“Gay Christianity:” Matthew Vines’s Empty Argument From Silence

comments form first comment

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 (He believes the Old Testament prohibitions were superseded by the New Covenant in Christ—an exceedingly doubtful claim that is, however, not the topic of this blog post.)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.

top of page comments form

27 Responses to “ “Gay Christianity:” Matthew Vines’s Empty Argument From Silence ”

  1. Having read Vines’s book, and having now seen these links from Dr. Brown, here’s the assessment. Vines’s argument absolutely depends on the Apostle Paul’s ignorance of long-term homosexual orientation and/or relationships in his day. There is every to reason to believe, however, that this would not have been news to Paul.

    Vines’s argument rests on a point that has been disproven. His argument crumbles. That’s it. It’s over. He’s done.

  2. Thought you might find this interesting although I’m not sure exactly how it influences the arguments: by my reckoning, Paul would have been under house arrest and writing his final letters when Nero was entering his( second?) same sex marriage.

  3. Billy,

    I don’t believe that Dr. Rauser has a high view of scripture, so I anticipate that he will side with Matthew Vines. After all, Vines is making an argument that isn’t biblical; it’s a claim that relies on something modern culture has invented, via the sexual revolution.

    As Dr. Brown noted in the debate, it’s like saying that because the Bible doesn’t mention Elvis sightings, then it’s possible that Elvis still exists.

  4. Plutarch, who was born during the first century A.D., talks about the Sacred Band of Thebes in his Life of Pelopidas, Chapter 18. Greece generally did not use child warriors, so it is not likely any of the 300 men were younger than the age of consent. These were committed relationships, perhaps even pledged; Plutarch mentions, “And Aristotle says that even down to his day the tomb of Iolaus was a place where lovers and beloved plighted mutual faith.” Evidently they were wiped out at the Battle of Chaeroneia, but people were still talking about them in the first century, like they were still talking about H & A.

  5. Some further thoughts on Matthew Vines.

    I don’t know what kind of research he did to conclude that no first-century Greek, Roman, or Jew had any knowledge of committed same-sex relationships. It’s easy to imagine doing some research and not finding what’s there.

    What’s harder to imagine is anyone claiming to represent Scripture accurately, and writing and speaking on it to the extent that he has, while overlooking basic exegetical principles the way he’s done.

    There’s more going on here than meets the eye.

  6. If you ignore similar historical facts, it seems this would also be true for Vines – or am I missing something?

    Long-term, committed relationships between three (or more) bi-sexual persons with an enduring and stable bi-sexual orientation just weren’t in anyone’s view when the Bible was written. Therefore, they’re not included under any New Testament moral prohibitions.

  7. Perhaps Vine’s should read the little known work of NT Greek and Classical Greek scholar Chrys Caragounis who cites a few examples of committed same-sex relationships in the NT world: http://chrys-caragounis.com/My_New_WEBSITE/PDF_Folders/Research.New/Popular-Scientific.New/HOMOEROTICISM.pdf
    Caragounis also clears the air on Plato as well and properly interprets him. As for Vine’s alleged belief in biblical authority–it is an absolute farce. He claims biblical inspiration but only favorably quotes those who deny biblical authority. For pro-gay interpreters the work of Michael Foucault is of far more value than the Bible. Vines view of biblical authority is colored with the same relativism that colors everything else he claims. There was nothing new in his work it was the same old regurgitated philosophical sophistries that are stock with the pro-gay theologians. I am glad Vines was honest on at least one front–he claims he is no biblical scholar–good thing too, because he proved he is not. In the end, the argument begins at the level of biblical authority: http://www.inerrantword.com/180015375/blog/180004060/220000052/The_Ecclesiastical_Promotion_of_Homosexuality_and_the_Demise_of_Bib
    In the end, if one uses Vine’s truncated logic it would be easy to prove the Bible must approve of committed pedophilic relationships because it doesn’t say one word about the matter–unlike homosexuality. Nor is there any extant literature which discuses the matter.

  8. Even if we concede that Paul (who was a world traveller and very well educated) didn’t know anything about same-sex committed relationships, that doesn’t change at all the fact that Paul talks about the “natural functions” of men and women (Romans 1).

    The context shows that these “natural functions” can only be sexual acts themselves and must refer to the physical act of sex not “orientation”.

