February 3, 2006

A Case Not Proven

Over on the House of Bishops/Deputies Listserv a contributor posted a note that I think well summarized the traditional position on sexuality. In it, he asserted that the Bible accords great and consistent significance to the fact that human beings are created male and female, and that this consistent scriptural testimony, as a “practical implication,” rules out the blessing of any other sexual relationship than that between a man and a woman in the context of lifelong, monogamous marriage.

I am grateful for this succinct summation of the core of the difficult disagreement in which we find ourselves. However, I do not see the disagreement in quite the polar form that some might assume. For instance, I concur that human beings are created and exist (the rare exceptions duly noted) in a basic gender polarity of male and female. This takes physical form as a biological dimorphism (less extreme in human beings than in some species, but nonetheless abundantly demonstrable). Finally, and most importantly, I agree that this is indeed significant. That is, it is capable of signifying to us something beyond a mere biological reality. This aspect of human life was seized upon quite naturally by Israel and the Church as a symbolic “map” for the relationship between themselves and God, and the Holy Scripture testifies to this symbolic significance. So far I dare say we are in complete agreement.

Where we begin sharply to diverge is in the next step, the “practical implication.” Here he asserts that this particular human relationship, attested to in Scripture, is somehow thereby possessed of a unique status that also renders any other relationship (however like it in depth of commitment, fidelity, and charity — but lacking the single element of sex-difference) utterly and completely inconceivable, and gravely defective morally.

My question is, How do we go from A to B? Because X is normative and allowed, must Y therefore be utterly condemned? How precisely does the use of heterosexual marriage as a “map” for the relationship between God and humanity (or a portion thereof) acquire a legal significance, as well as a poetic one?

My objections include the following:

  • This sort of imagery is not unique to the Jewish and Christian traditions. The Greeks mapped heterosexuality onto Father Sky and Mother Earth (Uranus and Gaia) in their version of the Creation story, but we know what the Greeks also got up to when it came to human relationships! So wherein lies the practical implication? Must this poetry be read as if it were prose, and a law code at that? When, and how, does the implicit become explicit?
  • Male and female exist in most animals and many plants — why, when speaking of human relationships, elevate and focus solely on the aspect shared with the plants and animals, at the expense and diminishment of the truly human capacity to love which we share with God?
  • Other images for the relationship between God and humanity are attested in Scripture. For example, the image of king and subject, or master and servant, is consistent from Genesis to Revelation (and far more frequent than the imagery based on marriage). On this basis, the Stuarts advanced the notion that Monarchy alone was the divinely willed form of government. Surely this is a similar example of taking a symbol to literal extremes.
  • So, all in all, I have to conclude that this syllogism from the tradition must be marked “not proven.”

    Tobias S Haller BSG


    Anonymous said...

    Thanks for that - I'd not thought of that analogy with governmental systems before!

    pax et bonum

    Anonymous said...

    I'm glad to have found you here. I hope everything is going well for you.

    The deacon at my church is a deputy to GC and has told me that the House of Bishops/Deputies Listserv has already sunk to a lot of name calling and personal attack. I'm glad that you seem to have been able to maintain some sense of equanimity.

    It is such a shame that so much energy is being spent fighting rather than reconciling. We could solve many of the world's problems if we could use that energy constructively.

    Grace and peace,
    Bill, a/BSG

    Anonymous said...


    I have come to haunt you! I hope your trip went well.

    Surprisingly, I agree with you. The argument you relayed does not show that homosexuality is wrong or a sin. You know that I do believe there are other parts of Scripture that better make the argument that homosexuality is condemned in the Bible. However, we have been there in another conversation.

    Hope you don't mind me checking in from time to time.

    Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

    Good to have you here. My opinion on the other texts to which you refer is simple: same-sex relations are condemned to exactly the extent that mixed-sex relations are condemned, that is, in the context of infidelity, idolatry, rape, and prostitution. There is absolutely no evidence, although there are many strenuous assertions, that the Scriptural evidence says anything other than this.

    One has to wonder at the motives for pressing for a broader interpretation on these matters while taking a more tolerant view of matters far more broadly and consistently condemned. For example, in another discussion elsewhere, some have been arguing that the biblical testimony against usury has to be contextualized -- it isn't all interest that is being forbidden, but only excessive interest. (I note in passing that the text itself doesn't make this distinction.) If this argument is acceptible -- and anyone who has a savings account must have accepted this in principle and practice -- I would suggest applying it to the question of same-sex relationships. Even if the text were a perfectly clear condemnation of all same-sex relationships (which it isn't) should not the same contexualization be allowed, if not encouraged?

    Anonymous said...


    Thank you for your thoughtfulness on this. As usual, you have driven me to my Bible (I need more of that!) to check out the context of the Scripture on usury. I am looking at Ne. 5:10. Reading the verses surrounding this verse, it seems that Nehemiah may have been forbidding usury because of the economic context in which he was living. They were clearly in what we would call a recession, and he demanded the end of interest to help the poor. One of the questions I have is, Should we take from this that usury is only condemned by God during difficult economic times? Also, did this only apply to the Israelites? If it did, can we make the leap that no interest should be charged to Christian brothers and sisters? I know that as Capitalism developed, really out of Christianity, some of the major Theologians accepted usury. It was a point of contention for Martin Luther, I believe.

    I agree with you that the Scriptures we have hashed out previously no more condemn homosexuality than it condemns sex outside of marriage, adultery, rape, incest, etc. Homosexual sex is just another sin, in my view. I know you would probably disagree with the premise that homosexual sex is sin, but I believe that the Bible condemns it in the way you mentioned.

    I think it gets the attention it does because many Christians are so adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage. I do not believe that same-sex relationships can be contextualized in the same way as usury because it appears clear that usury is condemned in a temporary way. Whereas, the text with regard to same-sex relationships appears to me to be a blanket condemnation, as opposed to one just for the time in which they lived.

    I admit it is confusing to us because Jesus never said anything about the issue. Indeed, most of His teachings showed the highest respect for Scripture, yet He is silent. Of course, I believe Scripture is inerrant, and so Paul's teachings were at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I don't know exactly how Jesus would have handled it except that I believe there is consistency between the Gospel and the Epistles. Therefore, I have to believe if someone had asked He too would have condemned same-sex relationships. Pretty tricky to get into, "What would Jesus have said." How presumptuous of me to pretend I know.

    Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

    Not to get off onto an extended discussion of interest-taking; but in addition to the rather late comment from Nehemiah, of greater significance is the material in the Law of Moses (Ex 22:24, Lev 25:36f, Dt 23:20f) and the great seriousness with which Ezekiel takes it in chapter 18 of his book, where you will see that the idea of advanced or accrued interest is classified with many serious crimes. C S Lewis once noted the odd truth that something forbidden under Jewish, Greek and Roman law had become the basis of our entire economic system. There is no getting around it, however some may try: charging interest for the loan of money is "unnatural" because it treats money as if it were a living thing that could grow of its own accord; it is immoral because profit is garnered for no labor, and becuase it turns an act of charity into a means to make a profit.

