John Boswell on Christianity and Same Sex Relations in History

Below is a link to one of the only live lectures of which I am aware of the late Yale historian John Boswell.

John Boswell: "Jews, Gay People, and Bicycle Riders"

Before his life was cut short tragically from AIDS, Boswell made a huge mark by attempting to revise the scholarly record on the history of Christianity and same sex relations. His thesis was that the Bible is compatible with a pro-homosexual narrative – indeed, that it describes homosexual marriages in a positive light, and that anti-homosexual notions and practices were not adopted into Christendom until the 13th Century.

For those wishing for happy endings, his thesis is probably too good to be true. It was subject to much praise and criticism. As I read the books of the biblical canon, I see a lot of complex, diverse, mysterious, and often hard to understand passages. I do see a small handful of proof quotes which speak against homosexual practice, but I don’t see any texts which seem to speak positively on homosexual sex.

In my opinion if we are looking for unequivocal affirmation of sex in the biblical canon, it will be procreative, marital man-woman sex. The canon itself neither forbids nor condones contraception; Roman Catholicism bases its condemnation of contraception primarily on its understanding of the natural law. I also don’t see any clear condemnation of polygamy, while I do see the holding up of many biblical characters who lead polygamous lifestyles.

I don’t think these observations mean Boswell’s thesis is bogus. As noted above, the Bible is a thick and complicated book, the understanding of which is highly contested. Arguably, the Bible contradicts itself many times over – at least until some more or less sophisticated hermeneutic arises to smooth out the contradictions.

When speaking of, for instance, the relationship between David and Jonathan, The Book of Samuel describes the two men as having their “souls knit.” The anti-gay theologians’ response is that such a statement refers to friendship. I seem to remember one anti-gay theologian as noting they were “just friends.” I don’t know if he worded it that way. But you know what I mean. It begs the question as to what friendship means.

The Roman Catholic Church – in describing the propriety of sexual relations, based on the Bible, natural law and church tradition – requires that a relationship must be both, 1) “unitive,” and, 2) “procreative,” in a man-woman marriage.

Same sex couples cannot, currently at least, procreate. But the kind of relationship which those who get married claim to have, and which drives the desire to formally pair-bond, is that very same unitive element. Is the unitive element of a husband and wife marriage, stripped of its procreative nature, “just friendship”? Or is it something more? Or does it perhaps like the term “love” have different kinds of meanings that can’t be captured in one word?

Indeed, it’s debatable what the use of Aristophanes’ metaphor in Plato’s Symposium describing eros, which posits same sex eros as on par with that of the opposite sex, is meant to convey regarding the propriety of homosexual acts. If we don’t remember, the story told in the beginning human beings were big and round and had two sets of opposite sex genitals. But some of these creatures had two sets of same sex genitals. Zeus split them in two, so humans would be forever longing for their “other” half, their soul mate as it were.

This seems to suggest that there is a constitutive “orientation” to same sex eros and that such eros is equal to opposite sex eros. (Indeed the original writings intimate that same sex eros was superior to opposite sex eros.)

So take Abraham Lincoln. I don’t see any evidence that he had sexual relations with Joshua Speed. However, I don’t think I would describe his relationship as “just friendship.” Rather, he felt as though Speed were his soulmate. Among other things, he slept in the same bed with Speed. The response is that, back then when society was poorer, the shortage of beds demanded such convention. But Speed and Lincoln slept in the same bed in the White House, where there was no such shortage. Perhaps when there was no longer a necessity, the convention persisted simply because it was a convention.

I don’t know. I do doubt, though, that saying Joshua Speed was “just” Lincoln’s “friend” fully captures the dynamic of their relationship.


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Jon Rowe is a full Professor of Business at Mercer County Community College, where he teaches business, law, and legal issues relating to politics. Of course, his views do not necessarily represent those of his employer. ...more →

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58 thoughts on “John Boswell on Christianity and Same Sex Relations in History

  1. Lincoln may well have shared a bed with Speed because he was used to it from times when beds were scare or because they were emotionally close. However it might also be that sleeping in the same bed didn’t have the same connotations of intimacy that it does now. While it’s a different time and place I seem to recall that in the diary of Samuel Pepys he mentioned sharing beds with business contacts in a way that shows he didn’t see this as anything special let alone romantic, and we know from other passages that he was quite explicit in writing about his sex life.

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    • There was a lot more same-sex affection in the 19th century. When photography became widespread, friends would often get pictures of themselves taken together. It wasn’t unusual to have formal photographs of two men holding hands or being arm and arm or even have one person sitting on another’s lap. In some places, walking arm in arm or hand in hand with a person of the same gender wasn’t seen as unusual. A lot of this was because you weren’t really supposed to socialize much with members of the opposite gender. When society began to liberalize and socializing with women became less subject to restrictions, these sorts of activities disappeared.

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      • On QI, Stephen Fry, who has something of an interest in the topic, also pointed the finger at the Oscar Wilde trial and how it made it important to avoid even the impression of that sort of impropriety.

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        • The Oscar Wilde show trial might have started the shift but male bonding culture was still going strong for the remainder of the 19th and early 20th century in the United States. It wasn’t really until the Roaring 20s and the accompanying Sexual Revolution of the Jazz Age that things really began to change. The Great Depression killed things off by among other things increasing the marriage rate.

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  2. Alright, let’s do this thing about the Bible not *actually* condemning homosexuality that I keep mentioning every time this comes up. Let’s see if I can present my arguments coherently.

    First, the big, obvious one: arsenokoítou

    This is Greek word that is often translated as ‘homosexual’ in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10.

    Here’s 1 Cor with that and another word untranslated: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor malakos nor arsenokoitou nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

    The word arsenokoitou is apparently made of two Greek words, Arsenos, aka man, and koite meaning bed or couch. (And, just as in English, talking about bedding someone means having sex with them.) And the word itself is masculine, it refers to a man.

    So, assumption number 1: Arsenokoitou is a word whose meaning can be determine from its root parts.

    This is, it must be noted, something that is not always true in Greek. Or English, for that matter. Try to figure out what a ‘netbook’ is from the root words.

    Assumption number 2: The word means ‘bedding a man’ instead of ‘a man who beds’. It’s two words stuck together, man and bed, and pretending there’s a magical hyphen and it says ‘man-bedder’ is dishonest. It has the word man, and the word bed, and that’s all we know.

    Now, of course, as the entire word is masculine, that second interpretation seems redundant…except that gendered languages are often redundant like that, and, of course, as this is a *made up* term, it’s who knows what’s going on.

    Assumption number 3: Not only does it mean ‘(a man) bedding a man’, but it means *all* of such things. (Which is sorta like assuming that everything that sits in a lap is a ‘laptop’, or a wind-up toy mouse is an ‘automobile’.)

    The problem there is that Greek *already* had a perfectly good word for men who had sex with men…in fact, it had a few of them, including ‘malakos’!

    Malakos is an actual Greek word. It means ‘soft’ in general, but it also could be used to refer to men, and it’s sometimes translated as ‘effeminate’. No one is quite sure *exactly* what malakos meant at that time. It may have been used to used to refer to a specific group of male prostitutes (Who were the penetrated partner with other men.), or it may have been used to refer to *any* penetrated men. Or it even could have meant, indeed, effeminate or flamboyant or someone who cars about their appearance more than actual things. (Aka, the sin of *pride*, which you might notice is sorta missing from that list.)

