Today I will continue the theme of Jesus being supportive of gays and lesbians and transgenders. I will also discuss that people need to take the Bible a little less as the word of God and a little more as stories of our heritage. You may want to have your Bibles out for this one. Set a marker at Matthew chapter 19 verse 11, let’s begin. The first thing I want to get off my chest in this podcast is that a lot of people claim the Bible is the word of God. Nowhere in it does the Bible claim that it is the word of God. In fact, you’ll find that it claims that Jesus is the word of God. The Bible was not meant to be the word of God. God didn’t make anyone write it.
God is supposed to be the inspiration behind it. Hassidic rabbi Abraham, Joshua Heschel suggests that the Bible is God seeking for man and man seeking God. I like the way that it presupposes that God is looking to understand us as much as we are seeking to understand God’s plan for us or God’s call to us, or the way God enriches our lives. Where is God in each and every day? The Bible is about those things. They’re stories and stories are really important to us. A long time ago, I was introduced to a native American writer, Leslie Marmon Silko and she wrote a book called ceremony. And at the beginning of that book is a poem named “Ceremony”. I like to recite part of it for you – and I recommend you buy any or all of her books.
I will tell you something about stories.
They aren’t just entertainment.
Don’t be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off
illness and death.
You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.
It goes on. The important thing about this is that for all peoples I’ve discovered stories. Our stories are our heritage. A lot of people don’t have good stories. One of the things I saw when I was a chaplain for the Scouts, the boy Scouts of America is that a lot of kids don’t have life affirming stories. And what’s so important about scouting is that it all kids life affirming stories, no matter where you come from, if you have stories in your life that raise you up, that offer you a higher standard for character, for morality, who you will find yourself, a better person, important to a lot of us are the stories of the Bible.
They’re not to be made light of. These are very important stories that give us a heritage to live up to. And within these stories, we find truth. Within these stories, we find salvation as Christians and within these stories, we find God. And we also find the journey that God makes with us as God finds us. So I’m not diminishing the power of the Bible by saying that it’s stories. I think I’m raising it up because there is nothing in the Bible that suggests it’s the word of God. And to say it is, is really against the Bible itself and it’s becoming its own kind of blasphemy. And it certainly is idolatry. The second thing I want to bring up is that I am disturbed by preachers who are Christian and preach about old Testament rules and laws, the old Testament. Well, let me back up one second and say that Testament comes from the Latin and it means covenant and a covenant is a sacred contract.
And the old covenant between God and the Hebrew people actually between God and Abraham is what we call the old Testament. As Christians. There is a new Testament. There is a new contract between God and not just the Hebrew people, not just the children of Abraham. But God makes a covenant with all people and that’s new Testament. And by new and old, the old belongs to someone else. The old covenant is not a contract between God and Christians or actually between Christians and God, God makes God’s contract with everybody. God has this contract with us and it’s the new Testament. And the new Testament is a way different than the old Testament. God is way different in the new Testament than the old Testament. The new Testament began with the blood of Abraham through his circumcision, and they continue through the Hebrew peoples by the male through circumcision throughout the centuries.
Then one day there was a violation of the rules of the covenant and Caiaphas, the chief priest of the temple, and the Sadducees along with him seek the condemnation of Jesus. The interesting thing about Jesus is as Christians think Jesus the Christ was both human and divine. And they called for his blood. It was given to them as a sword pierced his side. The skies darkened and the curtain of the Holy of Holies was torn. The earth quaked. It was the end of the old covenant. The chief priest of the temple and the Sadducees in demanding the death of Jesus of Nazareth began a series of events that would spill the blood of a human being on the metaphorical altar of sacrifice. This was proscribed in their covenant with God. This violation of that covenant nullified God’s contract with them. This is how that contract became the old covenant.
