetising our consciences in favour of someone else’s conscience and limited cultural contexts. Relationship with God is always more fluid, more dynamic, more ‘now’ than that.

            And yet, in our own imperfections (like the imperfections and limits of Bible words) we may experience encounter with the living and perfect God: the true Word who knows us, calls us into being and becoming, and speaks urgently to our consciences which you may call a ‘subjective’ process, but it is a vital (in every sense) process, a process created by God for our relationship and opening up.

            Paul was writing subjectively too. And your chosen premiss about biblical infallibility is a subjective choice too. Something deep inside you makes you want to hold that premiss.

            People with my view of the Bible (there are many of us) may not have “crashed” at all (though we all mess up in life and have crashes). But we may have fulfilling and enriching relationships with God, which build our faith and trust, and open our hearts to compassionate love (well, sometimes – none of us is perfect). To use the terminology of one of Ian’s later articles, we find “open spaces” when we let go of an old paradigm and the confines of a biblical infallibility… and it makes more space for God to lead us to exercise our own conscience more… and yet none of that stops us walking the ‘narrow’ way of death to self, and givenness in love.

            My faith feels more alive than ever it did when I was a fundamentalist. My life has not ‘crashed’. My prayer life and relationship with God feels deeper and more precious. It feels alive. I’m pretty sure that’s what many people find.

            We are not God. Neither was Paul. We are all “trying to make sense”. And if we don’t have watertight perfect knowledge, well that makes us have to *trust* even more: to trust in God’s love and goodness, even as we see through the dark of our own lives. Sometimes the Bible helps.

            The Bible being fallible does NOT make God ‘wrong’. It simply makes it something written, realistically, by people who can be fallible and wrong. And viewed that way, we have to look deeper, behind the surface statements, to what was really impacting on them from their encounters with God. In the case of Paul’s vilification of man-man sexuality, behind the cultural bias, we can see that his real focus was the holiness of God. Then he scrabbled about for examples of what he believed to be unholy. But it’s the issue of holiness itself that is the heart of that passage. That Holy God flows through our experiences, through our fallible attempts to understand, and through the human conduit of the Bible.

            God is perfect but the Bible is not. But it contains within it the living, flowing perfection of who God is, drawing us into encounter.

          • My faith feels more alive than ever it did when I was a fundamentalist. My life has not ‘crashed’. My prayer life and relationship with God feels deeper and more precious. It feels alive.

            But these are, of course, all subjective feelings and you might well be mistaken. I’m sure you, like everyone else, have felt things, even very ntensely, which turned out to be dead wrong. Therefore you should never trust any of your feelings.

            The Bible being fallible does NOT make God ‘wrong’.

            It does however — given that out own feelings on the matter are probably wrong, and definitely not to be trusted — make it impossible for us to actually know anything about God.

            Would God really have left us in a world where it was impossible to knwo anything about Him?

          • I trust many of my feelings, S.

            I trust my wife and my feelings about her.

            I trust the value of nursing and helping people.

            I trust God’s fidelity towards us.

            I trust the wisdom and insight of many (but not all) passages in the bible, which incite my feelings, and speak to my conscience.

            Conscience and feeling are really important. They are a huge part of how God has created us to be. We are meant to understand through feeling, and not only through imparted facts.

            The Bible being fallible does not make it impossible to know anything about God, because God speaks to us still, and speaks to us through the reported experiences of people who wrote the scriptures. Do we knoe *anything* about God with absolute certainty? No. We’re not meant to be able to scientifically prove God like a theorem or a manifesto of facts.

            We’re meant to learn to TRUST God – not the Bible, but that trust that grows through prayer and relationship, through which one experiences love and trust and the continuing presence and fidelity of God, experienced through faith.

            We can disagree on this again and again, S, but the whole basis of my spirituality (and others like me) involves elements of the unknown, and uncertainty, and a kind of tension between doubt and faith. I actually believe that is good, and builds relationship with God on trust and love, not on dogma and religious certainties.

            I believe God was involved in the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ, and in the lives of many of the Bible authors. Through their encounters and reports, I discover resonance in my own life, and this has helped me gain insight and feeling of who God is.

            On that basis of love, we try to make sense as best we can, and in the exercise of conscience, to open our hearts to God. And to the flow of God’s love in the lives we lead. I trust in God.

            The bible does not have to be all infallible for me to do that. Nor would I say it’s all wrong. Either way, God is not the Bible. God can be seen (in part) through the bible. There is a difference.

          • I trust many of my feelings, S.

            So… have your feelings never been wrong? Really? ‘Cause mine have.

            I trust the wisdom and insight of many (but not all) passages in the bible, which incite my feelings, and speak to my conscience.

            How do you know which bits of the Bible are trustworthy and which aren’t? Another ‘feeling’?

            I believe God was involved in the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ, and in the lives of many of the Bible authors.

            What basis do you have for believing this? Do you ever consider you might be wrong?

            The bible does not have to be all infallible for me to do that. Nor would I say it’s all wrong.

            But how do you know which bits are right and which are wrong? If you say ‘the bits which chim with my own feelings and experiences are right and the bits which I disagree with are wrong’, then, well, aren’t you saying that it’s entiely on the basis of your feelings that you decide what you think is true, and the Bible is unnecessary?

          • S: as has been pointed out many times before, we use scripture, tradition, reason and experience in determining what is true and reliable. You are simply using a single tradition for your belief/feeling that it is all true. At least Simon acknowledges this when he says:

            “Yes, I understand the positivism and circular nature of my view – but you gotta stand somewhere and its a place that has stood the test of time”

          • ‘scripture, tradition, reason and experience’ as competing, equal authorities is not a historic or theological Anglican position.

            Scripture has primacy, mediated through the interpretive process that might draw on the other three. But saying ‘Scripture is wrong’ is not an act of interpretation; it is a rejection of the claims it makes on us.

          • as has been pointed out many times before, we use scripture, tradition, reason and experience in determining what is true and reliable.

            The other response has dealt with this.

            You are simply using a single tradition for your belief/feeling that it is all true

            No, I’m not. I’m pointing out (yet again…) that logically if the Bible is unreliable, and we have no way of judging which bits are reliable and which aren’t, then we cannot use the Bible as singular evidence for anything (it could be used as corroboration but only if we had other evidence) because the bit we are using as evidence might be unreliable.

            Therefore if the Bible is unreliable we cannot be Christians because we would have no reason to believe any of the specific (as opposed to general-revelatory) claims of Christianity (that Jesus was God incarnate, that He rose again, that we have sinned, that our sins can be forgiven, etc etc) because the evidence for those claims comes entirely from the Bible.

            Your position — to be a Christian, but hold that the Bible is unreliable — is logically inconsistent and therefore invalid. If you were logically consistent you would drop your Christianity as you have no solid reason to believe it is true, just ‘feelings’ and ‘experiences’, which are as unreliable as you believe the Bible to be.

            It’s nothing to do with tradition, it’s simple logic.

            (Logic which has of course been understood for a long time, which is how it has become part of the tradition — but it’s the logic which is prior, and the tradition follows the logic, not the other way around).

          • Circular logic is not logic.

            There’s nothing circular about my logic, as anyone following it can confirm.

            I have not said scripture is wrong – I have said it is limited.

            Of course it’s limited: it doesn’t contain everything. How could it, or it would be many times the size it is and it’s already quite long enough.

            But you haven’t just said it is limited: you’ve said there are bits of it which are outright incorrect.

          • No, it’s circular and at least simon has the honesty to acknowledge that.

            Dear me, have we reached the pantomime stage?

            Have you totally misread my argument and thought that the conclusion is that the Bible is reliable, rather than that it is logically incoherent to both be a Christian and to hold that the Bible is unreliable? Because I’m beginning to think you have.

          • No S, I haven’t misread it. There is no ‘logic’ to that view. It is just one of a number of views about the relationship between Christians and the bible. I learned about them all as an undergraduate 40 years ago. You are welcome to hold that view. Not all Christians do.

            What you have never responded to is this question: what is your evidence for claiming, as you do, that God actually wrote the bible?

            Answer came there none………

          • No S, I haven’t misread it. There is no ‘logic’ to that view. It is just one of a number of views about the relationship between Christians and the bible. I learned about them all as an undergraduate 40 years ago. You are welcome to hold that view. Not all Christians do.

            That fact that some people who claim to be Christians hold a view is no reason to think it is not logically incoherent. Much logically incoherent rubbish has been spouted by those who claim to be Christians. Kierkegaard, for example.

            So if you don’t think the Bible is reliable, what reason do you have for believing in, say, the incarnation or the resurrection? You can’t prove it from experience, tradition or reason, so if it’s not based on scripture, what have you got?

            What you have never responded to is this question: what is your evidence for claiming, as you do, that God actually wrote the bible?

            If the Bible isn’t God’s Word, then we cannot rationally believe in the incarnation or the resurrection or any of the other claims of Christianity. So either the Bible is God’s Word, or we shouldn’t be Christians.

          • ” You can’t prove it from experience, tradition or reason, so if it’s not based on scripture, what have you got?”

            In other words, all you have is a circular argument. No evidence.

            I’m not the one wanting or needing to ‘prove’ anything S. There isn’t anything ‘rational’ about the incarnation or the resurrection, and that’s rather the point isn’t it?

          • ” You can’t prove it from experience, tradition or reason, so if it’s not based on scripture, what have you got?”

            In other words, all you have is a circular argument. No evidence.

            I’m sorry what? As I keep pointing out, my argument is not circular. If you think it is, please point to where it has smuggled the conclusion is as a premise. If you can’t back up your claim, please to stop making it.

            I’m not the one wanting or needing to ‘prove’ anything S. There isn’t anything ‘rational’ about the incarnation or the resurrection, and that’s rather the point isn’t it?

            But you think it happened, yes? But you don’t believe that the Bible is reliable, yes? So what reason have you to think it happend, given the Bible is the only place it is recorded?

            You can’t have any. You’re just going on ‘feelings’. Which basically makes you the same as someone who believes, with no evidence, that the moon landings were faked, or that the CIA bombs the World Trade Centres, or that the earth is flat. And we should pay as much attention to you as we do to them.

          • “So what reason have you to think it happend, given the Bible is the only place it is recorded?”

            Oh dear. If this is the case…..

            Firstly. What evidence have you got that the bible is correct? Where is your evidence?

            Secondly. What came first, the bible or the experience and the tradition?

            S – whoever you are – if I’m not worth taking any notice of, then PLEASE stop taking any notice? I’d be very grateful if you did.

          • “So what reason have you to think it happend, given the Bible is the only place it is recorded?”

            Oh dear. If this is the case…..

            Firstly. What evidence have you got that the bible is correct? Where is your evidence?

            You don’t have any reason, do you? That’s why you won’t answer.

            Secondly. What came first, the bible or the experience and the tradition?

            The Bible, obviously. Your experience can’t have begun until you were born, which I’m guessing wasn’t that long ago, and the only evidence we have for pre-Bible Christian traditions is… drum roll… the Bible! So if the Bible is unreliable, then so is everything you know about any Christian traditions that pre-date the Bible.

          • The experience of the earliest Christians (followers of Jesus) came first. The tradition of the early church came second.
            The writing about that in the new testament came third.
            The bible bears witness to the earliest tradition.
            ‘Tradition’ develops.
            As we’ve seen on this very thread….
            Paul’s thinking about the return of Christ evolved.
            Paul and Peter differed in their views.
            Biblical scholars changed their tradition about who wrote the letter to the Hebrews.
            ‘The bible’ wasn’t their reason for working out their tradition.

            And my final question once more. If I’m not worth paying attention to, why are you still doing so?


          • The experience of the earliest Christians (followers of Jesus) came first. The tradition of the early church came second.
            The writing about that in the new testament came third.

            Noen of which you can use as evidence because you have no access to it, except through the Bible, which you do not think is reliable.

            And of course even if you did have access to it…

            ‘Tradition’ develops.

            … you can’t use ‘tradition’ as evidence because you think tradition is unreliable too (for example, you think tradition is wrong on the question of same-sex activity).

            So — what reason do you have for thinking that the incarnation and the resurrection really happened? Or if you actually think that Christian faith is inherently irrational and based on nothing but a baseless ‘leap of faith’, why don’t you just go ahead and say that openly instead of just continually implying it while tryign to maintain plausible deniability?

            And my final question once more. If I’m not worth paying attention to, why are you still doing so?

            Because watching you squirm is fun.

          • And of course your actual evidence for thinking the bible is reliable? Zero.

            As I’ve already said, I’m not the one wanting or needing to ‘prove’ anything S. There isn’t anything ‘rational’ about the incarnation or the resurrection, and that’s rather the point isn’t it? So far from squirming, I’m wondering quite what your point is!

    • Hi Christopher
      Yes, I saw this above too, I think!
      I’m not sure I am assigning a purely ‘psychological’ cause. A crisis, whatever it was, could have shaped Paul’s theology.
      Just as an earlier experience (possibly in Antoich) led him to a ‘law free’ gospel.

      Reply
  20. Susannah
    This post is a response to your Susannah Clark July 31, 2019 at 7:14 pm and Susannah Clark August 1, 2019 at 12:30 pm posts.

    You said
    ‘his argument is weak if the original first sin of the non-existent woman never actually happened’.
    I want to focus on ‘happened’. I have been here before on fulcrum and psephizo but let’s try again. I assume that we both have the same view of what ‘happened’ means. It took place. It’s a fact. It may be a natural fact, which is (or would have been, in principle, in the case of a fact in the past, given the availability of modern instruments) verifiable by and within the scope of the laws of physics; or it may be a supernatural fact which is (or would not have been if it happened in the past) so verifiable. Is my assumption correct?

    You also said
    ‘The idea that Adam was formed before Eve is a cultural inaccuracy, based on limited science in those days. It’s a false assertion. And yet Paul uses it, and the idea that this mythical Eve sinned first (was the one who was easily deceived), to indicate a weakness and susceptibility in women – but it never happened. It was primitive myth. As myth it’s superb and resonates. The danger is when it’s literalised’

    This quote mentions two parts of the Genesis account: the creation of Adam before Eve and the account of the Fall. You state that neither of these happened (‘It’s a false assertion’ and ‘but it never happened’). But you say of the Fall, ‘As myth it’s superb and resonates. The danger is when it’s literalised’.

    I further assume that we both agree that there are some statements which are figuratively true and some statements which are literally true. Are we so agreed? To use examples from the Bible, ‘I am the door’ is an example of the former and ‘Jesus wept’ an example of the latter.

    What do you mean by saying that the account of the Fall is ‘superb and resonates’? do you mean it is figuratively true? And isn’t it possible that, whatever you mean, the account of the order of creation of Adam and Eve should also resonate?

    In your view the first three chapters of Genesis never happened – at least never happened literally. But some of it is superb and resonates. Either ‘superb and resonates’ means ‘is figuratively true’ or it means something else. What?

    Moving on from Genesis, where, in your view, do we get to accounts which describe things that did happen, things which are either figuratively true or literally true?

    In one of your posts you mention ‘fidelity and love of God in all’ and ‘keep opening our hearts to the Love of God’. The Bible asserts in many places instances where God and Christ acted and spoke. These instances are among the most important claims that the Bible makes. Does your ‘keep opening our hearts to the Love of God’ include accepting that God and Christ did do and say all the things which the Bible asserts? That is, they happened? Or only some of them? Or none of them?

    Phil Almond

    Reply
    • Hi Phil,

      “I want to focus on ‘happened’.” Okay. It never happened. Figurative events don’t happen. And the events in early Genesis didn’t happen literally either. Nor do I think the ‘original first sin’ was a supernatural event. I think the idea of an original first sin is a cultural narrative to try to make sense of a world in which bad things happen. However it is not based on any event. This is myth.

      When I wrote “As myth it’s superb and resonates” I was referring to the collective narrative of early Genesis, not what you call ‘the Fall’. The concept of original sin is a theological construct to try to rationalise the selfishness in people, and the bad things that happen in the world. You call this the Fall. According to the Genesis narrative, death came into the world as a result of this ‘original sin’. With the benefit of science today we can see that this assertion was all kinds of gobbledegook, because dinosaurs and other creatures had been dying (and fossilising) for hundreds of millions of years before humans even existed, and indeed early human’s predecessors had been successively dying for countless generations, which we know because we evolved from the predecessors and every reasonable aspect of scientific evidence points to species not living for thousands or millions of years. Death has always been part of life on this planet, and it is not the consequence of a mythical (non) first woman committing a mythical sin. So it’s not the ‘original sin’ bit that resonates most to me. The goodness of God’s creation resonates. The Noah narrative is superb and resonates hugely. And there is also a subjective beauty to parts of the narrative that opens the heart to the idea of God.

      So the myths open our hearts and minds up, but not in the way literalists would claim: myth opens us up not by facts but by connection with the subconscious, and that’s quite a good place for God to connect, because God is hugely unknown and beyond our control and knowledge, so it’s good when myth can connect with where we feel, and not simply connect cerebrally.

      Moving to your next question, yes I think some statements in the Bible were probably literally true, some were not true and were human narratives, and sometimes we get myth/feeling/poetry that may communicate but not at the literal level.

      Next question: no “the order of creation of Adam and Eve” does not resonate with me, because it reflects a cultural primacy attributed to men in society that I cannot buy at all. That’s pretty cultural.

      Next one: “‘superb and resonates’ means ‘is figuratively true’ or it means something else. What?” No I do not mean that the myths in early Genesis are figuratively ‘true’. I think they are fallible and sincere attempts to make sense of mystery and communicate it. Much of the fabric of the myths is flawed and yet, when you get to Noah, there is an intuitive sense of the profound spiritual baptism that they may have sensed (in part) in their encounters with a mysterious God. What’s true is not the figurative, which is partial, but the numinous presence of God that seems like they were encountering.

      The myths and the narratives are mainly just conduits for the presence of God in their lives, which they try to make sense of.

      Final questions: “Do I accept that God and Christ did do and say all the things which the Bible asserts?”

      No, Phil, I don’t.

      But I think the question is poorly phrased to get much definition, because it’s the “all” I have a problem with.

      Best wishes, Susannah
      PS I don’t want to extend this into a lengthy debate, because I have commitments approaching and to be honest I am almost spent and done with the threads on this page. I have at least tried to explain why, though I think Paul is clear about his views on man-man sex, I do not agree with those views.

      Reply
  21. Andrew and Christopher
    Only the Triune God can convince anyone that his self-disclosure in the Bible is true. I pray that in his compassion, pity, longsuffering, love, sovereign grace and mercy (sometimes a severe mercy) he will convince those who are not convinced. I also pray that he will be pleased to move the minds, hearts and consciences of those who have promised to be faithful to that self-disclosure to proclaim the whole gospel, with its dreadful warning of retribution for sinners and its wonderful exhortation, invitation and promise of deliverance for those who submit to Christ in repentance, faith, love and obedience; who submit to Christ in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection.
    Phil Almond

    Reply
    • I didn’t say I was not convinced! You are absolutely right to put God rather than the text as foundational. But surely you need to prevent circularity. If the presupposition is inerrancy/divine origin/truth or any combination of these, and then people come up with any combination of these as their ‘conclusion’ then that is dishonest, and the last people who should be dishonest are Christians. Many have become Christians not least because the world’s way of doing things and of thinking is deceptive and they have chosen (in a rather relieved manner) truth above deception. How awful it would then be (Heb 6 etc ) to slide back into deception again.

      Reply
  22. Thanks for this and all your posts, Ian. Have you read “Changing Our Mind” by David Gushee? Any thoughts on that?

    I’m a minister in the Anglican Church of Canada (diocese of BC), where I am in a small minority of ministers who won’t perform same sex marriages. While we have a policy of leaving this issue well alone, given the tone of the debates, I’ve been part of a few gracious conversations among ministers with more evangelical backgrounds who’ve become ‘inclusive’, and Gushee seems the recommended text for them.

    Reply
  23. Thanks so much, Ian.

    I haven’t read Gushee myself, but feel I ought to be reading more books arguing for an ‘affirming evangelical’ position — I keep saying “I haven’t heard a biblical argument that seriously challenges me to change my view,” but realise that I can only keep saying that if I keep on top of the literature first hand, at least to some degree. I just have limited reading capacity, as well as other issues to study which seem more pertinent in my context.

    By the sounds of things, if I am to invest the time in a book, it needs to be one which addresses the Creation Order texts more fully. I guess it may be that he has done so in the 2017 3rd edition which includes “response to critics” — I’ll look into that.

    PS Thanks again for your blog. Your lectionary posts are particularly helpful to me, and invariably shine a light which causes me to adjust my sermons! (never having had to take the lectionary seriously before joining the ACC…)

    Reply
  24. “it also makes gay people feel as though they are the subjects of these debates, which I think is unhelpful all round.”

    So stop writing about us then!!

    Reply
    • I’d happily stop writing on this subject…if others could stop lobbying. I only ever write in response to others, as with this morning’s piece. And why don’t you comment on the other 90% of what I write?

      Reply

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