Staying the Course: The Biblical Witness

— By Maxie Dunnam

From the first General Conference of The United Methodist Church, we defined ourselves on social issues on the basis of our commitment to Scripture. This has certainly been true in relation to marriage and homosexuality.

Dr. Richard Hays, internationally recognized New Testament scholar and authority on Paul’s writing, has contributed immensely to our commitment. His essay in Staying the Course, a book I edited with Newton Maloney in 2003,is a clear and convincing statement of the biblical witness concerning homosexuality. His witness is that the biblical texts that address the topic of homosexual behavior are “unambiguously and unremittingly negative in their judgement.”

Early in his essay he examines Old Testament sections that address homosexual action; though few, they are unambiguously and unremittingly negative in their judgement. Then he examines some New Testament passages to show that “the early church did consistently adopt the Old Testament teaching on matters of sexual morality, including homosexual acts.”

“In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul, exasperated with the Corinthians – some of whom apparently believe themselves to have entered a state of exalted ‘knowledge,’ in which the moral rules of their old existence no longer apply to them (cf. 1 Cor. 4:8, 5:1-2, 8:1-9) – confronts them with a blunt rhetorical question: ‘Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?’ He then gives an illustrative list of the sorts of persons he means: fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, malakoi, arsenzokoitai, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers (6:9). I have left the terms pertinent to the present issue untranslated because their translation has been disputed recently by John Boswell and others. The word malakoiis not a technical term meaning ‘homosexuals’ (no such term existed either in Greek or in Hebrew), but it appears often in Hellenistic Greek as pejorative slang to describe the ‘passive’ partners – often young boys in homosexual activity. The other word, arsenoleoitai, is not found in any extant Greek text earlier than 1 Corinthians. Some scholars have suggested that its meaning is uncertain, but Robin Scroggs has shown that the word is a translation of the Hebrew mishkav zakur (‘lying with a male’) derived directly from Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 and used in rabbinic texts to refer to homosexual intercourse. The Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) of Leviticus 20:13 reads, ‘Whoever lies with a man as with a woman (meta arsenos koitén gynaikos),they have both done an abomination.’ This is almost certainly the idiom from which the noun arsenokoitai was coined. Thus, Paul’s use of the term presupposes and reaffirms the holiness code’s condemnation of homosexual acts.

“In 1 Corinthians 6:11, Paul asserts that the sinful behaviors cataloged in the vice list were formerly practiced by some of the Corinthians. Now, however, since they have been transferred into the sphere of Christ’s lordship, they ought to have left these practices behind: ‘This is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.’ The remainder of the chapter (w. 12-20), then, counsels the Corinthians to glorify God in their bodies, because they belong now to God and no longer to themselves.

“The 1 Timothy passage includes arsenokoitaiin a list of ‘the lawless and disobedient,’ whose behavior is specified in a vice list that includes everything from lying to slave trading to murdering one’s parents, under the rubric of actions ‘contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel’” (Staying the Course, pp. 67-68).

After a similar clear examination of Romans 1:18-32, which explains the condemnation of homosexual behavior in an explicitly theological context, Hays concludes, “From Genesis 1 onwards, Scripture affirms repeatedly that God has made man and woman for each other and that our sexual desires rightly find fulfillment within heterosexual marriage” (See, Mark 10:2-9; 1 Thess. 4:3-8; 1 Cor. 7:1-9; Eph. 5:21-33; and Heb. 13:4).

Nothing is more central for our assessing The Way Forward Plans at our upcoming General Conference than Scripture. The One Church Plan eliminates from our Discipline our present position on homosexual action and marriage, making these issues matters of local option. This is in opposition to Scripture as understood and interpreted by a huge majority of the millions of Christians around the world.

The Rev. Dr. Maxie Dunnam is the former president of Asbury Theological Seminary and a member of the board of directors of the Confessing Movement. Reprinted by permission of the Confessing Movement.

Comments

  1. On these specific issues — sexual immorality and marriage — and not on any other unrelated issues, will the Bible be used as a reference at this conference?

  2. Charles Armour says:

    Thank you kind sir. This issue is indeed about so much more than what it on the surface appears. As when Paul struggled against circumcision, the underlying issue of this debate looms so much larger.

    The struggle is for the soul of the Church and the authority of Scripture, which in turn gives the Church its only reason for being.

    Although Peter was referring to the Transfiguration in his second epistle, his brave words apply equally to all the Scriptural witnesses of Christ when he wrote; “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ but were eyewitnesses to His majesty.” II Peter 2;16.

    Either the witness to the deeds and the words of Christ as recounted in Scripture are true or not true. If true, then Christians stand obliged to defend it. If not true, then we should allow the Church to become just another social justice organization.

    As for me and my house, I would rather in the end find myself corrected by God for having defended Scripture in error, than convicted by God for having abandoned it. Hence, the issue could not be more clear.

  3. Dr. Hays’ conclusions in this article align with his writings in his excellent “The Moral Vision of the New Testament” (c. 1996) (from which perhaps this article was taken?).

    Hays agrees with all other orthodox scholars on this understanding of these biblical texts – homosexual behavior is always judged negatively in both the Old and New Testaments. The relationship between male and female (one man and one woman) is always upheld positively as God’s created order to bring blessing and fruitfulness to humanity and society.

    If there are progressive scholars who want to disagree with these conclusions – fine – disagree. But don’t try to delude yourselves that the church’s clear and consistent understanding of scripture concerning homosexual/lesbian behavior over the centuries has been anything but negative and outside of God’s natural order of creation and blessing/fruitfulness.

    So when we as orthodox/traditional Christians uphold these teachings and views, we are simply trying to guide people into God’s promises for blessing, helping everyone to understand that to do otherwise is to step outside God’s clear order for human flourishing. We can do no other; we love God and love his creation too much to mislead them for the sake of political correctness or the world’s understanding of acceptance, tolerance and being “loving”. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

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