    26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

    In other words, even if we concede everything Vines (erroneously) argues, we cannot ignore the fact that Paul condemns the sexual act when a man’s body functions as a woman’s body or a woman’s body functions as a man’s. Both are considered an act of rebellion against God, regardless of whether or not the act happens within a committed relationship. Paul doesn’t have to mention committed relationships because it simply does not change the biblical view on homosexuality.

  9. Arguments from silence are very effective, all one need do is come to the conclusion that because my hobby horse isn’t spoken of in scripture then God must be for/against what ever my particular issue is. Some churches exclude music from worship based on the premise that the New Testament doesn’t address music in worship, therefore God is against music in worship.
    If you have a particular behavior that you want to engage in you can make an argument that Jesus/Paul doesn’t address that behavior in the way that I engage in it. Therefore, they must not have been against it, they may even have been in favor of my particular modern day proclivities.
    I am sure that NAMBLA will soon be picking up on these arguments to justify their behavior as well. “Paul or Jesus didn’t understand true loving relationships between men and boys, 1st century pederasty was so different than what we at NAMBLA are advocating, therefore we are justified in our natural born inclinations for child sex.”

  10. We must ask Matthew: if this is what he believes, that God and His Holy Scriptures do not condemn long term homosexual relationships, but only ones with multiple partners, then why he is not condeming the ones who have multiple partners and are “lost”. Why is he not witnessing his “easy believism” to them? And let them know they are going to Hell?

    Because this is not really his agenda with the foundation he works for and his friends with the Gay agenda human rights campaign. Is to CHANGE the word of God. They want translations to remove the unapproved scriptures they do not like. The want the sermons to reflect their desired Hate crime laws. These will be very difficult times indeed.

  11. I had a similar question, Ter ber, when I first reviewed his book. He was supportive all the way through of LGBT persons, as if what he was saying applied to all those groups. I don’t get it.

  12. Tom/Michael, perhaps you could comment on the verse in Romans 1:28 where Paul talks about the depraved mind:

    Romans 1:28

    “Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.”

    From observation it seems doubtful that the depraved mind here refers to the ability to do math or science. Rather I suspect it means primarily that the moral part of the person, the moral faculties, are distorted, much like all our faculties are distorted as a result of the fall, except much worse.

    To partake in homosexual acts would seem to me to be something that would require a deep inward suppression of one’s moral conscience. For a man to indulge in porn while knowing that God is watching would seem to be a scratch on the surface in comparison to a Christian indulging in homosexual sex.

    Other questions and thoughts:

    How does Alvin Plantinga’s “proper function” work itself out in this context?

    Is Vines genuine in his wanting to harmonize his lifestyle with Scripture, or does he have other motives, and if so is he aware of the other motives or is he deceived?

    What part does the demonic play in this?

    Have his parents spoken to this at all? I know he mentions his father at some point — this was in the response book with the various authors (Al Mohler et al.)

  13. Good questions. To the last one, I can tell you from his book that his father came around to supporting him.

    The other questions call for some speculation, albeit informed speculation. In my earlier comment I chose to leave it simply as, “There’s more going on here than meets the eye.” Your thoughts about inauthenticity, a depraved moral sense, or demonic influence are all viable potential explanations of what that might be. There might be others. What’s true? I’m in absolutely no position to know or to judge.

    (I don’t expect atheist/skeptical/pro-gay people either to understand the nuanced meanings of those theological terms or to like them. Let me just ask that you not assume that they mean what you think they mean, since they’re both fairly well layered with meanings. I wouldn’t want to soften them to the point of saying they’re just fine. If I had the time, though, I would explain how they can apply in contexts broad or narrow, deep or shallow, and in fact they can apply to believers as well to a certain extent. Although Christ’s work included freeing us from such things, we gain the fullness of that freedom as a matter of time and growth.)

    Plantinga’s “proper function” is a matter of epistemology, not of bodily function. Is that what you had in mind? If so, were you referring to knowledge of what’s right? I’m not sure what you were aiming toward with that.

  14. “Plantinga’s “proper function” is a matter of epistemology, not of bodily function. Is that what you had in mind? If so, were you referring to knowledge of what’s right? I’m not sure what you were aiming toward with that.”

