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Another Way of Being Authentic: Yarhouse’s “Homosexuality and the Christian”

Posted on Sep 11, 2013 by Tom Gilson

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Book Review

Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends by Mark A. Yarhouse.

Is it true, as Dan Savage says, that people who agree with gay “marriage” and homosexual versions of morality can be good Christians, while we who disagree are necessarily bigots? I could see in a sense how that could be, if sexual preference and/or orientation were as basic to a person’s identity as, say, skin color. But there’s another of being authentic for same-sex attracted persons.

So says Mark Yarhouse’s in his exceptionally clear analysis of attractedness, orientation, and identity, part of his 2010 book, Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends. There is no necessary connection between preference, authenticity, and a “gay” identity.

Answers to Urgent Questions

I’ll come back to that in a moment. First a word about the book as a whole: it’s outstanding. Regrettably, since I’m doing other work in this article, I won’t have time to comment on the part that many will find most helpful: what to do if someone close to you announces that he or she is gay. The author combines compassion with knowledge to provide helpful counsel. Regrettably as well, I won’t have time here to discuss the questions Yarhouse has for the church in the book’s closing section. I expect I will come back to those questions later on, though:they’re multi-faceted, and they’re important.

Either of those two sections would be worth the price of the book. For me, though, his chapters on “The Big Picture” — what we know and don’t know about homosexuality — were the most helpful, and it’s from there that I drew this article’s material.

If We Don’t Know What Causes It, Does That Mean It’s Right?

Yarhouse leads the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity, a center for research and training based at Regent University in Virginia Beach. Well-versed in the literature, Yarhouse dismantles preconceptions such as homosexuality being determined either by genes or by upbringing. Placing the question in light of Scripture as he does, however, he is able to separate causation from correctness.

Christians therefore with a high view of Scripture will be pleased to know he takes the entire scope of biblical morality seriously. It is not homosexual sex per se that Scripture condemns, it is any violation of the high good of sexual relationships in their proper place, the marriage of a man and a woman.

Attractedness, Orientation, Identity: Not a Necessary Progression

Obviously this is controversial. Yarhouse’s accounts of homosexuals seeking and finding help through counseling are also the stuff of controversy. But this brings me to where he provides the most help for the topic we’ve been working on here: sexuality as identity. Homosexual activists like Dan Savage carry the message that to be attracted to the same sex is to be gay: to own gay-ness as one’s identity, at the core of one’s personality structures. For them, to deny this gay-ness is to be inauthentic. Yarhouse disagrees:

When talking about homosexuality, I think it is helpful to make a three-tier distinction between attractions, orientation, and identity. No, they are not the same thing.

The first tier is same-sex attraction. Using this term is the most descriptive way people can talk about their feelings. This is the part of the equation they can’t control….

The next tier is homosexual orientation. When people talk about having a homosexual orientation, they are essentially saying that they experience a same-sex attraction that is strong enough, durable enough, and persistent enough for them to feel they are oriented toward the same sex…. No one knows how much attraction to the same sex is necessary for a person to feel that their orientation is now homosexual or bisexual…. We do know that some people experience some same-sex attraction but are completely comfortable saying that their sexual orientation is still heterosexual….

The third level, gay identity, is the most prescriptive. It is a sociocultural label that people use to describe themselves, and it is a label that is imbued with meaning in our culture…. Talking about a gay identity is part of a modern, contemporary movement. When people take on this label, they move beyond describing their experience and instead are forming their identity.

I was fascinated reading about these three tiers, and how sexual identity “doesn’t just turn on or off—it emerges through a developmental process,” a process  Yarhouse describes in light of current research.

Another Script, Another Way of Being Authentic

And yet he raises questions about “another group missing from this research. What about people who are same-sex attracted but do not embrace a gay identity?” That is, what about those who do not accept the “gay” script for their lives: that same-sex attraction leads inevitably to certain beliefs and behaviors, as proclaimed by contemporary gay activism? Does the church have a viable alternative to present? Yarhouse let the answer to that emerge from those who had discovered such an alternative for themselves.

Many Christians have chosen not to let their attractions determine their identity…. Christians who adopted a gay identity made their beliefs and values line up with their identity and behavior. In other words, identity and behavior came first, and their beliefs and values had to be adjusted to them. On the other hand, the Christians who did not adopt a gay identity made their identity and behavior line up with their beliefs and values. For this group, beliefs and values came first….

The Christians who did not adopt a gay identity indicated that authenticity meant worshiping God on God’s terms. Worshiping God out of a gay identity would not reflect true authenticity to them.

The clear message is that while same-sex attractedness may or may not entail same-sex orientation, it certainly does not require adopting a “gay” identity. There is a viable alternative.

Update 9/13: see comments 3 and 4: That viable alternative is one that places one’s beliefs in Christ and his ways at the center of one’s identity, based on the conviction that they are true to reality. It means being authentic to that core, and choosing to follow Christ’s way, even to the extent of refraining from sexual practices not condoned by Christ.

And with that, we are finally ready to come back to the question I started with here: is it possible that there are Christians who disagree with gay “marriage” and homosexual behavior without being bigots? But this post has gone longer than I expected; long enough for now, in fact, though there is much I have left unsaid. I’ll come back and pick up that question again soon. In the meantime, I highly recommend that you pick up Yarhouse’s book.

70 Responses to “ Another Way of Being Authentic: Yarhouse’s “Homosexuality and the Christian” ”

  1. ordinaryseeker says:

    What are “homosexual versions of morality?”

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    The affirmation of homosexual behavior.

  3. Bryan Howlett says:

    I am a Christian and I have come to a different conclusion to you on this topic.

    I would like to propose a thought experiment: Imagine the world were different and the common interpretation of biblical morality demanded homosexuality. Would you change your behaviors and identity to go along with these values and beliefs? How would you feel if people were telling you that you could “change the script”? And that you didn’t have to follow your urges, your attraction to people of the opposite sex. Would a homosexual you be an authentic you?

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    Of course not. If that were the case, though, I could choose to believe what God taught, make it the center of my identity, and refrain from sexual practice that he did not condone.

    Maybe I wasn’t clear. This isn’t about changing scripts so that homosexuals believe what the Bible says and decide to become heterosexual. It’s about people changing scripts and deciding to follow their values and beliefs regardless of their feelings and desires and impulses. They can be authentically themselves as believers in Christ who have homosexual attractions or a homosexual orientation, taking on a predominantly Christian identity without taking on a gay identity, and without practicing homosexual sex.

    That’s the kind of thing I intended to say. After I post this I’m going to go back and re-read my article to find out if I actually said it.

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    Okay, I see now that I didn’t say it. Thanks for the chance to clarify.

  6. Bryan Howlett says:

    Thanks for clarifying that, Tom.

    I still think that what you’re advocating curtails an amazing aspect of human life. And all from a dreadful misunderstanding of the purpose of the holiness code in Leviticus, an understandable misunderstanding, but a misunderstanding nonetheless.

  7. Tom Gilson says:

    Really? Following God’s ways curtails an amazing aspect of human life?

    Would you say the same of someone who felt a huge need to drink? Or to steal? Or to eat beyond what was healthy?

    iPhones are amazing aspects of human life. Really–I think they are. I have an item in my prayer journal, a prayer, that I would not covet the latest technology. I’ll be praying it still when the next iPads come out. Is it denying my core identity to refrain from taking part to the max in this amazing aspect of human life?

    And I’m sorry, but I don’t draw this from any huge misunderstanding of Leviticus. You assume wrongly when you assume that. On the list of reasons for my convictions, that’s way, way far away from the front.

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    There was a time when we understood part of Christianity to mean denying sinful desires within us and choosing right actions: even if that meant choosing to do nothing rather than something.

  9. Bryan Howlett says:

    OK, that was wrong of me to assume it, and I apologize.

    I agree completely that denying sinful desires is part of Christianity. What leads you to believe that homosexual desires (if not causing major negative effects, like over-eating) fall into this camp? (No pun intended!)

    Maybe you can point me at a blog post?

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    http://www.thinkingchristian.net/tag/homosexuality. You might have to scroll through, but it’s in there. (I need to get on to another project, sorry.)

  11. SteveK says:

    I think Tom is correct, Bryan.

    On a related note, just a few days ago, Pastor Rick Warren tweeted this: “You get your identity from what you love most”

  12. Bryan Howlett says:

    I found this post which seems to explain your position http://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2010/12/to-treat-one-another-as-humans-part-2a/

    I have to admit that it’s topics like gay marriage that give me the most doubts about my beliefs. It just doesn’t seem right to me, no matter how reasonably explained (and you did an outstanding job of being reasonable in that post, by the way). I can only pray that I will understand one day.

  13. ordinaryseeker says:

    What you are suggesting is a return to the Dark Ages for gay people. It is what they used to think they had to do in order to be considered good and moral people, and it led and still leads, particularly among gay youth, to hopelessness and despair.

  14. Tom Gilson says:

    Are you talking about Christian youth with a living, vibrant, relationally connected and true faith in Jesus Christ being inevitably led into hopelessness and despair?

