Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy. A Book Discussion. (Index here)
Part IV: Addressing the Issues (Hermeneutical and Cultural Perspectives)
Chapter 23 – Gender Equality and Homosexuality. William J. Webb.
This essay is really a continuation of the previous essay on the redemptive-movement hermeneutic, focusing specifically on the issue of homosexuality. Webb leads off his essay with:
When Christians discuss the issue of gender equality, often someone will ask, ‘Doesn’t acceptance of egalitarianism logically lead to acceptance of homosexuality?’” (401)
As Webb observes in his first footnote, many patriarchalists fear a blurring of gender distinctions and acceptance of a homosexual lifestyle. Webb argues that the hermeneutic does not led in this direction. He lists six biblical and theological reasons why this is so.
The Core Value of Gender Boundaries
Webb notes that:
There have been recent attempts to reduce the issue to a lack of lifelong covenant relationships (thus making covenant homosexuality acceptable today), but this is not the fundamental problem with homosexuality for the biblical authors. Rather, the biblical concern regarding same-sex sexuality is that Scripture proclaims that in creating humankind in God’s own image, god created them “male and female” (Gen 1:27). In Genesis 2 this is reinforced in terms of God’s having made men and women for each other. God did not make men for men, nor did he make women for women. (402-403)
Webb turns his attention three biblical passages.
Webb places this strong prohibition against homosexual acts within the context of the prohibitions preceding it and following it, in the following manner:
Incest ( Lev 18:6-18 heterosexual intercourse
Menstruation (Lev 18:19) heterosexual intercourse
Adultery (Lev 18:20) heterosexual intercourse
sacrifice of children to Molech (Lev 18:21)
homosexuality (Lev 18:22) nonheterosexual intercourse
bestiality (Lev 18:23) nonheterosexual intercourse
The Leviticus 18:22 prohibition is often argued to be irrelevant to present circumstances because of its proximity to the child sacrifice prohibition. This links it to pagan cult worship. It does not apply to committed same-sex relationships. While not untenable, Webb sees a more plausible explanation for the arrangement of the prohibitions. The law is dealing first with improper heterosexual behavior (18-20) which includes the birthing of children and sacrifice to Molech. The last two round out the prohibitions by precluding all nonheterosexual behavior. Webb believes this passage is about appropriate sexual boundaries.
This passage is a prohibition against cross-dressing. Webb observes that while gender distinctions in clothing change over time and across culture, this passage indicates that gender distinctions are to be made. Webb also writes:
Many Old Testament scholars reagard this text as a prohibition against not only transvestite activity (dressing and acting like the opposite sex) but also the primary forum in which it is expressed, homosexuality. (406)
Some homosexuality advocates attempt to define unnatural as something against one’s sexual orientation and to reduce Paul’s concerns about homosexuality to strictly idolatry-related or lust-related problems. These attempts, however, have not been convincing and seem to reflect a radical misunderstanding of the discourse of Romans 1:18-32. (406)
He writes that in 1:18-20, pagans have knowledge from creation of what the world is to be like. Verses 21-23 talk of turning away from the Creator to worship creation. In verses 24-27, Paul identifies homosexual acts as the most vivid example of this rejection of God. In verses 28-32, Paul rebukes this rejection of God and then adds a list of other sins that come from rejecting God. This is not about homosexual temple prostitution. Webb also notes that the specific inclusion of lesbian acts shows a broad proscription of same-sex acts.
Webb rejects the idea that these passages are dealing with lack of covenant between same-sex partners. “The deepest issue for he biblical authors is a breaking of sexual boundaries that violates obvious components of male-and-female creation design.” (407)
Direction of Redemptive Movement
Webb points out that unlike the slavery and women’s issue discussed in the previous essay, the treatment of homosexual behavior is a trajectory toward greater restriction and prohibition of theses sexual acts.
The Vice/Virtue Lists and the Penal Codes
Webb points to the use the word arsenokoites of penal codes given in 1 Cor 6:9-10 and 1 Tim 1:9-10.
The word literally means “a male who goes to bed [has sexual intercourse] with males” and in all likelihood was derived intentionally by the apostle from the Septuagint translation of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. (408)
He goes on to note a distinction between the issue and the issue of women:
Women serving in leadership roles is simply narrated (Judg 4-5; 2 Kings 22:11-20), and in one case it is forbidden (1 Tim 2:12), but it certainly never receives this sort of death-penalty or vice-list censure. (409)
The Lack of Canonical Variance
While there seems to be variance about the treatment of slaves and women the is no canonical variance concerning homosexual acts.
Different Purpose Statements
…These subordination texts [slaves and women] are purpose-driven by a passion to make one’s behavior attractive to society. On the other hand, the purpose statements related to the homosexuality prohibitions reveal a concern to make one’s behavior distinct from the broader social setting (Lev 18:3; 1 Cor 6:9-10; see also Lev 18:24-30; 20-22-24).
With the texts pertaining to slaves and women, one may retain the purpose meaning by rethinking the actual behavior in the modern context; with the homosexuality texts, one may retain the purpose meaning only by staying with the same behavior. (410)
The counter-cultural nature of the homosexual prohibitions increases the likelihood that they raise transcultural concerns.
Different Pragmatic Clues
Webb identifies three pragmatic issues against homosexual behavior. He elaborates on them in footnote 20:
(1) Sexual-intercourse design: the creative architecture of male and female sexuality with its part-and-counterpart configuration argues against same-sex relationship. Two males or two females can function sexually; they can produce sexual arousal and climax, but not in a way that utilizes the natural, complementary design of body parts.
(2) Reproductive design: the mutually completing contribution of male-and-female chromosomes, the egg and sperm, and so on argues against gay and lesbian relationships.
(3) Nuturing design: the physical design of female breasts, their function of nuturing and comforting infants, and the benefits of breast milk for a strengthened immune system argue for heterosexual relationships (and against homosexual relationships) in which the mother can breastfeed her children. (412)
Webb adds a fourth reason in the text, which is the benefit children receive from the complementary role modeling of male and female parents.
Webb notes that some of the strongest research and argumentation for hetero-sexual only relationships comes from egalitarian leaders. The idea that egalitarianism logically leads to normalizing homosexual behavior is erroneous. The answer to his opening question is no.
This post is a summary of an essay that is in turn a summary of the presentation made in his book. Nevertheless, this post hopefully enlarges on the previous post in how he works through the redemptive movement hermeneutic on this controversial topic.
William J. Webb received his Ph.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister with the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists in Canada and currently serves as professor of New Testament at Heritage Seminary (Cambridge, Ontario). His writings include Returning Home: New Covenant and Second Exodus as the Context for 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1l; Slaves Women and Homosexuals; and several articles in journals. Bill, his wife, Marilyn, and their three children live in Waterloo, Ontario.
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