Saturday, July 4, 2015

Those Gay Romans

What follows is rooted in a distillation of some insights put forward by Douglas Campbell in his thesis: The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. I believe Campbell's work will overturn the tables of post reformation theology much as Jesus overturned the tables of the money lenders in the temple.

Recently Romans 1:18-32 has been a commonly sited verse within the new testament used to attack gays (as it were) and "Christians" are jumping all over it to justify their condemnation of same-sex attraction, marriage and resistance to extending to them constitutional rights.

When you look at how these texts are structured this is all the more tragic because these brothers and sisters are in fact falling for a false gospel being promoted by a false teacher and this is the problem Paul is attacking and that is what I intend to show here.

Preliminary points:
a) The letter to the Romans is not a doctrinal letter but an occasional letter as are all of Paul's authentic works. This excludes 1 & 2 Timothy as they are of unknown origin but are certainly not of Pauline authorship, a point undisputed by scholars.
b) Paul has proclaimed his calling as "the apostle to the gentiles".
c) Paul finds himself (in many of his letters) having to either defend his gospel against or otherwise refute false teachers preaching false "gospels".
d) Many believe these false teachers to be from the Jerusalem church and we should NOT downplay Paul's bitter dispute with Peter in Antioch. This was a sign of significant divisions between Jewish believers and church leadership and their gentile counterparts. These are divisions in the early church that should not be dismissed or taken lightly.

Twice in Romans (1:18-32 & 3:1-9) Paul uses the Greek rhetorical device of prosopopeia. This is where he accurately, lest his argument against it be discredited, lays out his adversary's position in relative detail in order to appropriately address it in rebuttal.
The reason Paul sends letters with a "carrier" (aside from the fact of very low literacy rate at the time) is that this person was with Paul when he wrote the letter and upon arrival performed the letter as a lector so that the change in voice would be clear. Even without this benefit it is still discernible in this text. I personally found it more difficult to notice the beginning of the division precisely because of the fact the incorrect reading of the text had become "normalized" from having spent 25 years within the protestant tradition where Paul is understood by reformation era justification theories. 

This distinction becomes very clear when Paul begins his rebuttal in Romans 2:1 of the false teachers argument put forward in Ch1 vs. 18-32. If ever one has gone away from reading Paul and thought; "He just might have some sort of personality disorder" it is because his use of these grammatical structures and diatribe go unrecognized.

Paul's rebuttal beginning in Rom. 2:1: 

"So do you think that you can judge those other people? You are wrong. You too are guilty of sin. You judge them, but you do the same things they do. So when you judge them, you are really condemning yourself.2 God judges all who do such things, and we know his judgment is right.3 And since you do the same things as those people you judge, surely you understand that God will punish you too. How could you think you would be able to escape his judgment?"

In 3:9 he is again turning the false teacher's accusing finger around addressing the false apostle's next argument, laid out in 3:1-9. I'm taking a bit of liberty here for the sake of making a contemporary connection. 

Rom 3:9 So are we Jews [heterosexual American Christians] better than other people? No, we have already said that those who are Jews [heterosexual American Christians], as well as those who are not [heterosexual American Christians] Jews, are the same. They are all guilty of sin. 10 As the Scriptures say, "There is no one doing what is right, not even one. 11 There is no one who understands. There is no one who is trying to be with God. 12 They have all turned away from him, and now they are of no use to anyone. There is no one who does good, not even one." 13 "Their words come from mouths that are like open graves. They use their lying tongues to deceive others." "Their words are like the poison of snakes." 14 "Their mouths are full of cursing and angry words." 15 "They are always ready to kill someone. 16 Everywhere they go they cause trouble and ruin. 17 They don't know how to live in peace." 18 "They have no fear or respect for God." 

If anything describes how fundamentalist Christians have positioned themselves in our culture today it is verses 13-18.

Paul was the consummate egalitarian in regard to his gospel. With Jesus he views the only law that has meaning is the law of faith expressed through love.

Further, the arguments in 1:18-32 can be found in the apocryphal work Wisdom of Solomon books 12 and 13 and is a form of standard anti-gentile discourse. Paul, being educated in both classical Greek and the Jewish rabbinic tradition, does not hesitate at tearing apart this assault as a false gospel. So even if the grammatical construction wasn't here (which it is) as the "apostle to the gentiles" it would make little sense for him to go against his own gospel and beat his Greek hearers over the head.

Many have claimed that those who champion grace and "tolerance" are suffering from "itching ears" syndrome. Just hearing what their itching ears what to hear and ignoring rectitude but that argument is empty. Grace, peace, love, acceptance, "tolerance" are decidedly NOT what we want to hear as self-righteous human beings. We want to hear is exactly what Jesus DENIED his hearers in his first public sermon in Nazareth when quoting from the book of Isaiah everything BUT the final part of Ch 61 verses 1&2. This enraged his hearers as these passages were a well known statement of the hope of Israel. These passages might have been held up a football games much like John 3:16 is today and it is also why they tried to throw him off a cliff.

Isa 61:1 "The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed and to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

Jesus conveniently (and deliberately I propose) leaves out: "and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;" Notice the connection between the day of vengeance (against our enemies-whoever "they" are) as being a "comfort" to the mourners. 

This is the sickness of human sin and this is what itching ears really want to hear!

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