    But enough about usury. On the other question I fear you misunderstood me. I am not saying that the Scripture classifies homosexual relationships along with prostitution, adultery, rape, and so on. What I believe Scripture condemns is homsexual sex when it is prostitution, adultery, rape, etc., that is, outside of a faithful and committed relationship. I neeed not argue all this out here; better and wiser folk than I have laid all of this out. The prohibition in Leviticus, for example, applies only to Jewish males in the land of Israel, when the relationship is in the context of idolatrous worship (which is what makes it "an abomination"). That is the context in which the commandment is given and to whom it is addressed. You can consult Jacob Milgrom's massive study on Leviticus in the Anchor Bible commentary series for all of the details. It is true that some "traditionalist" scholars disagree with his view; but scholars disagree on many things, and from my review of their responses to Milgrom, they have not been successful in disproving him, and the arguments drift off into tendentious assertions about Genesis. (Robert Gagnon is a chief example of this tendency to critical overkill.)

    As to the NT, the passages in Paul either refer to similar behavior by gentile idolators (Romans 1) or to male prostitutes and their customers. (1 Cor, 1 Tim). I've already addressed the tragic misuse and distortion of Jude 1:7.

    Now, I am aware that strenuous efforts are made on the conservative side to claim that these texts refer to more. However, all of these efforts are assertions and interpretations, which I am not compelled to accept. I find the arguments strained and in some cases duplicitous -- which leads me to wonder what is at work, what agenda such people might have, to make the Scripture seem to say more than it does, and to be less than truthful in doing so.

    I would rather follow the advice in Romans 14: withholding judgement from sisters and brothers and trusting that we all take our faith, and our belief, seriously, and though we all are sinners so too we are all forgiven and will be judged not on the basis of our innocence, but on the basis of God's love and forgiveness, through Jesus Christ. This, I think, is what Jesus would have us do.

    Anonymous said...

    Quickly, with regard to usury. I apologize, Tobias, as I made the mistake of looking up "usury" in my concordance, when I should have looked up "interest". I use the NIV.

    One of my questions was, "Does this apply only to believers?" The passage in Deuteronomy says, "Do not charge your brother interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite." This seems to indicate that Christians should not charge interest on money lended to brothers and sisters in Christ.

    The reason it intrigues me is that I am an economist, and in particular, a bank analyst. From a secular perspective interest is charged to compensate for inflation and risk. It is true, however, that it tends to be regressive in that poorer people tend to have low credit scores, and are therefore a higher risk, so they pay more interest.

    Okay, I will stop there. You are right, I grossly misunderstood what you were saying. If I grant you the argument that Scripture seems to condemn homosexual sex outside a committed relationship, but not same-sex relationships, how does one make the leap to an advocation of same-sex marriage?

    It seems to me that marriage is clearly defined as being between a man and a woman...Even by Jesus. I don't need to cite the verses, as you know them already. I am simply interested if you try to take it one step further.

    Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

    Dear Belinda,

    There was a traditional interpretation of the "interest" texts along the line you suggest -- that Christians were forbidden to charge interest of other Christians. This gave rise to the Jewish money-lending industry in the Middle Ages; a situation testified to in The Merchant of Venice -- all "according to Hoyle" but a miserably corrupted way of dealing. As you noted earlier, Luther was dead set against it, and it took a while for Christians in general to come to accept the idea of interest as part of the "Wealth of Nations" -- as Adam Smith advocated, if I recall correctly. (This is an area of minimal knowledge for me!)

    But on the other question, you say, "Marriage is clearly defined as being between a man and a woman... even by Jesus." I'm afraid you do need to cite the verses. This is exactly the problem: go to the Bible and see exactly what Jesus says about marriage. I think you will find that what Jesus is talking about is not "this is all that marriage can possibly be" but rather "for those who are married this is what they must do." Do you see the difference? For this is exactly the interpretive leap I was referring to in the main posting: going from the acknowledged existence of marriage and a requirement not to divorce (what Jesus actually says) to a prohibition on any other kind of relationship.

    Marriage is only "clearly defined" by those who clearly define it that way. Scripture attests to many other forms of marriage. Note that there is no single Hebrew word for this concept -- and all sorts of marriages are described favorably in Scripture: including polygamous ones and even the relationship between David and Jonathan. The language used in their story is emphatically not the language of friendship -- as even the Theological Wordbook of the OT notes, the standard word for friend (re'ah) "is not used for David and Jonathan's friendship." The language used in their story is exactly the same used for mixed-sex couples, including the crucial words translated as "take" "bind" "choose" and "love" -- all of which, as I'm sure you recognize, still form the crucial elements in our marriage rites!

    The great tragedy is that this has been there all along, much as the witness to Messiah was in the Scripture waiting for the People of God to receive this Good News. Instead, hardness of heart led them to reject him when he came, so that even those who "knew the Scriptures" did not understand what they knew (John 5:39). May God deliver his Church and his world from such hardness of heart, that refuses to accept the grace he offers to all who love him and their brothers and sisters.

    Anonymous said...


    I suspect you know which verses I mean. Matt. 19:4-6 where Jesus recounts the creation story that, "...the Creator 'made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one. Therefore what God has joined together let man not separate." Some translations say that a man will cleave to his wife.

    I am not knowledgeable enough (yet!) to speak about David and Jonathan, so I will take you at your word. However, if you are going to say that Jesus was not saying this is all that can be, how can you make the leap to also say that He definitively is saying there are other acceptible norms? Because he does comment on celibacy, implying that it is the best way to devote one's life to God, as He did and so did Paul. Now, I know that celibacy is a spiritual gift, and clearly all cannot adhere to it indefinitely.

    As for the other forms of marriage that are referenced in the OT, particularly polygamy, do you think that through reason and 20 centuries of Church doctrine we have come to the conclusion that it may have worked for the Israelites of the time, but is not beneficial now? Perhaps Jesus was tacitly saying this by recounting the creation story.

    Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

    Thanks, Belinda.
    O.k., so now we've established the Scriptural text to which you refer. Note that nowhere in this text does Jesus imply that marriage is a requirement for all people -- which was actually the common Rabbinic teaching in his time, and for many years after: a man who failed to marry and produce children was held to have failed in obeying God's first commandment: "be fruitful and multiply." It was also on this ground that the Rabbinic law (the Mishnah) insisted that if a man's wife did not bear children after a certain number of years, it was his responsibility to divorce her. Now this brings us back to what Jesus is actually talking about: not marriage, but divorce. He is giving the background against divorce rather than for marriage. (There was no reason for Jesus to "defend" marriage to people who believed it was mandatory!) What Jesus is teaching in this passage is that the primary purpose of marriage is not procreation, but companionship -- he puts down the law by which a failure at multiplication could lead to division!

    This is why Jesus' teaching on celibacy is also important: it is a fairly direct frontal assault on the Rabbinic understanding of the "first commandment" (to procreate). You will also note that in the other controversy on marriage Jesus faces (with the Sadducees) he clearly locates marriage within the confines of the earthly life: there is no marriage in heaven, and the bond created in marriage does not endure into the life of the world to come, in large part because the perfect communion shared by the blessed is so far superior to any emotional or erotic companionship we experience on earth that these "shadows" pass away when the "real" arrives. (This is also the thought that underlies Saint Paul's theology of marriage: it is for the here and now, for those called to it.)

