Experts in the history of culture of the Greco–Roman world inform us that homosexuality was an ever-present phenomenon. For instance, it is known that every one of the first 14 Roman emperors carried on an intimate homosexual relationship with his chosen male companion. The Greek and Roman poets extol the pleasures of homosexual love. It appears that homosexuality was accepted as a matter of course, although it was often regarded with amusement or condescension.
It was not at all unusual for a Greek man to have his "boy" and a young lad who had not been chosen for a lover by an older man might even develop feelings of inferiority and might come to doubt his own physical attractiveness. Paul Veyne, in A History of Private Life: From Pagan Rome to Byzantium, reports, "Nearly anyone can enjoy sensual pleasure with a member of the same sex, and pederasty was not at all uncommon in tolerant antiquity. Many men of basically heterosexual bent used boys for sexual purposes. It was proverbially held that sex with boys procures a tranquil pleasure unruffling to the soul, whereas passion for a woman plunges a free man into unendurable slavery." However when a man married, he was expected to be faithful to his wife and to give up former homosexual relations.
Given such a state of affairs, it appears strange that Jesus is not known to have said anything about the subject. In the absence of concrete evidence, one can only speculate why this may be so. Several explanations have been suggested. For example, the subject may have been so distasteful to Jesus that he would not even mention it.
It could be possible that there actually was a story in oral circulation which told about Jesus and a gay person. Such a story might have been lost simply because none of the gospel writers picked it up. Something like this actually did happen in the case of Jesus and the adulterous woman (John 7:53–8:11). This story might have been lost altogether had it not been introduced into the gospel of John by a later editor.
According to that story, Jesus saved the adulterous woman from being stoned to death, the punishment prescribed by Moses in the law. He reminded her accusers that they themselves were not without sin. Turning to the woman he assured her, "Neither do I condemn you," and admonished her not to continue in her former way of life. Maybe Jesus would have acted similarly in the case of a gay person. In the absence of concrete evidence, we can only speculate.
The Greek word παις (pais)that is usually translated as "servant" often means "boy" in the original Greek. Tom Horner, in the Summer 1978 issue of Insight: A Quarterly of Gay Catholic Opinion, supposes that the servant of the centurion at Capernaum (Matthew 8:5–13) was the centurion's means for sexual satisfaction. Why else, Horner asks, would the Roman officer have been so concerned about the mere boy?
Horner suggests that Jesus no doubt would have been aware of the sexual liaison between the centurion and his "boy." Yet Jesus healed the boy without raising a question and so restored him to the enjoyment of the Roman officer.
In Mark 14:51–52, a lightly clothed young man was following Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of Jesus' arrest, and he ran away naked. Some suggest that he may have been surprised in a same-sex encounter. Why else, these proponents ask, was he wearing only an outer garment? Others may well argue that the evidence is circumstantial and that there are simpler interpretations.
There are even suggestions that the relationship between Jesus and the "disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 19:26; 21:7, 20) had homosexual overtones. Those who suggest this admit that there is practically no evidence which hints at a sexual relationship between Jesus and this beloved disciple.
They emphasize that the physical sex act can be a very minor component of a same-sex relationship. As in a heterosexual relationship, other things such as love, care, compassion, companionship, respect and concern for the partner's welfare are much more important.
This can remind us that homosexuality encompasses a wide range of behaviour. Not everyone who is involved in a queer relationship necessarily engages in sexual intercourse. Something similar applies in the case of heterosexual relationships.
Nissinen examines the various theories about Jesus' marital status and possible sexual liaisons with such persons as Mary Magdalene or the beloved disciple and concludes, "There is hardly anything to learn about Jesus' sexual life." All the evidence is circumstantial and scanty.
What Do You Think?
How would you explain the silence of the Gospels with respect to Jesus' attitude toward queers?
Are there enough clues in the text to suggest that the centurion at Capernaum was engaged in same-sex relations with his servant?
Do you think that these various passages taken together allow us to say what may have been Jesus' attitude toward homosexuals? Why or why not?
From your knowledge of how Jesus dealt with prostitutes and sinners, with scribes and Pharisees, how do you think Jesus would have related to gays and lesbians?
Do you consider it possible that Jesus might have been easier on the homosexuals than he was on the self-righteous religious authorities?