Sorry for the delay, it has been nearly a month since I did one of these. I didn’t want to do the same things over and over and finally I found a good one after a lot of contemplation due to conversations in which I have been included lately.
In the whole Christianity versus Homosexuality debate a few passages often come up. You’ll often hear Leviticus 18:22 brought up, but that is Old Testament. Moreover, it is a law about purification with regards to sacrifice. For this reason, we shouldn’t focus on that but rather what the New Testament says about it.
The first place one ought to look is what Jesus says about the issue. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be a pressing subject for Jesus and he remains silent on the issue entirely. That doesn’t mean people won’t try to force a teaching into his mouth. In this case people often bring up Matthew 19:4. This teaching, however, is about divorce, not homosexuality. But the appeal is to make Jesus seem to be expressing that heterosexual relationships are the only ones to be considered valid. Of course the language about male and female opens up a whole new can of worms when it comes to culturally conditioned gender roles, but that is another story.
If Jesus had nothing to say about homosexuality, then who did? Paul did, at least that is what is brought up by Christian apologists. In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth he mentions a list of people who will not see the the Kingdom of God. What I never noticed until today is that he is very much speaking in pairs.
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 KJV)
Notice he mentions first fornicators and idolaters. This is what throws people off scent first. But let’s think about to where Paul is writing, Corinth. This city had a very large cult of Bacchus, whose worship ceremonies often turned into orgies. Thus the fornicators and idolaters are coupled.
Next he mentions the effeminate and the abusers of themselves with mankind. After getting thrown off track by the first couple there are few who could piece this one together. Part of the problem with this one is the fact that neither of these roles exist anymore. The word translated effeminate is μαλακοὶ and refers specifically to a catamite, or a young boy kept as a sexual companion. The second word, which has an incredibly vague translation in the KJV is ἀρσενοκοῖται. This word refers specifically to a man who practices sex with other men, or in the case of this couple, young boys. The word gives way to the power dynamic in its roots, αρρην and κοιτη. The first root word indicates a male, but an older, more powerful one, while the second indicates sexual relations. This relationship is more clear when we examine the Latin Vulgate which defines the two roles as molester and molested (masculorum concubitores and molles). I have seen this word broken down to mean a male rapist because of the two word combination, but I think given the coupling of the two condemnations, it expressly means a pederast.
The third couple is of course theives and the covetous. One wishes to take and the other does. One leads to the next. This is almost like Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount when he says that lust is equal to adultery and anger is equal to murder. Or perhaps Paul is merely repeating something he likes from the Decalogue.
Paul rounds out his condemnations of who will and won’t enter the Kingdom with a triplet. The drunkards, revilers and extortioners. His wording seems to indicate that he thinks drunkenness leads to reviling which leads to extorting. Or perhaps he means that these three, a capstone of sorts, lead to the three previous couples.
This is all quite an interesting thought experiment, but we must remember when doing exegesis, not to allow our modern understanding of a text cloud our view of what the text says. We must take a step out of the twenty-first century and back into the first. We must go from a Western perspective to a Near Eastern one. We must take the time to learn about cultural expectations and norms from their culture if we wish to take any lessons away from the text. My challenge to believers is this, do you condemn homosexuality because you find it in the Bible, or do you look for it in the Bible because you wish to condemn homosexuality?
Yeah, week two! Still dedicated to bringing you rational responses and critical insight into various biblical mysteries. If you like what I am doing please leave feedback or check out my published work. Today I want to cover one of my favourite textual variants and its implication on how we should read the passage in which it is contained.
In Mark 1:40-45 Jesus is seen healing a leper. We all know the story, Jesus sees the poor sod laying on the ground and he beseeches Jesus to help him. Jesus, being infinitely compassionate, heals the leper and kindly send him on his way asking that he not tell anyone, though he does anyway. Most extant copies of Mark 1:41 rely on a version of the Greek word splagchnizomai (σπλαγχνισθεὶς) which means to be moved by compassion. However, in a few manuscripts there exists a variant reading which might be the original.
In the Codex Bezae, a unique codex for more than this one reason, the text has Jesus not moved by compassion but by anger. The Greek word in question is orgistheis (οργισθεις) or iratus in Latin (my copy of Codex Bezae is a Latin/Greek diglot). An angry Jesus is hard to imagine, especially in light of passages like, the admittedly late addition, the Pericope Adultrae (John 7:53-8:11).
In critical studies we call this an example of lectio difficilior potior, or preferable to the more difficult reading. Scribes could, and did, change passages to fit certain theological requirements. While scribes would have many reasons to reign Jesus in in making him more compassionate there are no reasons to make him angry with the leper, at least none which coincide with orthodox Christology.
