Did Jesus heal the centurion’s gay lover?

centurionAt the end of May, Jeffrey John, Dean of St Alban’s, preached at Liverpool Cathedral on the healing of the centurion’s servant in Luke 7. You can listen to the sermon on the Cathedral’s Soundcloud stream. John is a consummate orator, and he begins with a story from his teenager years, when his vicar refers to the question of homosexuality of ‘that filthy business.’ In this way he builds a powerful, emotive case, that Jesus includes the excluded, and that if you oppose this you are unreasonable and prejudiced—and that gay people are amongst this excluded-now-included group. You might have rejected them (he comments at 14.33) ‘but these are the ones God wants, Jesus says, these are the ones I have come for, these are the ones to whom the kingdom belongs.’ The rhetorical move here, via the story in Luke 7, is that, far from the traditional reading of the NT where same-sex relations are rejected as incompatible with the kingdom, gay people don’t simply become acceptable in the kingdom; they become the archetypal members, in much the same way that Jesus holds children before the disciples as archetypes of kingdom membership. So rejecting this is not just a problem of rights; it is rejecting the central way that God pursues his kingdom purposes. It is about ‘doing what Jesus did’—which rather suggests it will not be acceptable to ‘agree to disagree’.

A key question in all this is whether the text in question supports John’s position. John cites the ‘sober German scholar’ Gerd Theissen, who pointed out ‘long ago’ that the word entimos (‘highly prized’) used to describe the value of the servant to the centurion in Luke 7.2, would have been understood by any Jew to mean that the slave was the centurion’s gay lover. There are a number of issues here.

First, John misquotes the word as atimos, which means either worthless or beyond value (lit. ‘without price’) instead of entimos, ‘highly valued’, but the point remains the same. Second, I don’t think Theissen puts the significance of the word to the same use that John does. The reference comes from his landmark work The Shadow of the Galilean where he makes a point about the impact of Jesus’ action amongst his fellow Jews. He imagines a Pharisee named Gamaliel who disparaged Jesus thus:

One day a Gentile centurion living here in Capernaum came to [Jesus]. He asked him to heal his orderly. Of course you have to help Gentiles. But why this one? Everyone knows that most of these Gentile officers are homosexual. Their orderlies are their lovers. But Jesus isn’t interested in that sort of thing. He didn’t ask anything about the orderly. He healed him—and the thought didn’t occur to him that later someone might think of appealing to him in support of the view that homosexuality is permissible. (p 106).

Theissen is here not so much interested in careful scholarship (though he is a scholar) as imaginative reconstruction. In the course of this, he has first-century Jews believing that ‘all Gentile officers are gay’. Quite apart from the completely anachronous projection of modern categories of sexuality on the first century, Theissen doesn’t make clear whether the Jews were correct in this—in fact, both issues (the uniformity of Jewish views of Gentiles, and actual Gentile behaviour) are contested. Christopher Zeichmann (‘Rethinking the Gay Centurion’, The Bible and Critical Theory, 11.1 2015) raises questions about the uniformity of Jewish views—though at the same time noting that all the texts we have do express strong rejection of same-sex sexual relations.

To be sure, surviving evidence of ancient Jewish writings overwhelmingly criticises same-sex intercourse when the topic arises. Philo of Alexandria (e.g., Abr. 135; Spec. 3.36), rabbinic literature (e.g., t.Kid. 5.9-10), Josephus (e.g., Ag.Ap. 2.199), and others offer negative assessments of same-sex intercourse between Jews. (See also Sib.Or. 3.595-600; Jub. 20.5-6; Rom 1:26-27; Jude 7.)

But if (like Paul in Romans 1) Jews characterised Gentiles as obsessed with same-sex relations, this doesn’t mean that the Jewish rhetoric offers a dispassionate description of historical reality. As Peter Ould points out:

Phang, in The Marriage of Roman Soldiers argues coherently that in the period of Roman history this passage occurs, it would have been inconceivable that a Roman soldier would have been permitted to have had a sexual relationship with either another soldier, any freeman, or even a male slave. There is however evidence that some Roman soldiers bought slave boys in order to have sex with them, but the documentation of this phenomenon is scarce. In some parts of the Empire at this time (i.e. Egypt) it was already unheard of for a free Roman to enter into pederasty with a junior. By the middle to end of the third century it was almost eliminated from the life of the army across the Empire.

We must take context seriously (‘a text without a context is a pretext’)—but we need to actually look at the text as well! The word entimos occurs in four other places in the NT (Luke 14.8, Phil 2.29, 1 Peter 2.4, 6) as well as 28 times in the LXX, the Greek version of the OT which the NT frequently cites. These are much more important contexts for understanding the word—and of course there is no hint of sexual overtones in any of the other occurrences. It has been argued that the phrase entimos doulos (‘prized servant’) has the particular sexual meaning—but this phrase does not occur in Luke 7, and the word comes not from the centurion himself, but from Luke. It is worth noting that Matthew does not include the description in his (typically) more abbreviated account, so I wonder whether Luke is adding this term to bring out the poignancy of the story. Theissen is correct to point out that a sexual relationship is possible, but the good standing of the centurion with the local Jewish community makes it unlikely, and the vocabulary and shape of the story make it clear that, even if is the case, this aspect is of no interest to the gospel writers.

In fact, both Luke and (even more emphatically) Matthew do make it clear what they think the significance of the story is. Luke records Jesus’ amazement at the faith of the centurion: ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel’ (7.9). But Matthew includes an expansion on this, so we can see why he has abbreviated the actual details of the event itself (including omitting reference to the messengers).

Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt 8.10–12).

This is one of the early anticipations of the Gentile mission that we find in Matt 28 embedded within an otherwise Israel-centric account of Jesus’ ministry. And this is the key point of the story.

For Jeffrey John to use the text in the way he does, he has to do several things. First, he sets aside the shape of the text itself and the clues that the gospel writers give as to the significance of the event. Second, he has to take one possible but unlikely meaning of a key word and make it the only possible meaning. Third, he then connects that with other unlikely meanings of other texts in order to form a patchwork picture which makes his point. He is ‘quite confident’ that, had Paul known about faithful same-sex relations, he would have approved of them—but that is only because John has remade Paul in his own image as someone who thought marriage was about being ‘faithful, stable and permanent’ but, bizarrely and against the evidence, didn’t think marriage was about sex differentiation and procreation. This is the Dan Brown approach to reading a text: there is a secret meaning, which has not surfaced in the history of interpretation, but with some expert knowledge (which I have access to and which you, the ordinary reader, cannot question), I will excavate the real meaning of this text which has been hidden from you (and is hidden even from Luke and Matthew themselves) which will prove my case beyond any doubt.

This text has been used in this way many times before, though in most discussions the focus is on the word pais which can mean ‘child’, ‘boy’, ‘slave’ or (it is claimed) the younger partner, possibly a pre-pubescent boy, in a pederastic same-sex relationship. For good discussions of this parallel issue see James Byron, Peter Ould or Andrew Perriman. Byron sums it up nicely:

It is a story about a servant and a master and we know nothing about how they interacted with one another in the bedroom or out.

And the central mistake involved is nicely highlighted by a pro-gay-reading website:

When we see the word pais in the Greek New Testament, context determines when it means child, servant, girl, boy or a male lover. Words do not always mean the same thing. The fact that the Greek word pais sometimes means same sex lover does not indicate it always carries that meaning.

It is worth thinking one stage further about all this. Suppose John is right about the relationship involved—after all, even if unlikely, it is not impossible, and it should surely not surprise us if a Roman soldier holds to a different sexual ethic from orthodox Jews. John himself draws the parallel with the women healed of an issue of blood; the real import of that story is not the one healing, but the effective declaration that she (and others like her) should not be considered unclean. That parallel works if being gay is like being a woman (in effect arguing that God made four sexes and not two) and that engaging in same-sex sexual activity is like menstruating—it is something that you just cannot help, and is an inevitable part of who you are, an argument that has its own problems. A more obvious parallel, in its historical and social context, is Jesus’ inclusion of prostitutes, as Jay Michaelson pointed out in the Huffington Post:

In addition to Jesus’ silence on homosexuality in general (he never mentions same-sex intimacy, not once, despite its prevalence in his social context), it speaks volumes that he did not hesitate to heal a Roman’s likely same-sex lover. Like his willingness to include former prostitutes in his close circle, Jesus’ engagement with those whose conduct might offend sexual mores even today is a statement of radical inclusion, and of his own priorities for the spiritual life.

So the key question is: what does Jesus’ inclusion signify in relation to the approval of sexual ethics? If Jeffrey John is right, then Michaelson suggests Jesus is approving of prostitution. Worse than that, if the relation between the centurion and the slave was sexual, and Jesus’ healing did signal approval, then it was approval of a non-consensual, unequal, probably abusive and most likely pederastic relationship. More generally, it suggests Jesus’ general approval of slavery, since he offers no critique of that institution. Jeffrey John’s reading, quite apart from imposing his own sexualising agenda on the text (where there is no evidence for it) is either morally repugnant or logically incoherent.

dr-jeffrey-john-poses-outside-st-albans-cathedralIn closing, I would like to make three final observations. First, I keep being told that there are ‘good arguments’ for the Church to change its teaching on this issue. If there are, then where are they? Jeffrey John is a leading figure in this debate, so how come he offers us here such a poorly researched, implausible and incoherent case? Why is the case being made by SEC, a sister church in the Communion, so thin?

Secondly, what is Jeffrey John doing from the pulpit? He consistently makes the claim that texts ‘must mean this’ when they probably don’t, that Paul ‘certainly would have thought this’ when the majority think he wouldn’t, and that ‘this is what Jesus does’ when the gospels writers suggest the opposite. It is one thing to make a case, even a contentious one; it is quite another to disguise from your listeners that there is another possibility. It is a bit like saying ‘I am not interpreting the Bible; I am simply telling you what it says.’ It is a naked power play, and is wrong whoever does it. Some would call this dishonest; others might label it deceptive. It doesn’t seem to me to be a legitimate way to feed sheep.

Christopher Zeichmann goes further than this, and identifies such homonormative readings with neo-liberalist militarism, where all alternative views are unacceptable and should be eliminated.

Ward Blanton writes: “As if through a reflective play of mirrors, the ‘truth’ of any given depiction of ancient Christianity emerges only in that same moment in which an audience recognises this depiction to be an exemplary embodiment of those distinctions in terms of which it desires to identify itself” (2007, 6). I have suggested that among interpreters of the Healing of the Centurion’s Slave these “desired distinctions” consistently include the sexual exceptionalism of the geopolitical west, a distinction that tacitly flatters colonial ambitions through its implied counterpart of Islamic degeneracy…

The isolation of political issues in contemporary LGBT activism (and academic production attending to these concerns) often results in campaigns for what is “good for gays” that overlook their normalisation of neoliberal militarism…This is not a uniquely (or even especially) queer shortcoming, but rather a cultural logic in which we are all implicated.

Finally, I wonder what is the significance of John preaching this sermon in Liverpool Cathedral. Its bishop, Paul Bayes, has just appointed an active advocate of same-sex marriage as Assisting Bishop in the diocese, and last year he spoke at a service for LGBT Christians at St Bride’s Church. Are these the signs that a diocese in the Church of England is beginning the process of fracture which has marked the Anglican Communion? I fear so—though I pray not.