    “Ah ha,” says the person trying to find an any-gay message. “Clearly, ‘arsenokoítou’ refers to the ‘pitcher’, and ‘malakos’ refers to the ‘catcher’! It makes perfect sense. It’s not how we understand homosexuality, it’s considering each direction differently, but it clearly condemns it!”

    Except, as I said, there *literally was a term* for ‘pitcher’ in Greek at the time. And if that was what malakos, why would Paul use the *correct* term for one thing and then *make up* a term for the opposite thing?

    Fun fact: If you read *all* of 1 Cor. 6, you’ll notice something odd. Right after this, it sorta wanders *into* talking about sexual immorality, which it seems to think means prostitution…and *only* prostitution.

    (Another fun fact: 1 Tim. is a *forgery that should not be in the Bible*, so I don’t really care what *it* says, especially since it clearly just copied the list from 1 Cor.)

    So there’s that verse…and it’s frickin 2:45 in the morning, I need to go to bed, I’ll post about the *other* verses tomorrow.

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    • From the Torah, it’s pretty clear that the Jews were down on male homosexuality… but it’s in the context of “that’s what pagans do, and don’t do things that pagans do lest you become pagan.” You know, like eating with them?

      Also, the idea that it was used as part of pagan rituals, and that in saying “don’t do pagan rituals” they were saying “and homosexuality is currently one of them”

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    • There was definitely a stigma for adult to adult homosexuality in Ancient Greece. There are plays from the time where a couple of ribald actors would come out and work the crowd. We know that if an actor who asked a guy in the front row “what do you think about the play?”. the guy might freeze up or say something unfunny or start a riot or something so the schtick involved two actors coming out and playing the whole “What does this guy think about the play?” and point to the guy. The other actor could then say something that would leave the crowd in stitches.

      One of the plays we read had captured some of the actors working the crowd thusly and one of the lines was something like “oh, don’t ask him, he’s a (and this is the term the professor translated literally for us) ‘butt-banger’. Ask that guy.”

      Now what we were able to piece together from that (and discussions of the fully acceptable manifestations of same-sex relationships from around 400ish BC in Greek) was that there was a stigma, the stigma was considered shameful for the person and funny for the society, and pointing out that someone was one was not likely to result in a riot.

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      • …that doesn’t really prove ‘stigma’. For all we know, there was some sort of common stereotype that ‘pitchers’ didn’t understand theatre.

        I mean, I’m not saying there *wasn’t* a stigma, but a comedian mentioning it for a laugh line doesn’t prove much. Although, as you pointed out, it does prove, if there was a stigma, it couldn’t be *that* bad if they were willing to just randomly call the guy that.

        ‘Don’t listen to that guy, he liked the Phantom Menace’.

        Now, from what I understand of Greece culture, there *was* a stigma on being the ‘catcher’, and especially one for men who enjoyed that and sought it out. And this stigma had nothing to do with religion or anything…it had to do with gender roles.(1) That is, like I said, one of the meanings of ‘malakos’, and the whole ‘soft’ and ‘womany’ implications of that word are on purpose.

        Meanwhile, they didn’t really see much of a status difference between men ‘pitching’ to women and men ‘pitching’ to men. (Although, as your professor pointed out, they did, in fact, have a word for people who preferred the latter, a word Paul did not use.) Sure, women were better for sex, but men would work just fine, if you could convince them to do it.

        And, of course, we are talking about an *extremely* long period of time to be generalizing about.

        1) Which, of course, is *actually* what the entire objection to homosexuality is about, to this very day…gender roles. Religion is just an excuse. And, as always, there is much more concern about men who voluntarily ‘lower’ themselves to be women than to women who attempt to rise up to be men. Women ‘trying to be’ men confirms the structure, of course they want to do that, and sometime we can let the very clever ones put on a man costume and be a dancing bear. Men ‘trying to be’ women, OTOH…that rejects the entire concept of the hierarchy.

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      • So, it was sort of like homosexuality in 80s movies, then. It’s fascinating to watch them and see how often “surprise gay!” is basically the entirety of a joke–setup, delivery, and punchline all in one.

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    • We know both more and less about Greek than this argument supposes. Let’s start with compound words.

      We know how Greek compounds in general, and it is very unusual (indeed, almost unheard of) to include a redundant gender term when describing a type of person. If clarification or emphasis is desired, the noun will be included in the text (e.g. aner arsenokoitos).

      Regarding the particular components, we don’t have many arsenos compounds, but we have quite a few examples of aner compounds; they are most consistent with the standard reading of arsenokoitos as “man who beds men” over “man who beds”. Eating (androphagos, to describe the Cyclops in the Odyssey) and killing (many variations, androphonos is representative) are well-pedigreed examples. The “man-____er” pattern is, as far as I can tell, the most common meaning in the attestations of andro– compounds that we have, and I see no reason to suppose that we aren’t working in essentially the same linguistic space.

      From the other direction, we know that –koitos is used in other forms to specify particular varieties of scandalous sex. So a metrokoitos is engaged in incest (with his mother, presumably), and a lathraoikoitos is a secret lover, that is to say an adulterer. This is not the sole use of koitos compounds; it is, however, a pattern attested elsewhere and one that makes sense when paired with a description of a type of person. There might be an argument in a vacuum for “manly bedder”, as a term for a womanizer or something to that effect, but it seems a rather more strained reading to me.

      Regarding the history of the word, it is not attested before Paul; this does not necessarily mean that it is his coinage. There is, according to the Liddell and Scott lexicon, a 1st century BC papyrus (BGU 1058.30, if anyone is interested) containing the verb androkoiteo, suggesting that similar language may have been in circulation.

      Even without previous literary attestation, we aren’t on solid ground attributing the coinage to Paul; we don’t have enough 1st century Greek in a similar register to have any confidence in having a comprehensive view of the relevant vocabulary, and we certainly don’t know what contemporary spoken language would or would not have included. On the other hand, Greek compounds freely; coining a word along a familiar pattern would probably not seem strange or incomprehensible to the contemporary reader. Paul’s fondness for words with few or no previous attestations is often frustrating, but it does not necessarily mean that he is doing anything particularly obscure.

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      • We know how Greek compounds in general, and it is very unusual (indeed, almost unheard of) to include a redundant gender term when describing a type of person. If clarification or emphasis is desired, the noun will be included in the text (e.g. aner arsenokoitos).

        It’s not really ‘redundant’. You can’t leave off arsenos, because then you literally just have the word ‘bed’. (The Bible condemning beds would be pretty surreal, even for Paul.) You have to put something there!

        There might be an argument in a vacuum for “manly bedder”, as a term for a womanizer or something to that effect, but it seems a rather more strained reading to me.

        I wonder what ‘manly bedder’ *would* be.

        The “man-____er” pattern is, as far as I can tell, the most common meaning in the attestations of andro– compounds that we have, and I see no reason to suppose that we aren’t working in essentially the same linguistic space.