Another way we can be sure that this passage is more likely the original is by examining the language around it. When Jesus casts away the leper at the end of the pericope the language is incredibly hostile. The term used for Jesus sending he leper away (Mark 1:43) is ekballen (ἐξέβαλεν), a form which the New Testament contains a mere five times. It appears in this passage; twice it is used in the cleansing of the temple narrative (Matt 21:12; John 2:15); and it is twice used as Jesus is casting out demons (Mark 1:34; Matt 8:16). The sending off here is much more forceful than when Jesus more peacefully sends people away, like at the feeding of the five thousand (Mar 8:10) where the word is embas (ἐμβὰς) or apostelo (ἀποστέλλω), the root of the word “apostle.”
In this same passage (Mark 1:43) the Revised Standard Version reads “And he sternly charged him.” But what does this mean? The term in Greek is embrimēsamenos (ἐμβριμησάμενος) which means to admonish sternly or to scold. Why would a compassionate healing end with Jesus admonishing the leper?
What do you think?
Matthew didn’t intend for the Jews to be blamed during the Barabbas narrative. It has always bothered me considering that he is the evangelist who panders the most to Jews. What if, as the Nestle-Aland 27 says, Barabbas’ name was Jesus. The option for the Jews is then between Jesus Barabbas (son of the father, easily recognized as a theological and divine claim) and Jesus called the Christ (an earthly messiah). What if he wanted it to look like the Jews made the right choice? Instead we get the passage read like Mark, the gentile supercessionist with the Jews being villified.
For Matthew, the presenting of the two as equal would satisfy the tradition we find in Tractate Yoma 62a of the Talmud for the scapegoat ritual. Is the whole thing a literary invention for the purpose of showcasing a theological point and exhonorating the Jews from Mark’s libel? I think so.
So while I am constantly reading sections of the Bible in Koine Greek, or cross-referencing manuscripts, or comparing conflicting stories in various books it has been a while since I went back and read the whole Bible. I remember the first time I read the whole Bible. It was around the time when I was twelve years old, right after my apostasy from the church. Having experienced Episcopalian, Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist traditions I decided to read the book in its entirety to see if I could figure out which was right. I came to the conclusion upon finishing the book that none of them were right and perhaps the book was wrong too. There were too many questions, too many contradictions, too many conflicting stories to make the whole thing truthful… I was twelve.
The time has come for me to delve back into this enormous project and I hope to document it all here. Unlike the last time I tackled the whole Bible I will not be beginning with Genesis and moving straight through to Revelation. I will be beginning with the New Testament first of all, mostly because Christian scripture and church history is the most interesting aspect of the whole thing to me. I will also be reading, rather than from the King James Version alone, from various translations including the Revised Standard Version and the Lexham English Bible English-Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament alongside the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece 27th Edition. I will also be referencing the manuscript tradition when I feel something might be better expressed or to note interesting textual variants.
I hope to document as much of the process as I can. I will be reading not only the testaments out of order but I will be reading them in a very specific order which I believe helps shed light on the themes hidden below the surface of the Bible. I will be starting with Mark, the first gospel written, and then on to Matthew and Luke, its textual dependants. Then on to Acts, Luke’s sequel. From there I will be reading the Gospel of John and the Johannine Epistles (1, 2, & 3 John). Then to Paul in the order of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon, Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, Colossians. Leaving Paul for the time being I will move to James then to Pseudo-Paul’s Pastorals: 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. I will finish with 1 & 2 Peter, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation. I will also be interspersing my readings with various translations of other non-canonical works such as the Gospel of Thomas, Letter of Ignatius, Acts of Paul and Thecla and the Didiache.
I guess the place to begin this new tumblr is with an introduction. I’m the host and content director for a small netcast known as This Non-Religious Life. Borne out of a chance interview with Brother Mike, a follower of Harold Camping’s May 2011 doomsday predictions, on “Zombie Popcorn” three friends decided to continue on with a series of similar religion themed netcasts.
Although I am an atheist, I fancy myself a so-called “Bible Geek” a-la Dr. Robert Price, and can occasionally be heard asking questions on his podcast by the same name, I have contributed a secular perspective to the Universal Life Church’s blog (though they added an unwanted addendum), and I have served as the Norfolk, Virginia Atheism Examiner for Examiner.com. The idea of biblical scholarship and religious study from a secular, historical, and literary perspective is one that I find highly interesting and can lend insight into what are some of the most ingrained beliefs in our culture. This place will serve as a spot for me to post my thoughts on questions concerning biblical material, theological stances, and religious rhetoric.