Additional Note

A good deal of discussion in this area makes broad assumptions about sexuality and sexual behaviour in the ancient world, and there needs to be some essential clearing of the air on this. Zeichmann mentions two articles in JBL recently, one proposing the kind of reading that Jeffrey John here is proposing (‘Mistaken Identities but Model Faith: Rereading the Centurion, the Chap, and the Christ in Matthew 8:5-13,’ in JBL 123 (2004): 467-94, Theodore W. Jennings, Jr., and Tat-Siong Benny Lieu) and a short note completely refuting the assumptions made there: ‘The Centurion in Matthew 8:5-13: Consideration of the Proposal of Theodore W. Jennings, Jr., and Tat-Siong Benny Lieu’ by D. B. Saddington, JBL 125.1 (Spring, 2006), pp. 140-142. Saddington points out the reality of what was allowed for centurions:

To bolster [their] interpretation they point to factors in the Roman army that promoted homosexuality. They quote the Roman ban on soldiers marrying, but the ban operated mainly as a status determinant and in the area of inheritance law. Soldiers might, and did, form customary unions and raise families while on service; however, from a legal point of view, the relationship was not a proper marriage (iustum matrimonium), nor the partner a “wife,” and the children were illegitimate. This applied to Roman citizens serving in the legions. The soldiers serving in Judea at this time were not legionaries but auxiliaries. Auxiliary unions were officially acknowledged: after twenty-five years of service, an auxiliary was granted Roman citizenship not only for himself but for his children as well and, in addition, conubium, or a legally valid relationship, with his partner. The implication of the citation of the ban on marriage seems to be that homosexuality was more prevalent in Roman than in other armies, but at least ancient Greek armies seem to have been more given to it than the Romans.

In other words, the situation is much less clearcut than Jennings and Lieu have suggested. But Saddington goes on to point out that most of this is irrelevant—since the ‘centurion’ wasn’t even a Roman soldier, nor even an auxiliary.

But it is the basic irrelevance of the proffered analogies to the passage in Matthew that is the least convincing aspect of the article. The centurion is portrayed as a Roman. He is called [by Jennings and Lieu] a “Roman centurion.” He shares “Roman attitudes” (p. 491). “We have been talking about the centurion and the Roman military in this paper” (p. 493 n. 65). As noted above, however, the soldiers stationed in Judea in the first century ce. were non-Roman auxiliaries, not legionaries. Moreover, the incident took place not in Judea but in Galilee, which at the time was a nominally independent kingdom of the Herodian Antipas. Client kings of the time certainly modeled their armies on that of Rome. For example, in that of Nabataean Arabia (against whom Antipas fought after the death of John the Baptist) chiliarchs and centurions appear. Antipas himself used this terminology.

All that can be definitely said is that the centurion in Matthew was a Gentile: his actual ethnicity cannot be determined. He may have had a homosexual relationship with his pais—who can tell? But that he might have is not supported by suggestion that his behavior was similar to that of upper-class society in Rome itself or to that of officers in crack regiments stationed at key points on the frontiers of the empire. One needs rather to know how captains in the armies of the petty kings of the East thought and behaved.

In other words, Jennings and Lieu’s argument (and with it Jeffrey John’s) lacks the essential historical elements it needs to come anywhere near to being at all plausible.

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116 thoughts on “Did Jesus heal the centurion’s gay lover?”

  1. I agree with large parts of this post. I don’t think the evidence is in the text about what sort of relationship the centurion and his slave had. The reading that they were same-sex lovers is possible (and not implausible) but no more than that.

    I also agree with the statement: ‘It is one thing to make a case, even a contentious one; it is quite another to disguise from your listeners that there is another possibility.’ Too many on both sides of the debate fall short here.

    You then state: ‘Christopher Zeichmann goes further than this, and identifies such homonormative readings with neo-liberalist militarism, where all alternative views are unacceptable and should be eliminated.’ And here I part company. It’s all too easy to label those with whom you disagree. The same could be said of conservative evangelicalism.

    • I’m honestly surprised Jeffery John was so blatant in saying this from the pulpit so I think he should be formally challenged, in print (by other ministers) and in person (by his seniors). It is one thing to preach an alternative opinion/reading, or to question an established teaching, quite another to change the fundamental reading of a passage as it relates to a major point of doctrine and expect no repercussions.

      So in that respect I agree with the main thrust of this article. like Jonathan I wouldn’t go as far as Zeichmann even if I think the thrust of his point is right. “neo-liberal militarism” is pejorative and you wont win arguments by calling people names, however much you dress those names up in fancy language.

      • Many thanks. The word that came to mind when I read the transcript of the sermon was ‘Gnostic’. So I agree with the Dan Brown description.

    • Sorry Jonathan, I don’t know why this is a reply to your comment, it was meant to be a comment in it’s own right.

      • No, in the context of his piece, Zeichmann’s claim is not pejorative; it is a conclusion from a careful analysis of the cultural dynamic. He points out the connection between the neo-liberal agenda on sexuality in the West, and the parallel critique of Western assessment of Islamic attitudes to sexuality.

        Remember that he is writing from a North American perspective.

        • Something can be both.

          I’m not saying that Zeichmann is wrong to make a connection to ‘neo-liberal’ ideas (itself a pretty broad category), I happen to think it’s a fairy accurate. The pejorative element I’m concerned about is that he describes those ideas as “militarism”, which implies wither aggression or physical force and also assumes this stance to be taken “often” by those supporting LBGT activism.

        • I suppose this may be the case in America, but your article does not draw that distinction and so my assumption that the quote was in the context of the UK debate is a fair one.

    • Jonathan—agreement breaking out!

      I don’t know if you have read the Zeichmann article…because he says exactly that. He also criticises heteronormative readings, though in not such strong terms, but half the article is about how Islamic understandings are criticised.

      it is a fascinating piece.

  2. I had a great deal of sympathy for Jeffrey John until he came “Out 4 Marriage”. He has lost it.
    From my simplistic point of view he seems to be suggesting that because Christ forgave sins He must have approved of them.
    The clerical LGBT lobby do themselves no favours by trying to persuade congregations that same sex marriage will be accepted as normal. It is not so cannot be.

  3. I think your post is excellent, Ian, and I especially appreciate it at this time when we are entering an interregnum at our church and praying about our future leadership. I could not in good conscience submit to the teaching of Jeffrey John, or to the teaching of any other leader who preached in this manner.
    ‘It doesn’t seem to me to be a legitimate way to feed sheep.’ Amen.

    We have a thriving Sunday School at our church and for several years I taught children aged 8-11. The passage about the healing of the centurion’s servant was popular with the children. We used Scripture Union resources and I heard no suggestion from anyone, child or adult, that the centurion and his servant were gay lovers – I would have been completely bemused if anyone had suggested it!

  4. We do know – from any rudimentary reading of the New Testemt Scripture – that Jesus went out to the marginalized and the outcaste, and was even criticized for doing so; and we know that he rigorously warned about repenting and ‘sinning no more’, ‘that something worse may not happen to you.’

  5. Many thanks for this Ian. Some further observations:
    1. Jesus fully affirmed the Mosaic law and paid specific attention to its sexual ethics. Rather than relaxing prohibitions against adultery, divorce, ‘sexual immorality’ (porneia) he appeared to strengthen them by warning his listeners about what was in their hearts, and about the potential for spiritual defilement. So it is simply impossible that Jesus would have endorsed a same sex relationship.
    2. Jesus’ radical message was not that what the Bible previously called sin is no longer sin. It was that any person, no matter from what background or how bad their sin, can be forgiven and included in the life of God and his people. The criteria for entry to the Kingdom, in this passage in Luke 7 and other Gospel passages, is very simple: recognition of the absolute authority of Jesus, his power to save and bring transformation; my unworthiness to receive and his grace to give. Jeffrey John with his unfounded theory that the centurion was gay has missed the obvious point about radical inclusion – the Centurion was a Gentile, even a Roman oppressor, yet he humbled himself before the Son of God and received grace. Perhaps a modern parallel story might be entitled ‘the conservative-voting senior banker’s au-pair’?
    3. You’re right, Ian, to point out the connection with Bishop Paul Bayes’ promotion of the revisionist agenda. Readers might like to know that on the day that John preached in the Cathedral, Bishop Paul returned from a meeting in Ghana which is part of the long-term ‘continuing Indaba’ project, funded and led predominantly by members of TEC and the Anglican Church in Canada who support Jeffrey John’s position. Liverpool’s strong links with the Diocese of Virginia are well known. Any suggestions of how concerned clergy and lay people should respond if their Bishop is acting against Scripture and the clear mind of the Anglican Communion in this way?

    • In response to your last question I would encourage the chairman of the diocesan evangelical fellowship to convene a meeting of the DEF and the bishop. I think it’s better to tackle these issues as a group, so that a variety of voices can be heard, and the extent of the concerns can be fully recognised. If the DEF won’t rise to the occasion then I would seek some support from the CEEC.

    • Andrew, “Jesus fully affirmed the Mosaic Law”. Are you serious? Surely he made a point of publicly breaking it, whenever it got in the way of grace, healing, forgiveness and inclusion. The people who “fully affirmed the Mosaic Law” especially on morality, were the people Jesus was most critical of!

      • From my reading of the New Testament, I find that what Jesus challenged was an exclusive interpretation of the law, rather than the Mosaic Law itself. I cannot think of any incident where he breached the law as recorded in scripture. Take Sabbath healing for example – it is only ‘work’ if you interpret the word of healing as ‘work’ – and that is not at all a necessary conclusion. A word of healing is hardly the daily grind or the relentless persuit of gain that the commandment is given to protect us from.

      • If Jesus made a point of publicly breaking the Mosaic Law, then how could He say “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (Mattthew 5:17)

        Jesus did not criticize the Pharisees for affirming the (sexual) morality found in the Law, but for invalidating the word of God by their traditions, such as refusing to support their parents by saying their wealth had been given to God through the Temple.

        You are straining at gnats while expecting us to swallow the camels of distortions of Scripture you feed on. Those of us who actually read Scripture are not so easily fooled.

      • Drew,

        For the sake of clarity, Christ was ‘made under the lLaw’. When challenged about the law, Christ didn’t break the Law. He simply contradicted those who applied it an inequitably censorious way.

        If it’s right to rescue a beast of burden on the Sabbath,then it’s right to restore health to your fellow man.

        He challenged those who appointed themselves to execute penalties according to Moses’ Law that they should ensure that they were sinless. If anything, Jesus’ leniency was based on a scrupulous fair internalisation of the Law.

        Why would Jesus laud John the Baptist as ‘a burning and a shining light’? Why wasn’t He critical of him for declaring Herodias’ marriage unlawful due to a specific violation of Levitical regulations?

        Where was inclusion, forgiveness and grace for Herod? Where was his ‘welcome’?