        Oh, I wasn’t saying that that assumption was incorrect. I was merely pointing out it *was* an assumption. As is the first assumption that arsenokoitos has anything to do with sex at all, and isn’t a condemnation of sleeping late, because sometimes words *do not mean anything close to what their roots imply*. (It is a touch ironic that people trying to read that word ‘literally’ seemed to have failed to notice that word before it is literally the word ‘softness’. I do not think Paul is condemning pillows.)

        Those two assumptions, that a compound word means anything close to what the word parts imply (And isn’t something like ‘restroom’ or ‘microwave’ or ‘hairpiece’ where there is no way you can deduce meaning from the word itself.), and that the compound word should be considered as ‘man-bedder’ and not ‘manly bedder’, might be two *reasonable* assumptions, but they are indeed assumptions.

        There is, according to the Liddell and Scott lexicon, a 1st century BC papyrus (BGU 1058.30, if anyone is interested) containing the verb androkoiteo, suggesting that similar language may have been in circulation.

        That, in my book, makes the entire premise even more dubious. As that points out, (Which I’d never really thought about.), Paul is sorta using the wrong word there.

        Arseno means *male* or masculine, and andro means ‘man’, as in, the actual humans walking around. Androkoitos would be a much more reasonable word if you want to talk about ‘(men) having sex with men’.

        Hell, logically, arsenokoitos could be ‘(men) who have masculine sex’, and we’re right back at assumption #2.

        From the other direction, we know that –koitos is used in other forms to specify particular varieties of scandalous sex.

        From what I can figure out, the most likely literal translation of arsenokoitos is a word meaning ‘(men) who have (scandalous) male sex’. Even assuming that ‘male sex’ means ‘sex with men’, that doesn’t mean *all* sex with men.

        As you point out, the root parts for ‘adultery’ means ‘secret (scandalous) sex’. But that word didn’t apply to *all* secret sex. Hell, it doesn’t even apply to all secret scandalous sex! (Incest is usually secret, and pretty scandalous, and yet, that is another word.)

        Likewise, the assumption that a word that literally translates as ‘(men) who have (scandalous) sex with men’ means men who have *any sort* of sex with men, and isn’t some *specific thing* that term refers to (like hiring male prostitutes, or the common ‘keeping a young boy for sex’), seems somewhat dubious.

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        • It is a touch ironic that people trying to read that word ‘literally’ seemed to have failed to notice that word before it is literally the word ‘softness’.

          Generally, I would assume that translators and commentators can read the language they are translating and commenting on.

          Paul is sorta using the wrong word there.

          Again, we don’t know this.

          Even assuming that ‘male sex’ means ‘sex with men’, that doesn’t mean *all* sex with men.

          We don’t have any reason to suppose a narrow reading, though. We do have further reasons to believe that Paul isn’t too thrilled with any sex between men (to start, his baseline tolerance for sex is rather low).

          The best supplementary source here is going to be early commentaries; no doubt ancient comments on the passage exist, though I don’t know whether they have much lexicographical help.

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          • We don’t have any reason to suppose a narrow reading, though. We do have further reasons to believe that Paul isn’t too thrilled with any sex between men (to start, his baseline tolerance for sex is rather low).

            Just because Paul was not a fan of sex (He really was only okay with sex as a way to get rid of desire.) does not mean we should assume that he condemning all homosexual sex here.

            The best supplementary source here is going to be early commentaries; no doubt ancient comments on the passage exist, though I don’t know whether they have much lexicographical help.

            I don’t know about commentaries on that verse, and as far as I am aware few exist. There are other *uses* of the word, clearly copied from that list (Including the forgery 1 Tim.), but they are equally unclear.

            Check on the internet, the first use we can tell anything about arsenokoitos is Hippolytus, which is a very strange story about how the serpent had sex with Eve, and then possessed Adam ‘like a boy’, thus inventing, respectively, adultery and arsenokoitos.

            This story…makes no actual sense, is not actually in the Bible last I checked, and doesn’t really clarify what that word means. The ‘like a boy’ phrase doesn’t really exclude ‘It’s talking about the common Greek homosexual pedestry’ theory, even if Adam is technically an adult. (Although he’s not actually *old*.) And that story is so odd who even knows what’s going on. (Also, how is that adultery? When did Adam and Eve get married?)

            The actual first time that *anyone* defines it as ‘having sex with a man’ *at all* is Eusebius, who is explaining the word in a work of Bardaisan. This was around 300 AD. But even that’s not clear. Bardaisan was basically saying that ‘if a man in the east is called an arsenokoitos, he will get angry’, and Eusebius explains (For people apparently not aware of what that is being contrasted with.) ‘In Greece, wise men who have male lovers are not condemned’.

            Which, again, leads us to the conclusion that arsenokoitos must mean ‘men who have male lovers’ in some manner, but doesn’t actuallyprove the word means ‘*all* men who have male lovers’.

            It’s perfectly reasonable to say ‘In the east, men who are accused of sleeping with underaged boys get angry’ and someone else clarifying ‘In Greece, wise men who have male lovers are not condemned’. I.e., a specific action is condemned in one place, but in contrast to that, an *entire class* of actions is fine somewhere else. ‘In the east, if you drive after a single drink, you are condemned. [Later commentor: In the west, people can drive drunk, high, and stoned out of their mind]’

            And by that point we’re pretty far away, anyway. 240 years is ~8 generations of Christianity, and certainly long enough to misunderstand a word.

            The earliest point where we really ‘learn’ what it means are Latin translations (Which do, indeed, translate it merely as men who sleep with men.). But that’s all the way to 500 AD!

            Incidentally, I find it rather odd you seem to think no one has done this research before, and that there is some clear answer here that no one has bothered to put forth. The reason we’re debating this is that *we literally do not know*. Not ‘we’ as in people at this website…I mean, it is literally an unanswered question, and scholars are *currently* writing papers back and forth about this word.

            And you may think I have picked a side, and am ignoring all evidence to the contrary, but the side I have picked is actually ‘Hey, maybe we should stop with reading this as a condemnation of a group of people until we have some actual conclusions.’, and I’m taking issue with *suppositions* about a word we have almost no evidence of the meaning of being presented as an actual fact by Bible translators.

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            • Incidentally, I find it rather odd you seem to think no one has done this research before, and that there is some clear answer here that no one has bothered to put forth. The reason we’re debating this is that *we literally do not know*.

              I have no idea how you have come to this conclusion. My point is the exact opposite: what little we know is the result of quite a few people with a great deal of familiarity with Greek and various pieces of relevant context examining the passage and coming to their best understanding. You, however, claim that those who read this particular passage in the most common way are “dishonest”, which is remarkable for someone who claims to simply be keeping an open mind, especially as you have failed to produce evidence in favor of an alternative reading (beyond pleading that “language is tricky sometimes”, which no scholar of whom I am aware would contest).

              I don’t claim to be a lexicographer of the NT; my work as a graduate student was on a later period, and I have never had a great natural grasp of unfamiliar Greek words. However, I do take their work seriously, and I suggest you do the same. This starts with assuming that they aren’t making arbitrary or malicious judgments in their work.

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              • I have no idea how you have come to this conclusion. My point is the exact opposite: what little we know is the result of quite a few people with a great deal of familiarity with Greek and various pieces of relevant context examining the passage and coming to their best understanding.

