Monday, June 4, 2018

Revisiting 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 after GSTHW 2018

1 Corinthians 6:9-10: "Do you not know that [the unjust, adikoi] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators (pornoi), idolaters, [people remarried after divorce, moikoi, Luke 16:18], male prostitutes (malakoi), sodomites (arsenokoitai), thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers - none of these will inherit the kingdom of God." (NRSV with variation)

1 Corinthians 7:8-9: "To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion." (NRSV)

1 Corinthians 12:13 "For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit."

As I engage with discussion here and there, on and off the blog, I note a concern that ACANZP's decision to permit blessings of civil marriages or civil unions between two people of the same sex is false teaching which imperils people's salvation.

In this respect, frequent reference is made to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (cited above). Before going over the brink on the basis of this charge of false teaching, could we examine the text one more time with a view to seeing if it is appropriate to think there might be more than one interpretation of this text held within the same church?

Absolutely, one interpretation, long held, consistently held around the church of God, is that 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 teaches that homosexuals engaged in sexual practice are wicked/wrongdoers/unjust/adikoi  and will not inherit the kingdom. (Homosexuals engaged in sexual practice: whether as malakoi, almost certainly, male prostitutes; or as arsenokoites, men engaging in sex with other men, whether as technically defined as the NRSV gives by offering "sodomites" or perhaps otherwise.) This is no light matter and it is no light matter to ask whether this interpretation is singular and thus authoritative in the life of the church, or not.

There is another interpretation of this text. I suggest the key to this interpretation rests on the use of the word adikoi to cover all the specific forms of being a wrongdoer which are then listed. Adikoi is the opposite of dikoi, the opposite of acting justly. It is not difficult to connect injustice with the non-sexual behaviours in the list: idolaters, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers.

What about the sexual behaviours and injustice? Fornicaters (pornoi) could be users and thus exploiters of prostitutes, adulterers (moikoi) act unjustly against the betrayed party to their marriage. In the debate over the exact meaning of malakoi and arsenokoitai (and there is much debate, both as to what these words meant when Paul wrote them, and how we should translate them in a different cultural situation) but it is highly likely that these words refer to men having sex with men in exploitative activity in which each partner to the activity is in an unjust relation to the other.

That is, what is not condemned is something the Scriptures do not discuss: a consensual, just relationship between two men or two women freely entering into the mutual covenant of a civil marriage or civil union.

In short, according to this interpretation, the blessing envisaged by ACANZP is not the blessing of a salvation-imperiling state of life.

That is, we are on the brink of a church schism because it is denied that both these interpretations of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 can be held within the same church. Can we pull back?

There is an additional aspect for considering whether 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is condemning people in civil marriage or an equivalent lifelong civil union. That is, the same text also condemns those who are adulterers which (as my provocative rendition above notes) includes those remarried after divorce. Ah, say many Anglicans, remarriage after divorce is not adultery because one can repent of one's mistakes and start again.

But that is a reading of the Scriptures which is at variance (i) with previous Anglican understanding, and (ii) the understanding of other Christians today (notably the Roman Catholic church). In other words, on "adulterers" in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, we have two live interpretations of the text existing in the same church. Can we not have two interpretations of malakoi/arsenokoitai?

Incidentally, we are not on the brink of schism because of two interpretations of adulterers in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Why not? What is it that bothers us about one issue in human sexuality and does not bother us about another, though both figure in the same small passage of Scripture?

The argument advanced here is that those who believe and teach that malakoi/arsenokoitai covers all same sex sexual activity, including that in non-exploitative civil marriages or civil unions should continue to do so. If this teaching is correct, then it is very important it is taught. But this teaching could be less strident about the certainty that it is correct because there is some uncertainty whether malakoi/arsenokoitai covers all same sex sexual activity (because we are not sure what ancient activity was being condemned).

Conversely, rather than slating a different interpretation of the passage as false teaching, the view should be taken that it may be true teaching and given space to be considered in the life of our church.

And, finally, we might always consider 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 on these matters: celibacy is not for all. Is it necessarily the case that it is compulsory, by definition, following one specific interpretation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, for gay and lesbian Christians?

Is it not odd of God that (at least, the Protestant) God presides over a world in which salvation is not imperilled no matter how many times you are married (providing you keep repenting) but enter into one lifelong, faithful civil marriage or civil union with the same sex love of your life and you are doomed?

OK, maybe you do not consider that odd. But how we understand God lies behind all our interpretations of Scripture. Are we sure that in our treatment of Scripture in respect of heterosexuals and homosexuals we are consistent in respect of the God in whose name we interpret?

Finally, 1 Corinthians 12:13 "For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." If this text is true then we are one body, whether we like it or not, whether we are of one mind or not. The implicit command of this teaching about the church is that we work out our differences within the one body and not by separating.


  1. Hi Peter
    I guess you are allowed to deal with 1 Cor 6 on its own, but speaking as though the entire issue hangs on these verses IN ISOLATION (forgive caps, don't know how to do italics here) seems quite misleading. This text is read in light of the wider picture of sexuality and marriage in the canon (including Rom 1, but also the positive teaching on marriage, bearing in mind the difference between narration and command in the OT). And at the same time, the pederastic (or similar) understanding of it to which you point is problematic in a number of ways, and again not at all obvious from the text (and in light of the linguistic connections with Leviticus, and that text understood in light of Genesis in canonical context, seems well over-stretched).