    I’m not well read in this but what exactly is “proper function” referring to Plantinga’s writings? William Lane Craig has mentioned the logical implications of proper function as it relates to atheists and IIRC the implication he mentioned in passing is that atheists according to Plantinga’s model are functioning improperly.

  15. I can’t help but wonder if those eagerly acknowledging those like Dr. Brown who provide references countering those of Vines’, are also eagerly acknowleding the fact that he’s overturning the “marriage has always been between a man and a woman” myth.

    It’s important to note that much of what Vine has said may not be true. It’s also important to note that much of the counter-evidence may not be entirely relevant. Let’s assume that Paul may have been at least familiar with the notion of sexual orientation. That does not mean he agreed with it. And the question would be if we can tell from Romans 1 what he may have thought on the matter. It certainly does not read (at least, not by the “plain meaning”) like he would have. If that is the case, then Vines’ statement that sexual orientation, as we currently understand it, was not in view would still be correct, would it not? The question would then be what we do with that understanding (if it’s true).

    My guess there are going to be two general trains of thought: those who think that those who fundamentally misunderstood how nature worked can be safely disregarded when they make moral pronouncements based on said “nature”, and those who think that it doesn’t matter how badly something was misunderstood, we just have to deal with the “plain meaning” of the text. That’s not to say that there won’t be nuanced versions of each.

  16. Thank you Rob and Tom for bringing up the demonic. Clearly it is the elephant in the room. Lest we forget the prostitute Mary Magdalene that had 7 demons our Lord Jesus cast out of her. This is a war. I speak from experience. There are evil spirits of lust. You will know if you have one, when you become Born again by repentance and turn to follow Christ. The sexually immoral desires will increase . That is not normal. In my case it revealed itself by screaming at me. In which the afflicted must cry out to God and ask Him to rebuke it. Wonderful sermon on Porn by Todd Friel “Slaying the dragon” wretchedradio.com. Matthew needs to look up Revelation 21:8 and get real with himself and stop being an asset to the dark one.

  17. Brown who provide references countering those of Vines’, are also eagerly acknowleding the fact that he’s overturning the “marriage has always been between a man and a woman” myth.

    Really? ???

    Where’d you get that creative interpretation from?

  18. Let’s assume that Paul may have been at least familiar with the notion of sexual orientation. That does not mean he agreed with it. And the question would be if we can tell from Romans 1 what he may have thought on the matter.

    Why would that be the question, when he’s already told us what he thinks about homosexual practices?

  19. My guess there are going to be two general trains of thought: those who think that those who fundamentally misunderstood how nature worked can be safely disregarded when they make moral pronouncements based on said “nature”,

    Please define “nature” as you intended it to be understood here. Thank you. Be aware that its meaning underwent a fundamental transformation with Rousseau, and that this needs to be taken into account in any discussion of what a first-century Hellenic Jewish Christian would have had in mind.

  20. Tom (re:21), it’s really not that “creative”, or even much of an interpretation. Dr. Brown in the comments above links to an article where he provides at least some general references of the kind Vines said he couldn’t. In that same article, Dr. Brown specifically mentions ‘…texts that are roughly contemporaneous with the New Testament writings that speak of two men “marrying” each other…’. If marriage has always been between a man and a woman, it would be hard to explain how other societies have had those of the same sex marry each other.

    Re:22, the basis of something is always a question for those who care about the “why”. Sure, Paul has told us what his feelings are on the matter, but what is the basis? If Paul had said “the tiny dancers told me that…” wouldn’t it make it a bit easier to dismiss?

    Re:23, “nature” here is meant to reflect how Paul was using the word. I am no Greek scholar, but the root of the word here (“physis”) is understood (by me) to mean something pretty similar to how we would would use “physical”. It can also mean something like “habitual” or “normal”.

  21. JB, your understanding of “nature” is Rousseauian, not classical and not Hebrew. You are a product of your times, but Paul was not a product of your times.

    “Nature” in classical understanding was tied not to what was habitual or physical. It was tied to what was normal, , yes, but not the statistically normal sense that you probably have in mind, but rather normal in the sense of being associated with norms.