    I don’t think so.

    And I don’t expect you to respond, “you don’t understand what it’s like for them.” You don’t know anything about life in Christ; you don’t understand either.

    I suggest you read some who do.

  15. ordinaryseeker says:

    Coming out is especially difficult for young people who have been raised to believe that their feelings of love for others of the same sex is wrong. You are, I think, aware of the increased suicidality among gay youth?

  16. G. Rodrigues says:

    @ordinaryseeker:

    You are, I think, aware of the increased suicidality among gay youth?

    What do you mean by “increased suicidality”? Do you mean that the suicide rate in the homossexual youth population is rising?

    Assuming that is what you mean, what do you think is the cause? It *cannot* be the alleged “society pressure” or whatever sort of education, religious or not, that gay youth are getting, because in your own words in September 13, 2013 at 9:47 pm:

    What you are suggesting is a return to the Dark Ages for gay people.

    So according to you we are no longer in the “Dark Ages”. The situation may be bleak here and there, but it is certainly *better* on your own terms; so what accounts for “increased suicidality”?

  17. Ordinaryseeker says:

    G Rodrigues,

    I mean increased risk in comparison to heterosexual youth, and I do think it’s attributable to societal pressure. Change does not happen all at once everywhere; in some areas of this country gay youth must still confront attitudes and beliefs from the “Dark Ages.”

  18. Ordinaryseeker says:

    Tom, your link in #14 doesn’t work.

  19. Donald says:

    “Would you say the same of someone who felt a huge need to drink? Or to steal? Or to eat beyond what was healthy?”

    I know two gay couples. I was good friends with two of them during the years when they tried very hard to fight their gayness. Eventually they embraced it–each found someone to love and marry. All four of these people are kind, compassionate, loving and consider themselves to be Christian. They are just as committed to their partners as any person in a heterosexual marriage.

    Now of course you think they are wrong, but when you compare their relationship with excessive drinking or stealing or gluttony or even purchasing the latest hi-tech toy, you aren’t showing them any respect. It’s simply a fact that my friends love their partners. If you are right then they aren’t expressing their love in the right way, but to compare what they do with excessive drinking–well, you might want to rethink your approach here.

  20. JB Chappell says:

    The bottom line is that anyone can affirm what is written here and by Dr. Yarhouse – and it does seem (from what is written here) like he provides some needed clear thinking in the subject – but if there’s no compelling reason to disavow a gay identity, then there’s no point. Every Christian objection to homosexuality I’ve seen is rooted in one or all three of these things: Mosaic Law (Leviticus 18:22), Paul’s denunciation (Romans 1), and/or Jesus’ (supposed) affirmation of a literal Adam and Eve (Mark 10:6).

    But it should be obvious that an affirmation of a literal Adam and Eve hardly amounts to the same thing as a denunciation of homosexuality. Even less so when considering the context wasn’t “proper sexual behavior”, but *divorce*. Related, perhaps, but still significantly different. And the only way to affirm some Mosaic Law, but not others, is to enact as morally binding a categorization of Torah that never existed (civil, ceremonial, etc.). And Paul’s pronouncement against homosexuality was based on the same natural order reasoning that led him to believe that long hair was shameful for men and that women should cover their heads when they pray – both things that most people (reasonably) believe were merely social constructs of his day and can be summarily dismissed. Hardly compelling stuff.

  21. Tom Gilson says:

    Everyone knows about the high suicide-attempt rate among young persons who are self-identifying as homosexual. Everyone jumps to the conclusion that the problem is exclusively in society’s disapproval of their homosexuality. I don’t doubt that that contributes.

    But how high was the suicide rate among self-identified homosexuals a hundred years ago? Trick question: there was no such thing as a homosexual identity a hundred years ago. Attractedness and orientation did not equal identity then.

    It does now, or many think it should, at any rate. In fact it’s a given in the media and higher education that sex is at or near the center of everything. That wasn’t true seventy-five years ago. We’ve whittled away most of the opportunity for people to think of their identities in larger, deeper terms, related to family and community. It’s happened through; geographical isolation; divorce; the de-coupling of sex, marriage, and childbearing; the breakdown of the family; the huge reduction in community participation among adults (Putnam’s Bowling Alone; the massively sexualized nature of tv, film, and music; the disappearance of the liberal-arts tradition of seeking connectedness to the greatness in our cultural history; reliance on social programs rather than community and family when in need; and of course the rise of identity politics, much (not all, but much) of which revolves around gender and sex.

    I’d love to run the experiment to determine what effect that has (along with stigma) on homosexual suicide. I’d also love to see people seeing the world more wisely, less one-dimensionally: not attributing homosexual suicide to just one thing, in other words.

  22. Tom Gilson says:

    Donald, I’ve known gay couples, too, like you describe. It hasn’t led me to re-think my approach. You say they’re “married,” and with that you introduce another very, very large and controversial side of the issue; for I dispute the fact, and call their “marriage” a harmful fiction. But I can conceptually separate “closely committed long-term relationship” from “marriage,” so I won’t go into the gay “marriage” controversy here.

    And so you say I ought not equate that with drinking to excess. I wouldn’t want to press the analogy further than it should be taken either. I think if you see how I used it in #7 you’ll understand that I was saying one thing there, not everything; I didn’t take the analogy as far as you seem to want me to defend taking it.

  23. Tom Gilson says:

    JB, there are better — much better — statements of the biblical position than what you have brought forth here. I could go into an extended exposition on it, but that would be changing the subject. Since you seem to think Yarhouse has something to say, you might look at his analysis of the topic in the same book.

  24. Tom Gilson says:

    I do want to explore one bit of background with you, though, JB. Based on your comments here and elsewhere you are obviously a student of the Bible. So am I. I think everyone knows that I take it that the Bible is true and authoritative in all that it affirms. Not every interpretation is true, of course. The interpretive challenge is to sort out what it does and does not affirm, and how it applies or does not apply in different contexts, according to the original intent; and the manner in which one determines this is through grammatico-historical interpretation of the text. (Grammatico-historical means interpretation in light of what the text says locally, what the near and distant context of text within the Bible adds to our understanding of that text, all taken in light of the relevant stage of history, including customs, literary genres, politics, religion, and other aspects of culture.)

    How would you describe your view of the Scripture, the attitude we ought to take toward what it says, and what it means for us today?

  25. SteveK says:

    JB,
    I would contend that if you boil this issue down to it’s most basic theological element, what scripture teaches us is that God is most concerned with what we love and covet.

    A common form of sin is misplaced love. Loving / coveting homosexuality to the point where your identity becomes wrapped up in that, is a sin because it leads you astray. It’s the same with money (1 Tim 6:10) and golden calves (Ex 32) .

    Homosexual desires are a fact of reality for some people, but facts are not moral issues in and of themselves. What humans do with the facts they’ve been given, *that* is what transforms it into a moral issue.

    The love of money is a sin. Not the desire for money, but the misplaced love of it. The love of homosexuality is a sin. Not homosexual desires, but the misplaced love of it.

  26. ordinary seeker says:

    SteveK, what exactly do you mean by “the love of homosexuality?”

  27. ordinary seeker says:

    Tom, I read a sampling from the link you provided in #21, and if those individuals writing on that blog have resolved the conflict between their homosexual and their Christian identities by prioritizing their Christian identities and not acting on their homosexual identities, then, well, okay, that’s fine for them, as long as they are not trying to live heterosexual lives. But surely you can see that most people faced with that dilemma find it much more affirming to find a different faith (or none at all), rather than forsake romantic love, partnership, and the creation of a family?

  28. SteveK says:

    OS,
    A person who loves homosexuality has a certain attitude of desire toward it. It’s a part of their life to be uplifted and celebrated rather than simply and humbly acknowledged. They actively pursue it because they love it when they are indulging in it and don’t want to be denied it. In some ways it reminds me of gluttony, which is a misplaced desire for food.

  29. ordinary seeker says:

    SteveK,

    Still not clear—are you talking about the practice, or the identity? Sometimes, when people first come out, they are very caught up in the identity, which I think is understandable. But that usually diminishes over time. One would hope that the practice did not diminish over time, as it’s fundamental to the identity and vital in a healthy relationship!

  30. Tom Gilson says:

    Oh, for Pete’s sake. Sodomy is vital in these healthy (?) relationships? Apart from the massive unlikeliness of your claim being true, it’s a bare assertion supported by nothing more than the ending exclamation point!

  31. SteveK says:

    OS,
    Not sure I can make it any more clear but I’ll give it a try.

    If you were a glutton by way of your attitude toward food and the way you lived your life, and if you hoped your practice of gluttony didn’t diminish over time, that would be an example of you having an attitude of love toward gluttony.

    Translate that over to homosexuality.

    I agree with what Tom said too. What is vital or healthy about homo sex? Plenty of same sex couples live just fine without it. They are called friends who love each other deeply as friends.

