Reta's Reflections

Conclusion: The ongoing challenge of biblical interpretation

“Hermeneutics refers to ‘the science of interpretation.’ Our Bible is a library of historical documents ranging from perhaps 1000 BCE to the second century CE. We need guidelines for how to interpret texts in their ancient sociological and anthropological contexts. We need church leaders and pastors who learn Hebrew and Greek well enough to use available resources and then help laypersons better understand how translation works across time and cultures. Instead, I fear many churchgoing Christians who sincerely care about the Bible read it ‘on the flat,’ as if the writings were written in our native language and reflect contemporary assumptions.” Continue reading

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“Strenuous Tolerance”:  Can we get along when we don’t agree?

“According to Romans 14:1–15:6, what really matters ethically is how we treat other people and how consistent we are in living by our own consciences without condemning others who differ from us. The challenge—especially in matters relating to sexuality—is deciding which actions are intrinsically hurtful to others and which are not. We should actively oppose prostitution and pornography, for example, since they are obviously hurtful, especially for women and girls. But, as I have tried to argue in these lessons, same-sex love and marriage should be evaluated by the same moral standards as heterosexual love and marriage.” Continue reading

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The Bigger Picture:  Sin as a Moving Target

“So how do we relate to more conservative friends, relatives, or fellow church members who complain that the church ‘is not calling sin sin anymore’? After our Bible study in the local Mennonite church, I spoke with a friend who is part of that congregation and understands the resistance of some people to accept same-sex marriage. ‘In their lifetime,’ she said, ‘these older people have had to make so many adjustments and changes in the church. This is just one more change that seems too hard to make.’ I appreciated her compassion and understanding, but for those to whom scripture matters, both conservatives and revisionists must do their biblical homework as well.” Continue reading

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“Inheriting the Kingdom of God”—1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:9-10, and Jude 7

“Many Christians still read these three texts as a handy, short-cut way to condemn all persons with any same-sex orientation or who are in committed, same-gender relationships. In light of these cultural and literary contexts, it is inappropriate to translate either malakoi or arsenokoitai as ‘homosexuals.’ Instead, they identify specific types of sexual obsession or exploitation.William Stacy Johnson comments at the close of his reflections on 1 Timothy 1:10 that sex with castrated slave boys ‘is hardly the kind of behavior involved in exclusively committed same-gender love’ (p. 133). And pursuing sex with an angel is definitely ‘unnatural’!” Continue reading

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Inflammatory Words in Romans 1:24-27

“Although today we tend to see sexual attraction as something deep within the individual, these ancient writers used fire imagery to show that ‘sexual passion is a force which invades the lover from the outside’ (Fredrickson, p. 211). Thus Paul uses ekkaiō in the passive voice—‘to be inflamed.’ This is illustrated by the god Eros shooting his burning arrows into the hearts of hapless lovers. Fire is also insubstantial and fleeting. Thus the lover is never satisfied with sexual consummation, but keeps seeking more and more exotic experiences (p. 212), like drinking salty water that only makes one thirstier.” Continue reading

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What Is Natural and Unnatural Sex in Romans 1:24-27?

“Besides the analogy of food to explain using persons of either gender as sexual objects, Greco-Romans also compared sexual use to household management. Wives were part of the property of a man’s household, as were his slaves, and he could ‘use’ them as he wished. But philosophers like Plato and Aristotle were concerned with the correct use of property, which requires the control of passion. Avoid luxury and only use objects necessary for life, they said. This also applies to sex (Fredrickson, pp. 202-203).” Continue reading

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The Love and Sex Lives of Ancient Greeks and Romans

“In the Roman Empire, marriage was for procreation. Unless enslaved, males would marry in order to produce offspring, preferably sons, to whom they would pass on their lineage and wealth. Parents arranged marriages for reasons of social class and economics—usually a virgin adolescent girl paired with a sexually experienced man about ten years older. Wives were expected to be chaste to assure husbands of legitimate children. Such arrangements often resembled that of uncle and niece rather than current ideals of romance, equality, and companionship. So husbands had far more sexual freedom, which their wives simply had to put up with.” Continue reading

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