    Looking at the whole thing under 'adikoi' is a good idea - but just to pick out one quick example, it is not at all obvious how 'idolatry' would be obviously considered unjust (in our current climate of understanding) except that God says it is and in his economy it makes sense. Many in our culture would say that to say 'one Lord and no other' is not a matter of injustice at all. To read it the way you seem to be, with the type of understanding of 'injustice' that you do here, raises wider problems. (not to mention for drunkenness, and probably for fornication too - it is a forced reading, which calls the whole thing into question when there is a more obvious way of reading it in light of wider Paul and the wider canon)

    As to the divorce/adultery thing, there seems to be some emotional misleading here too. I have written at some length so won't go into it all here, but as to what you have written here, you well know moikos has a wider meaning than that (ie isn't specific to divorce and remarriage) in general, and there is something deceptive about reducing its use here, with no contextual reason to do so, to that particular case. And further there are reasons in other parts of Scripture to think that at times divorce and remarriage may be acceptable, and vitally our canonical changes sought to reflect that, rather than move away from it. The pastoral room given on the ground is still under that doctrinal banner - and that is good - both that there is pastoral room and a doctrinal banner guiding the pastoral application (although no evangelical I have spoken to about these matters would be at all happy with the sort of situation you allude to with remarriage and 'repentance' over and again - and the picture you paint, while heartbreaking, is not at all unlike those who are married and fall into adultery and then say they have met the love of their life and they have married the wrong person and should be remarried - and none of us are saying that would be okay, heartbreaking as it is, nor that a minister should ever do it, nor that the current canons encourage such doing). So too, we would say, for same sex attracted Christians - there is still pastoral room to work out details on the ground - that is not the divisive issue here. The divisive issue, which surely you understand from all the discussions you have had with me, let alone with everyone else, is the change of that doctrinal banner.

    It was known by all involved that such a change would result in the situation we now have. I just don't think the things you are writing are at all presenting that reality honestly, and as much as I like and respect you Peter, it is very disappointing.
    God bless

  2. Hi Chris
    I am disappointing a number of people but I think it worth doing that because it is - as best as I can tell - even more disappointing that parishes are contemplating departure despite the amount of bending over backwards our church has done via M29(7) to accommodate conservatives who - let us not forget - need change no belief or practice - but do need to acknowledge the presence in our church of another belief/practice.

    I focused on 1 Cor 6 because, well, that seems to be the text which is most advanced in discussions on why conservatives are contemplating leaving (because of the soteriological aspect to the text and thus to the debate we are having). So it is actually out of my respect for that aspect of the debate that I have tried to tackle it in a manner which attempts to highlight both the possibility of discrepancy over our treatment of remarriage after divorce (which Jesus said was adultery) and the possibility that this key text does not address lifelong same sex partnerships.

    However I have also tried to highlight that both approaches to the text, yours and those who disagree with you, are welcome in our church. Those contemplating leaving do not think this is possible -despite my best efforts! - and thus, even today, it appears that my one last effort is in vain.

    Let me turn your last paragraph around if I may: are you saying that what I should be posting is something which goes like this, "No matter what I want to say or do to see if I can persuade parishes not to leave, all that can be said is that the inevitable will happen and that is that?"

  3. Hi Peter,

    Fair call on 1 Cor 6 as a key text, I simply meant to say you can't interpret it out of canonical context (it only makes sense in the wider flow of teaching on sex and marriage in the Scriptures), and then think that deals with the issue we have before us.

    Regards your question on the last paragraph - no I am not saying that. What I am saying, and where my concern and disappointment is, is in 2 places I think:
    a) that I haven't heard you make these sorts of hermeneutical arguments before, certainly not with the sort of force I am seeing here, and with apparent ownership of them, until now when the pressure is on post motion 29 - that is what is concerning me on that front;
    b) the reality of the 'bending over backwards' (and to some extent I accept that idea, that it bent over backwards as you say) doesn't change the fact that it was very clear that a good number of evangelical churches would still find it tough to impossible to live with - Motion 29/7 really tried to do what it had to do within its mandate, but that mandate was always clearly problematic, and was signalled as such (and other possibilities presented by FCA and others that pressed that mandate outwards a bit were deemed to be unacceptable in the end). So it is not that it is a surprise where we are now, and I think that should be acknowledged (with great sadness), and not hidden in the discussion.

    (A bugbear again seeing as you brought it up - there is a change in belief in ecclesiology required, as we have discussed, in that we now have to believe it is okay to be aligned with a church that has made this change, and further I am clearer on that now as we have the canonical official acceptance of two different views as being able to be legitimately taught through the changes to the discipline canon.)

  4. Hi Chris
    Fair response on all counts.
    I am still left wondering (generally, not about you specifically) why the model of the Diocese of Polynesia is not being discussed and even followed: vigorous, firm, clear disagreement with blessings and resolute determination to remain in the church!