Leadership, Life, Ministry, & Family

What was Paul thinking? An op-ed response

Last week the News-Leader printed an editorial by MSU Professor of Religious Studies Dr. Mark Given, critical of my message on Human Sexuality. Typically, I would refrain from a response, in this instance, I am concerned that letters like Dr. Given’s can cause Bible believing Christians to feel that a firm faith in the Bible is without intellectual credibility. For that reason I wrote the following response to the News-Leader. I would appreciate your prayers for God to use the letter to encourage the hearts of believers and to speak to the hearts of those who do not yet believe.

Recently, Prof. Mark D. Given of Missouri State University offered this criticism of my theological position on homosexuality. “Invoking Paul’s supposedly ‘clear teaching’ in Romans to tell people how they should vote on the SOGI amendment is a gross oversimplification of both the interpretive and political issues.”

Setting aside politics, is Paul’s teaching about homosexuality really unclear? Any student of church history could not argue that he was; and an intellectually honest reading of Paul will not allow us to deviate from what historic Christian orthodoxy asserted for two millennia. In The Moral Vision of the New Testament, Richard B. Hays writes: “Though only a few biblical texts speak of homoerotic activity, all that do mention it with express unqualified disapproval.” Given offers no biblical counterexamples to this biblical disapproval, most likely because there are none.

Perhaps that is why Given turns from biblical assertions to cultural assumptions. He writes: “ancient people had no concept of ‘sexual orientation.’” And, “the idea that two people of the same sex might want to commit themselves to a covenant relationship…expressed through sexual intimacy, simply wouldn’t have entered [Paul’s] mind.”

While it may be true that the ancients didn’t use the terms “homosexual” or “sexual orientation,” some ancients did believe people could be exclusively attracted to members of the same sex: e.g., Aristophanes’ myth of human origins in Plato’s Symposium. With this in mind, it seems that Given’s position is shaped less by a historically grounded reading of the text, than by some sort of clairvoyant ability to read the mind of the Apostle Paul.

New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson provides a much more intellectually honest statement of the presuppositions that guide the brand of scholarship to which Given subscribes. Johnson writes, “The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says…. I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality – namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.”

Given should take a cue from Johnson and simply admit that he believes Paul’s assumptions about homosexuality were wrong. The real issue is not a lack of clarity on the part of the Apostle Paul, but an unwillingness to recognize just how countercultural the teaching of Scripture really is.

 

John Lindell
Lead Pastor, James River Church

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