    My point originally is that none of this answers the question of whether same-sex relationships that are faithful, lifelong and loving can or cannot come under the heading of "marriage." As I note, even though it isn't in a legal code, the story of David and Jonathan points us in the direction of what a sublimely faithful (unto death) same-sex relationship might look like. While it can't be proven, this may have been in Jesus' mind when he said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." He may have been making an oblique reference to his many times great-grandfather David's lament over Jonathan, whose death proved how is love was "greater" than the love of women.

    Finally, your point on polygamy is well taken. But I would respond, if it is true that centuries of the Spirit's leading have led the church to a better understanding of something apparently permitted by the Scripture, might it not lead to a similar better understanding of something apparently condemned? What is the power that Jesus committed to his Church, if it is not the power both to bind and to loose? His own tendency during his earthly ministry appeared to tend far more to loosing than binding; ought we not follow in his footsteps, with the understanding that "love covers a multitude of sins"?

    Anonymous said...

    Dear Tobias,

    Perhaps my logic is much too simplified, but if a passage is instructing against divorce, isn't it by default also teaching in favor of marriage? If that is true, then it still appears to me that he is identifying marriage as being between a man and a woman.

    Point taken with regard to the Law and celibacy, or singleness. I think he is adding this teaching to denounce the Law as interpreted by the Rabiis regarding procreation.

    I do know that conservative theologians argue the opposite of what you did, and say that marriage is for the purpose of procreation, and not simply companionship alone. I don't see anything in this text that indicates otherwise. How do you come the conclusion that Jesus is arguing that marriage is for companionship, not procreation? I don't quite understand the argument.

    As for David and Jonathan, I am going to read the account of their time together so I can present some kind of intelligent response.

    Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

    Dear Belinda,

    Very briefly, as I am off to a meeting in a few minutes....

    An argument against divorce is not necessarily an argument for marriage. It seems clear from the disciples' response to Jesus' teaching on the permanence of marriage ("then it is better not to marry!") and his response ("not all can do this"), that he is saying, essentially, "this is what is required if you choose to marry." It would be like someone asking me about football -- which I neither play nor watch, but with which I have familiarity -- is it o.k. to break the rules. And the answer is, if you want to play football, you should follow the rules. That, in essence, is what Jesus appears to be saying about marriage in this instance -- it is not an exhaustive teaching, but is meant to address the particular question of the permanence of the marital bond.

    The reasons for thinking procreation is secondary rather than primary are numerous: first and most importantly, note that Jesus leaves that bit out in his summary of Genesis 1 and 2: he mentions male and female and the bit about the two becoming one flesh. He leaves out the commandment "be fruitful and multiply" because as he knows it is precisely on that ground that the Rabbi's mandated divorce for the infertile.

    Which brings me to the second reason: the church has never forbidden marriage to infertile couples; nor do marriages dissolve when the wife reaches menopause, or has a hysterectomy, or some other factor renders a couple unable to procreate.

    So procreation may be a "good" of marriage, but it cannot be its "end" -- since it is not necessary and doesn't always happen. Jesus is specifically granting a higher value to the "good" of unity, which resides in the couple themselves rather than in some external goal or product, and which comes about as an essential aspect of the marriage.

    Please note that I am not saying here that Jesus would have approved of same-sex unions. I'm addressing the assertion that because he said marriage between a man and a woman was indissoluble that he meant that's the only kind of marriage that can exist. That is the leap in logic to which I refer; and it is a fallacy of the type non sequitur -- it does not follow. To pick up my analogy, it would be like saying, because I respond to a question about football that those who play should follow the rules of football, that there can be no baseball!

    Anonymous said...


    I'm not half the Scripture scholar Father Tobias---or even you---are.

    That said, it troubles me that you (like many other conservative Christians) put the burden-of-proof on same-sex marriage.


    This is why we bless houses, dogs, Our Daily Bread, boats, candles, etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum gloriosa!

    It seems to me that the denial of blessing---well, to anything---ought to bear the burden-of-proof. To me, it is manifestly clear that Scripture's blessing of opposite-sex marriage, ought NOT be taken as "proof" of such denial-of-blessing. Scripture ASSUMES "marriage" is male/female (if that, as Tobias cautions); it doesn't DEFINE it that way.

    [*NB to Tobias:

    For instance, I concur that human beings are created and exist (the rare exceptions duly noted) in a basic gender polarity of male and female. This takes physical form as a biological dimorphism (less extreme in human beings than in some species, but nonetheless abundantly demonstrable). Finally, and most importantly, I agree that this is indeed significant. That is, it is capable of signifying to us something beyond a mere biological reality. This aspect of human life was seized upon quite naturally by Israel and the Church as a symbolic ?map? for the relationship between themselves and God, and the Holy Scripture testifies to this symbolic significance. So far I dare say we are in complete agreement.

    I find this very problematic. The Bible is a text in which "rare exceptions" frequently prove rules ("the stone which the builders rejected...") We "rare exceptions" in the area of gender (chromosomally, hormonally, morphologically, neurologically, behaviorally or any combination of the above---and we're not really all that rare) may "signify" something far more REAL than the convention of the "gender-normal" would tend to dictate---and I do mean dictate (You're a Star Trek fan, right? When it comes to us gender-different persons, we far too often get a Borgian "Resistance is futile---you will comply!" ;-/]

    Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

    Thanks JCF for the comment. You summarize the situation well: the approbation given to X does not automatically imply the condemnation of Y.

    On your other note, when I speak of human beings being male and female I am speaking of the human species as a whole, in much the same way as I might say that human beings are bipeds. I don't think this general reality proves anything -- contrary to the thesis of my interlocutors; nor do I think that the reality of the exceptions prove anything either. What I am suggesting is that the leap from "reality" to symbol to moral is precisely where we enter essentially unhelpful territory.

    I am working on a schematical systematic response to the standard array of arguments on this subject, which I hope to post ere long. One of them takes as its thesis "Homosexuality is wrong because it is unnatural." The objections to this include: 1) There is no automatic correspondence between the natural and the good; nature is morally neutral. 2) Homosexuality is not unnatural; noting that in relation to point (1) this doesn't make it "good," but it does falsify the thesis. More on all of this at another time.

    As to the exceptions, I did not intend to get into the complex area of gender identity, intersexuality, transgender issues and so on. These matters are important in their proper sphere, but were not the focus of my concern in the present discussion.

    Thanks again for the comment.

    Anonymous said...

    Dear Tobias,

    On the issue of David and Jonathan, my translation (NIV) certainly explains their relationship as one of a strong friendship. The one part that gave me pause was where they are separating and they kissed each other and wept, especially David. However, there is no language that would lead me to see this as homosexual love. Now, you have clearly noted that one must go to the Hebrew to see the difference. However, even elevating their relationship past the normal word for friend can lead one to believe they had an unusually strong friendship...Indeed, one of great love, but that does not necessarily indicate a homosexual relationship. For example, soldiers who are fighting in a war often have a bond that goes beyond the normal constraints of friendship. They weep for each other, protect one another, hug, even kiss because the nature of their relationship is so profound.

