Sexual Ethics of the New Covenant

By Thomas Carson Ziegert

“Through the study of sacred texts, I maintain contact with the spiritual tradition, with a seeking and finding of those who have gone before.  These texts allow me to return to times of deeper spiritual insight than my own, to recollect truths that my culture obscures, to have companions on the spiritual journey who, though long dead, may be more alive spiritually than many who are with me now.  In such study my heart and mind are reformed by the steady press of tradition against the distortions of my day.”[1]

Contextual Location and Goal:

       What is God’s law written on our hearts if not a New Testament formula for ethics?  If the Torah is a moral code, just as is Justinian’s Code, what does Jesus do when he confronts those laws and by what authority do we Christians concede to his personal litmus test determining whether those laws should be followed as codified or reinterpreted?  It is difficult not to bump around in the environment of ethics when we meander down the twisting and turning roads that zigzag through the new covenant.  What I determine to be this ethos may not be one that everyone will agree upon.  This is not a detriment to my findings for my direction is set by my own context—and everyone has a context.  My context is one of a sexual minority, falling in the non-heterosexual category, oppressed and castigated for whom I have loved.  Is there an agenda?  Yes.  My agenda is to show how I have been liberated from the oppression of a Moral code that is antiquated and debilitating; and, that code is debilitating not only to me and to others like me, but debilitating to women, children, the poor, the alien, and all the “others” in our world.  My agenda is to engage the way in which God liberates God’s self from the chains of being recreated in the image of man.  The Bible documents an environment where God not only seeks my liberation but God’s own, as well. 

       In my socio-political environment, because I am not heterosexual—and have been oppressed for it—my identity becomes bound to my attraction to people of my own gender.  If I were not white, that identity would be bound to the state of my color.  If I were female, that identity would be bound to the state of my gender itself.  This bondage of identity is a result of being marginalized from the center of power in our world.  This is not to suggest that our identities are not intimately and profusely linked to being male, white, and heterosexual.  What I do suggest is that being bound and being linked are two distinct relationships with our self-identification processes.  The awareness of being marginalized has spawned the development of various theological encounters with the Holy, particularly within Christianity.  These theological alternative views include, but are not limited to:  Liberation, Process, Womanist, Feminist, Mujerista, and my personal theological view, Eunoeo theology—a theology of “well being.”  Because sexuality is a link of bondage for me and those like me, this paper will specifically explore the regions of sexual ethics, as can be traversed, in the New Testament.  I cannot make a claim that a sexual ethic is addressed directly by Jesus; but that is not to say that a sexual ethic cannot be extracted with faithfulness from Jesus’ words and deeds as presented in the gospel accounts, and from the ethic he portrays.  This is my hope: To present a case that a sexual ethic is implied in the gospels and Paul’s letters, and to determine what that sexual ethic is. 

       My foremost premise is that God is a liberating God.  Jesus’ ministry was one of liberating God’s people from all forms of bondage, whether that bondage was to sin, poverty, sickness, demonic-possession, a political-cultural system of oppression, or to any heartless interpretation of the Torah.  The kin-dom of God would be one of liberation, or at the very least, one where God was present to offer us spiritual liberation in the midst of our physical bondage.

Come to Fulfill The Law?

       As I read Stephen Sapp’s rendition of the New Testament’s impact on the development of the Old Testament’s laws on sexuality, I faced the realization of an assumption that many of us make about the New Testament; and, Sapp says this in a footnote: “…What is important to us is the recognition that much of what the Old Testament said about sexuality… would have been accepted and assumed by the actors and authors of the New Testament.” [2]   Sapp further aggravates this presumptuous statement with a follow up conclusion, remarking on Matthew 5.17: [3] “A great deal has been written on the meaning of ‘fulfill’ in this passage—and even more on Jesus’ attitude toward the Jewish law—but the overwhelming consensus is that he did not reject the law but reaffirmed it, although in a way which in fact transformed it because of the authority he claimed.”[4]

       I argue against our ability to make a blanket statement that Jesus reaffirmed the law.  It is quite true that much has been written on Jesus’s meaning when Matthew used the word πληρῶσαι (play-row-sai), translated “to fulfill” in most Bible translations. Equally true is that it has been read rather literally as “to fulfill.”  However, there is far more depth to the word from which πληρῶσαι is derived:  πληρόω.  In context, it means that “I, Jesus, have come to pay the law its full due, make it good, make up the full meaning of the law, render the aggregate of properties which constitute the complete nature of the law.”[5]  In other words, Jesus, is going to make the law sing to us, to let it be that which God had hoped it might be for us, like the Sabbath—not that for which we were created, but that which was created for us—to set us free.

       For us to make the assumption that the Torah’s laws addressing sexual behavior were “accepted and assumed by the authors of the New Testament,” as Stephen Sapp assumes is to err.  Just because the New Testament writers were “relatively silent on the topic”[6] as Sapp points out, does not give us leave to make the assumption that they either accepted or assumed the Torah’s authority regarding sexual behavior in their time.  The Torah was written centuries earlier, in a far-removed cultural setting.  The New Testament writers were influenced more by a powerful Greek influence on a vast Roman Empire with far more cosmopolitan and tolerant attitudes toward sexual behavior than were ever considered by the Priests and Scribes who put the Torah to pen in a xenophobic period of exile.

Romans 1:

       For me to assume that there was some ancient understanding of sexual orientation would be to take one step too far, as well.  There is no evidence that the ancient mind considered such a concept or that such a concept was put to pen.  Our New Testament writers’ statements regarding sexual behavior—not sexual orientation[7]—are mostly concentrated in those writings attributed to Paul of Tarsus.  To our advantage is this contemporary distinction between sexual behavior and sexual orientation that allows us to look back to the world of antiquity from our comfortable contemporary environment and take a more critical look at what was on Paul’s mind and seek the ethical premise on which he reliesSo, I would like to explore the results of this distinction for a moment.

lexicographers far more capable than I, regarding what Paul had in mind when he used the word, ἅrsenες (ar-sen-es) in Romans 1.27.  John Boswell prefers to accent one of the uses of this word as “male prostitute[8].” James E. Meier prefers to accent another meaning of this word, its usage as referring to “men having sex with boys.”[9]  I will let the ambiguity of the Greek word stand as Paul let it stand, and read it to mean sex between men and men, or men and boys, or boys and boys. Given the first century environment, I don’t see that such nuance holds any relevance for us any more than for the first century reader.

