Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Jesus and homosexuality

Recently one of those who responded to my critique of the Newsweek article linked to an article by Eric Koepnick who argued that the Gospels actually support homosexual relationships.

The gospel story Koepnick used to prove this point is the story of Jesus healing the “pais” (child/boy/slave/servant) of a centurion, found in Matthew 8:5-13//Luke 7:1-10 and John 4:46-54. Koepnick tries to demonstrate that Jesus was actually healing the homosexual lover of this centurion.

What follows is a summary and critique of Koepnick’s article.


Koepnick argues that the gospel story as a whole is historically reliable because it is found in the “Gospel of Q” and in the “Sign’s Source,” both of which date before the fall of Jerusalem, possibly as early as AD 50.

While “The Gospel of Q” uses the Greek word pais (child/slave) in reference to the servant in the story, the Gospel of John uses the word huios (son) instead. Koepnick argues that John was a creative editor and this suggests that John may have deliberately changed the word pais (child/slave) as he found it in the Gospel of Q to huios (son) in order to remove any evidence of a sexual relationship between the centurion and his servant.

Since, in the same story, the writer of Luke uses the word doulos (slave) rather than pais, we can assume that the writer of Luke changed the word pais in his Q source to doulos (slave) in order to identify the pais as a slave.

It is clear, Koepnick says, that the pais (child/slave) was not the centurion’s child since Augustus legally banned soldiers from marrying, so the centurion would not have had children “unless he did it on the sly….”

Koepnick argues that since the word pais also implied affection and was used to refer to a younger “partner in a homosexual relationship”, the centurion probably used the word pais in reference to “his sexual relationship with the male slave.

According to Koepnick “Scholars overwhelminghly agree that the word pais was used in the Greek language as a synonym for eromenos—a Greek word meaning ‘the boy you love’ and specifically denoting a homosexual relationship.”

For example, in Plato’s writings, the pais is made “wise and virtuous” by the “more mature lover.” In Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, Agathon is called a pais in his relationship with Pausanias. In Thucydides’ Against Timarchos the pais, Timarchos, had a reputation of taking advantage of older men which whom he had relationships. The word pais is also used in a homosexual context in an official Roman document of the second century C.E.

That Roman soldiers were often homosexual is affirmed by Plutarch who wrote of a band of 300 Roman soldiers who were “cemented by friendship grounded upon love” who were willing to “rush into danger for the relief of one another” rather than “to be base in the sight of their beloved” or “lovers.”

Koepnick argues that it is, therefore, “possible to propose that the pais was a slave in the centurion’s household who, at some point, was chosen by the centurion as a lover in order to be later freed to fight beside him in the Roman army.” Jesus would have known that the centurion was not able to marry and therefore had no wife or children, and that pais was “synonymous with the words, male lover.”

Koepnick concludes that Jesus “probably healed the centurion’s pais” knowing full well that the two were having homosexual relations. Since he failed to comment on the relationship, positively or negatively, this “calls into doubt the assertion by modern Christian conservatives that homosexual acts are inherently sinful.” It shows that “Jesus did not disapprove of their bond.”


Koepnick’s arguments are so filled with errors it is hard to know where to begin.

First, in a tangential point not related to the main argument: I find it humorous that the Koepnick bases his entire argument regarding the historicity of the passage under discussion, not on the Gospels themselves, but on two hypothetical sources supposedly used by the Gospel writers (i.e. The “Gospel of Q” and the “Sign’s Gospel”).

Those unfamiliar with scholarly biblical studies should know that neither of these “documents” actually exist. They are just scholarly speculations about the imagined sources supposedly used by the Gospel writers (“Q” by Matthew and Luke; the “Signs Source” by John).

If these sources ever existed at all—and there are very reputable scholars who call both sources into question—we know nothing about them other than what we can infer from reading Matthew, Luke and John.

Hypothesizing about hypothetical editorial changes to hypothetical documents is just silly; regardless of how often theological liberals do it. Can you imagine the ridicule conservative Christians would receive if our arguments against homosexual behavior rested on our speculation about hypothetical changes to hypothetical (non-existent) documents?

Second, Koepnick assumes that John was editing the hypothetical “Gospel of Q,” but there is absolutely no evidence that John ever saw “The Gospel of Q” at all, if such a gospel ever existed. In fact, most scholars—even liberal scholars—believe that John was written entirely independent of Matthew, Luke or the “Gospel of Q.”

Koepnick’s theory of how John edited the “Gospel of Q” is, therefore, nothing but groundless wishful thinking on Koepnick’s part. Koepnick must engage in this wishful thinking, however, because if the boy was the centurion’s son (huios), as John says, then Koepnick’s entire argument fails.

Third, since we are speculating about the possible editing of hypothetical sources anyway, we must ask how can Koepnick possibly be so sure that John wasn’t just reporting what was in his hypothetical “Signs Source” rather than editing the hypothetical “Gospel of Q”? After all, most theologically liberal New Testament scholars would agree that John probably used a “Signs Source” but they would not agree that John ever saw the “Gospel of Q.”

In other words, if the “Gospel of Q” read “pais”—which can mean either slave or child, depending on the context—and if the “Signs source” independently called this pais (child) the centurion’s huios (son) that would provide evidence that the centurion’s pais was in fact his son which would invalidate Koepnick’s whole theory. Koepnick doesn’t mention this possibility.

