Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Same-sex unions in eschatological perspective - James Brownson's "Bible, Gender, Sexuality" in review

Wed, 28/01/2015 - 06:54     

This is not going to be a conventional review of James Brownson’s book on gender and homosexuality in the Bible. I’ll begin with two very broad assertions, then look at the texts, and finish with some cautious and increasingly opaque conclusions—be warned. For a summary of Brownson’s argument see this post. For a detailed critical evaluation of the book see Andrew Goddard’s essay.

Two broad assertions

First, I think Brownson overstates his case. On the one hand, I don’t think it is as easy as he suggests to eliminate gender complementarity from the biblical notion of being “one flesh”. Same-sex union, therefore, would have to be parallel or analogous to the “one flesh” union rather than an emerging facet or subset of it. On the other, while it seems reasonable to claim that the biblical texts cannot be made to pass judgment on the apparently modern notion of loving, committed same-sex relationships, I rather doubt that the “moral logic” can be stretched to include the modern arrangement, for reasons that I will touch on below.

Secondly, it seems to me that the “moral logic” hermeneutics, in any case, is flawed. Because the problem of same-sex relations has traditionally been examined under the rubric of Christian ethics, the fact has largely been overlooked that in both the Old Testament and the New Testament the prohibitions are found in sharply defined narrative contexts, and that in the New Testament the narrative context is eschatological. Brownson has, admittedly, superimposed a very generalized new creation eschatology over what he takes to be the determinative logic of biblical ethics, but this leaves us with a too abstract framework to work with. I think that Paul’s argument in Romans presupposes an urgent kingdom eschatology which operates on a different level and with a different “end” in view to a new creation eschatology.

Now for the narratives….

Man and woman as “one flesh”

Humanity is created in the image and after the likeness of God as male and female (Gen. 1:26-27). In the narrative context this differentiates humanity from the living creatures, which are created “according to their kinds” (Gen. 1:20-25), and is expressed specifically in the progressive exercise of dominion over all living creatures. It is not man and woman, as such, but humanity that is in the image of God, specifically in its relation to other living creatures; but humanity exists as male and female.

In the Eden narrative woman is created from the “side” of man because no “helper fit for him” was found among the animals. She is, therefore, of the same bone and flesh as Adam (Gen. 2:23), not another creature from the earth—she is of the same “species”, so to speak. The language of being of the same bone and flesh is used in the Old Testament to signify shared kinship bonds. For example, Laban says to his nephew Jacob, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” (Gen. 29:14). For the man and the woman to become “one flesh”, therefore, should probably not be understood in terms of sexual union but as the establishment of “family” as a broader network of social relations.

Nevertheless, while procreation may not be directly in view in the text, a kinship group of shared bone and flesh exists and is extended only through marriage and procreation. In this respect, in biblical terms, it does not seem possible to classify same-sex unions as “one flesh”.

Homosexuality and the land

There are two narrative contexts in which homosexual activity is condemned and prohibited for God’s people. The perplexing stories of thwarted homosexual rape in Genesis 19:4-11 and Judges 19:22-26 have no bearing on the “normative” texts.

The prohibitions of Leviticus 18 are prefaced by the command not to “do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived” or “as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you”. They are to walk in the statutes and judgments of the Lord their God, by which they shall live (Lev. 18:3-5).
A man is not to “uncover the nakedness” of “any relation of his flesh” (Lev. 18:6-18). He must not uncover a woman’s nakedness “while she is in her menstrual uncleanness” or to give the “seed of intercourse” to a neighbour’s wife, because it will result in uncleanness (Lev. 18:19-20). He must not give any of his “seed” to Molech to “profane the name of your God” (Lev. 18:21). A man must not lie with a male as lying down with a woman; this is an “abomination” (Lev. 18:22). He must not make himself unclean by lying with an animal; and a woman must not stand before an animal to lie with it, which is a perversion (Lev. 18:23).

There appears to be no good reason to think that the prohibition against male homosexuality presupposes a cultic context. There are religious practices that are described as abominations (eg. Deut. 12:31), but not every abomination is a religious practice (Deut. 25:13-16). There is reference to the offering of “seed” to Molech in verse 21, but the prohibitions of Leviticus 18:19-23 appear to have discrete practices in view.


No comments:

Post a Comment