       I would rather consider the greater context of Paul’s environment and Paul’s motivation as one whereby he was giving instruction on Jesus’ ethic.  Sapp paraphrases Rudolph Schnackenburg explaining Jesus’ ethic as, “Jesus re-laid the foundation of ethics, as such, by making the moral value of an act dependent on the inner motivation of the heart.  The external act is of course important, but only insofar as it is the fruit of the internal disposition (cf. Lk.6.45; also Mt.15.17-20).”[10]   Paul lived in a world where the primary use of sex was not in response to a romantic impulse of love.  Paul lived in a setting where men were taught to have ambition, to compete, to degrade their competitors, but above all else to gain power and shape the empire.  A man was measured by his power.  Sex was a means to an end.  By its nature,[11] in first century Rome, sex was, overwhelmingly, an engagement in an unequal power relationship.  It was power of a male over a female, and in cases of ἅrsην it was power of one male over another male, which for Paul was even more degrading of spirit, than when engaged in between people of different genders.  In the Hebrew Texts of the Bible, the male rape stories of Sodom (Genesis 19.1-28) and of Gibeah (Judges 19.14-21.2) are egregious crimes of attempted degradation of a man by another man (or men)—the seeking of creating a self-image of being powerful by degrading another human being.  Romans 1.27 reads:

“ὁμοίως τε καὶ οἱ ἄρσενες ἀφέντες τὴν φυσικὴν χρῆσιν τῆς θηλείας ἐξεκαύθησαν ἐν τῇ ὀρέξει αὐτῶν εἰς ἀλλήλους, ἄρσενες ἐν ἄρσεσιν τὴν ἀσχημοσύνην κατεργαζόμενοι καὶ τὴν ἀντιμισθίαν ἣν ἔδει τῆς πλάνης αὐτῶν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς ἀπολαμβάνοντες.” 

       This I translate as, “And likewise also the males having left the natural function of the female burned in their craving, ὀρέξει,[12] toward one another, males with males and the indecent engagement and the retribution which God hated.”  The male burned in his appetite for another male, that of indecently engaging in retribution, which God hated.  The larger passage explains that the wicked gave up God for idols; God therefore gave them up to degrading appetites.  Women and men gave up their natural[13] behavior for unnatural behavior.  So people set themselves up as better than others by exerting their power over others sexually and by other means.  Paul continues, “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others;” (Rom. 2.1a).  And set yourselves up as better than them, (which is how I read the meaning of Romans 2.1b):  “for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”

       This reading of Romans 1 observes Paul’s concern with the human propensity to gain power over others.  Paul will, throughout his letters, continue to stress the importance of the Christian community being egalitarian, “neither slave nor free, neither Jew nor Gentile.”  Neither should we set ourselves above others, excluding some from the community feast, some getting better seats and food and drink than others.  In the community that Paul was concerned with enlivening, one did not enslave another, one did not belittle or degrade another; neither did one use one’s position of power to gain even more power over another.  Paul was concerned with communal relationships and the balance of power, or a balanced use of the power one had.  In a world where sex was directly tied to an imbalance of power, Paul recommended against sex unless it was already part of your marital relationship.

       I would speculate that in a different time and different cultural context, one where the personal achievement of power was less stressed, Paul might have an entirely different perspective of sexual behavior. 

The Love Connection; Matthew 8.5-13, Luke 7.1-10, John 4.46-53:

       What is the case when one’s behavior models mutuality and love in the sexual relationship over the inherent power imbalance?  I believe we can examine Matthew’s story of the Centurion and his adopted kindred, his παῖς.[14]  The story of the Centurion and his pais is very popular.  As a Roman Catholic child I remember an adaptation of the Centurion’s words being used as a response during the Eucharist celebration, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, speak but the word and my soul[15] will be healed.” 

       The story is told in two more gospels, Luke 7.1-10, and John 4.46-53. Luke describes the Centurion’s concern to be for his slave (δοῦλος) with an illness, who was held in esteem (ἒντιμος) by the Centurion.  John tells of a royal official (Βασιλικός) whose son (υιός) was ill.  All three gospels reflect a relationship that was unusual.  This was no regular servant, for Luke, but one whom the Centurion esteemed.[16]  The sense that comes out in this pericope is one of love, of what is honored in one’s sight.  This Centurion has acknowledged Jesus’ power over him and his household.  He has behaved in contrast to all that the culture has taught him, he has metaphorically prostrated himself before another of lesser social standing; all this is in his concern for this servant whom he ends up calling his παῖς, “pais,” in verse 7, saying, “Therefore, though I am not worthy to come to you, just say the word, and let him be healed, my pais.” 

       John recognizes the relationship to have been a close one and identifies the royal official’s concern to be that of a father for a son.  By viewing the three gospels, by seeing the unique relationship between the two people whom Jesus serves by his healing grace, we must gather the meaning of love between the two.  Our inductive observation would be that these two had no blood relation but were joined in love, whatever may have been the observable demonstration of that love.  Finally, all three writers have Jesus give forth his blessing.  The young man-honored servant-son-adopted kindred was healed.  “Never, among all in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 7.9) This Centurion, contrary to those about whom Paul was speaking in Romans 1, has not put idols above God.  He has not placed himself judge over others.  Whatever went on in their relationship, this Centurion has placed himself at the mercy of Jesus by his faith, which has come about by his love for another, whose status has been increased by his relationship with the Centurion, not diminished.  Faith and equanimity of relationship are tied in together in these examples both from Romans 1, and from the gospel accounts.