  32. Ordinaryseeker says:

    Tom, an active sex life is fundamental to any romantic relationship, and research supports that.

  33. Tom Gilson says:

    You’re assuming that a romantic relationship is vital to healthy life and identity, and that homosexual romantic relationships can be healthy ones.

  34. Ordinaryseeker says:

    Tom @ 34,

    No, I’m not assuming that a romantic relationship is vital to a healthy life. Where are you getting that? Did you read my comment at 28?

    Yes, I do think homosexual relationships can be healthy. So do the overwhelming majority of mental health practitioners.

  35. JB Chappell says:

    Tom (re: 25), I can appreciate that you don’t want sidetrack the conversation here, but I think it’s important at some point to go into “a long exposition”. I looked at the articles under the tag you suggested, and while there is significant discussion on same-sex marriage, I didn’t see anything that really dug into why we need to consider homosexuality wrong in the first place. It’s not surprising to me that you consider there to be better arguments than what I presented – but like I said, it’s what I’ve seen.

    As for my view of scripture, I don’t take it to be true because it is scripture, I take scripture to be true insofar as I can know it (within a reasonable degree, of course) to be true. So, it’s a “low” view, to be sure. I can very well be “inspired”, but I do not think of this divine inspiration any differently than I might take C.S. Lewis to have been divinely inspired, or a pastor delivering a message on Sunday morning is divinely inspired. In other words, I don’t take “inspired” to mean “inerrant” or “infallible”.

    What it says is still important because it provides the historical basis for Christianity. It wouldn’t mean much to be a follower of Christ if one had no idea what He did or said.

  36. JB Chappell says:

    SteveK (re: 26),

    I would accept that God is concerned with who we love, and how we show that love. Unfortunately, that’s not very enlightening at this point. But as for “Loving / coveting homosexuality to the point where your identity becomes wrapped up in that”, I’m not sure that’s actually an accurate reflection of the situation, at least in general.

    Sexuality is simply part of people’s identity. I am a heterosexual. That does not *completely* define me of course, but it is nevertheless part of who I am. Race is a part of people’s identity. Etc. Of course, people can magnify these traits and basically make idols out of them, sure. That can be a problem in any subculture. And that would be sinful, but NOT because homosexuality is sinful, and that’s really what I’m more concerned about.

  37. Donald says:

    Tom, I don’t want you to defend the analogy–just giving friendly advice from the other side of the issue (I’m pro gay marriage, as you might have surmised) about how a particular analogy sounds.

    I used to believe as you do, and I know that when I believed that I didn’t hate gay people. I just thought that God had said the practice of gay sex was wrong. So I know you can believe what you do without feeling hatred, because I’ve been there. I’m saying that if you want to have loving conversations with people on the other side, you ought to be as sensitive as you can possibly be while still stating what you think is true. You’re still going to give offense, but as Paul said (I think), keep it down to the irreducible minimum. (And incidentally, you might someday end up changing your mind, in which case you’ll also be glad you hadn’t used inappropriate analogies.)

    It’s simply a fact that married gay couples (substitute what you wish for “marriage”) love and are committed to each other and if you are right about the basic sinfulness of such relationships, it’s not like any other sin I can think of. Devising a useful analogy is going to be hard work. It might not be worth the trouble. Just argue the issue head on.

  38. SteveK says:

    JB,

    And Paul’s pronouncement against homosexuality was based on the same natural order reasoning that led him to believe that long hair was shameful for men and that women should cover their heads when they pray – both things that most people (reasonably) believe were merely social constructs of his day and can be summarily dismissed.

    Where in scripture is the “natural order” reasoning that Paul uses against men with long hair?

    I just happened to be reading Romans 1 today. Looking at verses 18:31. In what way is Paul speaking *only* to the culture at that time rather than speaking to all people about the universal truth of their created purpose?

    If the notion that “men committed shameful acts with other men” was shameful *only* in that culture, there would be a cultural reason for it being shameful back then, and that reason would not apply to our culture today. If the reason was that the culture disapproved of it, well, all I can say is the culture today disapproves of it too so I think there has to be more to Paul’s words than that.

    What are your thoughts?

  39. Donald says:

    There might be a distinction between the sort of homosexual practices prevalent in Paul’s day and, say, the modern phenomenon of two lesbian women or two gay men who love each other living together after a marriage ceremony (insert your own term if you prefer) for the rest of their lives. Casual homosexual sex or exploitative sex would be wrong for the same reason it would be wrong when done by heterosexuals.

  40. JB Chappell says:

    SteveK (re: 39),

    I am referring to 1 Corinthians 11, of course, where Paul denounces short hair for men and demands women’s hair be covered. The question of course, is why he does this, and whether it’s relevant for us today.

    Well, Paul actually explains why, but – not surprisingly – does so in a completely obfuscated way. But he does make clear that the general thinking is from the “the very nature of things”, and then the argument continues with the assumption of a literal Adam & Eve, as so much of his theology does.

    As far as I can tell, Paul’s reasoning is this: women should not be showing up their man. Their hair is a glory to them, but if they show it off, then they are distracting from the glory of the man, who is the glory of God. So, Paul’s reasoning is that if they don’t care about this glory, then they’d be happy with shaving it off. But of course, they won’t want to do this – Paul’s calling their bluff. As for why it would be shameful for men to have long hair… underlying this thinking is misunderstanding of how reproduction works. Hair was essentially though to be a straw that, well, sucks the reproductive material into the body. Thus, women wanted long hair, and men didn’t. Because nature.

    Of course, throwing a wrench into all of this is the “because of the angels” comment, which is admittedly confusing. There are several explanations for this, but I think the most generally accepted is that the thinking was that angels were present during church proceedings. Thus, an offense of the natural order along these lines would not just cause offense to men, but to the angels, and that would have a negative spiritual impact.

    Regardless of that last part, the bottom line is this: Paul was wrong. It isn’t shameful for men to have long hair, because it has nothing to do with reproduction (and even if it did, it would still be a bad argument). People today recognize that he is wrong (although not too many want to state it in those terms), and that is why women largely leave their heads uncovered. Of course, to justify this, it is simply rationalized as Paul referring to customs of his day, which aren’t applicable today. And while Paul WAS referring to customs of his day, he certainly wouldn’t have thought about them in such relativistic terms.

    This brings us to Romans 1. I agree with you that Paul was NOT only speaking to the culture at the time – just as he wasn’t doing so in 1 Corinthians 11. My point was that many/most Christians selectively apply such socially relative filters when it appeals to them. The problem here is that Paul’s reasoning is again going to fall along the same general lines. So, why one would reject one argument and not the other calls for explanation.

    Paul speaks of homosexuality in terms of “shameful” and “unnatural”. Interestingly, same-sex relations between women are not described as “shameful”, only as “unnatural” (although still considered immoral, I’m sure), whereas the relations between men were described as both. The reason for this is because in Greco-Roman society, it wasn’t necessarily shameful for men to have sex with with each other, but it was shameful to be on the “receiving” end. So Paul clearly is, at least in part, appealing to the social mores of his day.

    But simultaneously, and perhaps more importantly, he is appealing to natural order or law. And here lies (I think) the biggest question: what makes homosexual relations “unnatural”? Unfortunately, Paul doesn’t really explain, and I’m sure it was because it seemed obvious to him, as it does to so many others today. I have no doubt that, to Paul – who based so much of his reasoning on a literal Adam & Eve – that “unnatural” to him means “not intended”. God didn’t created people to have sex this way. “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”, Paul is basically saying.

    So my point was simply this: if Paul’s natural order reasoning can simply be done away with in 1 Corinthians 11, then there’s no reason it can’t be done away with in Romans 1. Especially when, you know, he’s wrong. Homosexuality is NOT unnatural. As you mentioned, it is a simple fact of life for people, the way they are. But for Paul it wasn’t like that. To Paul, it was something that occurred only after God had basically given up on people because they were so evil. Now we know that this is present early on in people’s lives. Much like Paul’s mistaken take on reproductive biology, he was wrong about what causes homosexuality. As such, our own thinking should change.

  41. Bryan Howlett says:

    JB Chappell, thank you. You may have saved my faith with this:

    As for my view of scripture, I don’t take it to be true because it is scripture, I take scripture to be true insofar as I can know it (within a reasonable degree, of course) to be true. So, it’s a “low” view, to be sure. I can very well be “inspired”, but I do not think of this divine inspiration any differently than I might take C.S. Lewis to have been divinely inspired, or a pastor delivering a message on Sunday morning is divinely inspired. In other words, I don’t take “inspired” to mean “inerrant” or “infallible”.

    I am going to take this attitude to scripture and see how it goes. Time for some re-reading and re-thinking! I’m truly inspired again. Thank you.

  42. Melissa says:

    Bryan, you may find the short book “Struggling with Scripture” interesting (and possibly helpful)

  43. Tom Gilson says:

    I’m totally comfortable with the idea of a literal Adam and Eve: or at least, an original human couple. In fact I think that account explains the human condition better than anything else that’s been proposed. So your concerns about Jesus’ acceptance of a literal Adam and Eve mean little to me, JB.