    I am honestly not trying to rationalize your points away, but I believe the text could be read in the way I described.

    Anonymous said...


    I agree with you that an affirmation of marriage does not necessarily indicate a condemnation of homosexual sex.

    The problem is that when you add the affirmation of marriage as being between a man and a woman, and add it to the texts that expressly forbid homosexual sex (like Romans 1:24-27) I think God's word is clear that it does not bless same-sex unions.

    Now, Tobias can make a good argument about Romans 1, and we have hashed it out before. Tobias sees the various scriptures that condemn homosexual sex, as being in the form of adultery, rape, incest, etc., and that the Bible nowhere condemns a healthy, committed same-sex partnership (if I am wrong, Tobias, please correct me). I will leave that up to each believer to interpret.

    I want to say that I am not here to bash homosexuals. I would have commented on any topic Tobias published. I do not condemn homosexuals themselves. To the contrary, I think it must be very hard to be a homosexual Christian, and I love all of my homosexual brothers and sisters.

    Your points are definitely noted.

    Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

    Dear Belinda,

    It is certainly possible to read the story of David and Jonathan as a story of a particularly deep friendship, particularly in translations such as the NIV which downplay or soften key elements of the text.

    The problem with sustaining such a point of view, however, becomes much more difficult when facing the Hebrew text itself. There is a perfectly good Hebrew word for "friend." It is not used to describe David and Jonathan's relationship. There is a perfectly good phrase to describe "a friend of the King" -- also not used.

    Rather, the language used throughout is the language of love: the same words are used to describe Saul's daughter Michal's reaction as Jonathan's -- though Jonathan's goes on to the rather astounding language of "loved him as his own soul" (or "body" -- the Hebrew means both; so the best translation would be "loved him with his entire being"). That is simply not the language of friendship, I don't care how deep.

    I don't have time to go into all of the details, but I'll mention a few others before closing: Saul's accusation in 1 Sam 20:30 is very watered down in the NIV. The more accurate NRSV has "you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother's nakedness." That is extremly blunt language for the Hebrew Bible, and it has clear sexual overtones; Saul himself obviously fancied David (which is why he "took" him in 18:2, not letting him return to his father's house -- after which Jonathan fell in love with him and stripped off all his clothes -- typical friendly behavior?) "Your mother's nakedness" is a euphemism for Saul's own nakedness. (See Lev 18:7) Again, this is all very strange if David and Jonathan are just friends, even very close ones.

    Then there is Jonathan's invitation to David, "Come, let us go into the field." (20:11) This is the ultimate Hebrew come-on line. It also occurs in the most blatantly erotic book of the Bible, the Song of Solomon 7:11, where as scholar Marvin Pope puts it, the erotic intent is unmistakable. (Note as well, that because David means "beloved" the Hebrew of the two verses is virtually identical.)

    And later, of course, it is in that field that that final encounter to which you refer takes place, and it is precisely at this point, when one might expect something to happen, that the Hebrew text becomes unintelligible. "Od dawid higdil" becomes "David wept more" in most modern versions; the KJV retains the more accurate but confusing "until David exceeded." The problem is that "higdil" normally requires an object: it means "to make [something} greater or bigger." It might possibly mean, "until he raised himself up." The least one can say is that the scene is heated, if not hot. One could say, again, this is just two very close friends saying goodbye to each other; though one wonders why David didn't take such emotional leave of his wife Michal!

    Which brings me to the final text, "I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women." (2 Sam 1:26). (The word translated "greatly beloved" pops up again in the Song of Solomon 7:7 in connection with the beautiful delights of love.) Saint Jerome found this verse so potentially embarrassing that he added "... for their children" to "love of women" in his Latin translation, no doubt in an effort to downplay the obvious. As it stands, it is a very, very odd thing to say, even of the closest of friends. What would you think of any man today who said, at a friend's funeral, "He loved me more than any woman ever could." I think more than one pair of eyebrows would go up, don't you? All I can say is that I find it very hard to hear that as anything other than a testimony to love.

    I realize none of this "proves" anything. It just seems to me to be a cognitive strain to try to downplay and explain away the obvious -- much as a parent might find himself trying to explain Uncle Bob and his "roommate" to his children, until they are old enough to understand that Bob and his "roommate" have lived together for 25 years and share the same bedroom! And what that means, even though "nothing is said."

    And I certainly don't draw the conclusion that because David and Jonathan might have been lovers in a physical sense (in addition to the obvious emotional bond of love) that makes it "biblically o.k." My only reason for bringing this up at all is the common assertion that the Bible has nothing good to say about same-sex relationships. Ultimately, it isn't really "all about sex" you see -- for people who love each other with the love that "is stronger than death" (Song of Songs 8:6) LIke it or not, David and Jonathan were lovers -- whatever that means....

    Anonymous said...

    Dear Tobias,

    I love talking to you because you always send me away to further consult my Bible or, in this case, commentaries.

    I looked at probably 30 commentaries on 1 Samuel 20, and they uniformly say "faithful friends" or "friends like brothers". They also explain David's weeping as coming from the fact that he was about to give up much more than Jonathan.

    I would add that David goes on to commit adultery with Bathsheeba. Now, he seems to really like women. That is something I don't hear from the gay men I know...They liken thoughts of sex with a women to the thoughts I would have regarding sex with a women, which is revulsion.

    I don't know that this matters all that much except as an academic exercise, but I find no outside evidence that David and Jonathan were lovers. Perhaps we will have to take this up again when I begin studying Hebrew.

    Anonymous said...

    Sorry for the typos regarding women in the last paragraph. That should be a "woman" not women. And I did it twice!

    Anonymous said...


    :::Puts on Captain Renault, from Casablanca, voice:::

    "I'm shocked, shocked" to learn that (false) assertions like "texts that expressly forbid homosexual sex" come from your reading of NIV!!! Say it ain't so!

    No, seriously: you've got to throw out the NIV, if we're to have any HOPE of dialogue here.

    The NIV was published (IIRC) in 1978: after Stonewall, and after churches like the Episcopal Church had begun discussing homosexuality at its highest levels.

    In other words, the NIV was created (note, not "translated") in a context of conflict. It was published by conservative Biblical scholars, and its texts condemning "homosexuals" (as opposed to far more elusive, ambiguous, hard-to-translate terms) were invented out of whole cloth, precisely to nip such debates (like ECUSA's) in the bud (that it failed, is but one sign of what an unsuccessful translation it was).

    Take Father Tobias' advice: go get yourself an NRSV forthwith. Sure, it's not a perfect translation either (this side of heaven, none of 'em are). But it represents a far better---because far closer to objective---translation than does the NIV.

    [JCF: who, for pleasure-of-reading purposes, favors the REB: Revised English]

    I looked at probably 30 commentaries on 1 Samuel 20, and they uniformly say "faithful friends" or "friends like brothers".