       This use of pais, in Matthew’s account of the event, is, for me, a first century way of explaining that these two males were joined as lovers, as well as friends.  John Boswell’s work has uncovered the Roman practice whereby Roman citizens adopted same-gender lovers in the place of marriage.[17]  Jesus healing the adopted kindred—as I like to call him—for the Centurion, who feels in some way, unworthy for Jesus to enter his house (Is this because of his socially unaccepted love?),[18] and acclaiming his faith, is a gesture of blessing.  How much more faith would it take if the Centurion was also exposing himself to ridicule and recrimination by claiming this relationship to his lover, in what may have been an obvious interpretation in the first century of his use of the word pais?  In light of Matthew’s “Eunuch” passage,[19] this additional passage referring to same-gender love relationships gives Matthew the unique distinction of being the only gospel where Jesus engages the subject of—as we might call it today—homosexuality, not once but at least twice.[20]

Jesus’ Ethic:

       It is my observation that Jesus’ ethic was simple and one not able to be scientifically categorized far beyond its categorical imperative, which was Agape: “Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”[21]  For Jesus, in a morally ambiguous world, ethics was moral reflection.  The ambiguity lay in application of the rule of law in an oppressive world of contrasting and conflicting cultural moral codes: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” (Mt.22.17b.)  “Render to the emperor that which is the emperor’s and to God that which is God’s.” (Mt.22.21b.)  That moral reflection, Jesus’ ethic, was relational[22] and not systematic.  James B. Nelson says, “Moral life is responsive life.  It is life lived in response to other beings under God. Thus, because relationships (not ideals or norms) are the primary ‘stuff’ of ethics, we must inquire into the meaning of a person’s moral communities…” For Jesus, ethics was a matter of praxis in the midst of an encounter with either another human being in a setting of moral conflict, or one on one with a moral dilemma.  Examples of this ethic are numerous—as in Jesus and his disciples picking from the fields their food on the Sabbath (Mt.12.1-8), healing on the Sabbath (Mt.12.9-14), Jesus’ instructions to someone who would be asked to carry a soldier’s pack one mile, to carry it two and thereby threaten the soldier with punishment (Mt.5.41)[23], if someone wants to sue you for your coat, give him your cloak too, thereby confronting the injustice of the suit and becoming naked and embarrassing the complainant, and perhaps the system of judgment itself (Mt.5.40).  The goal is behavior that generates as much reflection by others as it took the person who completed his/her reflection by the action.

       Associate Professor Garth Kasimu Baker-Fletcher recounts that Professor Peter Paris’ describes that Christian ethics is predominantly concerned with explicating Jesus’ ethic centered on Agape.[24]  It is Professor Preston Williams, according to Professor Baker-Fletcher who insisted that one ought to understand ethics as being individual factors of moral deliberation, preference, and desire wedded to social considerations of human rights, theories of justice, and intent toward praxis.[25]  Not only do the above observations support this theory of Christian ethics, but also they reflect Jesus’ very own ethical construct.

       As I suggest on page three of this document, Jesus saw his ethical praxis to be one that gave life to a Torah that was being adjudicated as if lifeless.  Jesus’ statement that the Sabbath was made for people and not people for the Sabbath (Mk.2.27) further reflects Jesus ethical construct that the laws (i.e. Torah, moral, and legal codes) were subject to individual scrutiny and interpretation, by the acting agent, depending on the situation.  This becomes messy when a systematic approach is applied.  Paul of Tarsus finds this out as he tries to explain his attempts to spread this good news to prospective Christians in his day.  One’s right to scrutinize and interpret the law was contingent with understanding its spirit.  Paul says in Romans 8.2, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.”  Paul, himself, was a follower of the law and says, in Philippians 3.6 that he was “under the law, blameless.”  But, in the face of injustice of his former persecution of Christian Jews, his achievements under that law were “shit”[26] [Phil.3.8 σκύβαλα (skubala)].  Paul was not attempting to do away with the law, as the Gnostics of his day understood.  Rather, Paul was trying to explain the greater meaning of the law being one of faith, not merely belief, in God.  Jesus Christ was true to the law by exemplifying that faith, thus in Jesus Christ the law was given the breath of life.  Our faith in Jesus Christ will allow us the faith of Jesus Christ, and to accept that living law into our hearts, not merely strive to live under the lifeless law that exists outside Jesus Christ.

Power Relationships In Christ’s ethic:

       “Immediately aware that power had gone from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’”  This passage from Mark 5.21-43 is a touchstone for Jesus’ ethic of power.  Whether you are a marginalized woman who cannot outright approach Jesus or the important man Jairus, Jesus observes both with equal status and intricately bound together by need in a system that does not meet either’s needs.  Without the healing of one the healing of the ύother cannot be attained according to Jesus.  He sees the necessity of the power balance in human relationships in order to have our needs met.[27]  This power emanates forth from God, and from God’s son, Jesus Christ.  It is the good news of the kin-dom of God. 

       This power from God is inherent even in the humblest, the meekest, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst, the peacemakers, and the persecuted.  Earlier, I gave examples of praxis in the directives to carry a soldier’s pack further than lawful and to leave an unjust adjudication naked.  These were demonstrations of the power of those who might be considered powerless.  The bleeding woman in Mark 5.21-43 is an example of the unseen but important power of those whom we consider powerless; for healing of the apparently powerful requires the healing of the apparently powerless.

       We observe this power-sharing antithesis in the Centurion’s story in Matthew 8.5-13.  Here, a Centurion, a man with apparent power, humbles himself before a non-Roman citizen, a peasant, Jesus.  He acknowledges his powerlessness and shares the powerlessness of his pais.  Likewise Jairus does this with his daughter; and Jesus takes Jairus one-step further by connecting Jairus’ powerless state with that of the bleeding woman of Mark 5.21-43.  Their power is engaged by their faith and Jesus’ intervention in overwhelming situations that seemingly pronounce our human powerlessness.  There is an underlying sense of mutuality in powerlessness in these demonstrations of where our “real” power comes from; and, there is mutuality in the divine empowerment.