    Of course I also believe in a literal Jesus, who spoke what he is recorded to have spoken.

    You should come to Truth for a New Generation. I’ll tell you why I believe the accounts could not possibly be false.

  44. Victoria says:

    @JB

    Hair was essentially though to be a straw that, well, sucks the reproductive material into the body. Thus, women wanted long hair, and men didn’t. Because nature.

    References, please.

  45. SteveK says:

    JB,

    Of course, to justify this, it is simply rationalized as Paul referring to customs of his day, which aren’t applicable today. And while Paul WAS referring to customs of his day, he certainly wouldn’t have thought about them in such relativistic terms.

    If you start back in 1 Cor 10, Paul is talking about how Christian’s can be free to maneuver within a society, living according to cultural customs, without necessarily being bound to a higher law.

    In verse 1 of chapter 11 Paul continues this theme by saying (paraphrasing) “Hey, do what I do in the culture because I am using Christ as my model”.

    Paul’s natural order argument is limited to what is natural in the culture. He’s saying don’t cover your head or grow your hair long if the culture sees that as dishonoring.

    Verse 13 confirms this (paraphrasing): “Look around at the culture and judge for yourselves what is the natural order”

    I don’t see those same kind of natural order statements offered in Romans 1.

    But if it is as you suggest, then it seems to me that in today’s culture there is also nothing wrong with practicing and promoting the list of behaviors given in verse 29. It’s all or nothing.

  46. JB Chappell says:

    Victoria (re: 45),

    Victoria, I don’t remember the original book I read it in, but here’s a start.

    http://bit.ly/18A6SdW
    http://abt.cm/18A9kkx

    The former being a scholarly article; the latter being a more general web article that lacks some of the details I mention, but does ta least mention that the brain was considered to be where semen was stored, and testicles were “weights” that drew it out. Hair, considered to be hollow (thus a vacuum and creating suction), was seen to be an unwanted counter-balancing force for men.

  47. JB Chappell says:

    SteveK,

    I agree that the discussion of women’s head coverings is taking place in a larger context of social mores, and whether those are binding or not. In this case, however, Paul is clearly making a special case of providing additional argumentation. Paul is not content to merely say “When in Rome…” Instead, he offers quite a bit of argumentation, referring to created order (men before women), cosmological hierarchy (“because of the angels”), etc. If you reduce it to Paul merely looking at the surrounding culture, you’re actually ignoring a great deal of what he’s saying.

    Your paraphrase of v13 is deficient, then, because it ignores the specifics. If you think about it, if Paul was simply concerned about the Roman and Jewish norms of women covering their heads, then that’s all he would have had to appeal to. Instead, he also appealed to the notion of men having long hair being shameful. Why would that be relevant in a discussion of women covering their heads? Because of the function hair was thought to perform.

    It’s not clear to me when you say “I don’t see those same kind of natural order statements offered in Romans 1.” whether you are referring to the natural order statements I was referring to, or whether you are referring to your own interpretation, which is that Paul is simply referencing the prevailing customs of the day. I would agree with the latter, not the former. Admittedly, Paul’s reasoning is not nearly as explicit in Romans 1 as it is in 1 Corinthians 11, but it is undoubtedly rooted in natural order/law (that much is explicit).

    You state that “if it is as [I] suggest”, then pretty much nothing is wrong. I have no idea how that follows. Just because Paul’s natural order reasoning is flawed, and his understanding of homosexuality is wrong, does not mean that every other thing he says or thinks is also wrong. Nor is it the case that every sin mentioned in v29 is dependent on Paul’s natural order reasoning. The “all or nothing” assertion here is baseless.

  48. JB Chappell says:

    Bryan (Re: 42), I’m glad you are inspired! ;) In addition to Melissa’s suggestion, you may also enjoy the recent dialogue between Anthony LeDonne (Christian) and Larry Behrendt (Jew) on “problem” Bible passages. http://bit.ly/1dqIJ8Y (there’s a whole series, this is just one entry).

  49. JB Chappell says:

    Tom (re: 44), I think there’s a significant difference between a *literal* Adam and Eve and an “original human couple”. Regardless, if you are comfortable with either, fair enough. I wouldn’t want to sidetrack the conversation along those lines. And I don’t think anything I’ve said depends on a rejection of a literal Adam & Eve, in any case.

    And, unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it out to Charlotte. That’s a bit of a haul from KC, and on short notice to boot. But I am curious which “accounts” you are referring to.

  50. SteveK says:

    JB,

    It’s not clear to me when you say “I don’t see those same kind of natural order statements offered in Romans 1.” whether you are referring to the natural order statements I was referring to, or whether you are referring to your own interpretation, which is that Paul is simply referencing the prevailing customs of the day. I would agree with the latter, not the former.

    I was referring to the latter as well – Paul is referencing the culture of the day in 1 Cor 11.

    Not nearly as explicit a reference to culture in Romans 1, you say? That’s an understatement. Where is there a hint of any reference to cultural norms of the day in Romans 1, specifically vs 18-31?

    I stand by my “all or nothing” statement. My thinking is this:

    *If* Paul is discussing cultural norms in v24-27 of Romans 1 and pointing out what is shameful and sinful by cultural standards as you claim, what would lead you to believe he *isn’t* talking about those same norms in v28-30? I don’t see anything, do you?

  51. JB Chappell says:

    SteveK (re: 51),

    You’re misunderstanding me. To reiterate: I do NOT think that Paul was merely appealing to cultural standards in Romans 1. I DO think he was making an argument from “the nature of things”, as he does in 1 Cor. 11. Of course, in both instances, he is at least mentioning cultural norms.

    In 1 Cor. 11, Paul actually does at least make an appeal to other church practices, saying that there is “no other custom” – seemingly, as a last-ditch effort if they don’t buy his arguments (and let’s be honest, it might not have been very clear to them either!). And his intent is clearly to get them in line with both the Roman & Jewish norms of the time. But, as I mentioned, he supplements these appeals with a fallacious argument from nature that clearly was intended to serve as something other than a mere appeal to conscience and culture (as opposed to the meat issue discussed in 1 Cor. 10).

    So, we agree that Paul is at least making a slight appeal to culture in 1 Cor. 11. For whatever reason, you seem to deny his additional argument from nature. How, I have no idea. Regardless, we also agree that Paul is NOT making an appeal to the prevailing culture in Romans 1 (although he is referencing some of its ideas, such as shame). In fact, it is exactly the opposite: he is opposing it.

    Again, my point here is that Paul’s reasoning in the two is very similar – but NOT in the sense that he is simply appealing to social mores. I am saying that Paul’s reasoning is similar because he is appealing to the nature of things. Christians who dismiss one argument but not the other, in my mind, have some explaining to do. You’ve done so, and as far as I can tell, you’ve somehow simply missed the natural order reasoning in 1 Cor. 11, which is pretty uncommon in my experience. Most leave that series of “arguments” scratching their heads wondering why he is appealing the order of creation and the angels, not simply bypassing it.

    In any case, hopefully it is clear now that your “*if*” statement does not apply.

  52. SteveK says:

    JB,
    I see the reference to nature in both, and I’ve read some commentaries on 1 Cor 11 that attempt to explain the natural order verses. Whether these commentaries are accurate I don’t know.

    What I’m missing from you is the cultural reference in Romans 1 that renders the passage about homosexuality something we can set aside and dismiss as not applicable to us today. Isn’t that what you are saying?

    Or perhaps it’s Paul’s reference to nature in Romans 1 that does this. If so, I don’t see how that isn’t begging the question when you consider Genesis and human biology.

  53. JB Chappell says:

    SteveK,

    Again, you’re not understanding me – or I’m doing a poor job explaining myself. My claim is not that Romans 1 is simply a socially-relative plea that isn’t applicable anymore. My claim is that if you dismiss Paul’s reasoning in 1 Cor. 11 as a socially-relative plea, then you have no good reason (that I know of) to not do the same in Romans 1, because he’s using similar argumentation.

    Most Christians I know of do, in fact, simply dismiss 1 Cor. 11 as something that is no longer applicable, because culture has changed. In my experience, they do not do it in the way you have, by simply bypassing/ignoring the appeal to natural order. Usually, they simply acknowledge that in making such an appeal, Paul is handicapped by his perspective (which of course, was rooted in Greco-Roman and Jewish culture). This same appeal is made by many to justify (at least passive) Biblical endorsement of slavery, polygamy, etc. Progressive revelation fixes all.

    So, although it seemed obvious to Paul long hair for men is shameful, many/most acknowledge that this is only because of the time and place he lived. Likewise, although it seemed obvious to Paul that analogies to master and slave are good ones for the relationship between a husband and wife, we now acknowledge this is due to his socio-cultural context. We would also attribute his sending a slave back to his master to this. Etc.