                I have no idea what you are trying to say with this paragraph.

                You are acting like there is some sort of consensus here among linguists and historians, which is, uh, wrong.

                You, however, claim that those who read this particular passage in the most common way are “dishonest”,

                I said pretending that the word ‘man’ next to the word ‘bed’ automatically makes it the same as ‘man-bedder’ in English is dishonest, and that’s the only time I’ve used the word ‘dishonest’.

                If you do not know what I am talking about, please google ‘man-bedder arsenokoitos’ and read how that is said over and over as if it settles the issue.

                As I pointed out, there is no hyphen there. All we know is that it’s a compound word, not that it’s an object-verb compound word.

                Please note I am not disagreeing that it’s *not* supposed to be put together as an object-verb, I actually think that makes the most sense. I’m just saying ‘man-bedder’ is a dishonest way to put the words together, as it is walking right past something that, if they are going by the ‘meaning of the root words’, they *have to explain* how they know it’s that, vs. other ways the words man and bed can be put together.

                which is remarkable for someone who claims to simply be keeping an open mind, especially as you have failed to produce evidence in favor of an alternative reading (beyond pleading that “language is tricky sometimes”, which no scholar of whom I am aware would contest).

                An ‘alternative reading’, again, implies you think there is some sort of consensus here and I’m presenting some *other* theory, currently unaccepted.

                In reality, there is no consensus, and I’m pointing it out. And I am also asserting that people who *claim* there is a consensus (Especially ones who use such facile and silly arguments as ‘The root words make it look like it means that’, which is pretty crappy linguistics.), and then use that as the basis for a religious argument, are being dishonest.

                Until people actually figure out what the hell arsenokoitos means, Christians should not be using it as some sort of arguments for laws to harm people. (In fact, I don’t think they really should be doing that *even if* it turns out that’s what it means, because, uh, we are supposed to have secular laws, and the Bible has a lot of screwy ideas about marriage we *already* don’t seem to care about. But whatever.)

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                • You are acting like there is some sort of consensus here among linguists and historians, which is, uh, wrong.

                  In fact, the lexica appear to be unanimous. Which, again, doesn’t mean they’re necessarily right, but is worth considering.

                  I said pretending that the word ‘man’ next to the word ‘bed’ automatically makes it the same as ‘man-bedder’ in English is dishonest, and that’s the only time I’ve used the word ‘dishonest’.

                  Right; you claimed that the authors of every lexicon I’ve checked thus far and many translators are dishonest.

                  Especially ones who use such facile and silly arguments as ‘The root words make it look like it means that’, which is pretty crappy linguistics.

                  Unfortunately, rare words frequently require us to work from their roots, form, context, and so forth. More scholarship is desirable, of course, but not always possible.

                  Until people actually figure out what the hell arsenokoitos means, Christians should not be using it as some sort of arguments for laws to harm people.

                  Frankly, I’d prefer if Christians kept their religious ideas the hell out of the law in any case. I’d also prefer not casting aspersions on people whose readings of Christian texts aren’t politically convenient.

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                  • In fact, the lexica appear to be unanimous. Which, again, doesn’t mean they’re necessarily right, but is worth considering.

                    Okay, this is the second time you’ve mentioned lexicon and lexicographers. I ignored it the first time, thinking you meant linguists, but, uh…no. Those two things are…dictionaries and dictionary makers.

                    People who write dictionaries do not *define* words. They write what the definitions *already are*. They do not do research to find out meanings, at least not for ancient languages. That is what *linguists* do. Lexicographers just report on what linguists say. (It’s a little different for modern lexicographers, who do some research of finding new words, seeing how common the usage is, and figuring out what they mean from context. But of *historic* stuff, they’re just compilers.)

                    And most lexica of ancient languages are, uh, really old, and pretty conservative WRT changing meanings. The’re writing what the word was understood to be years ago.

                    If you were to go back to the middle ages, you’d discover, somehow, that arsenokoitos meant *masturbator*. So I guess according to you, somehow time travelers have retroactively changed the meaning of the word in Koine Greek, because dictionaries are always correct.

                    Or we could go with actual fact, that *dictionaries do not create reality*. Saying ‘The dictionaries all say one thing’ is not actually a rebuttal to anything I’ve said.

                    Various linguists and historians *currently disagree* about arsenokoitos. Lexicographers will change the dictionaries after it has been hashed out. It is not their job to decide things.

                    In fact, I suspect a *modern* Koine Greek lexicon would, indeed, indicate some doubt about the meaning of the word. It’s just that *modern* lexicons don’t end up online, instead it’s a bunch of public domain texts from 80 years ago.

                    Right; you claimed that the authors of every lexicon I’ve checked thus far and many translators are dishonest.

                    Again, no I haven’t. Stop dishonestly saying I have called people dishonest that I have not.

                    I have, at this point, called two sets of people dishonest: Those who try to pretend a transliteration of the term into English should be ‘man-bedder’ instead of just ‘manbedder’ (Or, indeed, malebedder), and those who pretend there is a consensus to this word *and base religious arguments off that supposed consensus*.

                    You might notice that *neither* of those groups are people who write lexicons.

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                    • But of *historic* stuff, they’re just compilers.

                      Not only is this inaccurate for scholarly lexica, it is grossly insulting to the work that goes into producing these texts. It is true that a great deal of the research involved consists of seeking out what other scholars have written, but this is true of all good scholarship.

                      If you were to go back to the middle ages, you’d discover, somehow, that arsenokoitos meant *masturbator*. So I guess according to you, somehow time travelers have retroactively changed the meaning of the word in Koine Greek, because dictionaries are always correct.

                      This is a supremely weird statement, both because this directly contradicts what I’ve said about the fallibility of those dictionaries, and because I’ve made exactly zero claims about linguistic change over time.

                      Again, the point of raising lexica is not to claim that they must be correct; rather, they are a valuable lagging indicator of how words are actually understood. The lagging bit is both helpful (as it gives time for arguments to be settled) and unhelpful (as incorporating new work takes time and, in the case of some valuable but no longer updated works, does not happen at all). Further, since they form the reference of first resort for most readers, they are naturally influential on what readings predominate.

                      Anyhow, it’s good that you’ve clarified what you meant by, “It’s two words stuck together, man and bed, and pretending there’s a magical hyphen and it says ‘man-bedder’ is dishonest. It has the word man, and the word bed, and that’s all we know.” I don’t see a lot of point in continuing this discussion, so I’m checking out.

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    • Paul’s novel choice of Greek words might have to do with the fact that he is a Greek speaking Jew rather than a Greek person. He is approaching the Jewish from a first century Jewish viewpoint rather than a first generation Greek viewpoint. That means he doesn’t have the cultural background that an actual Greek person would and understands the issue differently.

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  3. The bible is more likely to have endorsed bestiality in the Garden of Eden than homosexuality, fwiw. There’s a pretty clear textual reading on that one.

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  4. As I read the books of the biblical canon, I see a lot of complex, diverse, mysterious, and often hard to understand passages. I do see a small handful of proof quotes which speak against homosexual practice, but I don’t see any texts which seem to speak positively on homosexual sex.