    The nature of a thing is that for which it is fitted, for which it has a telos, a purpose, a reason, which is in turn an expression, result, and final cause, all at the same time. So when Paul said in Romans 1: 26-27,

    For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another,

    he literally meant that men and women were doing what they by nature were intended not to do, because of what it is to be a woman, and what it is to be a man. To be a woman and to have sex with a woman is to do what is against the nature of being a woman. The same goes for men having sex with men.

    Now, this is no longer the way we conceive of nature. Nature now is understood as what happens when man does not intervene. “Natural” therefore can mean mean what men and women do when what is specifically human about them, namely their rational nature, does not intervene upon what is common between humans and animals, namely their sexual passions. So to express one’s lust has become “natural” while to live in accordance with our rational nature has become artificial by comparison. For humans to live in accordance with our own nature is now “unnatural.” That perversion of language is strange in its etiology and tragic in its effect.

    As for Brown overturning his own argument by the admission of same-sex marriages existing in ancient times, first, this admission comes with little by way of context. We know that Nero “married” two unwilling boys. Is this the norm you wish to consider for today’s marriage?

    Social conventions have exceptions, while remaining conventions. Without some context it’s impossible to conclude that Brown’s argument was been undermined, much less overturned. It could be simply, “Marriage, with extremely rare and contemporaneously disapproved exceptions, has always been between a man and a woman.”

    As long as that possibility remains live—and I would submit to you that it is very live, Brown’s thesis remains intact.

  22. Long-term, same-sex relationships wouldn’t have been unknown in ancient times (see: Plutarch, etc… references). But that just makes this topic all the more interesting, in my opinion.

    I’ll get to that, but the cultural aspect should be addressed first. I actually clicked on this post after being disappointed I couldn’t respond to a conversation on mixed fabrics, posted over in January 2013. The thread seemed to end with people stating Christianity (not Hellenic Greece, and certainly not Islam’s Golden Age while Europe was still in the Dark Ages, or even Enlightenment era humanitarianism, etc…) was the root of all great social justice movements and societal advancement, with some specifically stating Greece had “nothing” to do with it. Which, from the standpoint of Christian theologists and philosophers through history, seems to be shooting yourself in the foot, especially when it comes to Augustine – who merged the 2 together to form, more or less, the modern basis of Christian thought – and later Aquinas, who, simply by ecclesiastic association if nothing else, was very much carrying Augustine’s torch. Point being, even if one were to make an argument that it was Christianity (rather than simply cultures which incidentally had a Christian majority as both proponents and opponents of any movement) moving us along, it was Christianity with the influence of Greek philosophy. The New Testament was, of course, written in Koine Greek – which is where the real argument is. But for now, the association between those civilizations, in context of when the Bible was written, is very important here.

    In that same article, Mr. Gilson was making a point for why cultural context is relevant (what mixing things *meant* at the time, despite the text saying nothing so directly), even despite lack of any empirical understanding/interpretation of the text (simply assumptions based on presumed historical context must suffice) – that we must make assumptions based on historical context to determine meaning of certain passages, laws, etc… and whether they “hold up” in today’s world. That may be fair (though some brought up excellent counter points when it comes to divorce, family structure of the nomadic Israelites, etc…). Yet in this article, it seems cultural context with lack of evidence won’t cut it… for this issue.

    I do not know Hebrew, so I won’t touch the Old Testament. I do know Ancient Greek, though. (But bear in mind scholars have pointed these very same things out many times before – I’m not taking credit for first noticing it)

    Thanks to Plutarch et al, we can say with relative certainty that Paul was aware of longterm same-sex relationships – they were part of various cultures at the time. So, the text has statements condemning homosexuality, right? Maybe not. The exact words used in the text are “malak-” (insert case ending) and “arsenokoit-” (same). Neither of these words mean “homosexual” (as the catch-all sexuality we understand), though English translations generally interpret them as such (perhaps an argument for why the laity should not interpret for themselves, at least not from translations – not that I agree with that, mind, but in this case it fits).