       Paul knows the importance of knowing what power is, from whom it comes, and the importance of using it for the empowerment of others; and, how important it is not to use one’s power to diminish the power others have over themselves.  This was inherent in my reading of Romans 1, earlier.  Paul also understands the importance of mutuality, which is an important component in his Christian communities, and all the relationships therein.

Relational Ethics:

       For the most part, the behavioral ethic that stems from Jesus in the gospels, and Paul’s interpretation of Jesus, is about relationships.  Whether Jesus remarks about divorce (Mt.19.9, Mk.10.11-12), tells a woman caught in adultery that she is forgiven, “go and sin no more,” (Jn.8.11), or asks Simon Peter, “ἀγαπᾷς me?” (Jn. 21.15 & 16) Jesus is interested in the power exchange in personal relationships, what is taken as well as what is given away, as much as what is shared.  

       A man divorcing a woman renders her powerless, open to poverty, and relinquished to tenuous circumstances where she may have to further tender her power to others for survival.  A woman in adultery gives up her power over herself and relinquishes herself to communal judgment, and the possibility of reprisal from the man/men with whom she engages in her affair.

Jesus asks Simon Peter, “Do you love me with your whole heart, and soul, and mind, as you do yourself, as God loves us?”  (Agapas me?)  “Like a brother,” (philo se) answers Simon Peter (Jn. 21.15).  Jesus points out to Simon Peter that when he was young, he relied on others, when he gets old, he will again rely on others (Jn. 21.19).  Amid reliance on others, who appear to be more powerful, Simon Peter should follow Jesus.  (Some would say to the cross.)  I suggest, Jesus is telling Simon Peter to follow him in agape, from where one’s true power emanates.

       In an admittedly very difficult and confusing text, 1 Corinthians 11.1-16, Paul reflects his concern for mutuality, and mutual respect in relationships, even though it has been read as women being subject to their husbands.[28]  Paul stresses man comes from woman as much as woman from man.  Paul’s concern in this misunderstood text is not just women uncovering their heads but men covering theirs.  Paul’s position seems more in line with not taking power, but rather obtaining it in Jesus Christ.  Though Robin Scroggs argues for Paul’s concern with origins not superiority or inferiority, he also presses Paul’s position regarding the hierarchy as “head” equaling “servant to,” much as Jesus was servant to man, so husband is to serve wife.[29]  Respect, for Paul, is not usurping one’s power but living in our power in Christ, and honoring one another in our relationships.  Agapas me?  Do you love me with your whole heart, soul, and mind?  Will you share with me your power, support and nurture me all the days of your life?  Love me as you love yourself?  One may not take away another’s power over one’s self.  For Paul, this 1st Corinthians text seems more to support an anti-revolutionary stand than one in support of an unshared power hierarchy.  Paul seems to be saying don’t do anything to antagonize each other by challenging their power.  Instead, find your power in Christ Jesus.

1st Century Christ-Initiated Sexual Ethics:

       The most prominent place that I find Jesus mentioning anything regarding a sexual ethic is in Matthew 19.11-12, following a pericope on divorce.  Because I have done exegetical work on this passage,[30] I will cover some basic support material and reference the greater body of work.  The passage reads,

But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”

       Eunuchs, from the 5th century BCE, at least, through the 2nd century CE could be considered in three groups, those whom were engaged in genital relationships within their own gender or merely repulsed by the idea of genital relationships with the opposite gender, those who had been castrated, and those who were celibate.  This is supported by material by Aristophanes,[31] in the 5th century BCE, and by followers of Basilides in an exegesis referred to by Clement of Alexandria.[32]  This being the case, Jesus’ statement, “Let anyone accept this who can,” becomes a compelling entreaty for acceptance of same-gender sexual behavior for those whom this behavior is “natural.”[33]  Therefore, for 1st century CE society, Jesus has suggested the following relational behavior:  If you are married, do not divorce.  If you are inclined to same-gender sexual behavior go ahead.  If you are castrated, so be it.  To choose celibacy, is good too. 

       There is no admonition against sexual behavior outside of marriage, per se, that is until we get to Paul in 1 Corinthians 7.1-2, where Paul says, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is well for a man not to touch a woman.’ But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.”  Here there is still no obvious admonition against sexual behavior outside wedlock, but there is a caution that dedication to one partner in marriage will help to alleviate the temptation for πορνειας, (porneias — idolatry, prostitution, fornication).[34]  The reference support for using the definition of fornication for porneias is not substantial so I will relinquish it to second level importance.  Actually, the reference support for idolatry and prostitution is far more substantial.  I think the use of these two words brings us to a much more theologically interesting place.  One’s concentrated focus on worldly obsessions and desires is idolatry.  That would be the worship of gods and powers over or equal to that of God.  This would be giving one’s power over to these other things, whereas in God one derives one’s power.  All power extends from God.  Giving oneself over to the power of another, or to desires, or to worldly things is idolatry.  Fornication can be included in this arena of idolatry, if fornication, itself, becomes a focus of one’s attention over God, or if the power relationships in the sexual activity are imbalanced, as mentioned in regards to Romans 1.  To use fornication as the only definition of porneias is to lose the overriding meaning of the word and Paul’s concern in this passage.