    The problem, I am sure, is obvious – and this is what I have been trying to emphasize. If Paul’s perspective can be seen as being flawed due to his unique socio-cultural position, and if some of his moral positions/arguments can be discounted because of that, and (especially) if this is despite the fact that he clearly is making appeals to (what he considers to be) objective facts about the world to justify such positions, then why would we not be justified in reconsidering moral pronouncements made on similar grounds?

    Again, so we’re clear: my personal position is not that Romans 1 is simply a socially relative plea by Paul. I think he was trying to ground his moral stance on objective facts about what is “natural” and “unnatural”, and how homosexuality has come to be. I just happen to think he was factually, objectively wrong. Wrong in a similar manner to how he argued for women’s head coverings based on what were, to him, objective facts about hair, angels, etc. I also think that this latter argument is rejected by Christians not on the basis of it being WRONG, but on the basis of it being relative. But IF that is the case, then – in order to be consistent – we should also think of similar arguments in a relativistic light as well. But that is not done. Why that is, is a very important question.

    Hopefully this makes it more clear.

  54. SteveK says:

    JB,
    We’re talking past each other a bit, yes, however I do think I understand your claim. I’m just not communicating very well with you. I have a bad habit of doing that because I hate typing out long comments. :)

    My claim is that if you dismiss Paul’s reasoning in 1 Cor. 11 as a socially-relative plea, then you have no good reason (that I know of) to not do the same in Romans 1, because he’s using similar argumentation.

    I know this. My pushback is to ask you how the two are necessarily connected such that an error in 1 Cor 11 with respect to what is natural means the same error is made in Romans 1. Paul’s natural order statements could be wrong in 1 Cor 11, but correct in Romans 1.

    It’s easy to see the natural order arguments in Romans 1 being grounded in God’s purposes for creation and what we see in Genesis. We also see this argument grounded in natural biology. It’s not so easy to see the connection to “what is natural” in 1 Cor 11, but some commentators have attempted to sort it out.

    In my experience, they do not do it in the way you have, by simply bypassing/ignoring the appeal to natural order. Usually, they simply acknowledge that in making such an appeal, Paul is handicapped by his perspective (which of course, was rooted in Greco-Roman and Jewish culture).

    I’m not ignoring it. I’m acknowledging the appeal, and to the extent that Paul is talking about universal truths, it’s possible Paul is correct, and to the extent that I don’t know for sure I’m willing to trust that he is.

    Look, JB, I’m no bible expert so what I’m saying here could be very wrong. But I can see that Paul is mixing *both* cultural and universal truths into these 1 Cor 11 statements.

    For example: if man is the spiritual head of women (universal truth), if Christ is the spiritual head of man (universal truth), and if man as the head established the cultural norm that women should cover their heads in certain spiritual situations (cultural truth that flows from a universal truth) — then then it would accurate to combine those two truths into statements like Paul does in vs 4-6:

    Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

    So I don’t see a *necessary* problem with this.

    If Paul’s perspective can be seen as being flawed due to his unique socio-cultural position, and if some of his moral positions/arguments can be discounted because of that, and (especially) if this is despite the fact that he clearly is making appeals to (what he considers to be) objective facts about the world to justify such positions, then why would we not be justified in reconsidering moral pronouncements made on similar grounds?

    One flawed statement doesn’t entail that other statements are flawed unless you can show the statements are saying (or arguing for) the same thing.

    I’ve asked you why Romans 1 is a flawed statement about the natural order and you keep going back to 1 Cor 11 to prove your case. That doesn’t work.

    In each case, the statements about what is natural are different in detail. There are many natural order truths that we can put into various statements/arguments. What makes you think the one in Romans 1 isn’t true? That’s all I want to know.

  55. Tom Gilson says:

    Ditto. JB, you haven’t offered a shred of evidence showing that the Romans 1 argument is based in contemporary culture.

  56. JB Chappell says:

    Man, I must be doing a terrible job at explaining myself. Sorry about that. Tom (re:56), the reason I haven’t provided an explanation for why Paul’s argument is based on (his) contemporary culture is because I don’t think that’s what he was doing.

    SteveK (re:55), seems like we’re on the same page now, though.

    The connection between Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 11 is that Paul is making an appeal to nature to prove a point. We (SteveK and I) differ a bit on the exact point Paul is making in 1 Cor. 11. Apparently, you think he’s making an appeal to nature only to demonstrate that men are the heads over women, and therefore they need to abide by the customs men set down (or something similar to that?). Thus, on your view, Paul is using appeal’s to nature, but only in an argument that is culturally relative.

    I think it’s pretty clear that’s not what he’s arguing. Again, Paul’s appeal to nature in 1 Corinthians 11 is precisely to prove the point that women need their heads covered. It may not be a good argument, but it’s pretty clear that’s at least what he’s *attempting* to do. I don’t want to belabor your interpretation of 1 Cor. 11 too much, because the conversation can continue without it, but it should be clear that if what Paul is attempting to do is use an appeal to the order of creation and hierarchy to say that women need to listen to men when following customs, then there is no point in mentioning that men would be dishonoring their own heads by covering them up. There’s a reason why Paul thinks this, and it is rooted in “the nature of things.” And it would be curious indeed to say that the “nature” here refers to custom or tradition, because Paul clearly has a pattern of use for appeals to nature and appeals to custom, and he doesn’t seem to use the terms interchangeably.

    The additional connection is that both arguments are rooted in misconceptions about nature. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul betrays his lack of knowledge (understandable though it may be) about hair. In Romans 1, the misconception is about homosexuality.

    But it’s not as if the *exact same* mistake is being made. I grant that it is possible for Paul to be correct in one and not the other. Again, my main point here has simply been that IF one dismisses Paul’s appeal to nature to prove a point as a socially-relative claim in 1 Cor. 11, THEN we can do the same in Romans 1. But many/most don’t. So, there is an inconsistency. The inconsistency is all I’m pointing out. I’m not trying to say that because Paul is wrong in one place, he’s necessarily wrong elsewhere, nor that these arguments are *actually* socio-relative.

    Now, I would say that appeals to nature tend to be problematic. History is full of just awful appeals to what’s “natural”, whether that be objections to interracial marriage, racism in general, slavery, eugenics, etc. Admittedly, though, that doesn’t make such a move wrong ipso facto. You seem to agree with me that by declaring homosexuality as “unnatural”, Paul is meaning “not intended”.

    So, the first question would be whether we need to consider all unintended things as “immoral”. And I think obviously not: Jesus happens to mention that Moses allowed for divorce as a pragmatic concession, and although Jesus clearly is attempting to clarify what the intent was, it nevertheless becomes clear that unintended things can, in some circumstances, be permissible. And, really, that’s a large part of the basis for the whole notion of progressive revelation, is it not?

    Perhaps the more important question is whether we even know what the intentions were. As I said before, and you seem to echo it (although not in these words, to be sure), I’m sure what Paul had in mind here is a “Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve” argument. But I think it’s fair to question whether creating a male and female together initially actually means that’s what must inevitably follow.

    I mean, in order to reproduce, that was necessary. And justifications for things we now consider sins (adultery, polygamy, incest) are made for this very reason: they were necessary to reproduce. But, there came a time when it was obviously not as necessary to reproduce. And today, we obviously recognize that it’s not a *moral imperative* to have children. You are not sinning if you don’t have kids, even if it is the *general intent* for mankind to reproduce.

    In short, appealing to an Adam & Eve-type state of affairs to generate universal moral truths about everyone is going to be flawed. What was intended for them is not necessarily intended for ALL of us. Thus, it is problematic to assume that because of some initial or general creative intent, this translates to universal intent. And thus it is equally problematic to assume that because some state of affairs now does not align with initial creation states that isn’t intended, therefore not “natural”, and therefore not moral. There’s two jumps there that are problematic.

  57. Tom Gilson says:

    Frankly, JB, I’m not sure why we need to have a debate on Paul being “wrong.”

    No one expects biblically based arguments to be persuasive to people who do not consider the Bible to be authoritative. So the Bible doesn’t persuade you. Ho hum. Not news.

    What’s the discussion about?

  58. JB Chappell says:

    Tom, there is a world of difference between “authoritative” and “never wrong”. The Constitution is authoritative. We don’t pretend it is perfect. I get that we have differing views on the nature of scripture, but it seems to me that if Paul spells out what his reasoning is on an issue, and that reasoning is flawed, there is a big problem there – ESPECIALLY if one has a “high” view of scripture. Did God inspire Paul to reason badly? Or was the conclusion inspired, but not the path he took to get that conclusion (and how would you know that)? Or are we supposed to simply accept that it is both unnatural/immoral for men to have long hair, women to uncover their head during prayer, and for people to pursue same-sex lifestyles despite the fact that it seems obviously mistaken? Or is my perception of Paul’s argument mistaken/flawed? I certainly invite discussion on this latter option as well.

    Many/most Christians obviously reject the prohibitions on male long hair and uncovered female heads during prayer, but accept the prohibition on homosexuality – they just chalk Paul’s odd stances on hair to his socio-cultural context. Same for OT acceptance of slavery, polygamy, etc. Perhaps you dismiss Paul’s claims in 1 Cor. 11 on a different basis, as SteveK does – I’m not sure, and that has been part of the discussion. Regardless, it seems to me that if one defends these issues on a *rational* basis, then it would be important to discuss the reasoning Paul gives in scripture.