    Consider WHY that is, belinda. Are the scholars you're reading, even capable of making a translation like Father Tobias's? That is, if they proposed a translation like his, could they be published (by their publishers)? Could they lose their teaching jobs---even be de-frocked for it?

    I, for one, have no NEED for David and Jonathan to have been lovers (not in the least: my queer self is in no way threatened by heterosexuals! *g*). However, conservatives have the more difficult task (IMO) to prove that they weren't, from their context of needing them NOT to be.

    You've always got to ask that "What's the agenda here?" question (God only knows that we queers get charged w/ "advancing the Gay Agenda" enough! LOL!)

    I would add that David goes on to commit adultery with Bathsheeba. Now, he seems to really like women. That is something I don't hear from the gay men I know...

    Well, David ISN'T like the "gay men you know". First of all (leaving aside the question of bisexual orientation), the gay men you know, know themselves as "gay men". David didn't (he couldn't have, sexual orientation being unknown). The gay men you know likely have the option of not having sex w/ women: something an Israelite of David's time (and lineage) really didn't (i.e. it's easier to make a virtue---or a lust---out of necessity). They have the option of an exclusive partnership w/ another gay man---something David also didn't have. Making anachronistic comparisons to support your case, is intellectually dubious, at best...

    Good luck on your studies, belinda: God's Word is an inexhaustible treasure!

    And thank you, Father Tobias, for "makin' it plain", yet again! :-D

    Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

    Dear Belinda,

    There is no doubt that a desire to read the story of David and Jonathan as simply one of deep friendship goes back a long way. For some, this led to tinkering with the actual Biblical text: in addition to Jerome's "insertion" the Greek version of the Bible deleted the first few verses of 1 Samuel 18 entirely.

    Many commentaries follow this course of interpretation, even commentaries by those who know Hebrew perfectly well. I can only say that this becomes a case of a kind of special pleading, or at its worst mere homophobia (a personal revulsion leading one into denial of homosexuality either in oneself or others). However, this is beginning to change, and articles and journals -- and before long commentaries -- reflect a more honest appraisal of the story; which, I hasten to add, artists, poets and novelists have recognized for years.

    I'm not sure how many gay men you know, but I dare say I know more; many of them have had meaningful sexual relationships with women; not a few have been married with children. Some still are. I don't imagine you've seen, or plan to see, "Brokeback Mountain," but it is in some ways a very good analogy for the story of David and Jonathan -- two manly men who fall in love with each other in spite of the fact that both are married; both of whom deny that they are "queer" (which would never have occured to David and Jonathan; though they would have rebelled at the idea they were "effeminate"!). Most gay men in my experience do not hold women or the idea of sexual relations with them in anything so strong as "revulsion."

    You note that David really seems to like women. I'm not so sure of that. Frist of all, I read David as a not particularly "nice" guy. He is chosen by God, but like Jacob he is a liar and manipulator. He is a beautiful young man (it is unusual that the Scripture dwells on his physical beauty even after claiming God doesn't care about such things!) who knows he is attractive to all sorts of people. His name means "beloved" after all, and the Hebrew describing his beauty is usually reserved for women -- indeed it's the same expression used to describe Bathsheba. David makes use of these attractions to his own advantage -- Saul's, Jonathan's, Michal's, etc. On the good side, I think he eventually comes to the point of returning Jonathan's love, as best as he is able, and realizes what he had, and what he lost.

    Long before Brokeback Mountain, there was Mount Gilboa.

    Anonymous said...


    I have several translations of the Bible, and if I am studying a passage I use them all. For everyday reading and church I use the NIV (primarily because the study Bible was a gift to me from my best friend on the day of my Baptism).

    Regardless of which translation I use I see condemnation of homosexual sex, particulraly in Romans 1.

    I am NOT homophobic, I do not look on homosexuals as anything other than people I should love (especially my brothers and sisters in Christ), but I also believe that homosexual sex is a sin. Tobias makes great arguments, but -- for now -- I am unconvinced. I wouldn't be here if I didn't have the highest respect for Tobias as a theologian (even though I am a conservative Christian). I am happy to see others on here who can discuss a sensitive topic without getting angry.

    As I said before, perhaps as my seminary training progresses I will be in a better position to talk about the Hebrew that is used in the OT and the Greek in the NT.

    Anonymous said...


    I am happy to see others on here who can discuss a sensitive topic without getting angry.

    Fair enough: my anger has frequently been noted, by both friend and foe alike. I know I'm not the best person to argue the cause of "the goodness of gayness", and am pleased that there are both calmer, and far, far better informed voices like Fr. Tobias's out there.

    I do wish my critics could walk in my shoes, however. The frequency of seeing even the most persuasive scholars' (like Tobias) words just bounce right off a brickwall of those who won't hear him (who can't even bother themselves to engage what he says, point-for-point, in an on-going dialogue) drives me right up a tree. Then while I'm supposed to calm down and take a Chill Pill, another year goes by in which my full humanity is (sacramentally) denied by the Church of which I've been a member all my 44 years. [Note, I'm not saying you are such a obtuse person, belinda.]

    Bloody right I'm angry! (Read the prophets lately? Or Jesus? They were known to unloose an invective or three also ;-p)

    As I said before, perhaps as my seminary training progresses I will be in a better position to talk about the Hebrew that is used in the OT and the Greek in the NT.

    Indeed. In the interim though, kinda wish you'd treat Father Tobias's translations as the de facto correct ones, and not vice-versa! Oh well: God bless, belinda.

    Anonymous said...


    Tobias has my full respect and highest regard. But there are conservative theologians I think just as highly of who say the opposite of Tobias. That is why I am anxious to start my own training...So I can better decide for myself in an informed way which is correct.

    I am sorry I did not give you the answer you wanted. I did hear you though. I discussed Bible translations at length with an excellent conservative theologian who told me that the two best translations are the NASB and the ESV. I will be switching Bibles soon.

    I'm not quite sure why you are angry. Tobias said that the story of David and Jonathan proves nothing. I am not prepared to say that the Bible does NOT condemn homosexual sex, but I am fully open to the fact that I might change my mind. If I didn't think that were true I would not engage Tobias and yourself in discussion.

    Anonymous said...

    Dear Tobias,

    No, I have not seen -- nor do I plan to see -- Brokeback Mountain. You and I will obviously disagree on this, but I think there are certain things Christians ought not see, and that is one of them. I suspect your opinion will be the exact opposite. I think that this film is a tool of the homosexual rights activists in Hollywood who want to push their agenda. A better film to see would be "End of the Spear", which is a story about incredible courage by a group of Christians to reach people with the Gospel.

    As for the rest of what you said, I will take you at your word. I am sure you have a much better idea how gay men think about women than I. But I wonder: Would David and Jonathan have been permitted to marry? I think the answer is no. Why wouldn't they? Because marriage is between a man and a woman? (I don't know if polygamy was allowed in David's day). Of course, one might say, "Well I hope we moved beyond Biblical times." But that is the key difference between liberal and conservative Christians...I believe the Bible is inerrant. So, if it defines marriage -- implicitly or explicitly -- as between a man and a woman, then that is what I believe we should honor.

    Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

    Dear Belinda,

    "Marriage" in the time of David and Jonathan (approximately 1000 BC) was nothing like marriage as we think of it today.

    1) Polygamy was not only allowed, it was common. (Can you name more than a handful of monogamous married couples in the whole Bible? Of the patriarchs, only Isaac and Rebekah were monogamous, for instance.) David had a number of wives (some of them obtained by quite wicked means!) and of course his son Solomon was famous for his many wives.

    2) There was no "religious" ceremony connected with marriage. (Even Christians didn't have a real marriage ceremony for the first few centuries; it was regarded as a civic affair. You may recall that Luther thought it should have stayed that way!) Under Jewish law, a man "married" a woman if he "took" her (lacachta) into his household and she agreed to stay. He could have as many wives as he could support. He was also free to visit prostitutes or have mistresses on the side; for under the Law of Moses, a man can only commit adultery against another man (by sleeping with that man's wife).

    3) I noted before that there isn't really a single word for "married" in Hebrew, that is, in relation to the couple as a couple. (As I said, they need not be a couple!) A woman was considered "married" (be'ulah) to a man; this word is based on the same root as Ba'al ("Lord") and so the term for a married woman is loosely, "enlorded." The modern English word "married" just doesn't carry the full connotation of, essentially, ownership.

    4) So "marriage" in this sense, in the Hebrew world, is based upon the intrinsic inequality of men and woman: men can become the "lord" of any number of women, and they become their husband's personal property. So "marriage" in this sense could not have been considered as a possibility for two men, or two women.

    5) Instead, two men might have made a "covenant of love" -- a covenant being a mutual agreement between parties. This is exactly what we see in the case of Jonathan and David, in 1 Samuel 18:3. You will note that the translations play down the literal sense of this verse: Vayikrot Jehonathan v'Dawid b'rit b'ahavto oto k'nafsho -- Literally: And Jonathan cut with David a covenant in-his-love for-him like-his-own-being. (Covenants are "cut" not just written!)

    6) In our present day, marriage between a man and a woman no longer partakes of the idea of "ownership" or "lordship" -- at least not in the literal sense in which it did in the Bronze Age! The relationship is seen as much more equitable and mutually responsible -- in large part because of the influence of Christianity, but also due to the Roman Law which certain equal marriage rights to women, demanded monogamy, and had its own major influence on the policies of the Church as it emerged during the Roman Imperial era.

    7) It may well be that same-sex marriage (or civil partnership, or what ever one wishes to call it) in our own time is simply the logical extension of this, with roots going back to the idea of a covenant of mutual love between equals found in the story of David and Jonathan. As such, it would be a development not out of keeping with the Jewish understanding of covenant-love (which is reflected in the relationship between God and His people, as much as the marriage imagery that is also used), building upon the notions of mutuality and responsibility advanced by the early church.

    8) For the Christian, the greatest obstacle to accepting this would appear to be the handful of verses (or single words) in three of Paul's letters. If, however, one can understand these passages not as dealing with loving, covenanted relationships, but as situations of sexual license and abandond similar to those condemned for heterosexuals (lust, idolatry, prostitution) -- which a fair reading of the text certainly allows, then this difficulty becomes much less.

    9) So in the end it comes down to the question: do we read (and intepret and understand) the Scripture in order to condemn or in order to build up? As Paul noted, "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." What is the task of the Church, if not to bring people into unity with each other and with God?

    So, Belinda, this is the general train of my thought on the matter. As I noted in another short post on the plainness of Scripture, certainly those who find themselves inwardly convicted by a text that applies to them should do all in their power to do as it says. For me, the more important texts are those our Lord himself cited: Love God and neighbor, and do to others as you would be done by.

    This is probably a much longer answer than you expected, but I think it is important to see how the whole train of thought hangs together -- or doesn't!

    All the best,

    Anonymous said...

    Dear Tobias,

    I hope you are feeling better! Your head seems to be clear to me :)

    Thank you for being patient with me.

    I did know that there was polygamy at the time of David, as I am aware of Solomon's behavior in that regard...I wasn't thinking.

    I think that Christ had a much higher view of marriage than perhaps the early Christians or even the early Church Fathers. He is the one we should always look to first, that is clear. He says nothing about same-sex relationships, but as we discussed earlier He does seem to affirm the language in Genesis, defining a loving relationship as one between a man and a woman.

    I will think, pray, and look at the text I can promise you that much. I agree with you that Scripture is meant to build up, not condemn -- although it certainly does that in some cases. This is one narrow topic (albeit an important one in our culture) in Scripture, and perhaps we can find more agreement on a different topic.

    But it is your blog, so I will let you lead the way on that! In the meantime I am going to read some of your sermons.

    Under Christ,

    Anonymous said...


    I am fully aware that Chad Allen is a homosexual-rights activist who has been on the cover of the Advocate a few times. It didn't matter to me. I am far more concerned that Mr. Allen is not a Christian than I am that he played a Christian martyr in a film.

    See, the mistake you make is that our rights are defined by the Constitution. As such you have every rught that I do. There is no "right" to marry in the Constitution. It is a privilege (like a driver's license) that is given by the state. Therefore, no civil rights are being violated.

    Anonymous said...


    I feel I was insensitive in my last post. I apologize, though I don't have much of a different attitude to offer you.

    I would simply say that nothing about homosexuality or homosexual marriage frightens me. I am simply trying to be obedient to God. Not everything is permissable, and the Scriptures indicate that homosexual sex is a sin. But I am not singling that out. Sex outside of marriage is an equal sin, and since I am not married if I chose to give in to my desire for a man I would be equally sinning. But further, the language that a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife tells me that the Bible -- in addition to it calling homosexual sex a sin -- is defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

    Why is this? Because, as Paul says, homosexual sex is unnatural. As such, I ask that you try to understand, that I am being faithful to the Scriptures.

    Were we pagans then I suppose I would have no problem with it, and I would likely think someone like me a bigot. I understand that longing. But I am not a pagan, and the Scriptures MUST govern my life.

    I am sorry that I cannot offer you anything more satisfying.

    Anonymous said...

    Why is this? Because, as Paul says, homosexual sex is unnatural.

    {throws up hands}

    {sound of head pounding on wall}

    {lamentations unto God}

    Father Tobias, you wanna try again? I'm fresh out of tolerance for willful ignorance... :-(

    Anonymous said...

    Weighing into a debate that I've followed with interest - as much because of the courtesy being shown as because of the subject matter!

    Belinda: if you believe, as you say, that marriage is defined by male-female "one-fleshness", and that homosexual sex is unnatural, how do you escape the link between marriage and childbearing? That is, if we follow the logic impicit in that position, we can only end up requiring fertility as the basis for marriage, because that is the only thing that distinguishes the male-female relationship from any other. And that position would bar older people (past menopause) and those with paralysis or other medical conditions from marriage.