    “Malakoi”, crudely put, would be effeminate, promiscuous males (cultural context being what it is, and in context of other texts with the word, we can assume it means male prostitutes). “Rent boys” would be a more apt translation than “homosexuals”. “Arsenokoit-” is a little more difficult for a few reasons – but most importantly, it’s not a word that ever appeared before the texts of the New Testament. So, presumably, it’s either some long forgotten slang (never previously given literary validity), or it’s a made-up word with different roots thrown together to form a new idea which had yet to be put into words until then. If it’s the former, we’ll probably never know what it means, and there’s no sense in guessing; if it’s the latter, we can guess. The prefix “arsen-” is strictly male (even outside of the word “arsenokoitai”) – means “man”, there is no gender-inclusiveness there (ie: not “-o” vs. “-a”, with “-o” referring to a mixed group… ONLY men). Meaning, if Paul was using it to refer to homosexuality as a whole, he did a horrible job at making up that word, because it only applies to men (lesbians are fine). “-koitai” being the part making sexual activity clear. “Malakoi” and “arsenokoitai” are used together, 2 participants in a sexual act. Logically, if malakoi are the rent boys (that’s already well established by other sources), the arsenokoitai would be the johns.

    So, we now have some possibilities on what the words meant in context of the times. And we have some questions about ole Paul’s word choice… If we can agree Paul logically should’ve known of longterm same-sex relationships at the time, and he was fine with making up words (Shakespeare obviously did it a lot, I’m not knocking it), why wouldn’t he make a word which clearly means *that* if his intent was to condemn those longterm relationships? Why would he choose words condemning male prostitution to represent longterm relationships? Why would he completely overlook longterm same-sex relationships??? And why would he pick the root “arsen-“, which can only mean a man, to suggest homosexuality itself? Was Paul just borderline illiterate? If so, should we give anything he wrote any validity? And let’s not forget the context of Roman society at the time for what would logically be condemned and *why*. Context matters.

    For Old Testament references, I suppose it makes sense to harken back to the previously mentioned post/discussion. If it’s agreed many of the “unreasonable commands” of the Bible were, rather than universal, very specific to a specific people at a specific time and for a specific purpose, and the nomadic culture was the reason they were necessary, and they’re no longer necessary because “things have changed”… then why is condemnation of someone laying with someone else any more relevant in our modern culture/context (it’s just as culturally/contextually tied to perseverance of those people at the time as staying away from mixed fabric, mixed whatever else)? Context ALWAYS matters.

  23. Tom (re: 25), not sure what I have said that makes it so clear I have a Rousseauian view of “nature”, not that it really matters what I think. I agree: Paul was not a product of our times.

    You cannot argue (not well anyway) that physis entails telos. There are too many examples where it wouldn’t make any sense. And don’t many/most Christians argue that when Paul argues that “nature” teaches that men shouldn’t have long hair, this is NOT referring to telos, but to cultural norms?

    So, you would need to argue for the inclusion of telos by way of context. And this is not an unreasonable way to argue in Romans 1, given Paul’s appeal to creation. The argument is still problematic, however, because “not intended” does not necessarily mean “morally wrong”. If one goes by the original creative state (using a “literal” interpretation of Genesis, which is already problematic) , we were not intended to eat meat – yet we are permitted to do so. I never hear of Christians going on about “God’s original plan” for dietary restrictions.

    So, if we accept that “unintended” does not necessarily mean “vile”, then this would seemingly undermine Paul’s argument. But let’s say we don’t. Let’s assume what is intended is what is moral/obligatory, and that “nature” implies how things were meant to be.

    That brings us to 1 Corinthians 11:14. Here Paul asserts, as I’m sure you know, that nature teaches that it is shameful for men to have long hair. This passage parallels the one in Romans 1 nicely, because it too lies within the context discussion of creation. So, regardless of whether you think Paul’s concept of nature necessarily implies telos or not, the context certainly warrants that conclusion. The question is whether or not nature actually teaches us that.

    So, regardless of how we conceive of “nature” in Paul’s writings, we still have good reason for questioning whether he understood it properly. And if he didn’t this has profound implications for some of his moral directives.

    To me, this is pivotal, because similar to how Rimbaud lays out the situation, I think Romans 1 is the only unambiguous passage related to same-sex relations in scripture. Rimbaud points out how the other NT words that are interpreted as generically homosexual are actually fairly nebulous. Similarly, my understanding is that in the OT, the directives commonly interpreted as being anti-gay can in fact just as easily be interpreted to be anti-pederasty.

    Romans 1 is the exception. It is clear, and it is no doubt opposed to same-sex intercourse. The question, then, is why, and how we apply it now.