  59. Tom Gilson says:

    Is Paul wrong? Indeed. Or is JB wrong? JB has an interpretation of what Paul wrote. There are other interpretations of 1 Cor. 11; maybe JB is wrong after all. The IVP New Bible Commentary suggests,

    11:2-16 Covering the head in worship

    2 Paul commends the congregation for observing the traditions which he had delivered to them in days past. It is interesting that the issues raised are matters that Paul did not deal with while he was there. It is not a reflection on his competence, but rather on changes which developed after he departed. What Paul decrees is part of the apostolic tradition which is binding on the congregation (see v 16).
    3 Paul wants the Corinthians to understand that Christ is the head of every man (more likely ‘husband’), and the ‘husband’ is head of every woman (more likely ‘wife’, given the ambiguity of these words in Greek). It was the pagan custom for the priests of a cult who were drawn from the elite of society to distinguish themselves from other worshippers by praying and sacrificing with their heads covered. Is it that there were some among the minority of Christians from the social elite who wished to draw attention to their status by praying and prophesying with their head covered?
    He dishonours his head, i.e. Christ, who is his head, (cf. v 3). The dishonouring would be in drawing attention to his secular status when Christ is the one to whom attention should be directed when praying.
    5 Every woman who prays or prophesies with head uncovered dishonours her head, i.e. her husband. It is as if she were shaved. The shaving of the head of the woman who disgraces her husband by commiting adultery was prescribed by Roman law which applied in the Roman colony of Corinth.
    6 If a wife does not cover her head, by implication she is regarded as someone who refuses to recognize her relationship with her husband i.e. her marital status. For the wife not to cover her head in public was a disgrace.
    7 The man is precluded from covering his head since he is the image and glory of God (Gn. 1:27a). The wife stands as the glory of her husband (Pr. 12:4).
    8 This was the order in which male and female were created according to Genesis.
    9 In Gn. 2:20b-23 the wife was created for the husband, and not the husband for the wife.
    10 It is for this reason and also because of the angels (cf. Mt. 18:10), the wife must have the sign of authority on her head.
    11 In the Lord, Paul teaches mutuality as in 7:4.
    12 Paul explains this in terms of a woman coming from man, and man from the woman. But Paul asserts that everything comes from God.
    13 As in 10:15 Paul calls upon the congregation to judge for themselves. In this case is it right for a woman to pray with her head uncovered?
    14 In the first century it was believed that nature determined matters of culture. No doubt Paul also argues this on the teaching of the OT where the polarity of sexes was insisted upon. A long–haired man was a disgrace. It has sometimes been argued that there are ancient statues of males with long hair, but this is how the gods and not men were portrayed.
    15 The long hair of a woman was seen as her glory and ancient authors mention the attention given to a woman’s hair as her prized glory.

    The Bible Knowledge Commentary says,

    11:2. The Corinthians had expressed to Paul, either in their letter or via their spokesmen (cf. 1:11; 16:17), that they remained devoted to Paul and to the teachings, the central doctrines of the faith, which he had communicated to them (cf. 11:23; 15:1, 3). For this Paul commended them: I praise you.

    11:3. Paul no doubt appreciated the Corinthians’ goodwill toward him. But more importantly, he wanted to see behavior in keeping with a Christian’s calling. As a prelude to his exhortation, Paul characteristically laid down a theological basis. In this instance it concerned headship. The word head (κεφαλή) seems to express two things: subordination and origination. The former reflects the more usual Old Testament usage (e.g., Jud. 10:18), the latter that of Greek vernacular (e.g., Herodotus History 4. 91). The former is primary in this passage, but the latter may also be found (1 Cor. 11:8). The subordination of Christ to God is noted elsewhere in the letter (3:23; 15:28). His subordination to the Father is also true in His work as the “agent” of Creation (8:6; cf. Col. 1:15-20).

    11:4. When a man prayed aloud publicly or exercised the gift of prophecy by declaring a revelation from God (cf. 12:10), he was to have his physical head uncovered so that he would not dishonor himself and his spiritual head, Christ (v. 3).
    The alternate translation in the NIV margin, which interprets the man’s covering as long hair, is largely based on the view that verse 15 equated the covering with long hair. It is unlikely, however, that this was the point of verse 4 (cf. comments on v. 15).

    11:5-6. It cannot be unequivocally asserted but the preponderance of evidence points toward the public head covering of women as a universal custom in the first century in both Jewish culture ([apocryphal] 3 Maccabees 4:6; Mishnah, Ketuboth 7. 6; Babylonian Talmud, Ketuboth 72a-b) and Greco-Roman culture (Plutarch Moralia 3. 232c; 4. 267b; Apuleius The Golden Ass 11. 10). The nature of the covering varied considerably (Ovid The Art of Love 3:135-65), but it was commonly a portion of the outer garment drawn up over the head like a hood.
    It seems that the Corinthian slogan, “everything is permissible,” had been applied to meetings of the church as well, and the Corinthian women had expressed that principle by throwing off their distinguishing dress. More importantly they seem to have rejected the concept of subordination within the church (and perhaps in society) and with it any cultural symbol (e.g., a head-covering) which might have been attached to it. According to Paul, for a woman to throw off the covering was an act not of liberation but of degradation. She might as well shave her head, a sign of disgrace (Aristophanes Thesmophoriazysae 837). In doing so, she dishonors herself and her spiritual head, the man.

    11:7-9. The man, on the other hand, was not to have his head covered because he was the image and glory of God. Paul based this conclusion on Genesis 1:26-27. A woman’s (a wife’s) glory and image was derived from (1 Cor. 11:8) and complementary to (v. 9) that of the man (her husband). Man, then, was God’s authoritative representative who found in woman a divinely made ally in fulfilling this role (Gen. 2:18-24). In this sense she as a wife is the glory of man, her husband. If a married woman abandoned this complementary role, she also abandoned her glory, and for Paul an uncovered woman’s head gave symbolic expression to that spirit.

    11:10. Paul offered a third reason (the first reason was the divine order—God, Christ, man, woman, vv. 3-6; the second reason was Creation, vv. 7-9) why womanly insubordination in the church should not exist. Angels were spectators of the church (4:9; Eph. 3:10; 1 Tim. 5:21; cf. Ps. 103:20-21). For a woman to exercise her freedom to participate in the church without the head covering, the sign of her authority (ἐξουσία, a liberating term; cf. 1 Cor. 7:37; 8:9; 9:4-6, 12, 18), would be to bring the wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10) into disrepute.
    Other (but less acceptable) explanations have been suggested for the words because of the “angels”: (a) evil angels lusted after the women in the Corinthian congregation; (b) angels are messengers, that is, pastors; (c) good angels learn from women; (d) good angels are an example of subordination; (e) good angels would be tempted by a woman’s insubordination.

    11:11-12. Men and women together in mutual interdependence, complementing each other, bring glory to God (cf. 10:31). Neither should be independent or think themselves superior to the other. Woman’s subordination does not mean inferiority. Man is not superior in being to woman. Eve came from Adam, and each man born in the world comes from a woman’s womb (11:12). God created them both for each other (Gen. 1:27; 2:18).

    11:13-15. Paul had based his previous reasoning for maintaining the head covering as a woman’s expression of her subordination on arguments rooted in special revelation. Now he turned to natural revelation (cf. Rom. 1:20) for a fourth argument in support of his recommendation. Mankind instinctively distinguished between the sexes in various ways, one of which was length of hair. Exceptions to this general practice were due either to necessity (e.g., Apuleius The Golden Ass 7. 6, “to escape in disguise”) or perversity (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 6. 65). No abstract length of hair was in mind so much as male and female differentiation. The Spartans, for example, favored shoulder-length hair for men (cf. Lucian The Runaways 27) which they tied up for battle (Herodotus History 7. 208-9), and no one thought them effeminate.
    Long hair was a woman’s glory because it gave visible expression to the differentiation of the sexes. This was Paul’s point in noting that long hair was given to her as a covering. Natural revelation confirmed the propriety of women wearing the physical covering (cf. Cicero On Duties 1. 28. 100). She has a natural covering, and should follow the custom of wearing a physical covering in a public meeting.
    Some Bible students, however, say that the Greek ἀντί, rendered “as” (i.e., “for” or “in anticipation of”) should be translated in its more normal sense of “instead of.” According to that view, a woman’s hair was given instead of a physical covering, for it in itself is a covering. In this view women should pray with long hair, not short hair. This view, however, does not explain the woman’s act of covering or uncovering her head, mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:5-6.

    See also here.

    Back in a moment.

  60. Tom Gilson says:

    Now, let me simplify the matter:

    I think your argument runs thus:

    1. Paul’s argument in 1 Cor. 11 is flawed.
    2. Therefore we cannot trust that Scripture is always accurate in what it affirms.
    2. Therefore Paul’s argument in Romans 1 may be flawed.

