St. Paul and Same Sex Love

Did Paul and his world have any conception of faithful monogamous same sex love?

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It's against God's creative intention

This is an excellent question about a topic upon which there is no doubt great disagreement among our professors and our readers.  The biblical materials have two aspects.  One is exegetical.  What did Paul mean by what he wrote regarding homosexual behavior?  The second is hermeneutical.  How do we apply his teaching to our lives today?  The power of the question is its hermeneutical significance.

Regarding what Paul meant, my position is that he ruled out homosexual sexual intercourse.  He appears to have considered the Leviticus passages (18.22; 20.13) as binding in the new covenant.  The term that he used in 1 Corinthians 6.9-10 (also in 1 Tim. 1.9-10), translated in the NRSV as "male prostitutes" (literally, "males who go to bed with males"), is a new term coined as a compound noun formulated from the Greek translation (LXX) of two terms in both Leviticus passages, "male" and "sexual intercourse." 

The power of the question that was asked, however, is was Paul dealing with the type of homosexual behavior that many Christians today would defend, "monogamous same sex love"?   One could well argue that Paul would not be aware of such and therefore his prohibition would not apply today.  This is the most powerful argument against an inclusive application of Paul's prohibition.  I myself would still rule that out because Paul is not dealing with the motivation for homosexual sexual intercourse.  Rather, he sees that act itself as against God's creative intention.  In Romans 8.26b he states that this action is "contrary to nature" (or "contrary to the established order of things") (NRSV "unnatural"). 

There obviously is much more that could be said for and against my position.

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Author: Stephen Charles Mott
Paul's view of marriage

Arguably, Paul had little conception of faithful, monogamous opposite sex love, let alone same sex love.  In 1 Corinthians, for example, he suggests that marriage is intended to assist believers in disposing of their desires properly, not as an institution designed for the expression of love (1 Cor 7:2-9, 25-40; compare 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6).  Nowhere in this letter does he mention “love” as a goal for married couples.  Indeed, his famous praise of love in 1 Corinthians 13 describes not the romantic love of sexual partners but the love of the members of the entire “body of Christ,” one for another (1 Cor 13:1-13; compare 1 Thess 4:9-10).  Colossians and Ephesians, which may or may not have been written by Paul, do recommend love between opposite sex partners, but this love is hierarchical, not mutual: wives are instructed to be subject to their husbands and love is enjoined on the husband alone (Eph 5:22-32, Col 3:18; compare Titus 2:3-5).

Same sex love was sometimes praised in literature Paul knew, though he does not bring it up. For example, the love between Jonathan and David is central to the drama of 1 and 2 Samuel; when Jonathan dies, David composes a song claiming that his love for Jonathan surpassed his love of women (2 Sam 1:26).  Also, the erotic love between older and younger men was regularly idealized in Paul’s larger linguistic culture.  It was assumed that men would be attracted to young people of both genders and thus the myth of Zeus and his beautiful male lover Ganymede, a prince of Troy carried off to Olympus by the god himself, was a popular subject in Greek literature and art.  This model was taken up by the Roman Emperor Hadrian (ruled 117-138 CE) when, celebrating his devotion to the beautiful young Antinous, he dedicated a city in his lover’s honor.  Love between women, though less frequently mentioned, was also acknowledged.  The satirist Lucian (ca. 120-190 CE), for example, wrote a humorous dialogue in which he imagined the romantic relationship of two women who, Lucian suggests, loved one another as “man” and “woman.”

None of these examples, however, stress faithful, monogamous love -- same sex, opposite sex or otherwise.  David went on to marry many women, including Bathsheba. Zeus is depicted with multiple partners, male and female. Hadrian remained married to Sabina Augusta while memorializing his love of Antinous.  In fact, both Antinous and Sabina were elevated by Hadrian to the status of gods after their respective deaths.  In Lucian’s satire, the lovers Megilla and Demonassa are also not monogamous; the courtesan Leaeana learns of their “marriage” only after she is brought into their bed for a sexual encounter.  Some Greco-Roman moralists recommended faithful monogamy for men as well as women, but same sex monogamy was rarely, if ever, represented.

Although Paul did imagine monogamy as the best and, indeed, only option for sexually active believers (1 Cor 7:5), he never argued that married couples should pursue faithful, mutual love.  Instead he depicts marriage and sex as hierarchal: men penetrate and so are “male,” women are penetrated and so are “female,” but the disordering of their desires is a danger to both of them (see Romans 1:6-27; 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10, which may or may not have been written by Paul).  Thus, faithful, monogamous and mutual sexual love is never praised by Paul, neither in the letters universally attributed to him nor in letters now identified by many scholars as pseudo-Pauline (Col, Eph, 2 Thess, 1-2 Tim, Titus, Hebrews).  For Paul, desire is a problem for which opposite sex marriage can provide a solution.  For the pseudo-Pauline letters, hierarchical households require subjection from women, children and slaves, not love, and monogamy serves as a mark of social propriety that outsiders can appreciate. 

Author: Jennifer Wright Knust




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