       That’s about it for Jesus’ attention to sexual behavior.  There is still one important place left to explore for its mention in regard to its prohibition against same-gender sexual behavior.  That is 1 Corinthians 6.1-11.  This passage begins with Paul instructing those in Christian community to settle their disputes within the community and not take their affairs to the civil authorities.  In fact to have any disputes at all is to suffer defeat.  But to be wrongdoers and claim to be believers in Jesus Christ, what are you thinking?  You will not inherit God’s kin-dom.  Paul makes a list of the kinds of wrongdoers members of the community were before they were cleansed by their faith:  

ἢ οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι ἄδικοι Θεοῦ βασιλείαν οὐ κληρονομήσουσιν; μὴ πλανᾶσθε· οὔτε πόρνοι οὔτε εἰδωλολάτραι οὔτε μοιχοὶ οὔτε μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται οὔτε κλέπται οὔτε πλεονέκται, οὐ μέθυσοι, οὐ λοίδοροι, οὐχ ἅρπαγες βασιλείαν Θεοῦ κληρονομήσουσιν. (Neither idolatrous fornicators (πόρνοι), nor idol worshipers (εἰδωλολάτραι), nor adulterers (μοιχοὶ), nor those who lead the soft life[35] (μαλακοὶ), nor men forcing sex on other men (ἀρσενοκοῖται), nor thieves (κλέπται), nor those filled with greed (πλεονέκται), nor drunkards (μέθυσοι), nor revilers (λοίδοροι), nor swindlers (ἅρπαγες) will inherit the kin-dom of God.)

       Many translations have considered μαλακοὶ (malakoi) to mean “effeminate.”  This would not be as likely meaning for the word as “those who lead the soft life,” particularly because Paul speaks out against an idle life in 2 Thessalonians 3.10-12:  “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.  For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.  Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”  In 2 Thessalonians, Paul describes the lifestyle; in 1 Corinthians, he has a name for those who live that lifestyle.  I use the same definition for ἀρσενοκοῖται (arsenokoitai) here as I did earlier for Romans 1.                                             

       I admit that the majority of the more sophisticated contemporary translators than I do not support the translations of the New Testament Greek that I support.  But, the majority of those translators are not gay, either.  They do not easily observe the liberating message offered by Jesus Christ to such a sexual minority.  There is no cost to them to not re-examine the existing translations offered.  They do not see the contrast of such translations to the liberating message God provides us through Jesus Christ.  My translations may not be overwhelmingly persuasive, but they are equally plausible, where they are not compelling.

A Christ-Initiated Sexual Ethic for the 21st Century:

       The first century was a strange time, as has been the twentieth century.  In the first century, while men were encouraged to dominate and seek personal power and privilege, they were also expected to maintain the good of the society.  This was a conflicting dichotomy of that time.  In many ways, the activities of Jesus of Nazareth and Paul of Tarsus dealt with this dichotomy. The Christian ethic encouraged was one of mutual enrichment as Charles L. Kammer III, explains it.  It is a complementary drive toward human equality and relationship that is a sign of God’s kin-dom.  Kammer explains:

            “The early Christian debate over the relationship of the persons of the Trinity to one another repudiated any notion of the inequality of the persons of the Trinity.  It is at this point that the demands for personal integrity and the drive toward relationship, toward reconciliation, merge.  For the true relationship of two or more persons requires that each be a functioning, autonomous center of being, each contributing their own wholeness to the relationship.  Authentic relationship is possible only as each respects the integrity of the other, reaches out to the other not for purposes of domination, but for purposes of mutual enrichment; not as a flight from person-hood and the subsequent loss of person-hood in submission to another, but as a courageous affirmation of one’s own person-hood and worth. True relationship is, then, in the words of Buber, ‘I/You’ relationship.  The human being You I do not experience.  Our potential humanity is thus experienced in the complementary drives toward human equality and relationship.  Reconciliation becomes a meeting of equals.”[36]

       I have so far demonstrated Christ’s ethic of Agape, relying on power sharing in all our relationships.  Kammer said it better, though, for that aim for power sharing is a complementary drive toward human equality and human relationship.  And, I have made a case for a sexual ethic that also relies on power sharing as well as sharing in lack of power with those we love—both striving toward human equality and human relationship. 

       There is no evidence of a 1st century Christian requirement for sexual intercourse only within the confines of marriage.  What there is, is a caution against allowing our sexual drive to become compelling to where it could be the center of our attention rather than God.  Sex should not be used to gain control over another; just as unethical is the relinquishing of our power to another for sexual purpose.  Our power is inherent, and God given, just as is our sexuality and the desires thereof.  We may not, therefore, allow ourselves to be abused through sex, nor abuse others through sex.  We may not take advantage of others not in a position to say, “no,” or those in a position to be overwhelmed by the aura of power we carry.

       Sex is not to be used for the exploitation of others or of ourselves.  Sex is not to be used to indulge our egos, nor to satisfy our impulses of greed, nor for self-esteem.  If we have to say things that aren’t true to get sex, we are in error.  If, by engaging in sexual intercourse, we bring physical or emotional harm to another, we have erred.  Such behavior is outside ethical boundaries.

       So, when is sex ethical?  Sex is ethical when there is mutual agape.  Sex is ethical when we are personally prepared emotionally and physically to engage in a power balanced relationship with another human being.  Sex is ethical when we invite and welcome God’s presence with us.  Sex is ethical when we share our agape in openness, in joy, and in mutuality, both satisfying the other, not in self-gratification.  Gender is not an issue.  What is an issue is that we not shame another human being.  Age is an issue.  Social status is an issue.  Need is an issue.  When these issues are examined, it is because there is a chance that power, who has it and who doesn’t, is the ethical concern to be considered.  With each of our actions there is reflection to be done.  In all we do there is personal responsibility.  Sex is a gift, not to be cast before swine, but shared with those whom we love.  Agapas me? Agapao.

Sexual Ethics In Context:

       Coming to the close of my paper, I took one last look at Karen Baker-Fletcher’s chapter in Embracing the Spirit.  It is called The Strength of My Life.[37]  Karen reminded me of where this paper began: In context.  And, Karen reminded me of the importance of  “Who has God been in the lives of gays and lesbians historically and today?”[38]  Although this paper has been about an overall Christ-initiated sexual ethic, not just about homosexuality, it was spawned by the continuing effort within Christianity to deny the gifted space allotted to homosexuals in God’s kin-dom.  For me to omit the inclusion of the relational context would be to violate my own theological construct.