    In other words, we have a topic that was not of great interest to the authors of the various books of the canon. This is the most important point to take away from any discussion of the Bible an homosexuality. When you are reduced to searching out snippets of text, ripping them out of context, and building a body of doctrine from them, this is a pretty good sign that what is really going on is bullshit.

    Worse yet is when the pursuit of such doctrine overrides the stuff that the authors of the various books of the canon really did care about. When trying to figure out what to make of some snippet of text, it should be read in context: both the narrow context of what comes immediately before and after and the broader context of the book, and indeed of the entire canon. See Luther on letting scripture interpret scripture. Prominent among the overarching themes is all that hippie-dippy stuff about loving one another. Some branches of the church are very good as eliding over that stuff, resulting in a seriously perverted version of Christianity.

    What to make of loving one another and homosexuality? If homosexuality is what some people do, then it is possible to maintain that it is bad. If homosexuality is what some people are, then it becomes much harder to maintain that it is bad. This is why gay conversion therapy is such a big deal. If gayness can be cured, then it is a disease, and we can condemn those who insist on clinging to their disease. The shift in cultural attitudes is due in part to the gradual realization that this is a false model of gayness. At this point pretty much anyone who knows any uncloseted gay people, and who has an ounce of empathy, realizes that men (for example) don’t wake up one day and decide to be gay because then they can get so much of that sweet, sweet ass action.

    Of, if you really want a proof text, there is this:

    [Peter said] God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Acts 1-:28.

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  5. It’s also important to remember historical context. If anything, Paul was writing a rant about rape culture.

    This discussion is like someone in the year 3408, when all food is constructed by synthesizers from raw molecular stock, saying “okay, so, the word ‘meat’ refers to ‘protein’, so when this person wrote that they didn’t eat meat were they saying that they didn’t eat food?”

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    • This discussion is like someone in the year 3408, when all food is constructed by synthesizers from raw molecular stock, saying “okay, so, the word ‘meat’ refers to ‘protein’, so when this person wrote that they didn’t eat meat were they saying that they didn’t eat food?”

      I think it’s more like, somehow, almost all uses of the word ‘restroom’ got erased from history, and then they come across in 3408:

      “This person says they don’t approve of dual-gender restrooms…what the hell is a ‘restroom’?”

      “Well, clearly the room you rest in is the room you can lay down in.”

      “But there already is a word for that. Bedroom!”

      “Well, that’s specifically for a room with a bed. In theory, you could have rooms with a couches or something. That person must be condemning *all* rooms you can rest in with someone of the opposite gender!”

      “That doesn’t make any sense. We have blueprints for all sorts of building, and there are a bunch of offices with lobbies and whatnot for both genders.”

      “Well, we know they used ‘sleep with’ as a euphemism for sex, so it’s easy to suppose that they use ‘rest’ in the same way. Thus, I suspect that ‘restroom’ is a name for a room specifically created to have sex in, and this writer is condemning rooms of that sort for both heterosexual and homosexual sex. Presumably, they wanted *separate* sex rooms.”

      “Hrm. Considering we’re trying to guess a word that we don’t actually know the meaning of at all from two root parts, and language doesn’t always work that way, could it be we are completely wrong here?”

      “NO! And in fact, we must pass laws forbidden these ‘dual gender sex rooms’!”

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      • “Seems kinda odd they’re so worried about homosexual sex rooms when they have all those bathrooms with people taking baths in front of each other. And many of those bathrooms allowed both men and women to take baths together, and we know they had sex all the time in those things, they even specifically had a term for having sex in a airplane bathroom, the ‘Mile High Club’!”

        “Quiet. The rules don’t say anything about sex in bathrooms. That was perfectly fine and normal. It’s *restrooms* that are the problem.”

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        • “What about when the man and woman would for some reason transport bathtubs to beaches for the purposes of taking small blue pills? What kind of perversion was this? They were already AT the beach, why did they need tubs?!”

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        • “Also, how the hell did they manage to take baths on an airplane? Seriously, that would be insanely expensive to lift that much water.”

          “The entire society was focused around taking baths. Employers would give people bathroom breaks every few hours. Children would go to the bathroom all the time at school, even during class. Professional buildings were constructed with bathrooms on every floor that could hold half a dozen people at once. Houses, when sold, would list many baths you could take at once, like ‘3 baths’, and sometimes they even had fraction baths, by which we’re assuming they had very large bathtubs so more than one person could bathe in that bathtub at once.”

          “Man, those guys were *fanatics*. I know that the church has interpreted those ancient texts to mean we should take a bath every three hours, but, honestly, I can only get in maybe four a day.”

          “You pervert.”

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        • I actually started post that with the term ‘unisex restoom’. But that was too confusing to even keep track of for my joke(!), so I had to change it to ‘dual gender’.

          Even if you know what a restroom is, a ‘unisex’ restroom (Or a unisex anything, in fact.) is literally the opposite of what the parts of the word ‘unisex’ implies.

          Unisex stuff is when something that is normally for one sex is instead for *two* sexes. Which is, uh, *wrong*. The word should actually be bi-sex! A restroom that two sexes can use is a bi-sex restroom, not a uni-sex one!

          Except that’s still wrong. By ‘sex’ in unisex, they usually mean gender!

          The term ‘unisex restroom’, translated into non-wrong English words, is ‘bi-gendered toilet room’. (Or go with ‘omni-gendered toilet room’ if you think there are more than two genders. Or maybe ‘*un*-gendered toilet room.’)

          Good luck figuring ‘unisex restroom’ out if you just know what the prefix ‘uni-‘ and the words ‘sex’, ‘rest’, and ‘room’ mean.

          But surely we can do that with Ancient Greek words! Especially if the word is talking about *sex*, there’s never any complicated connotations or euphemisms about *sex*.

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          • Well, just make sure to ignore any scholarship that doesn’t support your preferred views on the meaning of ‘restroom’ and you’ll be safe.

            Besides, those historians and lexicographers are, like, totes into evidence and stuff, and we all know that engaging with that is like, hard, and all.

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            • Well, just make sure to ignore any scholarship that doesn’t support your preferred views on the meaning of ‘restroom’ and you’ll be safe.

              Here’s a fun question: Where have I mentioned my preferred view of arsenokoitou?

              Oh, look. I *haven’t* mentioned one. Oops.

              The only thing I’ve done is point out there are a *lot* of assumptions being made about the definition of it being ‘any and all acts of a man having sex with a man’. A lot a lot.

              Whereas, in reality, actual linguists and historians disagree about that word.

              And my actual position is: Until someone can come up with some sort of positive proof about what that word means, they don’t get to base religious moral arguments off of it.

              Besides, those historians and lexicographers are, like, totes into evidence and stuff, and we all know that engaging with that is like, hard, and all.

              I present a comment from you above:

              The best supplementary source here is going to be early commentaries; no doubt ancient comments on the passage exist, though I don’t know whether they have much lexicographical help.

              Why, it’s almost as if you’ve done no research *at all* into this word. Which puts you in a somewhat difficult position to determine if *I* have done research.

              Which, uh, I have. In fact, I’ve read a *hell* of a lot on this topic. By actual historians and linguists. Presenting all sides. Arguments and counter-arguments.

