Sunday, April 28, 2013

Example #76,239 of sola scriptura in action

Observe to your left two bumper stickers that would flunk a contestant on The Great American Bible Challenge. Let's dig a little deeper, shall we?

1. Jesus affirmed a gay couple.  No, he didn't — he healed a centurion's slave.   

The passage in question, Matthew 8:5-13, tells us nothing more than that the centurion wanted a particular slave healed, but didn't count himself worthy to receive Jesus as a guest. It doesn't tell us whether the particular slave was favored or not; in fact, the Greek word used, pais (παῖς), had the primary meaning of "child", and could be used of either male or female. While some slaves were used as sex toys by their owners in the classic world (as well as in any other culture where slavery has been found), not all slaves were sex toys; given that it's unlikely homosexual orientation was more prevalent in the Mediterranean culture of the Roman Empire than it is today, it follows that female slaves more than male slaves were targets of their masters' lusts. Moreover, slaves were not uniformly treated cruelly or inconsiderately; to be concerned for his servant's health, the centurion merely had to be a prudent man who took care of his possessions. 

In any event, Jesus said nothing about the centurion's relationship with the slave; he merely stated that he would heal the slave, and praised the centurion's faith for believing that Jesus could pull the healing off without even setting eyes on the man. Speculation is free and fun, but to turn speculation into an assertion of fact is to engage in wishful thinking.

2: The early church welcomed a gay man. No, the early church welcomed a eunuch.

Scholars have long known that the use of eunouchos (εύνοῦχος) was not strictly limited to literal eunuchs; neither was its Hebrew counterpart, saris (סריס). It could refer to any man, castrated or not, who held positions in Eastern courts commonly held by eunuchs; alternatively, it could also refer to any man incapable of marriage or reproduction, or who practiced celibacy. In any event, there's no need to take Jesus' words in Matthew 19:12 literally.

However, there's no real evidence that eunouchos ever referred to a practicing homosexual; St. Paul used the words arsenokoitēs (ἀρσενοκοίτης) and malakos (μαλακός) (1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10) to express the idea. In fact, the argument depends on importing an essentialist idea of sexual orientation ("born this way") that wasn't part of the Greco-Roman milieu. Given the man Phillip converted in Acts 8:26-40 was a treasurer for the queen of Ethiopia, it's likely that he was literally a eunuch. If castrated young, he would have had no sexual orientation to speak of. If, on the other hand, he were only enucleated, or if his testes were crushed, he might very well have been a lover of women rather than men. Regardless, the passage doesn't speak of his preferences or nightly practices, but merely of his conversion to Christianity. Again, the people who push the "eunuch = gay" interpretation are turning speculation into factoid by the advanced process of "wishing makes it so".

To address the larger issue of discrimination is another matter for another post, probably on The Other Blog. There I've posted extensively on "the silence of the Gospels", especially as it pertains to same-sex attraction. If anything, these two examples are further demonstration of why sola scriptura is such a stunningly bad doctrine.

But here someone perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church's interpretation? For this reason,—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another [all of these authors were leaders of early Church heretical movements]. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation (St. Vincent of Lérins, Commonitory 2:5, ca. 434).