and “Men who lie with a male” in 1 Corinthians 6:9:
to Harwood and Porter
material posted on Presbyweb on
June 23 and
June 25, 2004
Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D.
Harwood and Hal Porter are misinformed and uninformed at a number of
points in their recent string of Presbyweb postings. I will focus here,
however, on only a few of them.
On Boswell’s Interpretation of
Arsenokoitai in 1 Cor 6:9
Taylor is quite right in pointing out in
24, 2004) that the statement by Harwood and Porter—namely, “the best
scholarly discussion of ‘arsenokoitai’ is probably John Boswell’s” (June
23)—is ill informed. It suggests that Harwood and Porter do not know
the literature on the subject for the past 25 years.
believed that arsenokoitai referred to “active male prostitutes. .
. . capable of the active role with either men or women” (Christianity,
Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality [University of Chicago Press,
Boswell’s arguments have not persuaded most New Testament scholars. Even a
number of those supportive of homosexual practice (e.g., Dan Via,
William Schoedel) accept that the terms malakoi (not
malachoi, as Harwood and Porter incorrectly transliterate) and
arsenokoitai collectively designate a general condemnation of
Walter Wink has acknowledged this. In his review of my book for
Christian Century he quotes the following question that I put in the
mouth of an imaginary Corinthian inquirer to Paul regarding the meaning of
the word arsenokoitai: “When you mentioned that arsenokoitai
would be excluded from the coming kingdom of God, you were not including
[men in committed homosexual relationships], were you?” Wink admits: “No,
Paul wouldn’t accept that relationship for a minute” (click
Harwood and Porter taken the time to look up the extant uses of the word
arsenokoitai in ancient literature, cited on pp. 315-23 in The
Bible and Homosexual Practice, they would have seen that (a) at no
time, at least not prior to the ninth century A.D., is there any
indication that the word was used of heterosexual intercourse; and (b) the
term is not restricted to homosexual prostitution. Boswell was clearly
wrong. Robin Scroggs back in 1983 (The New Testament and
Homosexuality) acknowledged these two points, though Scroggs himself
was wrong in other ways.
25), in response to Taylor’s letter, Harwood and Porter backtracked a
bit: “No doubt, specialists have quarreled with Boswell on particular
points. An article in Vigiliae Christiani [sic] (1984), for
instance, challenged him on arsenokoitai. As a Roman Catholic, he may have
gone too easy on the church’s antipathy to gays.” The article in
Vigiliae Christianae (1984), by David Wright, didn’t merely
tweak Boswell’s interpretation of arsenokoitai; it demolished it.
The question is: What happened
23, when Harwood and Porter made their confident assertion that “the
best scholarly discussion of ‘arsenokoitai’ is probably John Boswell’s,”
June 25, when they conceded that “he may have gone too easy on the
church’s antipathy to gays”? Who tipped them off to the Wright article,
which apparently they were unaware of just two days earlier?
Harwood and Porter now seem to admit that they may have been wrong in
dismissing malakoi and arsenokoitai as a Pauline critique
against all male-male intercourse, they close their
June 25 letter with the contradictory assertion that “Those who teach
that same-sex practice is sinful in and of itself get scant support from
Boswell’s Work on Biblical Texts Generally
regards Boswell’s other interpretations of biblical texts, I don’t know of
any biblical scholars of the past 15 years, including prohomosex
scholars, who, having written serious pieces of their own on the Bible and
homosexual practice, regard Boswell’s exegesis of biblical texts as
“high quality” or in any sense definitive or near definitive. Boswell is
okay in ferreting out data but often very sloppy in its analysis.
Bernadette Brooten, a lesbian New Testament scholar at Brandeis who
has high praise for some facets of Boswell’s work, has written: “Boswell .
. . argued that . . . ‘[t]he early Christian church does not appear to
have opposed homosexual behavior per se.’ The sources on female
homoeroticism that I present in this book run absolutely counter to those
two conclusions” (Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to
Female Homoeroticism [University of Chicago Press, 1996], 11).
course, I do think that Boswell was occasionally right on some things as,
for example, when he stated:
If the difficulties of historical research
about intolerance of gay people could be resolved by simply avoiding
anachronistic projections of modern myths and stereotypes, the task would
be far simpler than it is. Unfortunately, an equally distorting and even
more seductive danger for the historian is posed by the tendency to
exaggerate the differences between homosexuality in previous societies and
modern ones. One example of this tendency is the common idea that gay
relationships in the ancient world differed from their modern counterparts
in that they always involved persons of different ages. . . . (Christianity,
Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 27)
Harwood and Porter think so highly of Boswell, do they agree with Boswell
here? If they do, then they would have to agree that it is much less
likely that Paul was limiting his indictment of homosexual practice only
to pederastic forms. At least they cannot assume that Paul was unaware of
loving, adult homosexual relationships.
