RLST 201: Week 2 Discussion Summary

Week Two’s survey of methods prompted lots of good discussion about what methods/approaches students felt strongly about, both pro and con. While it is certainly fine for everyone to have preferences, it’s also important that we not entrench ourselves in preconceived notions and biases.

For example, some very strongly worded concerns were expressed about about foisting postmodern perspectives/ethics (such as LGBTQ Criticism) upon ancient New Testament texts. One comment went so far as to call such readings “dangerous.”

Let me give a cautionary note here, both in terms of civility and in terms of academic honesty. Word choice matters, and it’s important that we do not offend others unnecessarily. Even when we disagree, we can disagree agreeably.

Academically speaking, it is true that lenses such as LGBTQ Criticism reflect a postmodern/subjectivist tendency, yet this doesn’t make them necessarily less important in terms of prompting us to situate and understand the New Testament in its original historical context. We shouldn’t make the false assumption that homoeroticism is merely a modern phenomenon in Western, liberal societies. Homoeroticism is found in many cultures throughout history, and it was quite common across the Greco-Roman world in which the New Testament came into existence. Given this, we should at least be open to the possibility that homoeroticism may have been accepted and practiced by some of the Hellenistic-Jewish and Gentile-Christian communities out of which the New Testament texts arose. We should also be careful not to assume that every voice and text represented in the New Testament takes an unequivocally negative view of homoeroticism, especially when the vast majority of Jewish and Christian Biblical texts are simply silent on the issue.

True enough that Paul in Romans 1:26-27 equates homoeroticism (male and female) with idolatry, in 1 Cor 6:9 includes homosexuals in a list of “wrongdoers” who won’t “inherit the kingdom of God.” Paul’s later followers who wrote 1 Tim 1:10 repeats 1 Cor 6:9. But Historical Criticism and LGBTQ Criticism can both help us understand that Paul’s ethics were highly influenced by Stoic philosophy, which was dismissive of homoeroticism as contrary to nature.

Conversely, Platonism and other Greco-Roman philosophical schools readily accepted homoeroticism as normal and natural. Thus it is worth considering whether New Testament texts that were much more influenced by Platonism than Stoicism (such as the Gospel of John) might also assume/convey a more positive sensibility regarding homoeroticism. The frequent depictions of the intimate relationship of “beloved disciple” to Jesus in the Gospel of John may not be explicitly or clearly homoerotic, but they may be suggestive. While the so-called Secret Gospel of Mark is likely a modern forgery, its homoerotic interpretation of the young man in Mark 15:52-53 (who was only wearing a linen garment and who ran away naked!) may not be completely baseless.

In sum, a diversity of methods for studying the New Testament is vital, not only to respect the diversity of our fellow human beings who read these texts, but also because of the enormous diversity of the texts themselves. While a simplistic kind of faith tends to see everything in the Bible or New Testament as bound by a divinely imposed uniformity, a close, scholarly reading of these texts sees tremendous linguistic, cultural, philosophical, rhetorical, theological, and even ethical diversity.

If the New Testament is a song, it’s not a solo. It’s a gloriously diverse choir. 😊

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