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      • I think that Heinlein had a shorter, but similar bit in one of his “Lazarus Long goes back in time to sleep with his entire family” books, but the word was “service station” – and the connotation was reversed (i.e. you had to be careful traveling back in time because back then they didn’tuse “service” in the sexual sense).

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  6. And now the other elephant in the room: The prohibitions in Leveticus, and whether they apply to Christians.

    As just mentioned…they don’t. It’s pretty clear in Acts, and, no, that doesn’t just apply to food. The vision seems to be about calling food clean or unclean, but then Peter (The guy actually *having* the vision.) says it’s about calling *people* clean or unclean.

    Churches have jumped through all sorts of hoops trying to make distinctions between *ritual* rules in the OT, which supposedly no longer apply, (So Christians can eat ham and cheeseburgers and trim the edges of their beard and don’t have crazy rules about mildrew and skin rashes) and *moral* rules, which supposedly do still apply, and it’s…nonsense. There’s nothing at all supporting that distinction.

    But there’s more evidence for this, something that that most people never notice. If you actually *read* Leviticus, you’ll see most chapters, (including 18 and 20, where the prohibitions against homosexuality are), says, ‘The Lord says to Moses, “Say to the Israelites…” and *then* it lays out the rules.

    And note this isn’t just some formalized greeting in front of everything or something. It is left off of chapter 14, (which is about how to do ceremonial cleaning so presumably only applies to people about to do that) , chapter 16 is telling Moses to literally tell *one guy* something (Man, talk about going down in Biblical infamy), 21 is directed at the priests, etc, etc…this phrasing isn’t just something that particular book of the Bible does, it’s real directions. Throughout Leviticus, God is speaking, (or rather, telling Moses to speak), to very *specific* people and groups of people.

    God wants the *Israelites* to do the things in chapter 18 and 20 and follow those rules.

    I…am not an Israelite.

    And, in fact, this is *exactly* what was under discussion in the early church when Peter had his vision…whether Christians had to be good *Israelites* (Aka, Jews), even if they weren’t, in fact, Jewish. Peter’s vision is answering that, with a ‘no’.

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    • Churches have jumped through all sorts of hoops trying to make distinctions between *ritual* rules in the OT, which supposedly no longer apply, (So Christians can eat ham and cheeseburgers and trim the edges of their beard and don’t have crazy rules about mildrew and skin rashes) and *moral* rules, which supposedly do still apply, and it’s…nonsense. There’s nothing at all supporting that distinction.

      Some churches. This weasel technique is pretty new, in the history of the church. I believe it came out of American Evangelical Protestantism within the last century, or two at the outside, though I expect it has spread since. At this point it is well enough established that it is easy to find Evangelicals who will lecture you about how the Bible “clearly states” the distinction, without quoting the chapter and verse where it is clearly stated. This is a dead giveaway that this is bullshit, though in fairness most individuals are just repeating what they have been told by their pastors, who should know better but don’t, or don’t care.

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      • At what point did Christians start saying it was okay to eat unclean food?
        At what point did Christians start having hangups about sex?

        From my knowledge of these things, the former had all kinds of “well, you have to understand” kinda speeches given. From Acts 10 to 1 Corinthians 8, it seems like the whole “food taboos, now that I think about it, are kind of passé” happened pretty early in Christianity. (Downright progressive of them.)

        If you’re looking for ways to argue that we live under a new covenant now, there is more than enough examples to use in your defense if you’re hoping to sneak a cheeseburger… but if you’re hoping to argue for, say, a polyfidelitous quintrad, you’re stuck pointing out that, in the original Greek, you have to understand that this word for “couple” was sometimes used to mean not just two people but sometimes three people so, kind of, quintrads aren’t automatically off the table and besides Solomon had concubines.

        It’s easier to argue for Progressive Revelation than to argue that the Bible has a lot of squish when it comes to sex.

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        • At what point did Christians start saying it was okay to eat unclean food?

          Right there. Right when we’re talking about, at the start of the church. That was the big debate, if it was okay to eat unclean food and not be circumcised and all sorts of things. Whether you had to be a Christian *Jew*, or could just be a Christian without being a Jew.

          (Spoiler: The second position won.)

          At what point did Christians start having hangups about sex?

          That depends on what you mean by ‘hangups’.

          Christians started actually carrying about homosexuality much, much, much later than people assume. The linked article here claims 13th century, but I haven’t done enough research to know if it’s true.

          Oh, additionally, despite what people seem to think…there’s not actually a prohibition on premarital sex in the Bible, either, even in OT. There are *rules* about it, but a lot of those are how to tell it from rape, so aren’t really relevant to sex everyone admits was consensual. And men might sometimes be on the hook for paying some money to the woman’s father if the woman was a virgin. But it’s not disallowed.

          (There is, however, a *very clear* prohibition on trimming the edges of your beard.)

          but if you’re hoping to argue for, say, a polyfidelitous quintrad, you’re stuck pointing out that, in the original Greek, you have to understand that this word for “couple” was sometimes used to mean not just two people but sometimes three people so, kind of, quintrads aren’t automatically off the table and besides Solomon had concubines.

          If you want to be serious for a second about polygamy: Nothing in the Bible prohibits polygamy. In fact, nothing is really in there about gay marriage, either. Apparently, that’s fine. (Yes, it calls men and women getting married as coming together in one flesh, but it doesn’t say that two men doing that *isn’t* coming together in one flesh, or that marriages *require* that anyway, so that is a really idiotic verse to cite.)

          The possible Biblical objections we’re talking about are about gay *sex*, and only sex. Actually, it’s only *male* gay sex…lesbians are fine. (There’s a passage about women putting their bodies to unatural practices, which some people have interpreted as banning lesbianism, but that verse does not actually *say* that.)

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          • Oh, additionally, despite what people seem to think…there’s not actually a prohibition on premarital sex in the Bible, either, even in OT. There are *rules* about it, but a lot of those are how to tell it from rape, so aren’t really relevant to sex everyone admits was consensual. And men might sometimes be on the hook for paying some money to the woman’s father if the woman was a virgin. But it’s not disallowed.

            The example that I’ve seen argued for this is from the book of Ruth.

            Keeping in mind that the word “feet” was a euphemism for “junk”, when Ruth visited Boaz and “uncovered his feet”, that was a way to tell the grownups in the audience what was going on. One of my professors explain that Boaz’s response was more like “we’re doing things in the wrong order” than “what we’re doing is wrong”.

            Anyway, I know that there isn’t a prohibition against the premaritals in the Bible but there does seem to be a big emphasis on fidelity. Get Married. Stay Married. Be fruitful.

            The possible Biblical objections we’re talking about are about gay *sex*, and only sex. Actually, it’s only *male* gay sex…lesbians are fine. (There’s a passage about women putting their bodies to unatural practices, which some people have interpreted as banning lesbianism, but that verse does not actually *say* that.)

            What’s the starting point here? Is it that there is a God and that He has Opinions about gay sex? If so, I don’t understand why “well, the Bible does say this but we know things now that we didn’t used to, in the same way that we can eat bacon now” isn’t sufficient to run with that.