        • I apologise in advance for any offense I may offer, certainly none is intended. I have not read all of the posts past the one I am responding to and pray I do not step on any toes. I am after all (*sigh) an american (small case means to me I am far more “patriotic” of Father’s Scripture!) Yet… I had no idea of the lack of depth of historical/biblical understanding that attends this issue. Thus, I believe you all have it wrong. Yahshua simply kept the Law, the royal 613 laws, statutes, ordinances and judgements listed in the torah (genesis, exodus, leviticus, numbers, and deuteronomy). He debated them with many. He understood the crucial departure from that Law that took place during the Babylonian captivity/exile. The scholars, teachers, maybe even professors would be the right word (chaldeans) of the Babylonian culture were fascinated with Mosaic Law and studied with a bent that would make any Pharisee beam with pride. The rules established through this intense study are still debated even today in a rampantly fascinating display of irrelevantism (made that word up I swear). Those rules were codified into what became known as the The Talmud. It is this “tradition” that I strongly believe Yahshua challenged when he said almost anything to challenge the Pharisee’s interpretation of Law. It isn’t against the Law to eat on the Sabbath, it is against the law to start a cooking fire (or an argument if you want to go there) on the Sabbath. Yahshua made it clear that “men’s traditions” were men’s interpretations of Talmudic absurdity, not Father’s PERFECT Law. Standard of Perfection, the Light of His Word, etc. etc. ad nauseum. Sorry. It’s such a duh to me but only because it so clearly fits every single utterance of this type that Messiah made. Every single one. He NEVER sinned (broke any of the Mosaic Law) and His point in that was that it wasn’t so tough to do, and we should all follow him in that. How hard is it not to murder?, steal from your neighbor?, watch over your hyperactive bull with the sharp horns?, eh? The fact that none of us keeps His Feasts is sad and deprives everyone the opportunity to practice the larger lessons and truths that come from it but all that will be corrected upon His return.

          In regards to “inclusion, forgiveness and grace for Herod” (I am probably clueless if there was sarcasm in this but… what the heck, fodder for another point off my chest I guess)… may we remember that Messiah was passionate in the extreme about truth and people being led astray by the false teachings attendant upon the Law since he was a boy? The money changers tables? (the desecration of the Sabbath via said activity, etc.) Nothing against Father’s Law to be angry, not even against the Law to duke it out in the fields guys! Wanna hear what eye for an eye tooth for a tooth really means? lol

          Anyway awesome debates though guys. I find these so instructive, in part cuz I hear so much I didn’t know about (especially linguistic and etymological items) but also cuz it makes me remember what I have learned. I come over to the side of the people that say the Centurion’s servant was just that… a servant. If any comparison comes to mind, then it would be Yahseph’s (Joeseph) service to Potiphar wherein he (Yahseph) was EXTREMELY trusted to handle all things. From the Messiah’s point of view (which should be ours also) all men, especially the lost, can be redeemed thru true repentence (7×70 right?), the turning back to innocence and gentle care for one’s fellow human.

          Father’s Law has the purpose only of building family. It’s the whole point. His family. His Family. No one knows the yearning for such a thing as much as one who has lost theirs. Or lost theirs through losing their way. A great shephard knows all about this as He did.

  6. Hi, great post.

    For years I would also note that Luke used the word “doulos” in Luke 7 while Matthew used the word “pais” in the parallel account in Matthew 8. I would argue that Luke, writing to the Greco-roman readers, understood the bad connotation of “pais” had in Greco-roman culture and used “doulos” instead. Matthew on the other hand, writing to the Jewish community, who might not understand the culture well, used “pais”.

    That’s my 2 cents contribution to the topic.

    • Thanks, that’s interesting. Several people suggest the other way around…that Matthew’s readers might have understood pais as meaning servant, but Luke needed to spell it out.

  7. Ian thanks for this post, really useful, clear and considered. I’m grateful for the way you tackled the text and the way it was presented but so glad you concluded with some questions that need to be asked when this kind of thing happens in such a prominent pulpit. Thank you.

  8. Don’t the earlier verses indicate that the Centurion had embraced Judaism and presumably followed its code of ethics? “3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”

    • Debbie, I would agree—I think that is the most natural reading, until folk context (as Zeichmann does) whether there really was a monolithic view in Judaism.

  9. Thank you for this excellent piece. One of the powerful points you make is towards the end – that if Jesus was OK with this relationship, then we have to say he was OK with abuse and coercion. There is nothing ‘permanent, faithful and stable’ about picking a slave boy out in the market and using him thereafter.

    Another inconsistency in John’s argument is that the Jewish leadership are very supportive of the centurion (he is ‘worthy’). Does that mean they too were OK with the centurion’s same-sex relationship? If so, then they were just as inclusive of the excluded as Jesus. And if they were, then John’s argument about Jesus’ radical inclusiveness collapses. But if they were likely to be censorious of homosexual relations, then their high opinion of the centurion shows he was not known to be having sexual relations with his servant. Either way the argument breaks down.

    But I’m afraid the truth is in your opening statements. John’s case is based on anecdote and appeal to emotion, and the Bible bits are just a garnish.

  10. Valerius Maximus (6.1.10) tells of a (probably retired) centurion named Gaius Cornelius who, in the days of the Republic, came to a bad end:
    “C. Frescenninius, Triumvir Capitalis, put public chains on C. Cornelius for having sexual intercourse with a freeborn youth, although Cornelius had served as a soldier with great bravery and had four times received from his commanders the honor of the [primus pilus] for his valor. He appealed to the Tribunes, not denying the act but declaring his willingness to wager the young man in question had openly and without concealment practiced prostitution. The Tribunes refused their intervention and Cornelius had to die in prison. For the Tribunes of the Plebs thought it was wrong that our commonwealth should strike bargains with brave men that they should buy favorites at home with their bravery abroad.”

    • Thanks Steve. I had planned to explore this a little more…but ran out of space.

      I think John and others make the mistake of eliding Greek and Roman attitudes to sexuality and marriage. One commentator describes Greek culture as ‘practically bisexual’ since pederasty was so much assumed.

      Roman culture was quite different in this regard, from my knowledge.

      I think it is significant that quite a few people go to Dover ‘Greek Homosexuality’ on the meaning of pais…but he is writing about Greek, not Roman, culture.

      • Ian, I think you’re right. If the youth had been a slave, there would have been no issues (legal or moral) from the culture of the time.

        I don’t think Romans and Greek cultures differed that much (if at all) on the sexual use of young male slaves (see the epigrams of Martial for evidence, where it is often assumed or a natural part of a set up of a joke).

  11. Frankly, I’ve long regarded the pro-gay argument from the story of the centurion and his “pais” as both thin and misguided, as well as unnecessary, and I’m surprised that Jeffrey John (or anyone else) should still be using it.

    I don’t doubt that there have always been gay relationships, as we understand that term today, or that there always will be as long as the human race endures, but you won’t find any in the Bible, any more than you’ll find them in Shakespeare’s or Molière’s plays, in Trollope’s or Dickens’s novels, or in Mozart’s or Rossini’s operas.

    • The Centurion may or may not have been gay, we’ll never know for sure. Meanwhile, if we believe that perhaps 0.4% of any given population of adult men are exclusively homosexual, then there will have been 0.4% living at the time of this Centurions’ encounter with Jesus, and perhaps the Centurion was amongst them. The 0.4% rule applies too to the Hebrew population but of course the majority of exclusively homosexual men would have married (women) – responding to the prevailing societal approval/pressure to marry and raise further Hebrews and to the societal disapproval/ threat of death by stoning, regarding same-sex relationships.
      William, your comment prompts me to remind us all that over the intervening centuries we have revised our human views of what constitutes appropriate treatment of gay men – from the ‘stone now/question later’ of Jesus’ time, burning at the stake or being ‘hang’d for sodomie’ (Shakespeare’s time), incarceration for two years with hard labour (Dickens’ time), the choice between a prison sentence and chemical castration (Alan Turing’s time) to our current situation where gay men have the same rights as straight men to commit to marriage and have their marriage legally recognised and respected.
      The Church as ever lags behind society but it seems that generally it only takes a generation or two to catch up.

      • Everything you have spoken about for Christians is both in the past and it was Christians who worked to remove such discrimination from legislation (just the same as slavery and Wilberforce).

        So why is it Jane that LGBT organisations are so supportive of Islam when countries like Saudi Arabia criminalise such behaviour TODAY ?

        As it even says on the wikipedia site about Saudi Arabia:
        “… Homosexuality and transgenderism are widely seen as immoral and indecent activities, and the law punishes acts of homosexuality or cross-dressing with death, imprisonment, fines, corporal punishment, or whipping/flogging.”


        Why are LGBT organisations so intensely attacking Christianity and trying to force Christians to approve and celebrate homosexual acts?

        • Dear Clive, I wish you lived closer and I’d invite you out for coffee. I’m afraid I’m not sure about ‘LGBT organisations’ support for Islam’ – Islam is a world faith. Muslims, just like Christians, are in the process of wrestling with issues of faith, scripture and sexuality, in a modern context where gay people live openly and with respect (OK, not in Saudi Arabia, I grant you, but there are gay muslims living in Saudi Arabia….they just have to stay under the radar). I really don’t think that any LGBT organisation is ‘trying to force Christians to approve and celebrate homosexual acts’ – indeed, how could they? The Church is triple/quadruple locked to protect its clergy from being conscripted to officiate at a gay wedding –despite the fact, that there clergy who believe that God blesses marriage and doesn’t discriminate against same-sex couples. I believe that any discrimination against gay people (not marrying same-sex couples particularly) undermines God’s wider Kingdom purposes – by giving the message that we don’t respect their marriages, why should they give any consideration to finding out more about Christianity?

          • Dear Jane

            It is really not just Saudi Arabia but most Muslim countries that criminalise LGBT.

            The use of public money through the (allegedly) Equalities Commission to sue the Northern Ireland Bakers is a clear example of trying to force Christians to approve and celebrate homosexual acts. The previous Court judgement was shown that the cake order was made some time before the slogan and the refusal was only to the slogan. Since a full refund was on offer and there are plenty of other cake makers even in the same city the person could have gone to another, which would have been the British tolerant thing to do – but no he used the Equalities Commission to fund taking them to Court which has cost everyone a huge amount of money and risks putting the Christian Bakers out of business on simple financial grounds – all over a cake as a means of attacking Christian understandings. No this really is about trying to force Christians to approve and celebrate homosexual acts.

        • Dear Clive, fifty years ago, Christians faced a similar situation when mixed race marriages became legal and there will have been plenty of Christian bakers who felt it contravened their conscience to bake a cake for a mixed race couple. These days we don’t hear about mixed race couples being denied a wedding cake – I’m sure there are still Christians who feel strongly about this, but Christian bakers will by now have someone on their staff team for whom baking a cake for a mixed race couple is simply not an issue. No-one is forced to bake a cake unwillingly but neither is anyone denied a wedding cake and thereby suffer discrimination. Same-sex marriage is relatively new and people seem unable to learn from history (‘History repeats itself. It has to. No-one listens’ Steve Turner) but hang around for another fifteen years and pragmatism (and a desire to avoid prosecution) will encourage Christian bakers to look for a solution.
          The bigger picture is a sad inability to live out the gospel and witness to God’s all-encompassing love – why refuse to bake a cake for someone when you can bake the most delicious cake anyone has ever baked (honouring God with your gifts/ knowing that you are not accountable to God for anyone else’s life choices/ witnessing love and grace ‘look how these Christians love us’). Plenty of people have written about this but a recent article is: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2016/04/an-open-letter-to-christian-business-owners/

          • Jane,

            ‘Why refuse to bake a cake for someone when you can bake the most delicious cake?’

            Because your cake knife of connivance doesn’t really cut both ways. If anti-immigration mood of the country causes the UK to vote for Brexit next week, I doubt that you’d favour Christian bakers fulfilling orders for celebratory cakes decorated with xenophobic slogans!

