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original cover art for Studies on Homosexuality and the Church

 

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Study Three: From the New Testament - Instructions to Timothy

For a better understanding of 1 Timothy, it may be helpful to ask whether these words represent the word of God as it came to the Church during the generation after Paul. This may also caution us to allow for the possibility that God may not necessarily say the same things to every generation.

There is considerable evidence which suggests that the Pastoral Letters (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) were not written by Paul but by someone from the Pauline school and that they originated some time after the death of the Apostle. While the matter is not of serious significance for our discussion, it would help to explain why in 1 Timothy, we find a viewpoint expressed that differs noticeably from that of Paul's so-called undisputed letters.

The writer of this letter takes issue with teachers of the law whose message is contrary to sound teaching. The author maintains that the law is good and that it is intended not for the innocent, but for the lawless. The purpose of the law is thus to accuse and to correct the disobedient.

In 1 Timothy we find a list of vices similar to Paul's lists, but these vices are rejected, not because they are "unnatural" (Romans 1:26f.), but because they are "contrary to the sound teaching" (1 Timothy 1:10). Those who practise these vices are now threatened with the law (1 Timothy 1:9) rather than with exclusion from the kingdom(1 Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:21).

The list includes "the lawless and disobedient, … the godless and sinful, the unholy and profane, … those who kill their father and mother … murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching" (1 Timothy 1:9–10).

It is the word "sodomites" which catches our attention. The English word "sodomite" is ambiguous. Often it designates persons who engage in anal intercourse, but it can also refer to bestiality or to homosexuality generally. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines sodomy as "anal intercourse performed between two males or a male and a female."

In our context it is not clear what precisely the word is intended to mean. It is noteworthy that the original Greek text has the same word, arsenokoitai, here as it does in 1 Corinthians 6:9, which has been discussed in detail above.

In Embodiment: An Approach to Sexuality and Christian Theology, James B. Nelson emphasizes that in neither of these lists (1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10) are homosexual acts singled out for special condemnation. Profane persons, liars, perjurers, murderers and sodomites are all lumped together for equal treatment.

O. K. Storaasli, a former professor at Lutheran Seminary in Saskatoon, reminds us that "All people need the message of the grace of God, whether heterosexual, or homosexual, whether idolaters or worshipers of the true God … all Gentiles are guilty before God and need his forgiveness, just as do all Jews also, and homosexuals are only one of many examples which are caught in the net … Justification and new life is for all who through faith claim Christ as their "mercy-seat" or Deliverer.

What Do You Think?

Sodomy is mentioned side by side with vices which are relatively common, if not minor. If queer behaviour is indeed included in this list, is it regarded as one of the more or one of the less serious offenses? Should one be more concerned about gay and lesbian behaviour than about lying, for instance?

Do you think that Paul would insist that a homosexual can be justified only if he or she stops engaging in homosexual behaviour? Do you think Paul would insist that a gossip must stop gossiping before God would accept such a person?

Paul counselled the expulsion of a man who lived with his father's wife. Do you think Paul would have expelled practicing homosexuals from the church? Do you think Paul would have excommunicated people with a drinking problem? In these texts, what inclines you to think one way or the other?

If you think that all of the behaviour patterns in these lists are equally reprehensible, would you agree that we are today making too much fuss about homosexuality and too little about the others?


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