Recent Work on Malakoi and
Arsenokoitai in 1 Cor 6:9
sure, there has been an occasional New Testament scholar on the prohomosex
side who, since Boswell (though not with much reliance on Boswell),
attempted to argue that arsenokoitai is limited to persons engaged
in exploitative forms either of male-male intercourse or of both
male-male and male-female intercourse.
the best example of this is David Fredrickson (a Yale-trained New
Testament scholar who teaches at Luther Seminary), who has an article
entitled “Natural and Unnatural Use in Romans 1:24-27” in
Homosexuality, Science, and the “Plain Sense” of Scripture (ed. D.
Balch; Eerdmans, 2000), 197-222 (treatment of malakoi and
arsenokoitai on pp. 218-21).
refutation of Fredrickson’s views appears in my critical review essay of
this book, part 2, in Horizons in Biblical Theology, vol. 25 (Dec.
2003): 179-275, now
posted on my website. The critique of the Fredrickson article appears
on pp. 206-39, with the assessment of his views on arsenokoitai on
pp. 229-39. Note that Fredrickson wrote his piece prior to the publication
of my book. I have debated him twice since and on neither occasion did
Fredrickson elect to challenge my view of the meaning of these terms.
challenge Harwood and Porter to read this portion of my article and see if
they can name the nine reasons that I give for why the term
arsenokoitai cannot be restricted to men who penetrate “boys” with
“violent, hybristic” intent (as Fredrickson alleges). Then I would like to
see them rebut all nine arguments. Failing that, let them find some
biblical scholar connected with the Covenant Network or Witherspoon
Society to do it for them.
interesting that no one who has reviewed my book, including the two
reviewers that Harwood and Porter cite (Countryman and, presumably,
Thurman), has offered a rebuttal of my interpretation of malakoi
and arsenokoitai. Countryman, in particular, would have had a
vested interest in doing so since my book contains a rebuttal of
On the Critical Review of My Book
leads me to their disparaging comment about my book The Bible and
Homosexual Practice. They wrote (June
Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and
Homosexual Practice came out only in 2001, and no doubt additional
scholarly reviews will be forthcoming. But the only two we can find to
date, in the Anglican Theological Review (2003 [by William Countryman])
and the Review of Biblical Literature (2003 [by Eric Thurman? note: there
are actually two reviews in RBL]), are very unfavorable. Perhaps this
would not be the case if Gagnon had subjected his manuscript to the
conventional review processes of a major university press.
an irresponsible comment. Their inference is: Gagnon might have written
a better book than he obviously has, given the two unfavorable
reviews, had he subjected his manuscript to the more rigorous review
process of a major university press.
and Porter need only go to the
page of my website that treats endorsements and reviews of the book.
They can start by reading twenty-nine endorsements and/or favorable
reviews testifying to the book’s importance, written by conservative,
moderate, and liberal scholars. To these he can add the
endorsements of my second (co-authored) work, Homosexuality and the
Bible: Two Views. Have Harwood and Porter ever bothered to read these?
Can they not take the time to get their facts straight?
Apparently, Harwood and Porter are ignorant of how the big denominational
publishing houses work (Abingdon, Fortress, Westminster John Knox—I have
published books with the first two). Their academic departments generally
subject manuscripts to critical review and scrutiny. I dare say that my
book had been assessed by more scholars while in the manuscript stage than
is the case for 98% of the approved manuscripts that go through the major
Ironically for Harwood and Porter, with only a couple of exceptions the
best work on the Bible and homosexuality from the prohomosex side
has been published in one of the major denominational publishing houses or
other non-university presses. And the two exceptions that I can think of
(Brooten and Stephen Moore; see below) disagree with the claim of
Harwood and Porter that Paul did not think same-sex intercourse per se was
let’s talk about the two unfavorable reviewers that Harwood and Porter
William Countryman, professor of New Testament at the Church Divinity
School of the Pacific in Berkeley (an Episcopal seminary), was incapable
of writing a fair review of my book. First, he himself is a self-affirmed,
practicing “gay man.” Second, I had refuted several of Countryman’s
positions in my book, including the farfetched claim that Paul in Romans
1:24-27 thought same-sex intercourse was “dirty” but not sinful (The
Bible and Homosexual Practice, 273-77). Third, Countryman is an
extremist—the logical result of a prohomosex position consistently carried
response to a question about how the Church should respond to
nonmonogamous homosexual relationships, Countryman has said: “I would be
distressed if the drive toward blessing gay unions merely applied
Reformation understandings of heterosexual unions to gay unions.”
written in his book Dirt, Greed, and Sex (Fortress, 1988) that “the
gospel allows no rule against the following, in and of themselves: . . .
bestiality, polygamy, homosexual acts,” or “pornography,” or (apparently)
adult incestuous unions. As regards such matters we are not free to
“impose our codes on others.”
Harwood and Porter find such views to be congenial to their own?
an unfavorable review from Countryman is not only to be expected; it is a
badge of honor.
Countryman leveled three main charges against my work: (1) that I imposed
natural law theory on Jesus and Paul; (2) that I exhibited careless
exegesis in my interpretation of Jude 7; and (3) that I used careless
arguments in assessing the impact of culture on the incidence of
homosexuality. Readers can see my response to Countryman’s claims
here (for pdf) or
here (for html). There I show, in detail, that all of Countryman’s
claims are baseless: (1) that early Judaism, Jesus and Paul included,
accepted a limited notion of natural law; (2) that it is Countryman whose
exegesis of Jude 7 is careless; and (3) that culture can indeed impact the
incidence of homosexuality.