          • As a Christian baker, committed to my discipleship and to seeing God’s kingdom established, I always take the opportunity to give a reason for the hope that I hold. Someone asking me for a cake will receive a cake (the most delicious cake I can bake). It’s true that a xenophobic message will be a sticking point – I am likely to bake the cake and give them the materials to design their own slogan (and make an appropriate reduction in the price) but here seems to be a God-given opportunity to talk about a Gospel of peace, reconciliation of nations and a Saviour who encourages us to beat our swords into ploughshares (with an opportunity to get to know and pray for someone who clearly needs to know Jesus).
            David Shepherd and Jane Newsham profoundly disagree on the rights of Christian bakers to discriminate against particular customers who request wedding cakes, but despite this, we live to fight/discuss another day (always a pleasure).
            Jane Newsham may question the validity of David Shepherd’s marriage and on the strength of this, refuse to bake him an Anniversary cake (after all, she is permitted freedom of conscience and belief, and there are plenty of other bakers). This may or may not affect Jane Newsham and David Shepherd’s relationship but thankfully both are in faith. Christian bakers and same-sex married couples are at loggerheads but the onus is on the Christian baker to not let their prejudices undermine the wider opportunity to witness to God’s love and grace.

          • Hi Jane,

            You wrote:Someone asking me for a cake will receive a cake (the most delicious cake I can bake). It’s true that a xenophobic message will be a sticking point – I am likely to bake the cake and give them the materials to design their own slogan (and make an appropriate reduction in the price) but here seems to be a God-given opportunity to talk about a Gospel of peace, reconciliation of nations and a Saviour who encourages us to beat our swords into ploughshares (with an opportunity to get to know and pray for someone who clearly needs to know Jesus).

            While it’s heartening to know that you would draw the line somewhere, what you describe is not really fulfilling the order, is it?

            I can imagine the disappointment of Brexit campaigners on receiving such a discriminatory alternative. It’s a bit like a same-sex married couple pre-booking a double-bedroom in B&B, and only (due to the proprietors’ sexual scruples) to be consigned on arrival to two single bedrooms. It’s still a difference in treatment.

            It would also be legally advisable for you to keep those comments about ‘reconciliation of nations’ to yourself. Especially, if you don’t want the Brexit campaigners describing in court the difference in treatment they received by you pontificating about international peace when all they wanted was for you to provide the cake to order as you do for anyone else.

            You see, what you might view as xenophobic is actually genoph iliac and part of their [trump card alert] human identity. You know,…just like race.

          • Also, David Shepherd has no problem going to someone other than Jane Newsham for an anniversary cake. Capiche?

          • Dear Jane,

            EVERYTHING you said at June 17, 2016 at 8:56 pm is actually now counted as discrimination if you do any such thing to a same sex couple. Even giving them their own materials to write the slogan for themselves is discrimination.

  12. At heart, Jeffrey John’s a conservative Anglo-Catholic: he’s had the brass neck to condemn liberals for innovation! The only way he can reconcile his support for an affirming position with his conservative theology is to convince himself that his position is, in fact, the original one, one falsely abandoned by the church.

    Well, whatever works for him.

    Since I’m not so encumbered, I’ll admit that the slave wasn’t the centurion’s live-in lover (as you rightly say, Ian, by modern standards it’d be rape). I’ll argue for change on justice grounds, without appeals to authority, and the junk exegesis that rides on its coattails.

    • Yes, I think you are quite right. But am I being too unkind to observe: this is what happens to people who want to hold on to something ‘conservative’ but cannot help be shaped by other agendas? After all the ‘exegesis’, I think John comes down to it: ‘I know this is right from my experience’. The texts then have to fit in around this…

      • Not at all: tradition (or in other words, mere habit) isn’t an argument for anything; it needs to be backed by substantive arguments. I argue primarily from reason; evangelicals, from reasoned reflection from scripture; John, who places particular weight on church tradition, is in a more awkward place.

        • James Byron writes: “I argue primarily from reason; evangelicals, from reasoned reflection from scripture; John, who places particular weight on church tradition, is in a more awkward place.”

          No you don’t – because if reason is your primum mobile then you would have to admit that Reason of itself cannot decide whether God (still) exists, whether God has spoken and what God is like.
          Plenty of people today call themselves ‘rationalists’ who are agnostics at best.

          Alasdair Macintyre in ‘Whose Rationality, Whose Virtue?’ explodes the idea that ‘reason’ exists independently or in some kind of Archimedean point.

          Reason for the Christian cannot exist independently of or prior to Scripture.

          • I decide ethics based on reasoned reflection on the evidence: “reason” being just shorthand for “draw best conclusions I can.”

            The existence and nature of God (and all the other hour of the wolf questions) are matters of faith, which reason can inform, but can’t ultimately decide.

        • James Byrom: “I decide ethics based on reasoned reflection on the evidence: “reason” being just shorthand for “draw best conclusions I can.”

          Now you’re just talking in circles. You don’t say:
          1. what counts as ‘evidence’;
          2. how you know your reasoning is correct and not flawed by sin and ignorance;
          3. how Jesus Christ and the Bible feature in your thinking.

          Your comment reveals the self-defeating incoherence of liberalism.

          • Brian, “evidence” is used in its usual English sense of that which tends to prove or disprove a given thing.

            I don’t know my reasoning’s correct: like any person, I’m often wrong; but this goes equally for biblical interpretation. Can’t dodge the subjective. Key difference is, I fully acknowledge that my opinion’s subjective, instead of trying to inject it with objective authority borrowed from a 2,000-year-old text.

          • James writes: “Can’t dodge the subjective. Key difference is, I fully acknowledge that my opinion’s subjective, instead of trying to inject it with objective authority borrowed from a 2,000-year-old text.”

            Beware of chronological snobbery! The only question you should concern yourself with is: Do the words of Christ in the Gospels and the words of Paul in his Epistles accurately convey the Mind of God? In other words, what is the nature of this (less than 2000 year old) text?

            If you think God’s mind is unknowable, fair enough. But then you are not engaging in Christian discourse but purely immanentist, naturalistic ethics. But then why take part in this discussion?

          • When has “knowing God’s mind” ever been necessary to Christianity? Just the opposite, in the Bible and Judeo-Christian tradition, God’s frequently described as inherently unknowable and Other. You’d presumably unchurch anyone who held to apophatic theology (including many church fathers and Thomas Aquinas). Leads to a mighty exclusive club!

          • James writes: “When has “knowing God’s mind” ever been necessary to Christianity? Just the opposite, in the Bible and Judeo-Christian tradition,”
            – what an utterly incredible question – and completely wrong about the Bible and ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’ (whatever that is). ‘We have the mind of Christ’ said Paul.

            “God’s frequently described as inherently unknowable and Other”

            Where? Not in the Bible. Knowing God is personal knowledge based on God’s self-disclosure, i.e, REVELATION – aka God’s Word. God’s *essence may be unknowable to human minds – but God’s person, purposes, will etc are all knowable – to some extent.

            “You’d presumably unchurch anyone who held to apophatic theology (including many church fathers and Thomas Aquinas). Leads to a mighty exclusive club!”

            Don’t presume anything about me, James! And Aquinas was NOT an apophatic theologian. Have you actually read Aquinas?

          • James,

            As you well know, there’s a distinction between saying that, By His nature, God can never be fully knowable and saying that, due to human subjectivity, nothing can ever be objectively known of God.

            Are sceptical negations of the existence of God ipso facto false.

          • James,

            As you well know, there’s a distinction between saying that, By His nature, God can never be fully knowable and saying that, due to human subjectivity, nothing can ever be objectively known of God.

            Are sceptical negations of the existence of God ipso facto false?

          • Brian, I presumed nothing, unchurching was a reasonable inference from your comments: I’m glad you reject it, and hope therefore that you’ll rethink your position. (And yes, I’ve read me some Tom.) As I hope you’ll rethink your certainty about knowing God via revelation. Accepting, arguendo, that the Bible’s revelation, it’s one filtered through imperfect authors and readers. Elevating it to perfection’s idolatrous.

            David, no, I don’t believe that skepticism’s ipso facto false, and neither do I believe we’re categorically incapable of knowing objective truths, about God, or anything else. Our perception of the object is, however, imperfect in the extreme, and liable to change, especially when the object’s intangible and mystery personified.

          • Let’s say that we are categorically capable of knowing that:
            1. God is love,
            2. that He is creator of all things
            3. That, as a loving Creator, He does not abandon His Creation
            4. That His mysterious intervention has governed the outcomes of human history.

            So, does your own acknowledgement of imperfect perception alter any of those beliefs? If so, what is the ‘something’ of those beliefs about God, if any, which, for you, remains knowable about Him?

            More importantly, why do you, thus far, consider those remnants of the aforementioned beliefs to remain knowable about God: the One whom we agree is mystery personified?

            So, what categories of knowledge about God are we capable of knowing and why?

          • Oy! you two! Tsk, tsk, tsk!

            I will only respond to David’s post of June 10, 2016 at 6:22 pm #4 cuz I believe it to be so… misinformed??

            We are creatures given the POWER of free choice (and yes this enters into the whole fate vs. determinism thing, sorry). Father doesn’t determine the path of His garden of humanity… He simply knows the outcome… some will end up at the Feast table and some on the threshing room floor. Just as any great farmer knows, unless there is some terrible weather, the crop gonna come in (mostly). Father is willing to accept a pretty high degree of loss of us (the crop) if 3 out of 4 fall away from His Calling us! But in all actuality, that’s why the 2nd resurrection, right? Everyone that DIDN’t know about Him or His Law gets another shot at being tempted, tested, and tried again. Ya don’ gotta be messin’ wit de eart for a crop that’s SELF determining. It’s up to us, not Him what we do with what He has given us to be the stewards of.

            How many times do we hear of the laments of those who say “How could Father (a LOVING Father) let such calamities befall our children??? boo hoo!!!” It’s not Him folks… it’s us! He gave us the owner’s manual, the road map and we kicked Him in the teeth and assure Him (and ourselves… even repeatedly! lol) that we can handle it, thanks Dad… back off, we got this (how many laws are on ‘books’ on this planet? really??).

            Guys, reasoned reflection is utterly irrelevant except maybe, and only just maybe, as time has allowed us (and our own disobedience) to learn certain fundamental scientific truths that Father, of course!, knew all along. No contradiction has ever existed between His Law and scientific truth. The more we find out, the more His details make utter sense.

            I say reasoned reflection is utterly irrelevant because it gets in the way of the perfecting of the human experience when we live by His laws (I really am trying, just haven’t succeeded yet – that remains true to Paul’s knowing I am a sinner through and through). The way you know your reasoning is correct is when it is compared to the Standard of Perfection, and one bind’s one’s emotional reactions to plow. True, it can be painful to resist the natural tendancy to do and think and believe what serves our wants, needs or beliefs even in the face of that comparison, but Messiah warned us of that too! 🙂

            I don’t believe this was a worthy debate for you two. Reexamine maybe?

  13. Classical philologist here. You are 100% right that this is junk as textual interpretation, and by all means draw any needed conclusions from that about the pastoral ethics, diocesan politics, etc.

    HOWEVER, you are so absolutely and obviously right about the intellectual bankruptcy of this argument, that I have to ask, why engage the straw man and ask idly if this is the best case anyone is making for Christian gay marriage? I thought everyone here on the internet had at least encountered that pleasant young man, Matthew Vines. Without casting about for scholarly perfection on this subject, I’ll nominate Vines as someone whose arguments you would not be wasting your time to confront as an orthodox Christian who looks to Scripture to know the word of life.