The covenant executed in blood by circumcision was now voided by the blood shed by a crucifixion. But Jesus of Nazareth was also divine – of God by God’s own blood. Then a new covenant was executed. This new covenant begins with these words, “Forgive them father for they know not what they do.” The next events show us for all time. God’s responsibility in this contract, forgiveness, resurrection, and eternal life. As in all our interactions with God, our responsibilities will be realized when they are needed, otherwise known as in God’s time. In this new covenant, God calls us a new ways. God is merciful. God is forgiving. God is no longer jealous. God is not genocidal. God takes on a whole new way of engaging humanity. Now I’d like to get to the meat of my podcast today. And that comes from the gospel of Matthew chapter 19 and begins at verse 11.
The disciples and Jesus are talking about divorce, and the disciples say, “well, it’s better for a man not to get married at all then.” And then Jesus says, where this begins, “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.'” This is a much bigger pericope, it’s called, or little segment of the Bible, than people give it accounting for. This is a Greek triplet. By that I mean, Jesus is saying there are three conditions of one thing. And for a Greek triplet, there actually are rules. The rules that Matthew was abiding by when he tells the story about Jesus is that eunuchs are made by one. Eunuchs are made by two and eunuchs are made by three. Let me put them in order. Eunuchs from birth are made by God. Eunuchs made by others are made by Man. (These are castrati.) And there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs and there are eunuchs made by themselves. These would be chased people. Those who were asexual or not having sex with anyone else.
So back to a eunuch made by God. Well, I remember my new Testament professor after he read my paper said, well, they were, they were probably men with undescended testicles. And he had a point that could have been if there were that many. And who knows, perhaps their were. But I had already done the research. And so the research goes like this. Matthew, as I related in the last podcast, his community was in an ancient Antakya, which became Antioch. Antakya was a Hellenized city. That means it had been settled by Greek culture. It was really a crossroads between the East and West. And many people traveled between what would be Eastern Europe and Asia Minor and into Asia and Africa through this route. It was really, at the time, the capital of the province of Syria. It was Hellenized. Matthew had his community settled there. And from there, the gospel of Matthew was written. About 300 BC Aristophanes, a Greek comedic playwright had written several plays. Now, if this was a Hellenized city, by this time Aristophanes’ plays had made it to the area.
Aristophanes, in two of his plays, one of them called the “Wasps”, the other called the “Acharnians,” spoke of two middle-class Greek, young men who were on their way to the Olympics. And there was an antagonist to these two men. These men were Cleisthenes and Straton. And so the antagonist to these men at call them “eunuchs”. And then he goes on to describe them in active sexual acts with men; which when you read it, you come to understand that this is a colloquialism. This is what they were talking about. They didn’t have gays or lesbians. They didn’t have homosexuals. They didn’t have words for these for intrinsic beingness of the way people felt about each other. All they had to describe something was by its visual physical activity. And that is how this antagonist in the two plays describe Cleisthenes and Straton. Move forward 300 years into Alexandria, Egypt, and the school of Basilides, where they were exegeting, which means they were putting meaning to the different pericopes, or sections or stories of the Bible, giving them meaning, discerning what was meant a few hundred years earlier. And they came across this particular part of the sentence, “eunuchs from birth”. And they describe it as some men are repulsed by women from birth. They’re using the same kind of physical understanding, that of men having sex with other men. So these were relatively patriarchal societies and they use the word man, the idea of mankind, of men. [Non-men i.e. women and children are uncountable.] And we began using he for God — all of this coming out of that. So I wouldn’t discount that this could also apply to women or have extra meaning for people that were transgender as being eunuchs as well,.
Over 600 years from Aristophanes to Basilides, from around 300 BC to around 300 CE, from Antakya, Syria, to Alexandria, Egypt, this colloquialism “eunuch” — for same gender sexual intimacy — not only endured, but spread. Within this time span, through the gospel of Matthew, Jesus spoke on behalf of us with this blessing: “Let anyone accept this who can.” This understanding like all of Jesus’s parables or for only those who need to understand it, may this passage be a blessing to you.
Eunuchs are in different places in the Bible. The other place that a eunuch is found in the New Testament is in the book of Acts. And that is where we have the Ethiopian eunuch that is traveling in, well, let me give you a quick rendition of that story in Acts chapter 8, beginning in verse 26, that,
“An angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘get up and go toward the south’ to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is a wilderness road. So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home seated in his chariot. He was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the spirit said to Philip, ‘go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘do you understand what you were reading?’ He replied, ‘how can I, unless someone guides me’ and he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. And it goes on and the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized.