Harwood and Porter disagree, let them show how every point that I make for
each of the three charges is in error. Otherwise, merely to refer readers
to Countryman’s unfavorable review as evidence that my book is subpar is
things can be said for the review by Eric Thurman, a doctoral
student and disciple of the radical deconstructionist New Testament
scholar Stephen Moore. In his review of my book Thurman claims that,
because Paul inhabited a “symbolic world” predicated on “female
inferiority,” Paul’s stance on homosexual practice can be criticized as
misogynist even if the evidence indicates that Paul’s main
motivation lay elsewhere (e.g., the Genesis creation paradigm and
attention to male-female structural complementarity).
Thurman has to acknowledge that my book is “the most up-to-date and
exhaustive survey of biblical literature on same-sex sexual practices
currently available” and “will be taken by some as the definitive, perhaps
final, word on the subject—as the host of biblical luminaries whose names
light up the book’s dust jacket suggest. Interested readers cannot ignore
his contribution.” Thurman’s “beef” about my work is that I don’t think
Paul and the other authors of Scripture, and Jesus, were the big
misogynists that Thurman believes them to be.
Harwood and Porter read my response to Thurman
here (for pdf) or
here (for html) and then make the case that Thurman has given a
persuasive critique. Remember, too, that Thurman disagrees with the claim
of Harwood and Porter that “those who teach that same-sex practice is
sinful in and of itself get scant support from Paul.”
Evidence for Paul’s Absolute Opposition to Same-Sex Intercourse?
Let’s go back to that just-cited
comment by Harwood and Porter in their
June 25 letter.
Not only would Eric Thurman disagree
with it, but so too would his mentor Stephen Moore (God’s Beauty
Parlor: And Other Queer Spaces in and around the Bible [University of
California Press, 2001]).
Dan Via, in his response to my
essay in Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views concedes that the
Bible’s prohibition of homosexual practice, in both Testaments, is
“absolute.” Via at no time attempts to contest the accuracy of my
“accumulation of biblical texts condemning homosexual practice” (p. 94).
Walter Wink has acknowledged,
in the Christian Century review: “The Bible is negative toward
same-sex behavior, and there is no getting around it. . . . Paul wouldn’t
accept [a nonexploitative homosexual] relationship for a minute.”
Bernadette Brooten has
written: “I see Paul as condemning all forms of homoeroticism” (Love
Between Women, 244).
William R. Schoedel, a
prohomosex professor emeritus at the University of Illinois who has
expertise in early Christianity and classics, has written: “Paul’s
wholesale attack on Greco-Roman culture makes better sense if, like
Josephus and Philo, he lumps all forms of same-sex eros together as
a mark of Gentile decadence,” including committed relationships by those
homoerotically oriented (“Same-Sex Eros: Paul and the Greco-Roman
Tradition,” Homosexuality, Science, and the “Plain Sense” of Scripture,
68; my emphasis).
emeritus professor of English at the University of Nebraska and author of
the recent work, Homosexuality and Civilization (Belknap Press of
Harvard University Press, 2003; 622 pgs.), writes:
According to [one] interpretation, Paul’s words were not directed at
“bona fide” homosexuals in committed relationships. But such a
reading, however well-intentioned, seems strained and unhistorical.
Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the
least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstance. The
idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have
been wholly foreign to Paul or any other Jew or early Christian. (p.
Yet Harwood and Porter say
categorically that “those who think that same-sex practice is sinful in
and of itself get scant support from Paul.” What are they going to do with
the fact that a number of prohomosex New Testament experts disagree
with their assertion?
Let Harwood and Porter read my
extensive rebuttal of Fredrickson’s attempt to discount Romans 1:24-27
(pp. 207-24), in addition to my rebuttal of his attempt at discounting 1
Cor 6:9 (cited above). (Fredrickson claims, wrongly, that Paul did not
have in view a male-female creation norm and that “use” in Rom 1:26-27 is
indeterminate for gender.)
I don’t want to overload Harwood and
Porter all at once, but if they have time they might also look at my
article, “Does the Bible Regard Same-Sex Intercourse as Intrinsically
Sinful?” in Christian Sexuality (ed. Russell Saltzman; Kirk House,
2003), 106-55. Perhaps, too, an alternative medium, my new 2 DVD set
called “Truth in Love,” would be useful as a three-and-one-half hour
presentation of my views (see
www.robgagnon.net [scroll down a bit]).
All of these resources may be more
manageable for Harwood and Porter than would be an assignment of the 460
pages in The Bible and Homosexual Practice. And these newer,
smaller resources add some new material not in The Bible and Homosexual
I urge Mr. Harwood and Rev. Porter to
take responsibility for their allegations by reading the material that I
have recommended to them and, if they can, show me where my positions
explained there are wrong, responding to each of my points.
2004 Robert A. J. Gagnon