       As a person driven into exile by the tyranny of the majority in the democratic Protestant Church, and by the despotism of the singular head of the Catholic Church, I—like many of my brothers and sisters—have had to re-evaluate and re-structure my own ethical paradigm in a society where the mores and norms were constructed against me.  I have not had the luxury of being heir to a supportive and nurturing Christian community.  I did not have a tradition to experience and respect where I might critique the teachings of that tradition in moments that might queue a new response.  I had to invent my own ethical paradigm.  The only one I had as a model failed me completely.  I have had to do it the hard way.  Abraham Heschel puts this predicament into perspective when he says,

            “[A human being’s] total existence is, in a sense, a summation of past generations, a distillation of experiences and thoughts of his ancestors…  The authentic individual is neither an end nor a beginning but a link between ages, both memory and expectation…  Only he who is an heir is qualified to be a pioneer…  [But,] if one fails to accept the teaching of a tradition, one learns from cardinal experiences, from drastic failures or sudden outbursts of awareness, that self-denials are as important as self-satisfactions.”[39]

       My experience in developing my ethical paradigm is similar to the experiences of many outside any faith tradition:  We must enlist cardinal experiences and survive drastic failures and be witness to prophetic outbursts of awareness.  There are great moments of failure followed by equally great moments of awareness of what should have been done.  We learn by our errors when we have no Wisdom stories in the storehouses of our hearts.  Because of this, we can suffer great losses. 

       Like the wandering Israelites, I too have been led to a land flowing with milk and honey.  It too has a pre-existent community living within its bounds, like the Canaanites, not aware of their potential.  I have been brought to the United Methodist Church as a pastor, out of exile.  My wandering through the wilderness is a long story of twenty years—half that of the Israelites.  I lost my lover to AIDS; in fact I have lost almost all of my peers to AIDS.  I have engaged in sexual relations that cannot be looked back upon as having any ethical dimension present in the decision-making process.  Many of my relationships were based on building my own self-worth.  There were power imbalances, and harm was done.  The hunt and capture aspect of the sexual intercourse was the primary interest, the final act only a trophy. More than once I came away feeling soiled in some way. 

       After years of the struggle to find an ethical construct that allowed God into all my moments including the sexual ones, I came to a place approaching wholeness.  It took the dying years of my partner and our shared powerlessness through those years to find God’s gift of power within ourselves and our relationship—as with the Centurion and his partner, whom Jesus healed.  We found within our sexual moments a place for God’s presence.  After my partner’s death, I grew hungry to make sense of what God offered us.  God offered us then, and offers us now, what Jesus offered so long ago, something time has almost allowed us to ignore.  I continue to look back on those days and marvel that we struggled together, unable to look into a future where the next day would take us deeper into hell than the day we were already in.  We struggled for a moment of peace in days of pain and anguish, blindness and loss of control, of his bodily functions, and our lives.  We struggled with a God who would create us and abandon us when we acted on our natural[40] instincts.

       What we found was a God who was present to give us the strength and courage to enter into hell, empower each other, share each other’s experience with empathy, and provide us with a more lasting hope in the midst of all we knew to be hopeless. 

       In the realm of hell, with Donald—my pais, emaciated, worn down, suffering with night-sweats, blind, with a Hickman[41] dangling out of his chest, whose bodily fluids could be deadly—I was still filled with the desire of intimacy with him.  This was not based on carnal attraction—although that remained—but, an attraction that engaged the spirit of our mutual humanity.  It was more than I had ever conceived.  We had become more than our experiences could have contrived individually.  Sex had brought us into hell, and in some way it showed us the way to heaven, Mutuality, Agape, Immanuel.[42]


Baker-Fletcher, Garth Kasimu. Dirty Hands, How to be “ethical” in a morally ambiguous world. Claremont: Manuscript, cerca 1997

Baker-Fletcher, Karen, and Garth KASIMU Baker-Fletcher.  My Sister, My Brother. Maryknoll:  Orbis Books, 1997.

Bevans, Stephen B.  Models of Contextual Theology.  Maryknoll:  Orbis Books, 1996.

Boff, Leonardo. Faith On The Edge:  Religion and Marginalized Existence.  San Francisco:      Harper & Row, 1989.

Bonhoffer, Dietrich.  Ethics.  New York:  Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Boswell, John. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Boswell, John. Same-Sex Unions In Premodern Europe. (New York: Villard Books, 1994)

Bouldrey, Brian, ed.  Wrestling With The Angel, Faith and Religion in the Lives of Gay Men.  New York:  Riverhead Books, 1995.

Brawley, Robert L. ed.  Biblical Ethics & Homosexuality.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.

Carmody, Denise Lardner, and John Tully Carmody.  How To Live Well:  Ethics In The World Religions.  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1988.

Cobb, John B. Jr.  Christ In A Pluralistic Age.  Philadelphia:  The Westminster Press, 1975.

Coleman, Gerald D.  Homosexuality, Catholic Teaching and Pastoral Practice.  New York:      Paulist Press, 1995.

Comstock, Gary David.  Gay Theology Without Apology.  Cleveland:  The Pilgrim Press, 1993.

Countryman, L. William.  Dirt Greed & Sex.  Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1990.

Davies, Susan E., and Eleanor H. Haney ed.  Redefining Sexual Ethics.  Cleveland:  The Pilgrim Press, 1991.

Dick, James C.  Violence and Oppression. Athens:  University of Georgia Press, 1979.

Douglas, Kelly Brown.  The Black Christ:  Maryknoll:  Orbis Books, 1995.

Ellison, Marvin M.  Erotic Justice, A Liberating Ethic of Sexuality.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.

Ferebee, Gideon Jr.  Out! To Lead.  Newport Beach:  Brownell & Carroll, 1994.