            Is it that there isn’t a God and this book that a lot of people think is important arose from a society that, for a handful of reasons, outcompeted its competition?

            It seems fairly obvious to me that a pre-industrial society (one that didn’t have 99.9% effective birth control) would have sexual taboos that were patriarchal and backwards and would have no place in The Current Year where we have The Pill and iPhones and the internet.

            This strikes me as a way to shoehorn The Current Year moral codes onto a primitive desert culture in an attempt to sanitize the past. I’m 100% down with judging 450 BC as 450 BC and comparing it to 500 BC and pointing out how progressive Ruth (and the Bible in general) was for its own, primitive, version of The Current Year but to pretend that the Bible doesn’t have a lot of pre-birth control sexual hangups is seriously weird.

            Paul is obviously a basketcase and the taboo list of the Israelites makes a lot of sense for a desert people who spent a lot of time getting their asses kicked and wandering.

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      • This weasel technique is pretty new, in the history of the church.

        Yeah. It’s sorta funny. They had a sorta-weasel already on the whole ‘unclean’ food thing, pretending that Peter’s vision was just about food. (When Peter is literally standing there telling them the vision *wasn’t* just about food, so, uh…huh.)

        So when they decided to start citing the OT heavily with the anti-gay stuff, they thought they could explain the food.

        The problem is…the prohibition against cheeseburgers isn’t due to uncleanness. (That’s mixing milk and blood of the same animal.) The prohibition against trimming the edges of your beard isn’t due to uncleanness. The rules about skin rashes…not uncleanness, at least nothing to do with food.

        At this point it is well enough established that it is easy to find Evangelicals who will lecture you about how the Bible “clearly states” the distinction, without quoting the chapter and verse where it is clearly stated.

        Oh, I think this has escaped evangelicals by now and is out in the wild.

        This is a dead giveaway that this is bullshit, though in fairness most individuals are just repeating what they have been told by their pastors, who should know better but don’t, or don’t care.

        Being a pastor: The only job where not actually telling people things you are supposedly being paid to tell them is a very important part of it. Or they will fire you and find someone who *won’t* say those things.

        Seriously. If you look around on the internet, you can find some pretty frank discussions that former pastors have with seminary students that say “Look, you can’t actually *tell people* certain things. You can’t tell them that Timothy is a forgery and doesn’t belong in the Bible, or that Revelations is only there because they thought it was a different John that wrote it and there were a hundred dumbass apocalypse stories around that time, any of which deserve to be in the Bible as much as Revelations, which is not at all. You can’t tell them that the Bible has no problem with premartial sex except for ‘If you break it, you buy it.’. You can’t tell them that their idea of Hell is a weird mismash of literature and random out-of-context Bible verses. If you tell them these things, they will fire you.’

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        • If you look around on the internet, you can find some pretty frank discussions that former pastors have with seminary students that say “Look, you can’t actually *tell people* certain things

          This depends on what church we are talking about. I am Lutheran (ELCA). There may be some rural parishes in the wilds of North Dakota where it would be a bad idea to talk about this stuff, but it is pretty unremarkable here in the godless northeast corridor. I am a pastor’s kid (though Dad was a Navy chaplain for most of his career, which has a different dynamic). I grew up with this stuff, and it wasn’t something to be whispered in the back room.

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          • Depends on the synod. The one I grew up in? Pretty frank about a lot of this stuff, although depending on where you were as a Christian and scholar, they might let it off with “This is actually pretty complicated and we go over stuff like this in seminary, but the quick and dirty synopsis is “X” and…well, if you want the long version see me later and be prepared to talk awhile and maybe take notes”.

            Now, some of the more fundamentalist Lutheran synods? Not so much.

            And there is generally a “Don’t complicate something just for the sake of complication” vibe, wherein you don’t lead a parishioner through all the convoluted details, starting with the problems of translation and the rather ad-hoc way the Bible was assembled, unless they are both mentally ready for it AND desire it.

            If they’re not ready, you slowly teach them and educate them until they are. If they don’t desire to explore the depths, you don’t ask them to.

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    • Except a lot of the Jews that decided to carry out Peter’s vision found this explanation entirely unconvincing. James remained adamant that Gentiles who wanted to follow Jesus also had to be good Jews with all the ritual and moral laws in force. The compromise that was worked out, Jews have to still follow the laws but Gentile converts do not only really became satisfactory once the Temple was destroyed and it became clear that most Jews were going to follow the Pharisees rather than the Nazarenes.

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      • IIRC, he was pretty specific about it being all laws, as well – you don’t get to pick and choose. Which should (but for some reason doesn’t) put a kibosh on the ritual/dietary/ceremonial/etc. hairsplitting.

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      • The compromise that was worked out, Jews have to still follow the laws but Gentile converts do not only really became satisfactory once the Temple was destroyed and it became clear that most Jews were going to follow the Pharisees rather than the Nazarenes.

        Well, yes, I have over-simplified.

        The question was actually ‘Do you have to be a Christian Jew, or can you be a Christian Gentile?’.

        The answer was ‘You *can* be a Christian Gentile.’

        There still were, for a while after that, Christian Jews, and they *did* follow those laws. Whether they ‘had to’ follow those laws is an interesting question…considering how the actual Roman law worked at the time, they probably literally *did* have to, because, being Jews in Israel, they were, indeed, subject to Jewish law. (Or, rather, Roman law, which let the Jewish leaders run the place WRT religion.)

        And then the entire Jewish people had to figure themselves out with the sack of the Temple, and Christianity turned into a Roman thing, and ‘Christian Jew’ quickly became a thing that did not exist.

        And, from what I understand, it was less ‘Jewish people had to follow the law, gentiles didn’t’, and more ‘there were mostly Jewish Christian churches, and there were mostly Gentile Christian churches’, and the first cared about a bunch of laws the second did not. And there were a few churches that were mixed, and they had some wild spats.

        Now, this does not actually answer the question of whether or not Jewish followers of Christ *religiously* had to follow Jewish law. But that’s an interesting Christian technical question that is…entirely moot at this point in time.

        And this leads into the point I’ve made before…if Christians *actually* think Jewish law still applies to them, they have to reject *all* of Peter’s vision, not just part of it, and, uh, they might want to check how Jewish law works.

        Jewish law isn’t interpreted by reading a verse from the OT. There is literally *thousands* of years of expert Jewish interpretation, and, incidentally, there is *no such thing* a ‘Biblical inerrancy’ in the Jewish world…and you sure as hell can’t go sola scriptura and interpret it *yourself*.

        People can’t decide that ‘Jewish law still applies’ and then, in the same breath, say ‘But of course I reject *the actual way Jewish law has always worked*, with experts interpreting it and enough books written about it to fill a baseball stadium. Instead, I have decided to figure out what Leviticus is saying *myself*, as I, who can’t even read it in the original Hebrew and know nothing about the context at all, will understand it better.’.

        I mean, Christian Protestantism had the ability to say ‘God does not want the Church to work this way’ and not have God show up to disagree with that. But this weird ‘Jewish Protestantism’ that throws out the ‘Jewish church’ in exchange for direct scripture reading…guys, Jesus was *alive* when Jews were reading the law this way. Presumably, if that wasn’t how it was supposed to work, he would have *said something*, instead of, uh, playing along several times when talking to Pharisees.

