From the ASA LISTSERV recently: The issue centered around whether the apostle Paul was aware of non-ritual homosexual acts. George said yes; Bob responded (below):


George writes:


> I think it's plausible that Paul (& his contemporaries) did not have anything like our modern understanding of sexual orientation.  But it seems very unlikely that he wasn't aware that homosexual activity sometimes took place outside settings of pagan ritual..>


I've kept silent during this latest round of notes on the topic, but

George's comment spurs me to jump in.  What follows is based on my reading

of ancient literature and studies back during my long life as a classicist.

I think it is more than likely that Paul and contemporaries had nothing like

our modern understanding of sexual orientation.  Ancient Greco-Roman society

was built upon the structure of the family, and every male (certainly the

first-born) was expected to marry and provide offspring to perpetuate the

family and the state.  Since men, around 30, were married (in arranged

unions) to women half their age, it was not uncommon for young men of the

upper classes in Greece to established erotic relationships with other males

to provide the emotional bonding that was impossible with respectable women

outside of marriage, before they married; but any sexual component was

temporary.  While I find it hard to believe that there were not men and

women who had what we call a homosexual orientation (they did not have a

term for it) they still would have been expected to marry; while there may

have been same-sex long term liaisons, such do not turn up in the literature

of ancient Greece and Rome.  Among the Romans, sexual activity among persons

of the same gender appear even more temporary and more of a promiscuous than

a bonding nature, if the literature is any indication.  But one of the

problems here is that Greek and Roman literature rarely describes life among

the lower classes.  We don't have enough of a "spread" to make clear

decisions about it.


    When I read Paul's description of lustful "homosexual" behavior in

Romans 1, I think more of the behavior of upper-class Romans at their

orgies; in our language, heterosexuals indulging in homosexual behavior.

Other references by Paul in Corinthians, etc., seem to me to refer to male

prostitution.  While the interpretation of these passages continue to be

arguable (as is evident from this recent list discussion), I would contend

that given the conditions in the pagan societies of Paul's day, I am not

convinced that any passage referring to same-sex behavior in the NT, or the

OT for that matter, has anything to do with the phenomenon of our day:

public same-sex long-term, monogamous, faithful partnerships that have more

to do with relationship than sexuality.  I think the church needs to face up

to this matter and address it in a thoughtful and charitable way, rather

than merely condemning it.  And in my mind that means the church needs to

come to terms with centuries of unhealthy attitudes and practices regarding

human sexuality as a whole, beginning with the exaltation of celibacy during

the early period, and recurring attitudes that in some way sex is dirty and

sex in marriage is primarily for procreation.  We Christians have not done a

good job with opposite-sex unions, let alone same-sex, and we cannot

effectively address the latter until we finally deal adequately with the



    While I'm at it, let me comment on this sudden spate of activity to pass

legislation to define marriage as a union of a man with a women.  The

proponents claim that the purpose of such acts is "to defend marriage."

How, I ask, would such legislation "defend marriage"?  I am puzzled and

would appreciate any thoughts about it.  Marriage needs to be defended in

our day, but not from same-sex unions.  We have an epidemic of divorce,

broken homes, spousal abuse and the abuse of children within the marriage,

patriarchal marriages that fail to keep Paul's dictum to "be mutually

submissive one to another" (Eph. 5:21).  There are better ways to defend

marriage, and they need to be done on the local, church community level.


Grace and peace,

Bob Schneider