Frontain, Raymond-Jean, ed.  Reclaiming The Sacred, The Bible in Gay and Lesbian Culture.  Binghamton:  Harrington Park Press, 1997.

Gilson, Anne Bathurst.  Eros Breaking Free, Interpreting Sexual Theo-Ethics.  Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 1995.

Harrison, Bererly Wildung.  Making the Connections, Essays in Feminist Social Ethics:  Boston: Beacon Press, 1985.

Hayes, John H., and Carl R. Holladay.  Biblical Exegesis, A Beginner’s Handbook Revised Edition.  Atlanta:  John Knox Press, 1987.

Hays, Richard B. “Awaiting the Redemption of Our Bodies: The Witness of Scripture Concerning Homosexuality,” pages 3-17 in Homosexuality in the Church. Edited by Jeffrey S. Siker: Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Helminiak, Daniel A.  What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality.  San Francisco: Alamo Square Press, 1994.

Heschel, Abraham Joshua. Who Is Man? Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1965

Hizruchi, Ephraim Harold.  Regulating Society:  Marginality and Social Control In Historical Perspective.  New York:  Free Press, 1983.

Hooks, Bell.  Feminist Theory from Margin to Center.  Boston:  South End Press, 1984.

Jordan, Mark D.  The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Kammer III, Charles L. Ethics and Liberation, An Introduction. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1988.

Kenny, Anthony. ed.  Aquinas:  A Collection of Critical Essays.  Notre Dame:  University of Notre Dame Press, 1976.

Lee, Jung Young.  Marginality, The Key To Multicultural Theology.  Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.

Liddell, Henry George & Scott, Robert. Compilers. A Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.

Lindquist, Neil Eric. Adaptation to Marginal Status:  The Case of Gay Males.  Alberta:  Ph.D. Thesis, 1976.

McNeill, John J.  Taking A Chance On God, Liberating Theology for Gays, Lesbians, and Their Lovers, Families, and Friends.  Boston:  Beacon Press, 1988.

Meier, James E. Romans 1 Revisited, unpublished paper. San Francisco: presented AAR/SBL Conference, 1997.

Myers, Ched., Dennis, Marie., Moe-Lobeda, Cynthia., & Taylor, Stuart., “Say to This Mountain”. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1996

Nelson, James B., and Sandra P. Longfellow.  Sexuality and the Sacred, Sources for Theological Reflection.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Nelson, James B.  Moral Nexus.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.

Nissinen, Martti.  Homoeroticism In The Biblical World.  Minneapolis:  Augsburg Fortress Press, 1998.

O’Meara, Dominic J. ed.  Neoplatonism and Christian Thought.  Albany:  Sate University of New York Press, 1982.

Oulton, John Ernest Leonard, & Chadwick, Henry. Trans., Alexandrian Christianity, Vol. 2, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1954

Palmer, Parker J. To Know As We Are Known. San Francisco: HarperCollins Paperback, 1993

Ranke-Heinemann, Uta.  Eunuchs For The Kingdom Of Heaven:  Women, Sexuality, and the Catholic Church.  New York:  Doubleday, 1990.

Roetzel, Calvin J. The Letters of Paul, 4th Edition. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998.

Rogers, Benjamin B. trans., Aristophanes, Vol.1 London: Harvard University Press, 1967

Rudy, Kathy.  Sex and The Church, Gender, Homosexuality, and the Transformation of    Christian Ethics.  Boston:  Beacon Press, 1997.

Sapp, Stephen. Sexuality, the Bible, and Science. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977.

Schnackenburg, Rudolph. The Moral Teaching of the New Testament, J. Holland-Smith and W.J. O’Hara, trans. New York: Herder & Herder, 1965

Seow, Choon-Leong. ed.  Homosexuality and Christian Community.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.

Siker, Jeffrey S. ed.  Homosexuality in the Church, Both Sides of the Debate.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Spencer, Daniel T.  Gay And Gaia.  Cleveland:  The Pilgrim Press, 1996.

Stowers, Stanley K. A Rereading of Romans. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

Suchocki, Marjorie Hewitt.  God, Christ, Church, A Practical Guide to Process Theology.         New York:  Crossroad Publishing Co., 1995.

Townes, Emilie M., ed. Embracing The Spirit.  Maryknoll:  Orbis Books, 1997.

Wilson, Rev. Nancy.  Our Tribe.  San Francisco:  Harper Collins, 1995.

Williams, Dolores S.  Sisters in the Wilderness:  Maryknoll:  Orbis Books, 1993.

Williams, Walter L.  The Spirit and The Flesh, Sexual Diversity in American Indian         Culture. Boston:  Beacon Press, 1986.

Young, Iris Marion.  Justice and The Politics of Difference.  Princeton:  Princeton University   Press, 1990.

[1] Parker J. Palmer. To Know as We Are Known. (San Francisco: Harper Collins Paperback, 1993) p. 17-18.

[2] Stephen Sapp, Sexuality, the Bible, and Science. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977) p. 37.

[3] “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

[4] Sapp, p. 38.

[5] Henry George Liddell & Robert Scott, compilers, A Greek-English Lexicon. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996) p. 1420.

[6] Sapp, p. 37.

[7] In most analyses of ancient materials to which today’s ethicists, moralists, historians, and exegetes commit themselves, the most careful make the distinction between sexual behavior and sexual orientation, suggesting that the latter was not considered.  See Helminiak, Hays, Smith, and Boswell, as a sample.

[8] John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980) pages 335-353.

[9] James E. Meier, Romans 1 Revisited, unpublished paper. (San Francisco: presented AAR/SBL Conference, 1997)

[10] Sapp, p. 39, ref: Rudolph Schnackenburg, The Moral Teaching of the New Testament, J. Holland-Smith and W.J. O’Hara, trans. (New York: Herder & Herder, 1965), pp. 76, 80.