Fourth, Koepnick assumes that since Augustus banned marriage for soldiers, the pais could not possibly be his son. Interestingly enough, Koepnick states that in order for a pericope (a passage in the gospels) to be considered historical, it must come from 30-50 C.E.; i.e. less than 20 years after Jesus lived. Koepnick seems unaware that this (very biased and ridiculous) criteria undermines his own argument since the evidence for Augustus’ prohibition against soldiers marrying come from much more than 20 years after the fact.

But assuming that Augustus’ prohibition was historical, even Koepnick mentions the possibility that the pais could have been conceived “on the sly.” If the child was conceived “on the sly” it would invalidate Koepnick’s whole theory.

There are other possibilities as well. For example, since there were no Roman legions in Galilee before AD 44 (Marshall, I.H., The Gospel of Luke, 279), it may be that the “centurion” was not a Roman soldier at all—and therefore not subject to Augustus’ restrictions—but was in fact a member of Herod Antipas’ army organized along Roman lines. Or, the centurion could have been married and had the child before he became a soldier. Any of these possibilities invalidate Koepnick’s entire thesis.

So in other words, out of at least five possibilities 1) Augustus’ prohibition comes from sources too late and must be judged unhistorical 2) the centurion had the child “on the sly” 3) the man was married and had his son before he became a centurion, 4) the centurion was a member of Herod Antipas’ army, not the Roman army or 5) the child is a slave who is unrelated to the centurion, Koepnick ignores the first four and selects the option that can be best twisted to fit his theory.

The reader should be aware that we are not in the realm of objective scholarship here.

On the other hand, Koepnick could have avoided all of his frivolous assumptions and convoluted arguments simply by adopting the view of many conservative scholars who hold that the story in Matthew/Luke is sufficiently different from that of John to warrant the view that Matthew//Luke and John record two similar but unrelated incidents. That would eliminate Koepnick’s need to try to find reasons to explain away John’s reference to huios (son). But although that would have solved one problem, Koepnick’s case would still fail because…

Fifth, Koepnick argued that “Scholars overwhelmingly agree that the word pais was used in the Greek language as a synonym for eromenos—a Greek word meaning ‘the boy you love.” It may be that pedophiles overwhelmingly agree that pais is a synonym for eromenos, but Koepnick’s allegation that “scholars overwhelmingly agree” is groundless, and his allegation that eromenos is a synonym for pais is factually untrue. It is like saying that “sexual abuse victim” is synonymous for the word child.

Such arguments amount to saying that because perverted people in the ancient world used children (pais) to fulfill their sexual perversion, the word pais can therefore be translated as homosexual lover or “the boy you love!” This would be like finding numerous news stories about perverts who have had sex with juveniles and assuming that the word juvenile, therefore, can also mean lover!

If ancient documents also recorded incidents of Roman soldiers having sex with sheep, would we then assume that the word “sheep” was synonymous with the word “lover?”(it should be noted in passing, that although eromenos is found in Wikipedia, it is not found in Liddell and Scott which is the “bible” of classical Greek lexicons).

Sixth, among the possible meanings for pais are “slave”, “servant” or “child” (male or female depending on the gender of the word used) but it does not mean homosexual lover—but even if “homosexual lover” were one of the possible meanings of pais (it is not), there is absolutely nothing in the context of any gospel that would even remotely hint that this story has anything whatsoever to do with sex or homosexuality!

In other words, even IF a possible meaning for pais was “homosexual lover”, trying to read “homosexual lover” into the context of this gospel story would be like finding stories about people hiding their treasure in “trunks” and transferring that meaning of "trunk" into an entirely different context about elephants in an attempt to prove that some people hide their treasure in elephant’s noses (trunks). Context is critical!

Seventh, even if we were to suspend all reality for a moment and suppose that the pais really was the centurion’s homosexual lover, it would be invalid to assume that Jesus’ healing of this servant, therefore, implied acceptance of that lifestyle. The fact is that the gospels contain stories about the healing of numerous people by Jesus—even Gentiles—in which the gospels never record whether or not Jesus challenged their lifestyle.

So even if the pais was a homosexual lover (he wasn’t!) the fact that the gospels do not record Jesus specifically challenging this lifestyle would not lead us to conclude that Jesus condoned it—especially in light of the fact that Jesus preached against sexual immorality (Mark 7:21; Matthew 15:19) as defined by Jesus’ own Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) which specifically condemned homosexual sex, calling it an abomination and saying that God would “vomit” out the nations who practice such behavior. Koepnick is simply trying to twist the Bible to support his own preconceived position.

If Koepnick followed his own arguments to their logical conclusion, however, I guess he would also have to conclude that Jesus was not only pro-homosexual, but pro-slavery and pro-pedophile as well!

This is an important point: Although Koepnick himself doesn’t go there, his arguments sound more like a defense of homosexual pedophilia than just homosexuality. Jesus said it would be better for someone to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than to cause a little one to sin (Luke 17:2; Mark 9:42; Matthew 18:6). In Greek the phrase “cause to sin” is from skandalidzo, which can mean “that which gives offense or causes revulsion…” (BAG, 753). I think that would fit pedophilia pretty well.


The idea that Jesus was giving his approval for the homosexual (pedophile) relationship between this centurion and his child-servant is not only absurd and exegetically fallacious, it is thoroughly disgusting and sick.