    The basis for the marriage bond must, it seems to me, be something else. We're well past the stage when we thought that "filling the Earth" was a good thing. Or, at least, that we've long reached the point of its being "full"! :-)

    pax et boonum

    Anonymous said...


    I am sorry you are fresh out of tolerance for my "willful ignorance". However, I think it is stretching the text to say that Paul is NOT admonishing those who have "given up natural relations for unnatural relations" for their homosexual behavior. "Men were inflamed with lust for one another and they received the just penalty for their perversion." The text is obvious.

    I am confident that we can find things to agree on J.C., and I hope you will be around for that opportunity.

    Anonymous said...


    The context of Genesis 2:24 says nothing about procreation. It simply says that (paraphrasing) Eve has come out of Adam (his rib) and for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. Then it says they were both naked and unashamed.

    Clearly, God is establishing marriage and sexual relationship as being between a man and a woman. The text says nothing about procreation. Therefore, I conclude that regardless of the ability to procreate, a man and a woman are to marry and have sexual relations. Any sex outside of this bond is a sin.

    Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

    Dear Belinda,

    With the last line of your most recent comment, "ny sex outside of this bond is a sin," we are, essentially, right back where we started. You are asserting that because God takes Eve from Adam and brings her to him, this is the only form of sexual relationship permitted. Apart from the fact that you do not demonstrate how you get from A to B -- you simply assert it -- consider the following:

    1) When God first, before creating Eve, in an effort to find a companion for Adam created the animals and brought them to him, was God intending that Adam should have sexual relations with them, and only them?

    2) Isn't it Adam's decision that Eve is his "suitable companion" -- not God's? After all, she was God's second attempt! God allows Adam to choose who is his appropriate partner. It is not God's will or ordinance, but Adam's choice -- his recognition that Eve is "like him" in every way -- that sets the seal on this union.

    3) Scripture does not say that Adam and Eve had sexual relations before the Fall. The unity described in Genesis 2 is one of companionship, not sex. (Does this begin to sound like the way some see the story of David and Jonathan? Indeed it does, and what are we to say about that, then?)

    So, once again, we are back at an assertion ("because God created Adam and Eve only sex between men and women is allowed") that does not appear to follow logically. It is rather like the canard, "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." The problem is that God did created Steve, and Belinda, and Tobias, and John, and JC, and every other human being who has ever lived: God never ceases from working, as Jesus assures us. And in every age people are confronted with the question of who is their suitable companion for a life togehter, and it is up to them to make that choice -- God does not appear to force Eve on Adam: he allows the freedom to accept or reject. And I think God still does the same, and weeps when his children choose badly, or wrongly prohibit others from choosing rightly, on the basis of their misunderstanding of his will.

    Anonymous said...

    Dear Tobias,

    This time I think it is you who is twisting the text to say what you want to believe.

    God says that for Adam there was no suitable helper, so He made Adam fall asleep, making woman out of Adam. I don't think He ever intended the animals to be Adam's "helper".

    Yes, Adam makes the choice, but it was the choice tha God laid right before him, and I think we can reasonably infer (especially in light of Jesus's affirmation of this text) that God blessed this union. Additionally, it just so happens that they are compatible to have children. This is a normal relationship, and forms the basis for the description of homosexual sex as "unnatural".

    Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

    Dear Belinda,

    I resent the accusation that I am twisting the text to make it say something I want to believe. First of all: did you go back to actually look at the text before you made this accusation? The NRSV reads,

    "Then the LORD God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.' So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner."

    Perhaps you read this text in the tendentious NIV, which mistranslates verse 19 as "Now the Lord God had formed our of the ground all the beasts..." (no doubt in a misguided and agenda-driven effort to twist the text to harmonize it with the sequence of creation in Genesis 1, but without any linguistic foundation whatsoever), but even in this version it is clear from the preceding verse that God turns to the animals first to find a helper for Adam, but finds none.

    You have to start with what the text says before you can pretend to know what it means. If you are unable to see that this is what the text says, I am afraid this discussion is at a close.

    Anonymous said...

    "The context of Genesis 2:24 says nothing about procreation"

    But it also says nothing about marriage. So, if we're being pedantic about it, the verse is (in isolation) irrelevant.

    "Clearly, God is establishing marriage and sexual relationship as being between a man and a woman"

    That "clearly" is stepping over a huge logical gap. Basically, you're assuming what you're supposed to be demonstrating. The text deals with none of the relevant issues - sex, marriage or the gender specificity (or otherwise) of these two things. It deals only with the gap between humanity and the animal world - for no animal could provide Adam with the companionship he needed. Only another human being could do that. To read anything else into that text requires effort, because it's not actually talking explicitly about anything else.

    pax et bonum

    Anonymous said...

    Dear Tobias,

    I apologize for suggesting that you would twist the Scriptures. I know you are a much better scholar than that.

    As a matter of fact I did go to the text and read it, and it wasn't the NIV. I recently purchased (inspired by you) a NASB, which is the translation that a very popular conservative theologian I am in dialogue with, told me is the best. He said NASB or ESV.

    The NASB says, "The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him." Then God made woman, and it goes on, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mothe, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh."

    I don't understand how this can be anything other than the establishment of marriage between a man and a woman. The fact that Eve was Adam's choice seems to be blessed by God. Can you point me to a similar scripture where two men are blessed by God as a married couple?

    Anonymous said...


    I am confused. Did you read on to where Eve is created, and Adam chooses her, thus indicating that for this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and cleave to his WIFE? It appears to me that the text addresses their gender and marriage, since she is his wife. Am I misunderstanding you?

    Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

    Dear Belinda,

    Thanks for the comment and the apology. I'm a little prickly on this because if anything I try to avoid "reading into" Scripture something that isn't in the text.

    But I'm also afraid you are missing my main point. I'm not claiming God did not create Eve and bring him to Adam and that Adam rejoiced in this. This text has indeed been seen by many as the "institution" of marriage.

    What I am saying, one last time, is that the institution of X need not automatically rule out the rightness of Y. There are many things in human life not mentioned in Genesis 2-4! Or not mentioned in Scripture at all, for that matter. That doesn't mean they are bad, or not within the will of God.

    For this is, after all, a creation story -- it is not literal history, but a traditional tale on the creation of the world, which would naturally have to include "where people came from" --- and it differs from the account in Genesis 1 (which is why we are prevented from claiming either one as "literally" true, by the way). Neither of these stories should be read as an exhaustive literal account for all of human behavior, or all of the physical creation. The "moral" to be gained from the story in Genesis 2 appears right there at the end: just like the "Just So" stories of "How the leopard got his spots" -- "This is why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife." As many biblical scholars would point out, this is not so much the institution of marriage as an explanation of why marriage exists.

    In addition, I am calling and challenging you to a more careful reading of the text, and making a distinction between what it says and what you are bringing to it. For instance, in your citation from the NASB, you leave out the verses which demonstrate my argument that God is indeed trying to find a suitable helper for Adam when he creates the animals. You denied that this was in the text when you said, "I don't think He ever intended the animals to be Adam's 'helper'." That interpretation will not stand up to the plain text.