    Is that it?

  61. Tom Gilson says:

    Your “Adam & Eve” argument applied to Paul seems strained, by the way. Your assessment of the relation between reproduction and marriage is condition by all the wisdom of the last, oh, sixty years or so, hardly enough to lead to universal agreement that reality has been overturned. But again, the main thing is that if I got your argument right in my last comment, then that’s what we need to deal with, not all this other complexity you’ve been introducing.

  62. JB Chappell says:

    Tom, my argument does not depend on either 1 Cor. 11 or Romans 1 being wrong or flawed in order to cast doubt on the other. They can be evaluate independently. Now, granted, if an appeal to nature that Paul makes is flawed in one place, we might be more skeptical when he tries it elsewhere. If that is the case, the argument would look more like this:

    1. Paul’s appeal to nature in 1 Cor. 11/Romans 1 is flawed.
    2. Most likely, this can be attributed to Paul’s limited knowledge and cultural context.
    3. Appeals to nature to determine moral principles can be highly problematic, regardless of cultural context.
    4. Paul makes a similar (though not identical!) appeal to nature in Romans 1/!Cor. 11
    5. Therefore, we have reason to be cautious, perhaps even skeptical, before accepting the argument offered in Romans 1/1 Cor. 11.

    But premise 3 alone would give us reason to pause, and ultimately the most important premise would be #1. Is the argument actually flawed?

    And what are you referring to by my “assessment of the relation between reproduction and marriage”? That I said it wasn’t *immoral* to not reproduce? Do you disagree?

    And while i can appreciate that there are other interpretations of what Paul wrote (when is that not the case?), I think it’s pretty clear that not much changes, even if we accept these other interpretations. So, let’s assume that Paul was not referring to the biology of hair when he said “the nature of things”.

    Taking a look at the IVP:

    3) Interestingly, the discussion here starts with an attempt to restrict the conversation between wives and husbands. Then, it continues with the observation that pagan priests wore head coverings, and perhaps there were some drawing attention to themselves in such a manner (it leaves it as an open question; we really don’t know). But, is it really the case that ONLY husbands would have been dishonoring their head, then? No, in this way “every man” would mean exactly that. As such, it is more probable that all women are in view here too, not just wives. As the BKC noted, it was probably a universal custom for both Roman and Jewish women to cover their heads (not just married women). If the concern has simply been not to follow pagan practices, then it would seem easy enough to mention exactly that.

    5) I’ve not come across anything that says adulteresses had their head’s shaved, but women wore veils, and prostitutes did not, so there would be something similar there. So if the idea is that if a woman uncovers her head, she’s appearing like a prostitute/adulteress and that dishonors her husband, then I guess that follows. This is an appeal to cultural standards.

    7) This makes it sound as if the reason why men shouldn’t wear head coverings is that it was considered to be a symbol of having an authority over you. This corresponds to no Roman practice I know of, and there is no Jewish practice like this (currently anyway) like it. Married women cover their hair in orthodox Judaism and Islam for modesty considerations. It’s unclear to me, then, whether this is simply Paul’s interpretation of a custom, or the reason why a custom existed.

    14) To me, this is the crux of the matter. Paul uses the word “nature” here, which – like every other word – has multiple meanings. But it mainly has some sense of physical properties or intrinsic qualities. As the commentary notes, the Paul would have seen natural law at work behind the cultural scene. So, the question is this: does some physical reality actually teach us that men having long hair is shameful?

    Like the IVP, the Bible Knowledge Commentary BKC notes several cultural concerns, but also notes the appeal to nature. It says that Paul’s point was that nature (i.e., physical reality, according to Paul), apparently told Paul that long hair was given to women as a covering and that since there was to be a differentiation between the sexes, that it would therefore be shameful for men to have long hair. So, the question then would be: does physical reality teach us that long hair was given to women as a covering?

    The interpretation differs, but in either case we have Paul asserting that nature is teaching us something that it, well, just doesn’t. To me, that is the inescapable reality of 1 Corinthians 11.

  63. Tom Gilson says:

    I still don’t understand why we’re talking about 1 Corinthians 11, when the passage in question is Romans 1.

    And you’ll have to pardon me, since I was really out of pocket here for about a week, but could you point me to where you made the case that Romans 1 was relevantly (if not exactly or completely) classifiable as an argument from nature? I get that Paul used the word “natural” but I don’t get that he built an argument on it. I think he was speaking more generally, or even perhaps euphemistically, using a substitute word to describe something that everyone would recognize by his use of that word. It’s a mistake to confuse a euphemism with an argument.

  64. Tom Gilson says:

    I’m not really interested in pursuing the question of the relation between reproduction and marriage in this thread; at least, not while another topic is under discussion. These comments are running long enough as it is.

  65. JB Chappell says:

    Tom, no problem, I’ll refer you back to comment #41. The possibility that Paul is using “natural/unnatural” to mean “intended/not intended” was discussed. If so, it has all the problems that were discussed in comment #57.

    It comes in the context of a larger discussion on natural revelation in Romans 1. Paul is talking about what can be, and what was, known about God from creation/natural order. Presumably, this includes moral principles (v32), and the natural/unnatural designation to homosexual behavior certainly seems to fit with that theme.

  66. Tom Gilson says:

    I see two key phrases there, JB:

    My point was that many/most Christians selectively apply such socially relative filters when it appeals to them.

    what makes homosexual relations “unnatural”? Unfortunately, Paul doesn’t really explain, and I’m sure it was because it seemed obvious to him, as it does to so many others today. I have no doubt that, to Paul – who based so much of his reasoning on a literal Adam & Eve – that “unnatural” to him means “not intended”.

    What you’re missing is that the prohibition against homosexual sex is not based on a socially relative filter. The original intent, as revealed in Genesis, is relevant for men and women in all societies. There are multiple supporting theological reasons behind man-woman marriage, and these, too, are more than culturally contingent: they go literally from the beginning of history to the end in Revelation 19.

    Meanwhile what you found “wrong” in 1 Corinthians 11 was really quite culturally based, according to the best commentaries I’ve found. It made sense and it was based on valid reasoning at the time, based on circumstances that do not apply today. (If you think the hollow-hair idea has some explanatory force, I’d be open to knowing more about it: especially if there were other scholars echoing or citing that paper you linked to.)

    So really, I find your argument weak. Again, I’ll try to summarize it. I’m not sure which form is nearest to your intent, so I know at least one of these is wrong, maybe all of them, but I’m going to try to make the attempt so that we can clear away some of the fog.

    A.
    1. Paul uses a culturally-contingent argument in 1 Cor. 11 that we now know to be wrong.
    2. Paul uses a culturally-contingent argument in Romans 1 that we now know to be wrong.
    3. Therefore we know that his argument in Romans 1 is wrong.
    4. Therefore we cannot validly draw the conclusion from the NT that homosexual practice is wrong.

    B.
    1. Paul uses a culturally-contingent argument in 1 Cor. 11 that we now know to be wrong.
    2. Therefore we know that we cannot trust Paul’s culturally contingent arguments.
    3. The argument in Romans 1 is culturally contingent.
    4. Therefore we know that we cannot trust the argument in Romans 1.
    5. Therefore we cannot validly draw the conclusion from the NT that homosexual practice is wrong.

    [Pause for evaluation: A is question-begging and ignores all the other biblical reasons for drawing a conclusion concerning homosexual practice. B is a variant of the summary I offered you earlier, which you rejected, and it also ignores all the other biblical reasons for drawing a conclusion about homosexual practice. So if one of these is your actual argument, then it’s too weak to stand.)

    C.
    1. Paul uses a natural-order argument in 1 Cor. 11 that we now know to be wrong.
    2. Therefore we know that we cannot trust Paul’s natural-order arguments.
    3. Paul uses a natural-order argument in Romans 1 that he does not explicate fully.
    4. “If Paul’s natural order reasoning can simply be done away with in 1 Corinthians 11, then there’s no reason it can’t be done away with in Romans 1.” (Nicely summarized right there in #41.)
    5. Homosexuality “is a simple fact of life for people.” (Also nicely summarized there.)
    6. Therefore “You know, he’s wrong. Homosexuality is NOT unnatural.” (You were on a roll there.)

    (Pause for evaluation again: C2 assumes that your interpretation of 1 Cor. 11 is the one correct one. C4 does not follow from C2 and C3; Paul’s argument in Romans 1 stands or falls on its own merits. C5 is not obviously true. Same-sex attraction and orientations may be simple facts of life for people in general, but the homosexual identity is very new in human history.

    Further, C6 does not follow from C5. Paul’s argument from unnaturalness does not rest on whether it is or is not a fact of life for people. If he were making that kind of argument he would also have to conclude that drunkenness is natural and therefore not to be frowned upon. Greed is a simple fact of life for people, and therefore (by your false logic) not to be frowned upon.

