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06 March 2006



My initial, knee-jerk response on this one is to adhere to tradition. But I've been having a long-running discussion around the broader area of Paul and his proclamations building a new Law with my father (a recently ordained CoS minister), and I cannot help but suspect that my initial position is informed less by religious sensibilities than by personal opinions.

Given that the old testament has no bearing on this - we don't follow the Judaic law, we are told not to, and to pick and choose the bits we like is unsupportable - we are left with the proclamations of Paul. Paul was a basically good man, but a man of his time, and any church which enforced his views on the place of women, for instance, or which went along with his line on slavery, would be abhorrent to me. So I cannot start saying that he is the final arbiter on the subject of gay clergy when I am happy to discard his more extreme teachings as "of their time".

I am, of course, even more uncomfortable with a literal and fundamentailst reading and construction of Paul, which would see the Christian church move to a Wahabbist stance on most questions.


Some assume that ancient people did not know of homosexual practice as we know it. This is a non sequitur, I'm afraid. See the work of Robert Gagnon at http://www.robgagnon.net as to just how much understanding of homosexual practice there was in the ancient world.

Also, Paul's concern was to get the gospel message out. Were there women church leaders? Of course there were, but some women were abusing their new found freedom in Christ, and bringing disrepute on The Church.

As for slaves, can you imagine what would have happened if Paul had said, 'Right, all slaves rebel!'. Christianity would have been snuffed out overnight. He never condoned slavery.

You see, context of scritpure is very important......


The period from 500BC to 200AD, largely in the Greek world, is, I suppose, my specialist period (at least so far as degrees go), so you needn't have any concerns on that score.

I'm well aware of Rob Gagnon, too. While I disagree deeply with his methods of scholarship, my main problem with him is, to be honest, that I don't see Jesus saying what he says. I mean that both literally - in the Bible - and also theoretically, as a thought experiment.

He, and others like him, are probably more responsible than anyone for my change in opinion on this subject, having driven me by example to consider that, if these are my allies, I should question my own opinions or risk falling into the same traps.

While I find many of those on the left who are lobbying for change on this question to be hectoring and motivated by extra-scriptural concerns, I find the motivations of many "antis" to be even more suspect, ignoring as it does a great many logs in a great many eyes. Obviously, there are many on both sides to whom the comments do not apply.

Do you, in your ministry, insist that women ermain quiet, and that if they have any questions they should wait until they are home and ask their husbands? If not, why do you afford latitude in interpretation here that you do not afford to homosexuals?

And the same goes, only more clearly, for the question of slavery. Yes, at the time, Paul made a wise political judgement. And that shrewd calculation is now embedded in scripture. If someone, recently escaped from the existing institutions of slavery in Sudan or Mauritania, came to you for advice, would you adhere to the example of Paul? If not, why do you insist that some parts of Pauline scripture are timeless and unalterable, while others are mutable and open to interpretation with changing social and political mores?


I should say that I wasn't being wholly rhetorical here, and was genuinely interested in how you make the judgement between that which you see as open to interpretation, and that upon which you see the gates of interpretation as being closed, to use the Islamic term.


Sorry, I have been really busy. I try to stick to 10minutes a day writing on the blog (yes, I know that I shouldn't be provocative, if I want to stick to that).

What is wrong with Gagnon's scholarship? And what do you think Jesus says? Or is it like Diarmid McCullough- that on this, as in other things the Bible is wrong?

I agree about 'logs in eyes'. We can all be inconsistent. There is a view that the slide began in orthodox circles when remarriage after divorce became common. In other words that, as marriage was devalued by orthodox Christians, it became increasingly hypocritical to criticise other failings.

As for the limits of interpretation: one must take scripture as a whole- scripture interprets scripture. So, in sexuality, the Bible universally testifies to male/female sexual relationships as being ordained by God. Sexual activity between members of the same sex is disapproved of, with not one positive word on it. There is not nuch room to wriggle here.

There were women leaders in the early church (Euodia and Syntyche contended alongside Paul), and women did speak in church (1 Corinthians 11:5). The problem in 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim might have been that women were giving their prophecying husbands a hard time, and causing disruption as a result. 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 would support such a view, as would the whole context of worship problems in the Corinthian church.

For a most helpful examination of the differences between slavery in the ancient world, 'New World Slavery' and the modern context, take a look at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/qnoslave.html
I would offer sanctuary, because I am free to do so.

Of course, there are pragmatic considerations in our global context. In the OT polygamy appears. Does this mean that it is the best thing that God intends for us? The rest of scripture holds to 'two in one flesh' relationship. That is the biblical norm. Yet in Africa, one might find polygamy amongst Christians. Is this the best? No, but the economic hardship inflicted on abandoned wives and children would be great if they were forced to leave. African bishops I know do not sanction polygamy, but occasionally have to deal with its consequences.

Looks like we'll have to agree to disagree.

I was giving you the final word, by the way!


>> I was giving you the final word, by the way!

Ah, but I wasn't arguing! Neo-Platonist that I am, I find I discover very little by doing that. I was asking because I suspected I would find your answers enlightening. Which I certainly did.

You're right that we will, in all likelihood, continue to differ. But, like Lewis, I see more than one way to approach the single truth. Two integrities, I suppose ;)

Thanks for taking the time to answer.


You should do more of this stuff. Googling "reappraiser" or "reasserter" (not on this site,I mean a general google search) wasn't very helpful. It's a bit odd that you criticise modernisers for bowing to cultural pressures and then say that many people will leave church if the liberals win; isnt't that just a pragmatic argument?

If - as you've said in the past - reappraisers look to other sources than Scripture for their theology then I don't see what good recommending Gagnon would do. His *biblical* scholarship might be impeccable, but his "reasonable" arguments are less so. "The fittedness of the penis and vagina" is a very stupid phrase.

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