Hays on Homosexuality (I): Reading the Texts (OT)

See here for the introduction to this series.

Hays’ ethical project in his The Moral Vision of the NT contains four steps: Reading the Texts, Synthesis (in canonical context), Hermeneutics, and Living the Text.

1. Hays points out the paucity of texts which in any way address this matter. While I do think that there is a sense in which every page of the Bible teaches us about sexuality (for example, every time it teaches us about worship, or about the divine community which we now call “the Trinity,” etc.), nevertheless this is an important point. Hays rightly stresses that the Bible (including the NT) has much, much more to say about economic justice and possessions than it does about (homo)sexuality.

In fact, however, as Hays hints at in this section and elsewhere, for Paul sexuality and possession(s) are theologically weaved together. Twice in I Corinthians (I Cor 6:12-20 in the context of sexual immorality, and in I Cor 7:3-4, in the context of gender in the church), Paul argues from what one might call “Gospel dispossession” to a revised understanding of sexual morality. In other words, Christians (now realize that we) no longer “own” our bodies as a possession, but rather (that) God owns them (I Cor 6:19-20) and thus, for married people, our spouses have the right to control them (I Cor 7:4). So it’s not simply that the Bible talks about money and possessions more than it does about (homo)sexuality, but rather that the Bible discusses (homo)sexuality in the context of its theology of possession(s). In a sense Paul’s theology of sex is rooted in this theology of ownership.

2. Hays rightly points out, as have countless other biblical interpreters, that the story of Sodom & Gomorrah in Gen 19 has little or nothing to do with this issue. The sins of Sodom & Gomorrah are of a completely different kind. Related to the above point about money and possessions, the sins in question here are injustice and greedy selfishness (Ezek 16:49). It seems clear to me therefore, that we should either abolish the word “sodomy” from our vocabulary, or begin to define it as oppression against the poor. (I suppose that the latter scenario would make many conservative evangelicals “sodomites.”)

3. Hays rightly points out that in Lev 18:22 and 20:13 homosexual intercourse between two men is flatly and simply prohibited and condemned (though the text is silent on woman / woman relations). Thus, if we were members of the covenant community to which this law was originally addressed, there would be no need for sophisticated hermeneutics here. Directly, plainly, and simply, this activity was forbidden for these people.

As Hays points out, however, things are not so simple for Christians living in the first century and beyond, given the eschatological character of biblical theology and ethics over the span of redemptive history and indeed up to the eschaton.

Thus Christians like Hays who see the Bible as authoritatively normative for the covenant community have more work to do. The starting point for that work is to attend to how the NT applies these “old covenant” laws. This is precisely what Hays proceeds to do.

here, and here for the rest of Part I.

here and here for Part II.

here and here for Part III.

here for Part IV.

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