    Most of the anti-gay-marriage exegesis is also drivel. There are solid exegetical points on both sides. In my opinion, the real problem is that the pro-SSM vanguard are theological liberals who openly scorn sola scriptura, are willing to dismiss anything they don’t like as Paul beholden to his cultural context, and who are more committed to the sexual revolution than to the creeds. BUT it does not follow that there are not orthodox Christians who reject all those compromises who turn to Scripture in the light of what you have to admit is a new datum of experience (non-exploitative adult gay partnerships between men who know themselves as what *we* mean by “gay”) and find that things are not cut and dried. Orthodox Christians really must reject pagan sexual morality of the kind that surrounds us in the 21c West, but there really are sound evidence-based paths to two contrary views on whether that pagan sexual morality includes Christian gay monogamous marriage. I find few on either side who acknowledge this, a fact mainly to the detriment of the pro-SSM argument (within the world of orthodox Christians; outside there of course there’s no debate or desire for greater clarity).

    • I most strenuously disagree with Mr. Vines’ statements, not so much as to the subject, which is easily solved with only a modicum of due diligence to the Word, but with his reliance on a set of christian precepts that are, in and of themselves, unsupportable scripturally.

      There are six passages in the Bible that refer in some way to same-sex behavior, and they are all negative. Three of them are direct and clear. In the Old Testament, in Leviticus, male same-sex relations are prohibited, and labeled an “abomination.” And in the New Testament, in Romans, Paul speaks of women “exchanging natural relations for unnatural ones,” and of men abandoning “natural relations with women and committing shameful acts with other men.” And so according to the traditional interpretation, both the Old and the New Testament are consistent in their rejection of same-sex relationships.

      This statement is not accurate. I was once told (I don’t think accurately) that if you accepted the opening premises of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, you would necessarily have to accept in toto his conclusions and his behaviors.

      I state that Mr. Vines’ statement is in error because… 1) he fails (for obvious reasons to note that a SPECIFIC same sex behavior is prohibited and called an abomination, 2) he changes the focus of this statement (a behavior is prohibited) and comes to the conclusion that “both the Old and the New Testament are consistent in their rejection of same-sex relationships.” In truth, same-sex relationships are by and large left alone (except for David and Johnathan… *evilgrin) and it’s unlikely they avoided the subject of sex throughout their very intense friendship. It’s not mentioned maybe, just maybe, because it is irrelevant. Many of us have experienced homosexual love that did not include sexual interaction and many of us have experienced homosexual love that did include sexual interactions that passed and faded. A very specific act is prohibited. To lie with a man as you would with a woman, intercourse. Self pleasure, no law against it. Pleasuring someone else, no law against it. Lying with a man… an abomination. Father knows something we don’t and considering he constructed us… maybe we should take note and until we figure out what that was let obedience win out. The new testament is written by men with SOME inspiration from a Teacher who often challenged the shallowness of the thinking process of His students!! Paul was not always understood in spite of the fact of his brilliant mind and his deeper than deep understanding of scriptural, pharisiac, and talmudic law. The same “Inspiration” given to Moshe (Moses) was not present for the apostles’, holy spirit or no. There was social convention in there pleadings to their fellows as well as predominately scriptural intent. A small grain of salt. Messiah didn’t refer to the Apostles’ writings, He referred only to Father’s inspired writings of the prophets and law.

      Mr. Vines is also correct about the original creation analogy. “And while having a same-sex orientation is not in and of itself a sin (not addressed in the 613 Laws), according to the traditional interpretation, acting upon it is…” The bible may be clear about this but Mr. Vines is not. Again… a specific act is prohibited.

      His beginning premise is inaccurate (as is most people’s understanding of this issue). My suspicion, slightly borne out by history, is that there is a problem with introducing the male member in intercourse, a medical, a scientific problem. An interaction similar in scope and depth to having intercourse with a female experiencing menstruation. Get it? There is a reason this is prohibited and it has NOTHING to do with loving feelings not being permitted to two PEOPLE in love.

      Mr. Vines statement “those who are only attracted to members of the same sex – are thus called to refrain from acting on those attractions, to deny themselves, to take up their crosses” thus stands as also innacurate while the follow up to this “And though it may not seem fair to us, {Father’s} ways are higher than our own, and it’s not our role to question, but to obey.” is accurate as it gets. Unless we have come to understand the whys and wherefores obedience is for OUR SAFETY, from a Father who loves us, who knows what we do not. “NO SON DON’T RUN INTO THE STREET!!!” must seem a pretty mean thing to a boy or girl in love with that ball, eh? “And within the traditional interpretation of Scripture, falling in love is one of the worst things that could happen to a gay person.” then becomes a matter of choice, not scriptural accuracy. Ignorance denies “gay people” all that he lists out, not Father, Who demanded we not commit a specific act lest we harm ourselves and others. Period. That’s why no huge deal is made out of it (6 out of 31,000). Don’t have sex during menstruation. Don’t have anal sex with a male! (Probably not with a female either… dunno, is there a difference in the chemistry?? dunno… so maybe don’t do that either?

      I will call Mr. Vines’ statements re: good fruit, bad fruit to question for just a moment with the ‘bearing of history’ that I mentioned earlier. There (I swear no pun intended but it does make me chuckle a little with the very Hebraic double entendre that Hebrews loved so much! lol) were many ‘good fruits’ (great and loving gay men) that perished and are perishing from HIV/AIDS. All of that from a SPECIFIC behavior practised commonly by gay men with other gay men. Makes me wonder how we can be so blind.

      Scripture says nothing of sexualality. It is silent and lets us own that concept. It is not silent about behaviors that do harm to self and others. To say that scripture teaches human sexuality is tantamount to saying that we need to study the universe’s sexuality to see how all of these stars get born… yeah. Sexuality operates as it was designed. We have some proof that as population pressures increase in a geographical area so does “non-procreative” behavior increase. But only some proof. Probably anecdotal at best. If you wanna study it, I guess go for it, but I am satisfied with… what is. Some’s got it. And some’s don’t. Father forbids certain things. The rest… we blow up into something galactic ourselves. Men not having anal intercourse (a danger to everyone in the community if done) does not equate to forbidding homosexual love.

      Then Mr. Vines commits the nearly (to me anyway) unforgivable sin of all of christianity… the law (those “613 RULES” he called them) doesn’t apply to christians when in fact it’s the other way around. It ESPECIALLY applies to christians… those lost sheep deeply in need of guidance. The gospel wasn’t “hey, this all belongs to you now, they killed the Messiah so you inherit the kingdom!” In fact they (the apostles) only proclaimed what already existed in Father’s perfect 613 Laws… adoption into the family could be had by conversion. Christians didn’t ‘ascend’, they were/are given the opportunity through the great news that a righteous person can indeed be adopted into the faith. That requires that they be taught, that they be counseled, loved and cared for. No different for a slave taken in battle. So many got it so terribly wrong. Mr. Vines is wrong that it was a matter of whether or not people converting would or should have to follow the 613 laws… that wasn’t the question at all! The question almost specifically was whether or not anyone, or many anyones, as an adult, would tolerate the agony of circumcision. The dietary codes of the Council of Jerusalem was comparatively miniscule vs. the discussions of circumcision. I would refer anyone to Peter’s warning about taking Paul’s words to their own destruction. Mr. Vines does exactly this at posturing a reason to do away with that which gave rise to “Jewish cultural identity”, kosher foods, circumcision, nay the entire body of the 613 Laws. Now Constantine’s crime stands fulfilled in Mr. Vines public denial of Father’s perfect (for all time and for all sentient beings) 613 laws given only to the Yahdaim, and to the rest of the world if they so chose. “Old yoke of slavery”, eh? Sure Timmy, you can run out in the street, the nice man in the police uniform said it’s okay to do just that!

      “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away nailing it to the {stake}.” Paul had deep DEEP understanding of the Law, and of forgiveness. See Hebrews 10:26 – ” For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” Idiots that twist the word to their own and other’s destruction. Col 2:13 “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you[a] alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the {stake}.” I found nowhere in the actual aramaic any interpretation that comes close to saying having canceled the wrtten code, with it’s regulations…”. Our indebtedness is an easy one to see, breaking any of the law is punishable by the second death, Messiah’s sacrifice (foretold in the feasts!) is a ONE TIME forgiveness of that sin that we did not understand. And clearly that is not an ongoing forgiveness (unless you repent and fall again – that one could be debated too and is where His judgement comes in).
      The fulfillment of the law argument was done away with by the Messiah, not the translation of the text of Paul’s statements. The end of the law refers to Messiah being the PRODUCT of the law, the result of the law, not it’s obliteration. Scripture does NOT contradict in these extremely weighty matters!

  14. Hello Ian and all,

    as often, I’m strongly in agreement with Jonathan Tallon and William Fisher (and would be interested to hear more from T.W….). It looks like Jeffrey John gives rather stronger arguments in ‘Permanent, Faithful, Stable’ than he does here (tho’ I think the Roman centurion and his servant might briefly appear there too).

    But… a frustration, again. You write, “First, I keep being told that there are ‘good arguments’ for the Church to change its teaching on this issue. If there are, then where are they?”. You could, I’d suggest, try James Alison, Gareth Moore OP, Rowan Williams, Rabbi Steven Greenberg… what irks me is that you show little sign of seeking out good arguments from those you disagree with, instead giving much space to prominent but easily refuted views (see above and your posts on the SEC and Martyn Percy, for examples). As T.W. says – if the argument is so poor, why give it so much airtime?

    in friendship, Blair

    • Thanks Blair. It isn’t actually true that I have ‘given little airtime’ to the good arguments. I have hosted or written here reviews of Robert Song, James Brownson and Alan Wilson—and in fact at key points not found them much better. Song’s was a well written book—but much of the good material actually supported the traditional argument. He made the case for ‘new creation’ covenant friendship, and then, without warning, suddenly introduced old creation sex into these.

      Rowan Williams’ key argument (in The Body’s Grace’) is that sex in itself has someone of the divine about it—and I don’t know how many sentences it is worth deploying to point out that that idea simply has no biblical or orthodox theological foundation to it.

      But what is really telling about the nature of the debate is that it is these very poor arguments which are constantly being thrown out—and which appear to shape people’s opinion. So there is an important job to be done in addressing them. There is a parallel here with current debates about the EU. And I think the poverty of the case says an enormous about about what the issue itself is doing to the theology of the Church.

      In friendship.

      • Hello Ian,

        I would just note that I didn’t include any of the three authors you name in my comment, and also that (prejudice alert…?) I doubt that Alan Wilson’s book is an example of a good argument. I have not read James Brownson’s book but I think your summary of Robert Song’s is a little odd (I’m tempted to risk saying distorted): you say he “made the case for ‘new creation’ covenant friendship, and then, without warning, suddenly introduced old creation sex into these”. The “without warning” is especially odd given that the book’s subtitle, printed on the cover, is ‘Towards a theology of same-sex relationships’.

        I think both your summary of and inference about ‘The Body’s Grace’ are highly arguable – and would add that there is also RW’s essay ‘Knowing myself in Christ’ in Bradshaw, ed., “The way forward?” which has cogent questions and comment.

        I accept that it is an “important job” to refute poor arguments and that that does make a good rationale for your piece here…but want to make the point that, by not engaging with or pointing to better arguments you give the impression that poor arguments are all that those who disagree with you have to offer. And such an impression, i suggest, is false.

        in friendship, Blair

      • “Williams’ key argument (in The Body’s Grace’) is that sex in itself has someone of the divine about it—and I don’t know how many sentences it is worth deploying to point out that that idea simply has no biblical or orthodox theological foundation to it.”

