Is there such a thing as gay Christianity? Just over a week ago, Michael Brown and Matthew Vines met on Moody Radio’s “Up for Debate With Julie Roys” for an online/radio conversation on that question. The two have taken opposite positions in books they’ve each released this year.
Last week in their debate (starting at 30:40), Vines repeatedly pressed Brown on the question, “Can you cite me any first-century text that refers to long-term, committed same-sex relationships?” His purpose in asking was to support his (29:30) “fine line between what Paul was talking about [in the Bible] and what we are faced with today; they’re not the same thing.”
Vines believes that although the Bible prohibits some sex-sex activity, long-term, committed same-sex relationships between two persons with an enduring and stable homosexual orientation just weren’t in anyone’s view when the Bible was written. Therefore, he says, they’re not included under any New Testament moral prohibitions. (He believes the Old Testament prohibitions were superseded by the New Covenant in Christ—an exceedingly doubtful claim that is, however, not the topic of this blog post.)
In Romans 1:26-27, he says, Paul was condemning excessively lustful same-sex and/or pederastic practice by men who were married to women. That’s completely different from gay marriage. Therefore the Bible contains no current prohibition against gay marriage.
Brown didn’t have that citation available to give him. As far as I know there isn’t one, although Plato’s Symposium four centuries earlier mentions that kind of relationship, according to Brown.
Even without such, Brown answered him thoroughly and adequately, on a broad scale of God’s purposes and the focus of God’s revelation.
Still that left me interested in the question Vines had raised, since he specifically pressed it, and Brown did not specifically answer it. Indeed, at 34:00, Vines jumps on him for that: “You can’t do it!”
So let’s grant, just for argument’s sake, that we can’t do it. Suppose that were the case (it isn’t, but suppose it anyway). So what? Why would it matter?
Let’s look at what it requires for Vines’s argument to have any force. (Bear in mind that this is not a discussion about whether the Bible is true–Vines grants that without dispute–but what the Bible means.)
1. It requires us to draw a strong conclusion from a lack of evidence. We have no evidence of first-century conversations on long-term committed same-sex relationships, therefore we conclude that if those conversations had taken place, God’s word would have approved of them. But no one with any sense draws society-wrenching conclusions out of a mere lack of information.
2. It requires us to read the Bible with an exhaustive list of all other first-century texts by our side. The plain meaning of the text misleads us (according to Vines). It’s only when we discover that Paul probably wasn’t thinking in categories of long-term committed relationships that we can discern what he’s really not talking about.
Now, it’s one thing to recognize that Ancient Near East and classical scholarship informs biblical interpretation. It has solved numerous puzzles; it’s helped clarify many interpretations and fill in many details. It’s another thing to say that a biblical passage is completely misleading unless we know what all other first-century writers never said.
This is like re-establishing the old—and severely damaging—doctrine that the laity should not be allowed to interpret Scripture for themselves, except it’s worse than that. In those days the priests were allowed access to the Bible. By Vines’s principle here, it would only be the classicists who could handle it.This is a strange and absolutely unorthodox view of God’s revelation.
3. It throws a major point of biblical interpretation into dependency on what classicists never find. After all, if such a first-century text showed up somewhere around the Mediterranean, Vines’s case for Christian gay “marriage” would collapse, and he would have to reverse his interpretation. (I’ve read his book, and this is not too strong a statement: his argument really does depend on the theory that Paul couldn’t have had long-term committed relationships in mind.) No major biblical interpretation should be dependent on not-discovering new facts about the first century.
I haven’t even begun to mention all that Brown brought up about Vines’s interpretation overturning everything the Scriptures say about men, women and marriage.