Hays on Homosexuality (I): Reading the Texts (1 Cor 6; 1 Tim 1; Acts 15), cont’d

The most fully developed thought on homosexuality the entire Christian Bible is is Romans 1:18-32. Before dealing with that passage, however, Hays first looks at two other NT texts which definitely comment on homosexuality (I Cor 6:9-11; I Tim 1:10 ), and one which possibly comments on it (Acts 15:28-29).

In two NT passages, I Cor 6:9-11 and I Tim 1:10, Paul (note however that Hays and many other NT scholars see the pastoral epistles of I Tim, II Tim, and Titus as pseudonymous) uses a word which is not extant in any source prior to I Cor: the word arsenokoitai. Hays demonstrates how this term, almost certainly coined by the apostle Paul, “is a translation of the Hebrew mishkav zakur (‘lying with a male’), derived directly from Lev 18:22 and 20:13.” (See above for discussion of these OT texts.) In both texts this term appears in a list of “unrighteous deeds.”

Hays continues, speaking of the I Corinthian passage: “Thus, Paul’s use of the term presupposes and reaffirms the holiness code’s [in Leviticus] condemnation of homosexual acts. This is not a controversial point in Paul’s argument; the letter gives no evidence that anyone at Corinth was arguing for the acceptance of same-sex erotic activity.” Paul simply assumes that his readers will agree that arsenokoitai are “workers of unrighteousness” just like the other offenders named in the list (idolaters, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, robbers, etc.).

Here as elsewhere, Paul’s goes on to argue that in the lives of the Corinthians a new reality has come about, and that they no longer belong to themselves, but to God. This is the basis upon which Paul argues that they ought to “glorify God in their bodies.” (I Cor 6:20)

The first Timothy passage is quite similar to this one in that it, too, presupposes that the audience will agree that homosexual activity is rightly categorized as one sin among others including “murderers, slave traders, liars.”

The only other passage in the NT – besides Rom 1 – is Acts 15:28-29, which uses the word pornea (“sexual immorality”). Hays thinks it likely that “these stipulations” are based largely on the purity regulations of Lev 17:1 – 18:30, and therefore “probably include … homosexual intercourse.”

Next up: Hays on what Paul teaches about homosexuality in Rom 1:18-32.

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