    Similarly, in your most recent post, you insist that Adam's acceptance of Eve is "blessed by God." A close look at the text shows God to be completely silent after Adam accepts Eve. There is no "blessing" expressed -- not even a "And he saw that it was good." Now, that's not to say it was bad! But don't you see how you are reading something into Scripture from your own imagination, carrying over, perhaps, the language of Genesis 1 (and Genesis 5:2) where humankind are created male and female all at once)? Rather, the chapter ends with the "moral" -- not spoken by God, but provided by the author: this is why people get married.

    Finally, if this is your argument for the blessing of marriage, then note too that God actually does give the same blessing and command to the birds and fish in Genesis 1:22 as he does to the humans at 1:28 -- and no-one would, I hope, suggest that fish and birds are "married"?

    Anonymous said...

    Yes, I've read on. There are two parts to this story - the story itself and the explanation offered (actually, I see that Fr T has likened this to a Just-So story). The story is "God creates man, then tries to find a companion for him. They try all the animals but that's no good, so God creates a woman." Then, there is the offered interpretation "This is why people marry." In other words, the only thing in Creation that is similar enough to a human being for true companionship (and the system of marriage that is based on it) is another human being. Adam needs Eve, Eve needs Adam. The animals won't do.

    It seems to me that the story is simply not addressing any question of whether companionship can be found only across the sexes. And, it also seems to me, the Bible speaks eloquently elsewhere and throughout of the goodness of companionship within the sexes. And that is what we should expect from the Genesis 2 story - that human beings are suitable companions.

    What the story doesn't address (because the question simply didn't arise) was where a sexual relationship (as distinct from companionship) comes from. The only context for sex within the Creation stories is in the context of "be fruitful and multiply, and fill the Earth". And if we take that as the only basis for marriage, we've got a problem - because childbearing is not a necessary accompaniment to marriage. The story doesn't talk about same-sex sexual activity, and trying to read a ban into that silence seems dubious at best.

    I hope that's a bit clearer!

    pax et bonum

    Anonymous said...

    Dear Tobias,

    Okay, I get your point. I will read the text more carefully. I tend to rush sometimes because I lack patience. It is an unfortunate consequence of Bipolar Disorder, which I am afflicted with. But when I can make myself calm down, I am capable of reasonably good analysis.

    Fortunately, you ARE patient, so thank you for being patient with me.

    Anonymous said...

    "This sort of imagery is not unique to the Jewish and Christian traditions. The Greeks mapped heterosexuality onto Father Sky and Mother Earth (Uranus and Gaia) in their version of the Creation story, but we know what the Greeks also got up to when it came to human relationships! So wherein lies the practical implication?"

    Yet even with the Greeks, homosexuality was not commonplace within the larger population. Even ancient Greece was heteronormative.

    "Must this poetry be read as if it were prose, and a law code at that? When, and how, does the implicit become explicit?"

    If the largest context clearly permits the implicit such that it would take no severe exercise in wild imagination to conceive it being explicit, then it may become explicit depending upon the immediate context. If pure speculation is required, then what seems implicit should be deemed pure speculation.

    "Male and female exist in most animals and many plants — why, when speaking of human relationships, elevate and focus solely on the aspect shared with the plants and animals, at the expense and diminishment of the truly human capacity to love which we share with God?"

    Because it does not in the least diminish our capacity to love. It actually increases our capacity since in focusing on the male-female model, we reflect the Identity of God. "God said, Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness:... So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." (Genesis 1:26-27)

    Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

    Thank you Oscar, for your comment on this old (2006) post. I will just at this point note that your final comment is not consistent with Orthodox theology and anthropology, which holds that the image of God is resident in the individual human being, and male-female marriage does not "reflect the identity of God." To find that sort of thing you need to go to religions that articulate the hieros gamos. Moreover, "male" and "female" in Genesis are nouns, not adjectives. The man and the woman are both and each made in God's image; it is not their union that confects the image. Orthodox doctrine holds that the image resides in the mind, not the body.

    Your assertion is a good example of the kind of theological error into which the desire to protect heteronormativity leads.

    Anonymous said...

    I think you over simplify my position. It is not the physical union that I had in mind. I refer to the unitive logic of both God and man-- the complementary union between distinctive characters that is inherent to both entities. Heteronormativity is not erroneous. It is the way of the world.


    Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

    Oscar, your essay is an interesting point of view, yet I cannot join in your conclusions. But there are some issues with it. For example, you seem to misunderstand the Hebrew first person plural (the vervs and the Name Elohim). This is not a plural of number, but a plural of majesty as in the Royal We. The Jewish God is One. The Christian God is One God in Three Persons of the same substance (homoousios.)

    You acknowledge some of the problems with the "relational view" -- which is what I was addressing. However, even here you state, for instance, "The relational view rightly points to the fact that God creates male and female, not isolated and individual man." The Hebrew of Gen 1 describes God making "a male and a female" -- two individuals (in Hebrew nouns, not adjectives). And in Gen 2 God forms an "isolated and individual man" and even notes that "it is not good for the man to be alone" before forming the animals as his companions, and that before Eve. You note this later; it's odd you don't make more of it at the outset.

    When you get into "functionality" you risk a modalist or functional understanding of God. It may be that the ANE and Genesis author had the functions of God in mind, but later theology, both Jewish and Christian, focuses on the attributes -- the "being" rather than the "doing" -- of God. John's Gospel brings this together beautifully when it declares that "God is love" -- that is, God's essence is God's action of love -- and that people reflect that when the love one another. That love is not limited to, nor particularly characterized, by the love of man and woman, though marital love can participate in that reality. But this is also where single and same-sex couples equally can reflect the non-gendered love of God in Christ, in whom there "is no more male and female."

    In the following section, you begin with a premise: "while male is fully human, male is also male, not female; and while female is fully human, female is also female, not male." This means no more than to say a a redhead is a redhead. Being male or female is a characteristic of the individual, not, to use the philosophical term, "essential." Most importantly Christian Orthodox theology rejects the notion that there is a male or female essence: these are, again speaking philosophically, "accidents." Just as the Son is "homoousious" - of the same substance - with the Father, so is Jesus (a man) "homoousious" with Mary his mother (a woman) and just as Eve was "of the flesh and bones" of Adam - not heteroousious, but homoousios. The issue is not one of difference or derivation, as you suggest, but of identity: Eve is of Adam's substance, not, like the animals, formed as he was from the dust. It is true that Paul tries to see this as a source of female subordination, but it is actually a result of the Fall and is done away with in Christ, in whom the "male and female" are done away with. Heteronormativity is a part of the fallen world. It has no place in the Church.

    You may well disagree with my statement that Paul was not completely free of the centuries of Jewish female subordination; and he is not at his best when, for instance, he attempts to assert it in 1 Cor 11. Whatever problems he was dealing with in the Corinthian congregation, his reading of Genesis 2 is not congruent with his teaching in Galatians 3, and it is likely best not to make too much of it.

    Thanks for the link to the essay. It makes interesting reading.