    No, the argument from nature has to do with that which a person is intended to do and to be, by his or her nature as a man or woman. It is teleological: it is based on final causes, not just descriptions of behaviors.

    So C fails, too.

    Oh, and did I mention it overlooks all the other scriptural reasons to consider homosexual practice immoral?

    Now, I really have tried to present your argument fairly, but I know I might not have succeeded. If I got it wrong, maybe you would do me a further favor and outline it in step form, for clarity’s sake.

    One last thing for this comment:

    But for Paul it wasn’t like that. To Paul, it was something that occurred only after God had basically given up on people because they were so evil. Now we know that this is present early on in people’s lives. Much like Paul’s mistaken take on reproductive biology, he was wrong about what causes homosexuality. As such, our own thinking should change.

    You misunderstand the passage: it’s not that homosexuality in one person’s life is the result of their walk down the whole sorry progression of Romans 1:18 and following, before they reach some accountable age. No biblical scholar I’ve ever read has ever thought that was what it was saying. It’s about peoples, not persons; cultures, not individuals. God has given over our culture to immorality (it appears to me), to the extent that, as the long and sad list culminates, “not only do we do these things, but we give hearty approval to them” — as a culture.

  67. JB Chappell says:

    Tom (re: 68), sorry about the delay in responding, but there was a lot to wade through here.

    What you’re missing is that the prohibition against homosexual sex is not based on a socially relative filter.

    It has never been my claim that it was, and I’ve tried to make that clear at least a few times now. My claim is that rather apparent appeals to nature elsewhere are *interpreted* as socially relative, yet this is not done so in Romans 1. This is(at least partly) because it suits people in one aspect, yet not the other. People agree with Paul’s “shameful” and “unnatural” pronouncements; they do not agree that women need to wear head coverings because of angels, creative order, or because there needs to be (hair) distinction between the sexes.

    I think people interpret Romans 1 correctly when it is interpreted as an appeal to nature, and thus (considered to be) relevant for everyone. I disagree with people’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 as socially relative, as that understanding is incomplete (he does appeal to/reference the culture, as in Romans 1, but not exclusively). I agree with most Christians that we can rightly discount 1 Corinthians 11 as applicable now. But my reasons for doing so are correct, and this leads to Romans 1 also being able to be discounted. If most Christians were correct about scriptural appeals to nature being binding on everyone, then no Christian man would have long hair and women would have their heads covered during prayer.

    The original intent, as revealed in Genesis, is relevant for men and women in all societies.

    You’re still simply assuming some universal intent. That God created Adam and Eve a certain way does not mean EVERY relationship must mirror that scenario.

    Meanwhile what you found “wrong” in 1 Corinthians 11 was really quite culturally based, according to the best commentaries I’ve found.

    The commentaries you’ve found also acknowledge the appeal to nature, as I pointed out. Exactly what he was trying to argue based on nature differs in each commentary, and that is hardly surprising. Regardless, arguments from nature are obviously to be distinguished from appeals to culture. To find 1 Corinthians 11 as inapplicable because Paul appeals to standards at the time is to discount it on only part of his argument. And, again, I we can do that in 1 Cor. 11, then there’s no reason not to do it in Romans 1.

    Regarding the arguments you list, A and B, as you seem to have suspected definitely do not mirror what I’m arguing. C is closer.

    1. Paul uses a natural-order argument in 1 Cor. 11 that we now know to be wrong.
    [I’m not simply assuming this, as you claimed. Clearly, I’ve argued for it. Whether you agree with that is obviously not related to whether I’m assuming it].

    2. Therefore we know that we cannot simply trust, a priori, Paul’s natural-order arguments.

    3. Paul uses a natural-order argument in Romans 1 that he does not explicate fully.

    4. the lack of explication in Romans 1 means that either:
    a. we fill in the blanks as best we can and then make an evaluation
    b. reject it on the basis of the aforementioned skepticism (#2)
    c. suspend judgement entirely
    d. accept it anyway

    5. 4d above would contradict #2.

    6. 4c doesn’t seem too practical, as our cultural situation seems to pretty much require that we take some position on this.

    7. Therefore (from 4-6), either 4a or 4b would be correct/prudent.

    I’ll stop here because I think it becomes clear that what action we take depends on just how well we think we might be able to “fill in the blanks”. If one thinks that we can’t do it, or at least not plausibly, then one might be tempted to suspend judgement – but that would contradict 6-7.

    In my discussion with SteveK, we both agreed that when Paul says “unnatural”, he’s probably not meaning “does not otherwise occur in nature” (although it is possible he thought that). If he did, he would obviously be wrong. But, we agreed that he probably meant something like “not intended”. Perhaps you just missed this, but you clearly indicate that you think I’m missing the fact that Paul is referring to telos, and that simply is not the case. As such, this makes the conversation about how much we can know about the intent for *everyone* from what we know about the intent for Adam and Eve relevant.

    IF one concedes that we don’t actually know that what was intended for Adam and Eve is intended for everyone, then we might consider that a point against accepting the argument. But Paul doesn’t just apply the terms without any elaboration, he claims that it is only because people have rejected God, completely rebelled, and that God has given up on them (in at least some sense) that they do these things. So it is fair to evaluate that against what we know.

    One thing should be clear: Paul is not referring to the people engaging in these behaviors as victims of the Fall. It seems pretty clear he considers them reprobate in a manner beyond what others are. He is not attributing homosexuality to Original Sin, or the Fall.

    So the question would be whether we can identify this same trend: terrible wickedness and rebellion against God leading to homosexuality. We may in some cases, I don’t know; but the vast majority of gay people claim to sense their own orientation at an early stage, before the stage many Christians would refer to as the “age of accountability”. This was my (attempted) point when I referred to homosexuality as a simple fact of life for many people, to which Tom replied:

    Same-sex attraction and orientations may be simple facts of life for people in general, but the homosexual identity is very new in human history.

    I’m not sure why the “identity” here is relevant, but regardless, I think this is obviously wrong – or at least unverifiable. How would we know whether this is the case or not? To me, questions of identity are tied to picturing yourself doing otherwise: can you see yourself doing another job? Yes? then it probably isn’t a part of your identity. Can you see yourself worshipping another God? No? Then it probably is. Can you see yourself having sexual relations with someone of the same sex (or enjoying it)? And so on.

    Greed is a simple fact of life for people, and therefore (by your false logic) not to be frowned upon.

    Hopefully it is clear that this is not my logic. Greed is explicitly condemned in numerous other places in the bible, not to mention that no one tries to argue against it based on “nature”. If Paul (or whoever) tried to claim that greed was wrong/”shameful” because it was “unnatural”, and that was the one explicitly clear condemnation of greedy behavior in general, then we might have an issue.

    …it’s not that homosexuality in one person’s life is the result of their walk down the whole sorry progression of Romans 1:18 and following, before they reach some accountable age. No biblical scholar I’ve ever read has ever thought that was what it was saying. It’s about peoples, not persons; cultures, not individuals.

    I don’t think it makes any sense to consider the macro scale without referencing what comprises it. Peoples are comprised of persons. The culture Paul had in mind (Greco-Roman culture, no doubt) wasn’t given over to sin without it happening as the result of a progression in (at least) someONE’s life. And, presumably, I wouldn’t be born gay because of your sin. The idea that mommy and daddy were polytheistic pagans, and so little Timmy is born with a homosexual predisposition is hard to square with the idea of a good God. No, while I agree that Paul definitely has in mind a people, he still attributes the homosexual behavior to degenerate persons. The problem, to him, is just widespread enough to talk about it on a macro scale. Note that the “due penalty” is on a personal scale.

    God has given over our culture to immorality (it appears to me), to the extent that, as the long and sad list culminates, “not only do we do these things, but we give hearty approval to them” — as a culture.

    Then you would differ from Paul, who would declare that we are, as a culture, given over to immorality to the extent that we have people who want to, and engage in, homosexual sex. The “and” is important here because many Christians, who at least have a nuanced understanding of homosexuality, would claim that it isn’t wrong to desire those of the same sex (orientation), just wrong to engage in the behavior. And while such a distinction would be logically valid, because of course we would claim that a kleptomaniac is not necessarily at fault for their condition but still responsible for decisions, unfortunately it’s pretty clear Paul views the passions just as reprehensible as the acts. (Interestingly, using the same adjective that he used to describe those men who would have long hair).

  68. Bible is crystal clear on the union between ONE man and ONE woman for the legitimity of marriage.

    Thanksfully, Bible is an inspired collection of writings that is brutally honest. One dimension of it is a sum of biographies of God’s people who were not perfect but as imperfect as us. And God saved them by pure mercy and no merit. That is such a consolation to me.

    God choosing me, a merciful sinner, is in no way God’s endorsement of my sinful deeds.

    You are invited to visit our website (www.facebook.com/truthwithlove). Of special interest may be our theatrical exposition to the book of Revelation “Beyond The Veil Of Death” (http://beyond-the-veil-of-death.blogspot.com) that is in the writing. You may follow as it progresses.

    Blessings!

  69.    
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