[11]  See Boswell, p. 145-156: The concept of natural was one of usual or habitual behavior, i.e. what one did yesterday and the day before one could be expected to do today and tomorrow.  If one acted differently one was acting contrary to his nature.  This is a first century attitude in a world of observable behavior which antecedes the concept of nature developed by the fourth century as explained by Augustine when he gets a hold of this passage and exegetes it

[12] Liddell-Scott, p. 1247, See lexicography of ὀρέξει.  Admittedly, the problem with my reliance of Paul’s meaning to be as a form of hunger or appetite rather than some form of passion and desire is that he uses this word only once, and this is it.  One must then rely on some contextual induction, rather than deduction.

[13] I use the first century sense of the word “nature” here.  See footnote 11 for explanation. 

[14] See Liddell-Scott, p. 1289, παἲς: I.1, of an adopted son, ἀλλά σε παἳδα ποιεύμην Iliad; and, Boswell, p. 347, n.33, where he finds Chrysostom’s use of pais to refer to men engaged in same-gender sexual behavior ref: Chrysostom, Adversus oppugnatores vitae monasticae 3.8, and In Epistolam ad Titum, homily 5.

[15] Soul is used rather than the Centurion’s use of pais: Adopted brother or son, i.e. kindred.

[16] Liddell-Scott, p. 576 I.1.

[17] John Boswell, Same-Sex Unions In Premodern Europe. (New York: Villard Books, 1994) p. 98-106, 107, 194-98, 222, 257-58, 342-43.

[18] Another reason for the Centurion to admit that he is unworthy for Jesus to enter his house is because he is a gentile, and Jews were not to enter the houses of gentiles or they would become unclean.

[19] cf. p. 14-15.

[20] Given the placement of Jesus condemning the barren fig tree, I make a case, in my already mentioned paper on eunuchs, that Jesus is referring to Isaiah 56.3-5 and its connection to that prophet’s blessing on eunuchs—i.e. homosexuals.

[21] Agape, of course, centers more on God’s love for us in Christian thought, however when presented to human beings for our aim, it becomes reflective back to God and echoes also God’s love for us. (Mt.22.37-39.)

[22] I might have used “situational,” had it not been for James B. Nelson’s well taken point contrasting the use of relational to situational in his book Moral Nexus, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996) p. 15-16.

[23] Roman law allowed its soldiers to require a civilian to carry his pack for no more than one mile. Should the soldier violate that mile limit he would be subject to a fine and demotion.  In this way, refusal by the civilian to give up the burden at the one-mile limit would be detrimental to the soldier.

[24] Garth Kasimu Baker-Fletcher, Dirty Hands, How to be “ethical” in a morally ambiguous world. (Claremont: Manuscript, circa 1997) p.1.

[25] Baker-Fletcher, p. 2.

[26] Translation as a vulgarism is attributed to Associate Professor Gregory Riley.

[27] Ched Myers, Marie Dennis, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, & Stuart Taylor. “Say to This Mountain”. (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1996) p. 64-65.

[28] These sentiments are supported by Sapp, p.76; Neil Elliott, Liberating Paul (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1994) p. 209-211; Calvin J. Roetzel, The Letters of Paul. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998) p. 182-88.

[29] Robin Scroggs, “Paul: Chauvinist or Liberationist?” The Christian Century 89 (1972), p. 307-9

[30] Thomas C. Ziegert, For there are Eunuchs, an exegesis (Claremont: manuscript, 1997)

[31] See: Benjamin B. Rogers (translator), Aristophanes, Vol.1 (London: Harvard University Press, 1967) p. 17, 521.

[32] John Ernest Leonard Oulton & Henry Chadwick (translators), Alexandrian Christianity, Vol. 2, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1954) p. 40.

[33] “Natural” is used here by its 1st century definition.

[34] Liddell-Scott, p. 1450.

[35] Liddell-Scott, p. 1077.

[36] Charles L. Kammer III. Ethics and Liberation. (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1993) p. 110.

[37] Karen Baker-Fletcher, “The Strength of My Life,” in Embracing the Spirit (ed. Emilie M. Townes; Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1997) pages 122-139.

[38] This is an adaptation of Karen Baker-Fletcher’s question in her chapter: “Who has God been in the lives of Black women historically and today?” p. 122.

[39] Abraham Joshua Heschel, Who Is Man? (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1965) p. 99-100.

[40] In this moment, I use the contemporary meaning of the word “natural,” as “according to our inherent characteristics.”

[41] A Hickman is a catheter tube placed into the vena cava with external ports dangling from the chest used as an entry for the regular intervenes supply of medication.

[42] “God with us.”

Published by ptdog1

A little about me: My name is Thomas Carson Ziegert. I’m a recently retired Elder in the United Methodist Church and live in the Mojave Desert of Southern California. Born in Wilmington Delaware and a graduate of Catholic elementary then public high school I continued for a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Political Science, from the University of Delaware. I spent one semester in Geneva, Switzerland and researched transnational economic relationships at the United Nations Library there. Then I moved to Los Angeles where I got a job and explored my options. Eventually, I went into business, then sold it and pursued my calling into ministry in the United Methodist Church. I graduated from the Claremont School of Theology with a Masters of Divinity Degree and was ordained as an Elder in Full Connection in the UMC, as the first ordained openly gay Elder in the Conference. In between the lines is my understanding that I was gay while a student at the University of Delaware, the limitations that would afford me in my fields of interest throughout my life, especially as a pastor, and my research into what the Bible really said in its original language about homosexuality. I found love then he died of complications from AIDS after an 11 year relationship. We were both diagnosed with HIV in 1986. He died in 1992, I lived. I’ve been asymptomatic through the years. I hope my life honors his and those who honor me by loving me still. About the blog: This blog will be the place I store my writings and where we can more thoroughly exchange experiences and reflections on those experiences. I hope this will be a sanctuary for fearlessly exploring how we understand ourselves and our relationship with God, and be a place of nurture as we grow in our understanding and relationships.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: