Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Be Careful With That!

OK, so I'll put off for a day a post on one of those "Eureka!" moments during a massage session. Instead, I couldn't shake the need to address something that was in today's Daily Office for the morning because it's the lead up to one of those infamous seven passages queer people have heard over and over ad nauseum.

Imagine how I felt this morning when I opened to the assigned passage from 1 Corinthians and saw it start with:

"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons-- not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world..."--1Corinthians 5:9-10

Oh, great! It's the warm up for that passage with the "blah blah blah who won't inherit the kingdom of God". Anyway, Paul goes on:

"But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? God will judge those outside. 'Drive out the wicked person from among you.'"--1Corinthians 5:11-13

These are the statements that make my heart race, my blood boil, and my teeth clench. Because this is the justification given by so many for tossing gays under the bus. And, as noted, it's also a favorite for poster boards at rallies against gay people. Certainly, I have had the companion passage, 1Cor. 6:9-10, repeated in my face in the past. "Sexually immoral" seems to refer to fornicators, sodomites, male prostitutes, and adulterers. But the group that feels this slap is the gay community. Furthermore, in this passage, Paul is suggesting that "outsiders"... which are the non-Christians will get dealt with by God; but "insiders", aka Christians, have a job to drive out any of these "impure" people from their midst.

OK, so why do I like Paul again?!?!?!

Ratchet down the heart racing, and let's give this a little thought. First off, when they translated the Greek into English, the Greek terms for "sodomite" and "male prostitute" are not exactly precise terms, and certainly do not take into account the experience of people living in the 21st century. This is the First Century we're talking about for Paul. And the struggle of the day is this new emerging religion, once believed to be only for Jews, now in the hands of Gentiles. This letter, and this moment in the letter, appear to be a "pastoral counseling" moment with the assembled Gentile church in Corinth. Good enough.

As I mentioned, I have read numerous commentaries that seem to suggest that the term for "sodomite", arsenokoitai, means "bed males" or male on male sex acts. Even though in some translations used by some churches with a certain political outlook this Greek word is translated as "homosexual", the scholarship by people such as Dale Martin (referenced in this article) indicates that this word likely applied to males raping other males; not consensual sex between adults. The word applied to the "male prostitutes", malakoi, has a meaning of "soft" or "effeminate". This could be seen as the passive sex partner in a gay male relationship, but more likely had to do with Greek boys of Corinth who were undisciplined. It was a cosmopolitan port city, and if you think about it, opportunities to become self-absorbed and self-indulgent probably abounded. This, too, would be "malakoi".

OK... that's all the academic talk. What do I really think?

I think language is tricky, and translating from one language to another is very tricky. I also think we can't possibly have a clear understanding about the life and times of Corinth in 54CE, and it's absurd to think that the modern day gay male relationship was even imagined by Paul. And if he didn't have a word to describe a gay male relationship, lesbianism probably didn't even penetrate his cranium. And, as with all things, I think it's important to pay attention to what's being said and where and by whom and to whom when you read the Bible. Context is EVERYTHING in getting a fuller picture of what's on the printed page!

The Bible has been used to say that slavery is OK; it has been used a lot against Jews... even though the first half of the book is entirely THEIR story! It's misuse against LGBT people is, to my mind, criminal. How dare anyone place a stumbling block before a person who is returning to God! What was that about millstones around necks??


frdougal said...

Hear, Hear dear! Malakoi could also specifically refer to the morally soft who "experimented" sexually and were therefore untrue to their true humanity. Paul wasn't so much have a pop at bisexuals, as attacking hedonism.

I've always thought that Corinth being a famously wild and decadent sea port (like San Francisco or Hamburg), Paul was communicating in earthy slang for added effect. There are good arguments for reading the lessons in Greek or Latin - it leaves the worst of St Paul decently incomprehensible! Perhaps the Reformers were not entirely sensible!

SCG said...

There are good arguments for reading the lessons in Greek or Latin - it leaves the worst of St Paul decently incomprehensible! Perhaps the Reformers were not entirely sensible!

Hahaha! I love it, frdougal. Thanks!

Rick Brentlinger said...

Interesting post. And just for the record, there is no evidence in ANY ancient extant Greek text that the arsenokoit stem was ever used to refer to homosexuals in general.

Rick Brentlinger

Rick Brentlinger said...

The malakos stem is likewise, NEVER used in the Bible to indicate homosexuality.

SCG said...

Thanks, Rick!

Anonymous said...

Hey, I think the guys gave the best answers to all of this and I think that the Daily Office readings have been at best reminding me that I can't think of "boys" because I am a widow.


SCG said...

Peggins, I figure that 1 Corinthians is Paul being a prude! The sad part is, I think it's these passages of Scripture that have been the bedrock of the most twisted logic about sex and the body that is in the Church still today!