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        • There was a lot of interest in Judaism in antiquity in the same way that there is interest in Tibetan Buddhism today. The first Gentile Christians were Gentiles that like the ethical monotheism taught by Judaism and maybe even went to synagogue services but did not want to adopt the entire Jewish ritual practice. Early Christianity attracted them for this reason. The more Jewish followers of the early Christians thought they were cheating but Paul saw a market.

          As to interpreting Jewish law, there is a dormant plain text tradition in Judaism. One of the causes of the spat between the Pharisees and the Sadducees concerned whether or not there was to be a plain text reading of the Torah. The Pharisees said no and the Sadducees said yes. During the 9th century, the plain text tradition appeared again in the form of the Karaites, a sect of Jews that rejected the Talmud and argued for plain text interpretation of the Torah.

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          • As to interpreting Jewish law, there is a dormant plain text tradition in Judaism. One of the causes of the spat between the Pharisees and the Sadducees concerned whether or not there was to be a plain text reading of the Torah. The Pharisees said no and the Sadducees said yes. During the 9th century, the plain text tradition appeared again in the form of the Karaites, a sect of Jews that rejected the Talmud and argued for plain text interpretation of the Torah.

            Heh, I’ll admit I didn’t know enough about the history of Judaism to know that. I guess every group that has interpreted their religious text has some guys saying ‘Well, we completely reject that and want to figure it out ourselves’.

            I do know, though, that basically the entire current Jewish religion, from the more conservative to the more liberal side, all agree that the text needs interpreting, and in fact agree with ~90% of the interpretation. If there is some plain text Jewish denomination (Denomination is not the right word, but whatever.) out there currently, I’ve never heard of them.

            And my point is, frankly, if someone is going to say ‘I want to grab those other guy’s religious text(1) and use them with mine!’, they have a duty to at least know how the people who currently use that religious text *actually use* their religious text, and at least consider using it the same way before rejecting that.

            So Christians who want to cite laws from the OT need to, at least, be aware of what those laws were considered to mean and how they worked in Jesus’s time. (After that, I guess they can argue there was a split, sorta like American common law goes back to English common law, but only *before* America declared independence.)

            And please note I’m not saying any specific verse actually mean something else. I don’t know what they mean, because *I* don’t think they apply to me! I just know that sitting there and parsing words is not how the Torah generally works, that all verses there have huge amount of commentary and history with them that Jews use in deciding what they mean. And unlike how it works in the Christian world, this isn’t really a subject of debate, there’s not some group of sola scriptura Baptists out there…everyone agrees that’s how it works.

            Except, as you mention, for a few rebels that have shown up through history. But people can’t jump straight into rebellion without even understanding how the system is supposed to work, or even *knowing* they’re doing it differently. That makes them rather stupid.

            1) And here we run into a weirdness, in that the OT is, technically, already a Christian religious text. But it’s to provide stories and history and context and morality lessons, not Laws. (And, frankly, it actually needs commentary on doing some of *that*, because parts of it are just confusing.)

            People want to throw the Laws into the mix, they have to understand how the Laws *work*, and have *always* worked, instead of just ‘Well, I’ll read them and figure them out myself, herp derp’.

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            • The Karaites were specifically rebelling against the Talmud, which was the standard interpretation at the time (and still is among Orthodox Jews today.) They’re still around, numbering in the tens of thousands today. They differ from other Jews in a number of fairly important ways (e.g. considering Jewish descent to be patrilineal rather than matrilineal), so that there’s been some controversy about whether Karaites count as Jewish under the Law of Return.

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            • Most Jews aren’t aware of Karaites either. The sect formed out of a leadership dispute among the Jews in what we now call Iraq, so there was always an element of lack of religious principle among them.The Karaites were always an extreme minority of the Jewish population and the Holocaust wiped most of them out. There are a couple synagogues in Israel but that’s it. They aren’t that different from Rabbinical Judaism in interpreting Jewlish law. The big difference is that they tend to get less into the extreme interpretations of kashrut. “Don’t cook a calf in it’s own mother’s milk” literally just means that with them, don’t use dairy to cook meat. Otherwise, they don’t have the elaborate rules on how long your supposed to wait between eating meat and diary than Rabbinical Judaism holds to.

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              • The big difference is that they tend to get less into the extreme interpretations of kashrut. “Don’t cook a calf in it’s own mother’s milk” literally just means that with them, don’t use dairy to cook meat. Otherwise, they don’t have the elaborate rules on how long your supposed to wait between eating meat and diary than Rabbinical Judaism holds to.

                Heh. I wonder if *that* interpretation is now set in stone and how they’d react to any Karaites who decided to read that the traditional Jewish way. ;)

                I have this theory about sola scriptura in the Christian world, and I don’t know how much it applies to any other religion, but in the Christian world, my theory is ‘sola scriptura isn’t’.

                All Christian groups have their own interpretation of their scripture, or, at least, specific parts of scripture. (Some times this group is a denomination, sometimes it’s a single church.) And some groups just choose to *not write that interpretation down* and then run around pretending they’re reading the plain text of the scripture.

                Also, I think technically speaking, they *could* use dairy to cook meat. The likelihood of getting beef from the *actual* calf of any of the cows that provided milk is very unlikely. Milk tends to be a lot more local than meat. OTOH, who the hell boils or steams or whatever meat in milk anyway?! In fact, who is cooking cow meat in *any* sort of liquid? What is this madness?!

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    • “God wants the *Israelites* to do the things in chapter 18 and 20 and follow those rules.

      I…am not an Israelite.”

      I see where you’re going, and it’s a valid line of reasoning, but I think it falls down when you consider that the book in question was being written for the Israelites. Saying “well he clearly didn’t mean PROTESTANTS, otherwise he’d have SAID SO” only works if you forget that there wouldn’t be any such thing as a Protestant for the next fifteen centuries.

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      • I see where you’re going, and it’s a valid line of reasoning, but I think it falls down when you consider that the book in question was being written for the Israelites. Saying “well he clearly didn’t mean PROTESTANTS, otherwise he’d have SAID SO” only works if you forget that there wouldn’t be any such thing as a Protestant for the next fifteen centuries.

        Well, yes, but God *could* have said ‘Moses, tell *everyone* that the rules are blah blah blah’.

        In fact, a few of the rules *actually do* explicitly apply to non-Israelites…who are living among the Israelites. (Oddly, Moses was only ordered to tell the Israelites about these rules. Hopefully Moses, or at least someone, went ahead and told the non-Israelites too, because otherwise it seems a bit mean to enforce rules against them they don’t know about.)

        But, anyway, over and over in the OT it’s repeated that these are the laws of the Israelites. Not just in Leviticus. Not once does anyone try to enforce them against other people, except the few rules that explicitly *do* apply to other people.

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  7. Interestingly I have recently read a re-interpretation of what a king’s favorite meant. Many kings had favorites in history, and now there are at least suspicions that at least some of them were same sex relationships. Note that Caligula actually had a same sex marriage as he went further and further off his rocker. (Of course when your the emperor as long as you don’t get the next level down to mad, which Caligula eventually did, leading to leading to his assassination)

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