Eunuchs are in the old Testament. It was the chief eunuch of Nebuchadnezzar that took Daniel, a Jewish boy in hand and helped him to maintain his Hebrew diet and not eat the Royal food that Nebuchadnezzar had ordered he eat. Then there was the eunuch who saved Jeremiah, the prophet out of a well. And then there is the reading from Isaiah chapter 56. And it goes like this.
“Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice and do what is right for soon, my salvation will come and my deliverance be revealed. Happy is the mortal, who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath from profaning it and refrains from doing any evil. Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’; and do not let the eunuch say, ‘I am just a dry tree.’ For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” — Eunuchs.
It has never been a Hebrew or Jewish tradition to castrate anyone. Nor was it ever a Greek tradition. Eunuch. In Greece or Hellenized cities or in Jewish kingdoms were not castrated. They were in some other places, in the East, particularly if they would live in the palace and run the harems or would run even a Treasury. They could have been actually castrated so that there would be no doubt that they might impregnate one of the wives of the sultan or the prince or whoever it might have been. I see the Ethiopian eunuch, seeing Philip coming up to the chariot, and Phillip saying, you know, “What ‘cha doing?” Then the Ethiopian eunuch saying, “Don’t want to do nothing is you? Would like to come in and join me?”
Who knows? These are dalliances of my imagination sometimes. But not only have I had the intuition, but I have done the research and the research can be found here on my blog page, http://www.searching-for-god.com. One paper is called “For There are Eunuchs”. The other paper is called, “Is the Bible the Word of God?” There are other scholarly works that I did while I was in seminary that are included in my blog site. You’re welcome to look at the research. I did the footnotes and bibliography that goes with it so that you can understand that this idea that God is against gays and lesbians or that Jesus never said anything about us, neither are true. Many of the words like “sodomite” were not even words back in those days, they were words in England when the King James Bible was written and they translated that into those.
I did other work that includes looking at Paul’s writings and Corinthians and Romans. And you can see that the words — the way they were translated — were not appropriate for the Greek language — the meaning that they were being given in the day they were written. These have been things that men have done to fit or to suit their own purposes. Between the pais and the eunuch, I think that the Bible has something to say to those of us who are not gender normative. I think that the Bible has lots of stories for lots of people, and that some people have stolen those stories from us. The stories are important to our heritage. Stories give us the strength of the authority behind them. They were taken from us so that we would be weak. In the poem, if I could continue it from where I left off in the poem “Ceremony”, Leslie Marmon Silko goes on,
Their evil is mighty
but they can’t stand up to our stories.
So they try to destroy the stories
let the stories be confused or forgotten.
They would like that
They would be happy
Because we would be defenseless then.
He rubbed his belly.
I keep them here.
Here, put your hand on it
See, it is moving.
There is life here
for the people
And in the belly of this story
[of the stories of God and God’s people, (my insert)]
the rituals and the ceremony
are still growing.
Thank you for listening in today. I appreciate your time. I appreciate you considering what I have to say. These are the stories. These are stories for us, and there are more stories for us and that there are stories in Corinthians, in Romans for us about healthy ways to live. Let me finish with just a couple of things.
One is this story begins in Matthew with an argument about divorce and the disciples realized that that, that it might be better not to get married at all. Several years ago, I was speaking with a Baptist pastor and he told me that at his church, they won’t baptize a couple. If they are living together and not married, I asked him why, because there is nothing in the Bible, old or new Testament that prohibits sex outside of marriage vows. It would have been ridiculous. Since most of the people were too poor to get married and they live together and they had families and they stayed together. The prescription is against fornication is against promiscuity or in harming other people or in power imbalances among people having sexual relations. There is nothing about it in the Bible that tells us you have to be married before you have sex. It’s cultural. There’s a lot of things that the Bible doesn’t say that people try and tell us. It says, so be careful of it. Don’t put too much stock in it being God’s will. Put stock in the meaning of the stories, the strength they gave you, because that was their purpose to build the strength of your faith.
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