        Of course it has something of the divine about it. That’s why it is called making love. Have you read the Song of Songs?
        And Williams is a pretty orthodox theologian. What you really mean is that it has no CONSERVATIVE theological foundation. But that’s because conservatives are pretty weird about sex. The Song of Songs certainly isn’t weird about it.

    • Blair, I should add the the approach of John’s ‘Permanent, Faithful, Stable’ can be countered in one short sentence. On what grounds does John extract these three principles from the biblical account, whilst ignoring ‘other-sexed’ and ‘open to procreation’ when these two are (arguably) the most prominent in the narrative?

      I have seen no answer to this simple question, which again highlights the quality of the arguments we are engaging with in relation to the biblical texts.

      The much stronger arguments are the kind the James Byron often brings to our attention, but all of these seek to set aside Scripture. This is not really an acceptable Anglican position—but it is much more honest.

      • An acceptable Anglican position is, ultimately, whatever Anglicans decide it is. 😉

        A key part of the argument is that scripture’s already been set aside on a range of issues, so all I’m doing is openly acknowledging the process. Others of course argue that it hasn’t, and I admit, some of the exegesis is ingenious.

        In the alternative, it can be argued that an overarching hermeneutic can take precedence over individual proof-texts, so the Bible’s still being adhered to. This strikes me as theological gymnastics, so I’ll leave it to others.

        I consider the argument against deciding anything on the basis of authority to be compelling in and of itself, with sexuality and the rest just presenting issues, so focus on the root cause. It’s much richer theologically than bombardment over sexuality, in which incompatible paradigms talk past one another, without engaging on the underlying basis of the disagreement.

        • No James.

          You wrote “An acceptable Anglican position is, ultimately, whatever Anglicans decide it is. ????

          A key part of the argument is that scripture’s already been set aside on a range of issues…”

          No it hasn’t. For genuine Anglicans Scripture doesn’t just matter it at least as important as any other argument.

          The Church is likely to split precisely because the liberal position wishes to disregard Scripture and most Anglicans cannot disregard Scripture at all because Jesus Christ didn’t … and real Christians follow Jesus Christ.

      • But we ignore ‘open to procreation’ in our Anglican theology of marriage – in that the BCP marriage service has specific provisions where procreation is not possible. In Common Worship the part of the preface referring to the birth of children is in brackets, indicating it is to be omitted if not appropriate for that couple. In other words, you can get married whether or not you can have children.

        • Hi Jonathan,

          I debated the procreation issue extensively in the comment thread here: http://www.psephizo.com/sexuality-2/the-gay-lobby-we-need-to-listen-to/

          He [Augustine] wrote:

          ‘Forasmuch as each man is a part of the human race, and human nature is something social, and has for a great and natural good, the power also of friendship; on this account God willed to create all men out of one, in order that they might be held in their society not only by likeness of kind, but also by bond of kindred. Therefore the first natural bond of human society is man and wife.’

          ‘Nor did God create these each by himself, and join them together as alien by birth: but He created the one out of the other, setting a sign also of the power of the union in the side, whence she was drawn, was formed. For they are joined one to another side by side, who walk together, and look together whither they walk.’

          ‘Then follows the connection of fellowship in children, which is the one alone worthy fruit, not of the union of male and female, but of the sexual intercourse. For it were possible that there should exist in either sex, even without such intercourse, a certain friendly and true union of the one ruling, and the other obeying.’

          So, Augustine distinguishes the marital union which forms the first natural bond of kindred (which I called kinship) from the subsequent ‘connection of fellowship in children’, which he viewed as the ‘fruit of the sexual intercourse’, rather than the fruit of ‘union of male and female’.

          He surmised that, absent the Fall, God might have granted some means other than intercourse for man to increase and multiply, or meant it as a spiritual figure: ‘whereby it is said, Increase, and be ye multiplied, be understood to be by advance of mind, and abundance of virtue, as it is set in the Psalm, You shall multiply me in my soul by virtue;

          Again, Augustine states of marriage: ‘there is good ground to inquire for what reason it be a good. And this seems not to me to be merely on account of the begetting of children, but also on account of the natural society itself in a difference of sex. Otherwise it would not any longer be called marriage in the case of old persons, especially if either they had lost sons, or had given birth to none. But now in good, although aged, marriage, albeit there has withered away the glow of full age between male and female, yet there lives in full vigour the order of charity between husband and wife’

          So, St. Augustine’s discourse from Genesis sees the good of marriage as comprised of the begetting of children and the natural society itself in a difference of sex.

          Whatever the BCP may have stated and revised, Augustine readily accepted that a marriage might exist without begetting children.

          The fruit of sexual intercourse (procreation) is not the same as the fruit of union of male and female, the indispensable goods of the latter being described by Augustine as the ‘first natural bond of human society’, ‘the bond of kindred’ (not just likeness of kind) and ‘natural society itself in a difference of sex’.

          These essential goods are not predicated upon the couple’s ability to procreate.

          • More agreement breaking out. Not only Common Worship and the BCP, but also Augustine all agree that the ability to procreate is not essential for a marriage. This, according to Ian, is one of the two most prominent features of the narrative, yet it is clearly set aside in Christian tradition.

            I’ll give another extremely brief answer to Ian’s question – the difference between ‘other-sexed’ & ‘open to procreation’ and ‘permanent, faithful, stable’ is that the former qualities are physical, and the latter qualities aren’t. This is a move made in a whole variety of ways in the Bible – not least in Mark 7:15.

            But if you want a fuller account of these issues, Tobias Haller covers them in early chapters in ‘Reasonable and Holy’ (and I’d be interested in seeing Ian’s review of this book).

          • Jonathan,

            Come on. Hardly agreement, when you ‘missed’ the other bit of my response that:
            ‘the indispensable goods of the latter being described by Augustine as the ‘first natural bond of human society’, ‘the bond of kindred’ (not just likeness of kind)and ‘natural society itself in a difference of sex’

            How are these essential goods of marriage evidenced through any same-sex sexual relationships?

            You’ve also claimed that the ability to procreate ‘according to Ian, is one of the two most prominent features of the narrative’. Where did he write that?

            What I know that he wrote was:

            In fact, in the Genesis accounts, specifically emphasised by Jesus in his teaching on marriage, sex differentiation is offered as *the* reason for the existence of marriage. ‘For this reason…’ What reason? Because the (in some sense) unitary adam has been sex differentiated into ish (man) and ishshah (woman) ‘…a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined [once again] with his wife.’

            To reduce this emphasis to companionship, kinship, or covenant friendship is special pleading. The shape of the narrative, indeed its climax (if you will excuse the pun) is this reunion of what God had divided in sex differentiation

            My comment in support of this was as follows:

            Instead, Ian stated, by referring to the Genesis verses so clearly juxtaposed by Christ, that sexual differentiation was reason for the *existence* of marriage: ‘“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh.

            Reason is the factor which explains the existence of something. While that factor may be indispensable to it, it doesn’t make it the sole purpose of the same. Light is the reason for the existence of photosynthesis. Light is indispensable to it. Nevertheless, light is not the primary purpose of photosynthesis.

            Finally, in our discussions, I’ve tackled Haller already:
            Here’s Haller on Genesis (Reasonable and Holy, p. 126):

            ‘First, it is common to hear that Jesus’ teaching on marriage and celibacy brooked no other possibility; that his reference to the creation account in response to the question of divorce offers a clear indication of his thinking on same-sexuality. This is a stretch, especially when advanced apart from, or even in denial of the explicit concern that Jesus is addressing: the permanence of marriage and the sinful status of remarriage after divorce. It is the permanence of marriage that is at issue, and Jesus locates his teaching on this permanence in the context of Genesis.’

            Haller’s thesis implies that we cannot extend Christ’s induction from the ancient Genesis archetype (which He considered to have enduring significance several millennia later) beyond the explicit question that He addressed: the permanence of marriage.

            Well, let’s see if that’s true. How about the binary nature of marriage that St. Paul endorses from the creation story? Well, that also a logical induction from the Genesis archetype.

            So, the only aspect of the Genesis archetype that Haller treats as exempt from inference is its opposite sex nature as described in Genesis 5:2. Well, that’s no more than a self-serving special pleading. The stretch is the sole exclusion of homosexual behaviour from the purview of the enduring Genesis archetype of marriage.

            Haller’s thesis really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

          • David, I was referring to Ian’s comments earlier in the thread, where he said “On what grounds does John extract these three principles from the biblical account, whilst ignoring ‘other-sexed’ and ‘open to procreation’ when these two are (arguably) the most prominent in the narrative?”

            I have focused exclusively here on ‘open to procreation’. Your comment above is on the other narrative, ‘other-sexed’, which I have not commented on here.

        • My son and daughter in law were married in 2012 using the BCP marriage service, which even today is legal marriage. This simply proves that BCP is not some dusty old marriage service – it is still used today.

          The purpose of marriage in the BCP service includes procreation which parliament included in their redefinition of marriage (which just proves that most MPs have absolutely no idea what the BCP marriage service actually says).

        • It seems to me that the idea that we “ignore ‘open to procreation’ in our Anglican theology of marriage” is false, based on a misunderstanding of the BCP rubrics.

          The BCP provides that the prayer for children “shall be omitted where the Woman is past child-bearing.” This is because it would be unreasonable routinely to ask God for what would have to be understood as a miraculous intervention. It is not because child-bearing isn’t an important part of marriage, and thus the preface is unchanged in such cases; procreation remains the first cause “for which matrimony was ordained.” The prayer is omitted out of realism, not because of a change in theological understanding of marriage.

          But I’m quite sure that Cranmer et al. knew their bibles well enough to recognize that “nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1.37) There are enough cases of the very old having children in the Bible to show that their marriages are indeed “open to procreation.” The BCP knows of no class of marriage which is not “open” to procreation, even where that is recognized to be so unlikely that praying for it would feel like testing God.

          Common Worship puts the part of the preface about children being born into brackets without any rubric to indicate why. One can only presume that the BCP rubric should give the lead here – i.e. that Anglican theology is only to omit these words on grounds of age, not just because a couple feel they don’t want more children. Actual practice may vary from that, but I would want to argue quite strongly that the theology stands.

          • I guess it depends upon what you mean by ‘open to procreation’. If you mean ‘physically able to procreate (excepting miracles)’ then clearly this isn’t a necessary ingredient of a marriage – that is what I meant by saying that open to procreation is not part of an Anglican theology of marriage. If you mean ‘open to having children either naturally or, if unable to have children naturally through a miracle’, then this doesn’t preclude same-sex couples (nothing is impossible with God…).

            When it comes to ‘open to procreation’ a couple who are infertile and a same-sex couple are in exactly the same situation.

          • Jonathan,

            the miracle of a man carrying a baby would indeed allow us to think again about same sex marriage, but I take “nothing is impossible with God” to have the caveat “apart from breaking his own rules,” That’s because that would involve God in internal inconsistency, which surely is impossible. It is usually agreed by philosophers of religion that omnipotence doesn’t include being able to do the logically impossible – such as male and male together reproducing sexually.

            I think the point is that “open to procreation” definitely does not mean “able to procreate (in the normal run of things).” Otherwise the teaching would be about “able to procreate.” It isn’t, precisely because there are couples who aren’t (likely to be) able to procreate. The mistake I was highlighting is the way that “open” and “able” have been incorrectly elided in the discussion.

            I think perhaps one of the reasons for non-consummation being grounds for annulment is that unless the marriage is consummated it isn’t open to procreation. Annulment comes into play precisely where the conditions for marriage were never met – in this case then, openness to procreation is part of the essential definition of marriage. I’d be very interested in the reflections of others on this thought.

          • Bernard, thanks for replying. I guess the question I’d ask you is in what way are a same-sex couple any less ‘open to procreation’ than a male-female couple where pregnancy is not possible (for example, after a hysterectomy). Or, to ask in another way, what precisely do you mean by ‘open to procreation’?

            (Other minor points – a same-sex couple could be two women. With advances in fertility technology, it might soon be theoretically possible for such a couple to have a baby biologically theirs in every way. Also, male pregnancy is not logically impossible, just currently physically impossible. But again, with advances in fertility technology it would theoretically be possible to transplant a uterus into a man. I am not advocating these technologies, merely pointing out that the concept is actually possible. In addition, given the virgin birth, we worship a God who has used a pregnancy which would have seemed to be impossible).

            (Another minor point – consummation is not essential for a marriage, in that non-consummation does not invalidate the marriage unless one of the parties seeks an annulment.)

          • Jonathan,

            as ever, any broad statement gets hedged around with caveats and special cases, and exploring those will tend to illuminate whether the broad statement is accurate, so it’s good to think about the points you raise.

            My response would be that a same sex couple is different from a male-female couple who are infertile because of a hysterectomy, in that the latter are suffering from a disability. Unless you want to argue that a same sex couple are infertile because of a disability (surely not!), it’s not a valid comparison. The same would be true of any other kind of infertility caused by illness, accident, surgery etc. So if required to spell it out, “open to procreation” would have to carry caveat along the lines of “assuming everything is functioning in a normal way.”

            In a similar vein, your hypothetical two-mother child or pregnant man scenarios are probably damaging to gay rights, because it looks like saying “same sex couples can get married so long as they are willing to submit to complex medical procedures (which will make good their deficiency).” That feels to me like a very messy place to be heading towards. And working our ethical thinking around purely hypothetical situations is not generally a good way to proceed.

            For what it’s worth, I think I’m right in saying that an annulment would be granted if one partner concealed a known medical infertility from the other prior to the wedding, demonstrating that a hysterectomy (to use your example) could be an impediment to marriage – the principle of “openness” is at work here.

            On non-consummation, I think I’d disagree with you. It does make a marriage invalid; it’s just that the marriage is only legally annulled if attention is drawn to the invalidity. It would be possible to annul after many years of an unconsummated “marriage” – the “marriage” doesn’t at some point become valid because no one has talked about the problem for a given length of time. Seeking an annulment does not invalidate a marriage which at one time was valid – it declares publicly that it was never a marriage to start with.

          • So Jonathan Tallon,

            You write:
            “(Another minor point – consummation is not essential for a marriage, in that non-consummation does not invalidate the marriage unless one of the parties seeks an annulment.)”

            A note that very clearly contradicts itself entirely. The act of non-consummation invalidates the marriage which then only waits for one of the parties to seek an annulment. The invalidation has already happened and the act of bring a case before the court happens later. Your implication is only that you might get away with invalidating the marriage if nobody ever takes it to court yet you fail to see that the invalidation has already happened and nothing consequently changes that invalidation, you simply might get away with it if nobody complains.. You have completely contradicted yourself.

          • Bernard,

            You suggest “open to procreation” would have to carry caveat along the lines of “assuming everything is functioning in a normal way.” But as soon as you add this caveat, you are in effect collapsing the requirement back into different sexes – the other narrative that Ian suggested was important. It means that ‘open to procreation’ is nothing to do with the actual couple who are getting married, and in fact the phrase adds nothing besides ‘should be a man and a woman’.

            I would also ask you to consider older people who marry (beyond the menopause). They are not suffering from any ‘disabiity’ – this is a natural and expected stage of life. Everything is working as it should be – for that stage of life. In what way are they ‘open to procreation’ under your definition?

            Bernard and Clive,

            Non-consummation does not render a marriage invalid. Legally, it renders it ‘voidable’ – it allows for the possibility of it being invalid, but does not make it so. Thus, a couple who never consummate but wish to remain married are legally married. Thus, for example, a couple who marry in hospital when one party is near death, and there is no possibility of consummation, are still legally married (and married in the sight of the church – hence the Archbishop’s Special Marriage Licence available for such cases). Non-consummation is in the same category of other events that render a marriage possible to be declared invalid, but that do not of themselves render a marriage invalid (such as getting married when the woman is pregnant and the husband is not the father).

            This places non-consummation in a different category from factors which automatically invalidate (void) a marriage, such as (in Britain) one of the parties already being in a valid marriage.

            In other words, consummation is normally expected of a marriage, but it is not essential to a marriage, and the lack of consummation does not of itself render a marriage invalid.

          • Dear Jonathan Tallon

            You have just managed to show how completely confused and muddled up you are. Non-consummation is an established and proven basis in law for a marriage. By contrast, you’re anecdotal stories have no basis in law for divorce they are simply anecdotal. The same for your response to Brian. You simply haven’t thought it through! You’re anecdotal story asks about the menopause but are really suggesting that Sarah, Abraham’s wife, wasn’t beyond the menopause. Are you really saying that Hanna in the Bible wasn’t beyond the menopause?

          • Jonathan,

            you make some interesting points. I largely take your point that “open to procreation” collapses into “must be male and female.” Human procreation cannot be any other way, and so the two points are fundamentally linked.

            But I think there is a distinction still worth making, on both sides: openness to procreation is not the same as being male and female, in that a man and woman in a love relationship could not be having sex (such a notion!) – how do we distinguish their close and deep friendship from marriage? The point of openness and non-consummation is precisely that two people loving each other, however deeply, does not itself constitute “marriage.” Or at least that is the standard/traditional understanding.

            And the need for difference is separate from actual sexual activity in that many feel it is required if a marriage is to signify God’s relationship with his people – e.g. Christ as bridegroom, Church as bride. The Church is not exactly the same as God Incarnate, but with their difference they can nevertheless become one flesh. That kind of idea. I’m not sure myself how important it is, but it’s currently part of the debate.

            I think that I would say people who are infertile because of age are suffering from a disability – just as losing one’s hearing in old age is a disability, as are many other effects of age. My point stands, I think.

            You are correct that non-consummation renders a marriage “voidable,” and this is different to the automatic invalidity of a marriage where one partner was already married. But I don’t think the legal niceties make any difference to whether consummation is regarded as essential to marriage. Already being married does automatically invalidate/void a marriage – but it still needs someone to draw attention to it. Bigamy can go on undetected for years. The important difference with non-consummation is that the situation can change, and so the marriage continues to be legally recognized until either party calls time. At which point it is legally declared never to have been in the first place. This even applies with he deathbed couple, for whom there may, in principle, be a dramatic recovery which allows consummation.

  15. “As T.W. says – if the argument is so poor, why give it so much airtime?”

    I think you know the answer to that already – because liberal elements in the Diocese of Liverpool in the shape of the Cathedral have given enormous airtime to such a fallacious argument, aware that most people are biblically ignorant and ready to seize on interpretations in tune with the cultural ‘moment’.

    I read Theissen’s book many years ago and immediately recognised the claim as special pleading. IIRC, the book itself is quite tentative about the argument (expressed in the form of an imaginary dialogue) but that did not stop Liz Stuart – an academic in ‘queer studies’ though not a biblical scholar – some years later from quoting it authoritatively on TV.

    And T.W.’s exclamation that ‘Most of the anti-gay marriage exegesis is drivel’ is just rhetorical nonsense. He doesn’t quote a single scholar who has addressed this point, often in huge detail. Years ago Stephen Neill of Trinity Ambridge wrote a detailed monograph on precisely this, and Robert Gagnon continues to be ignored – because he can’t be refuted.

    • Hello Brian,

      just briefly: I could have guessed at something like your suggested answer to the question I posed, but am standing by the point I was making, that if an argument is poor and easily dismissed, why not dismiss it rather than give it yet more publicity? I suggest that it does this debate no service when folk (of whatever view) decline to seek out the strongest arguments of their opponents and simply react to the most prominent and/or the easiest to knock down.

      Out of interest, could you give a reference or title for Stephen Neill’s monograph?

      I would also suggest that it’s not the case that Robert Gagnon’s work “can’t be refuted”… it is at least possible to raise quite a number of reasonable doubts about his arguments.

      in friendship, Blair

  16. Thank you. I felt that the interpretation of this miracle was a case of ‘special pleading’ when I read it in The Meaning in the Miracle – a book I otherwise enjoyed. It bothered me, but I had never found the tools to dig deeper. This analysis is very helpful.

  17. Let us set aside the debate about whether the servant was the centurion’s gay lover not. The point that everyone seems to be agreed on was that Jesus, at the request of a gentile, healed a gentile. This was to show that there is no-one ‘outside’ the love of God.

    Jesus healed many people without approving of their lifestyles or behaviour; we can think of the 10 lepers that Luke tells us about in chapter 17:11-19. All ten were healed, but nine (by implication, all Jews) were then condemned for failing to acknowledge God’s grace in healing them. Only the foreigner, the Samaritan, was praised.

    Over the centuries, the church has also worked with many groups that most people would consider beyond the pale: alcoholics, drug addicts, sex workers, paedophiles. The list is endless. In none of these cases does the church approve of the lifestyles or recommend that the population in general should treat is as a valid alternative way of living.

    It is also worth noting that the churches were among the first to reach out to HIV sufferers, who come predominantly from the gay and drug using communities. Again, the churches followed Christ by reaching out to those who have become vulnerable to, heal them and them another way of living that is less harmful.

    Remember that admonition, attributed to Augustine, “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. What he actually said was “Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum”, which translates as “With love for mankind and hatred of sins”. This is the correct attitude for the church to everyone and everything.

  18. Hmm Jesus heals a young man and the focus of Jeffrey John is what sexuality he may have been. Jesus healed him to give him life and freedom, others it seem want to label/ claim a small part of him for a cause! Well done Jesus 🙂

  19. I’m a gay person who can admit that maybe it’s *possible* that same-sex marriage is not approved by God [I say that as one who is voluntarily celibate—due to involuntarily not having mutually fallen in love!]

    However, for me the point of the Healing the Centurion’s “Servant” (whatever services may/may not have been rendered—however the presence/lack of mutuality in the Centurion/Servant relationship), is that Jesus proceeded from an approach of GRACE FIRST—judgment later (if ever).

    I conclude that this is Yet Another Psephizo Thread where those two things seem badly flipped to me.

    • JCF, thank you for commenting.

      I am not sure whether your criticism relates to the comment thread, or my original piece. If you are referring to the piece, then in one sense I would agree with you: I have not drawn out the inclusive force of the passage that is certainly there.

      However, I have noted that this is a signal of the (radically inclusive) Gentile mission to come, and quoted others noting this.

      I suppose that, in my defence, I would point out that this purpose of this piece was not to offer a general exegesis of the text of Luke 7, but to address the specific point: does this passage prove the point that Jeffrey John is not only confident it proves, but also makes as the centre-piece of the proclamation of the kingdom of God, with its inversion of who is included and who is excluded?

