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The 8th & 9th Reference

08 Mar

[Part #10 in a series looking at the what the Bible says about homosexuality.]

There are only 7 explicit references to homosexuality in the entire Bible. And not one of those references comes in the context of a specific teaching on the topic. Two of the references come in narratives, two are in the context of Old Testament law lists, two are found in general “sin lists” in the Pauline Epistles and one is in the context of an example to really teach a different point.

There are some possible additional references, including one in the Gospels and one in the Book of Acts.

In Matthew 19, in the section where Jesus is teaching about marriage and divorce, he says this:

11Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.

In the ancient world, gay men were often referred to as eunuchs. Not all eunuchs were gay, but this was a known category of eunuchs.  Here, Jesus refers to three kinds of eunuchs — those born that way, those who have been made that way (presumably through castration) and those who choose this way (similar to Paul’s discussion of the gift of celibacy).

Dr. Robert Gagnon, who is one of the leading writers on the Biblical texts about homosexuality and decidedly anti-gay, has written about this passage. He concludes that “born eunuchs” most likely refers to homosexuals. (You can read more about this here). If Gagnon is correct — and the evidence of history is that he is — then this is a fascinating issue. Jesus seems to be saying that some people are born gay. I think the implications of this are significant.

This is not the only reference to eunuchs in the New Testament.  In Acts 8, Luke records:

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship,28and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

 30Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

 31“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

 32The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: 
   “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, 
      and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, 
      so he did not open his mouth. 
 
33In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. 
      Who can speak of his descendants? 
      For his life was taken from the earth.”

 34The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

 36As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” 38And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Now we can’t say conclusively that the Ethiopian Eunuch was a gay man. It is a distinct possibility based on what we know of eunuchs in the ancient world, but not a surety. Was is sure is that — gay or not — the eunuch was a sexual minority unable to marry and fulfill God’s creative plan for marriage and reproduction. 

So this possibly gay (but definitely a sexual minority) man is reading Isaiah and Philip comes and explains the Gospel to him and he accepts Christ and asks this question: Is there any reason I should not be baptized?

In other words, is there anything that would keep me from Jesus and the Kingdom?

You see, eunuchs held a special place in society (they were considered “safe” around women and therefore were used to care for women of high status. (This makes sense — a gay man is pretty “safe” around women).   But they were also used to being on the outside, treated as “other”. And so this eunuch wonders, “Is this Jesus for me too?”

Philip, of course, knows that the answer is YES!  Not just because he knows the heart of Jesus, but because he has read the whole book of Isaiah.  The eunuch is reading in Isaiah 53 — the quintessential passage about Jesus!  But if you keep reading, you get to Isaiah 56:

4 For this is what the LORD says: 
       “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, 
       who choose what pleases me 
       and hold fast to my covenant-

 5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls 
       a memorial and a name 
       better than sons and daughters; 
       I will give them an everlasting name 
       that will not be cut off.

This is remarkable! Not only is there a place for sexual minorities in the Kingdom of God — apparently there is a special place!  This should come as GOOD NEWS for all gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer and inter-sexed people everywhere!

Of course, to those of us who dwell in and live in the scriptures, this comes as no surprise — for we know the heart of God. And the heart of God, as as incarnated in Jesus, is obsessively in love with the least, last, lost, lonely, left out, and forlorn. While Jesus loves all people, he seems to have a special place in his heart — and apparently his Kingdom — for the “other”.

So here is what I take from this: if you are an LGBTQI (or any other sexual minority), God loves you. He loves you and desires that you know him — personally and intimately.  You are invited to the GREAT BANQUET and there is a special seat set just for you.  While others may want to cast you out, demean you, abuse you and dehumanize you — Jesus
says COME!  No strings, no catch, no games. 

The Ethiopian Eunuch asked a question that I know many LGBTQI’s have asked — “is there anything keeping me from Jesus?”

Sadly, for many, the answer is yes — many things keep them from Jesus… closed churches, modern day pharisees, and his misguided followers.  But Jesus says COME! Come as you are… come now… come to the table and eat with me.

And so the real answer is the answer that Philip gave: No… nothing should hold you back.  Come and follow… come and worship… come and be baptized (which is a powerful symbol not just of salvation, but of full and public acceptance into the family of God, the church!)

So the word for LGBTQI’s is a GOOD WORD… good news indeed!

BUT… with that GOOD NEWS comes a new perspective on life… an new focus… a new center.

Jesus — the one who says come, the one who died that you and I (and all people) may have life — is worthy of our worship and our very lives.  The Apostle Paul, having laid out the foundations of the gospel and hope in Christ in the the first 11 chapters of his letter to the Romans, now declares:

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 

This is a high calling… and a calling for every follower of Jesus — to worship with our very lives!

And so I think that this is the question for all LGBTQI folks who are followers of Jesus — how do we follow Jesus with integrity and wholeness and shalom, in our lives and in our relationships?

In many respects, this is the journey I am on and am sharing on this blog. One of my great fears for my LGBTQI brothers and sisters is that due to the extremes in today’s church, we are either condemned and judged and dehumanized (by the conservative church) or so welcomed and affirmed and celebrated (by the liberal church), that we are never challenged to think critically and prayerfully about how to follow Jesus with integrity.

Integrity comes from the root word integer, meaning whole. How do we become whole and healthy followers of Jesus? What mentors do we have to show us the way? What pitfalls do we need to be warned about? 

These are questions I am becoming increasingly interested in and committed to answering. I hope this blog will be a place where those kinds of questions can be asked, discussed and ultimately answered.

But more than anything, here this good news for you: Jesus says COME!

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1 Comment

Posted by on March 8, 2010 in Bible, Bible & Homosexuality, Uncategorized

 

Tags: ,

One response to “The 8th & 9th Reference

  1. Allison

    March 8, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    <p>Thanks Ben…the last part of my remark was more than a little snarky (both in delivery and intent), though, so I felt it needed some softening :)</p><p>Also, Bruce, I think it’s important that *any* perspective on the issue refrains from thinking of LGBTQI’s as examples of "mistakes" God may have made. For example, children are born all around the world every day with birth defects and genetic syndromes through no fault of their own or their parents’, but we would neither condemn them nor blame God for the fact that they don’t quite fit into the ideal design. Just a thought…</p>

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