      In answer to that modest aim, my conclusion is ‘No, not at all.’

  20. Just one more comment from me, for what it’s worth! It seems to me that the beauty of Luke’s account of Jesus’ healing of the servant of the centurion, a Gentile, is that the centurion respected authority, knew that he did not have the authority to heal, believed that Jesus did have the authority to heal, had such a good relationship with his Jewish friends that they agreed to plead with Jesus on the servant’s behalf, and that Jesus healed the servant without even seeing him and was amazed at the faith of the centurion. It also seems to me that Jeffrey John hijacked this account to serve his own personal agenda, and I see no beauty in that.

  21. While it’s possible – maybe even likely – that the centurian was sexually involved with his servant (or slave), and perfectly feasible, though not certain, that the centurian was gay (or BL), the chances that they had a “relationship” in the current sense of the word are minimal. Remember this was a Roman centurian, who would have been used to getting his own way, and a slave, who basically had to do as he was told if he wanted to keep his job (or his life).

    I think that the Roman was perhaps particularly fond of this slave, and may well have been having sex with him, but to extrapolate this to “Jesus affirmed a gay couple”, as some material says, is strething the facts rather too far. What we do know is that Jesus is not recorded as making any comment _against_ this situation, which I think means it is likely he was quite happy with it (or if not, he kept it to himself). That, though, is as far as we can go.

  22. May I pose a question about the Jay Michaelson Huffington Post article you cite. You quote Michaelson as stating “Like his willingness to include former prostitutes in his close circle…” To be logically consistent, wouldn’t Jesus then be inclusive of ex-gays, not those currently participating in same sex relations? Of course one could say that Jesus didn’t know about the harm caused by gay conversion therapy, but then I have always assume that God incarnate knew/knows everything.

    BTW, this is an excellent article. I had not heard this biblical exposition of Jesus accepting same sex sexual relations until reading it.

  23. In Septuagint (Greek) Isaiah 3:5, the word ‘entimos’ is set in contrast to ‘atimos’ (‘no value’). This is exactly how the word would have been understood. So when the Gospels see Jesus as the ‘entimos’ corner stone of Zion, they understand him to be ‘most valuable’. They recognise an aluusion to the words in Isaiah 28:16, quoted then in 1Peter 2:4,6.

    So when Luke describes the ‘slave’ with the same word, what then? We know that the apostles have already linked ‘entimos’ with Jesus through Isaiah’s prophecy, but this use describes a Gentile’s ‘slave’. He is being compared to ‘Israel’ in relation to his ‘faith’ [Luke 7:9]. And yes: Note that it is the narrator who describes him as ‘slave’ even though the Centurion uses ‘servant’ [Luke 7:7]. Why does the narrator deliberately use ‘slave’ abd ‘most valuable’? What is on Luke’s mind?…

    If we turn to Isaiah’s next use of ‘entimos’, we find it at Isaiah 43:4, where ‘Israel’ is described by God as ‘entimos’ – most valuable. Reading Isaiah 43:1-7, it should be easy to see that the Gospel author has this passage in mind and is drawing a parallel between God’s most valuable ‘slave’, ‘Israel’ [Isaiah 49:3] and this most valuable Gentile ‘slave’. Luke is explaining that ‘faith’ is the key to redemption, that it is not the case that ‘Israel’, according to the flesh, are valued by God above the Gentiles.

    So when we examine what the Jewish-Christian author has in mind, we find it to be quite different to what Jeffrey John has in mind. When Luke describes somebody as ‘most valuable’, he means they are- ‘most valuable’!

  24. I’m late to the party as usual, but for what it’s worth… Jesus healing, or otherwise ministering to, a particular person, is almost never a condonement of that person’s lifestyle.

    He saved the woman from being stoned for adultery – and told her to go her way and sin no more. (John 8)

    He healed the paralytic – and told him to stop sinning, lest something worse happen to him. (John 5)

    Jesus’ acts of mercy towards the outcast are not a sign that their behaviour is now acceptable to God, but rather that they as people are acceptable to God by virtue of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and the individual’s repentance.

    They may have been regarded as being beyond the pale by polite society, but they are loved by God. However, God still asks them to leave their sins behind.

    Jesus often praises people for their faith – but he never commends their sin.

  25. You are ill informed and obviously not familiar with Roman Law during the era Christ lived, or the misinterpretations of the literature written in Greek, Latin and Hebrew. Some of your points are interesting but constructed to lead the reader to the conclusion you would have them believe true. Lousy methodology for doing research, but remember Theology is a branch of philosophy finding its origin in the study of Wisdom. No desire to educate you to think outside of your box knowing how the RC church treats anyone who disagrees with teachings directed throughout the centuries. The part that any gay person must remember is that Christ cured the lover of the soldier while he journeyed to his home. Elsewhere Christ comments that “Greater love I have not seen …. ” You can figure out why Gay men and women are closer to Christ, because our faith is not supported by His Church.” The important question is the damage such sophism causes to youth, and those who believe God hates them. You need to engage the gay community as Jim Martin has (and he is not always fully aware) but has begun a dialogue. Remember, the focal highlight of the Mass is the elevation of the host, and the words spoken by a Gay Centurian to Christ…. Lord I am not worthy that you should enter my home. As for priests who are gay, …. pray that live a life that embrasses celibacy because, I know celibacy is a great virtue when not imposed by biased theologian. Read some before you right more. Oh one last thought… you get positive feedback because no one wants to put their name and email out to get the ranting responses from your follows. I don’t care, I left monastic life around the time Thomas Merton died, and ironically went to Vietnam for 30 months, and have a Doctorate, but most importantly a happy loving gay marriage for 45 years. So regardless what you write the movement will awaken the minds of people to think outside of old school theology teachers.

    • Dear Ralph, thanks for your interesting response. I would be genuinely interested to know where you think my reading of this passage is in error.

      And if you think people don’t disagree with me here, so read the comments threads on other articles. People seem very happy to tell me how wrong I am!

    • ‘The part that any gay person must remember is that Christ cured the lover of the soldier while he journeyed to his home.’

      So, according to your lights, any gay person must remember not to look for evidence from the scripture (as Ian does), but instead to impose the unwarranted notion that the person whom Christ cured was the soldier’s male lover.

      Futhermore, you dismiss the evidence that Ian does provide because, according to you, he is unschooled in Roman Law and misinterpreting the languages of the original texts.

      Of course, you could easily fix the so-called errors that you perceive by providing evidence of Roman Law and biblical exegesis in support of your alternative interpretation.

      If you respond to this challenge, I’ll lose money since I’ve placed a small bet at the bookies that you won’t. 🙂

      Happy New Year!

  26. looks to me as if scripture has here been read through gay lenses … all part of a determined gay agenda … too much trash being touted about in search of an audience …

  27. Thanks Ian, even assuming it was about the healing of a gay lover, it still does not actually change anything. Would Jesus have refused to heal someone because of their sexuality? No. But there again, nor does he refuse to show compassion to anyone. He sits with taxcollectors for dinner, he encounters adulterers, fornicators and prostitutes. His decision to heal, forgive and welcome does not tell us that lifestyles and activities are eithrr normal or right for believers. That’s good news because he chooses to love, heal and forgive us

  28. Here’s the whole argument solved short and simple. If Jesus is the word of god, and had not one bad thing to say about gay people or prostitutes, but had lots of bad things to say about those who abuse their power or charge exorbitant fees, y’all really ought to be a heck of a lot more inclusive, and fighting back against the extortionists, rather than allowing rhetoric to be used as a means to bully the marginalized.

    The current teachings of the church are often cited as a means to put people down, from a morally superior stand point, one not supported by Jesus’ own actions and teachings.

    Where is the Christ-like church which combats the modern day equivalent of those rebuked in Matthew 23?

    That’s a church that would truly deserve to exist.

    Stop teaching rhetoric which is used to judge and put down other people. Live by Christ’s inclusive example and welcome every sheep. It is up to god to make the determinations of their worthiness, not people here on earth. Love thy neighbour, rather than arming one neighbour with rhetoric used to discriminate against another neighbour.

    • ‘had not one bad thing to say about gay people or prostitutes’. Except that the thing he had to say to prostitutes was ‘Repent and believe. I will not condemn you, but you need to leave your life of sin.’

      Were you aware that in his ‘vice lists’ in the gospels, Jesus includes more than one term relating to sexual morality on *every* occasion? What does that tell you?

      I agree that we ought to be talking about other issues, which I do about 91% of the time…but it doesn’t mean we should ignore this one. The ‘inclusive’ Jesus is one made up by a particular contemporary ideology, not the one we find in the New Testament.

      • Aren’t the vice lists both written by Paul? Which vice lists are you referring to, as any information I can find is referring to Corinthians and Timothy.

        If nothing else, if Jesus himself isn’t the one condemning anyone, my point stands that Christians really ought to be leaving such things to be done at the pearly gates, because further denigrating a downtrodden section of society, who some would argue were made exactly as they are by god’s will and his will alone, as every other creature and being on this planet, is not how any Christ-like being should be behaving.

  29. This is a complete load of garbage. I’m putting this comment here so any young gay student who quickly googles information on this passage might scroll down and notice that not everyone reading the Bible is drinking the devil’s kool-aid. You say preaching an interpretation as fact is intentionally misleading and wrong? That’s what you are doing by not acknowledging that the servant being the centurion’s lover is an acceptable, plausible interpretation and instead spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to disprove or delegitimize a reading that makes you uncomfortable. You’ve got your heads too far up your own asses to formally teach this aspect of the scripture, even when you have the opportunity to send out an olive branch to a marginalized section of the community. But, oh no, how could Jesus accept or, God forbid, affirm someone loving someone else? (that’s called sarcasm by the way. It’s not in the Bible so perhaps you’re not familiar with it). Open your freaking eyes. You are not living in the 2nd century. BCE.

    • Thanks for the comment. A couple of things worth noting.

      First, many scholars, including many who do not agree with the traditional teaching of the Church, agree with the reading I offer here—and indeed note that, in many respects, Jesus was not untypical of a Jew of his day, and didn’t question this very well known aspect of Jewish ethics. If you are claiming that Jesus’ teaching on sexual purity is ‘the devil’s Kool-aid…well, that is interesting.

      Secondly, if you think that it is an acceptable reading that the slave was the centurion’s lover, then there is little doubt that this was a coercive, power-imbalanced relationship that we would call immoral—he was his sex slave!! Are you really claiming that Jesus approved of that?

      Thirdly, what I have offered is the plausible, historical reading. It seems to me that it is yourself and Jeffrey John who find this ‘uncomfortable’ and so wish to ignore the facts here.

      In the end, the question is: does Jesus love young gay people? And if he does, given this is his teaching, what does that mean about how we should love and encourage them?

  30. “First, I keep being told that there are ‘good arguments’ for the Church to change its teaching on this issue. ”

    There is only one good argument, and it is that hating homosexuality is wrong. If the church is against it, then the church is wrong and must change. Creating bonds of love and kinship are the core of humanity. To ban lo e and connections based on narrow ideas of good is harmful to humanity and fosters hate, mistrust and alienation, rather than nurturing brotherhood, acceptance and love.

    • Thanks for your comment. Can you say why you think that uploading male-female marriage as the place for sexual relations amounts to ‘hating’?

      And given that Paul and Jesus appeared fairly clearly to take this position, on what grounds we might decide that they, and the consistent witness of Scripture, are wrong?


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