Author Archives: Clarke Morledge

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit.

Indelible Grace: God Himself (by Matthew Smith)

Indelible Grace is an artist collective of Christian musicians in Nashville, Tennessee, that puts classic hymns to new tunes, reclaiming these powerful lyrics for a new generation to learn. One of those artists, Matthew Smith, visited my church this weekend, to share some of their music. Matthew’s song “God Himself” really stood out to me:


Is Christianity a “Useful Fiction” to Explain the World, or Is It the Ultimate Truth?

No doubt, my answer is the latter, but I will let the discussion below explain why…

I was planning on writing a blog post about “critical race theory,” “intersectionality,” and the “social justice warrior” movement, but I just got bogged down thinking about it. If you do not know what those terms mean, then you are not alone. The vocabulary is complex and elusive. Additional terms like “identity politics” and “wokeness” abound. But allow me a few paragraphs to set up the story, as to why this topic is so important….. A lot of hysteria surrounds this topic. But some of the craziness is surprisingly far too true.

In September, 2018, a group of conservative evangelical pastors drafted and published “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel,” discussed here on Veracity. As many as perhaps 9,000 Christian pastors have signed the document, claiming that the modern trend towards “Social Justice” is incompatible with Christianity.

Nevertheless, a number of Christian leaders, ranging from Al Mohler, to Tim Keller, to Francis Chan, have rejected the document, believing that “Social Justice,” rightly understood, is perfectly compatible with orthodox evangelical faith. As Al Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Seminary, the flagship seminary for the Southern Baptist Convention, explains, some forms of “Social Justice” are consistent with Christianity, while others are not.

To complicate matters, in the summer of 2019, a resolution at the Southern Baptist Convention addressed the controversy over “Critical Race Theory” and “Intersectionality.” Some were in favor of the resolution, whereas others believe that it did not go far enough in condemning the “Social Justice Movement.” Some fear that the controversy will split Evangelicalism as a movement, within just a few years.

So, what is this whole controversy about?

Get your thinking cap on. You will need it.

All Christians are children of God, equal in his sight. “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith (Galatians 3:26 NIV). But in a post-modern, post-Christian society, some people adopt a different narrative, whereby the world is divided between the privileged and the oppressed, whereby the oppressed are called upon to silence the speech of the privileged. Can a postmodern world survive this new narrative, or do we need to resurrect Christianity as a “useful fiction” to counter this new narrative? Or is there a better answer?

The Rise of “Social Justice” in Post-Modernity, and Its Impact on the Church

This can get a bit heavy, so some background might help frame what is going on: Just in case you did not know, we are living in an increasingly post-modern, even post-Christian, society.

To be post-modern is in contrast with the idea of modernity. Modernity is the project of the Enlightenment come to fruition. Philosophers tell us that in pre-modern times, people lived in an age of faith. Whereas in modern times, we live in an age of reason. With modernity, religious faith has been marginalized to the preferences of the individual. What really remains supreme in modernity is reason, guided by the all-knowing hand of scientific progress. The so-called subjective talk of God has been pushed aside in favor the human ability to solve all problems, and come to the knowledge of absolute Truth, through reason alone.

The problem with modernity, however, is that the application of universal human reason has not actually delivered what was promised. Post-modernity, in contrast, has a more pessimistic take on human reason, as the pathway to true enlightenment. Two broad approaches to post-modernity are felt in today’s culture.

One approach is simply to say, “Yes, there is an absolute Truth, but we simply can not know it completely. We can only do the best that we can to approximate what that Truth is, but the limitations of reason prevent us from fully apprehending absolute Truth, in its fullness. So while absolute Truth is hypothetically there, we must simply settle for the notion of relative Truth in practice.” One application of this approach is to say that the various competing claims of absolute truth must be adjudicated through conversation and dialogue, at least in the public sphere. At a pragmatic level, this is an acknowledgement that we live in a pluralistic society. We will not all agree with one another, but we must learn how to live alongside one another.

The second post-modern approach takes a more activist form. “There is no absolute Truth. All claims to absolute Truth are, in reality, merely the exercise of power. The key to living in a post-modern world is then to equalize the power structures that articulate competing narratives of truth.”

It is this second approach to post-modernity that has fueled the contemporary interest in themes such as “Intersectionality,” “Critical Theory,” and being a “Social Justice Warrior.” Perhaps the easiest to explain is “Intersectionality.”

By “intersectionality,” a term coined in 1989 by legal scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshawmany scholars in the humanities say that different groups of people, who do not have lives marked by privilege, live their lives from the perspective of being oppressed. For example, many persons of color, such as African Americans, experience oppression. Likewise, many women experience oppression, at the hands of men. But when the experiences of being African American overlap with being female, the intersectionality of those experiences produces yet another complex form of marginalization within society.

Those who have lives marked by privilege, who empathize with the marginalized, are said to “ally” with the marginalized. Those who “ally” are encouraged to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who lack privilege, in order to correct social injustices.

Many social theorists find the category of “intersectionality” a helpful tool for understanding how social structures work. Many evangelical Christian thinkers would agree. After all, the Bible talks a lot about “Blessed are the poor,” and how all of us are created equal, within God’s perspective. So far, so good.

However, we must be exceedingly careful here. What might be seen as a helpful intellectual tool for some, could be carried on by others to mean something radically different.

The pursuit for “social justice” can become the basis for building a worldview, predicated on the same intellectual foundation as Marxism. It is as though being a “social justice warrior” takes on the trappings of a religion. As Christian apologist Neil Shenvi puts it, in his explanation of the related concept of “critical theory,”  “it views reality through the singular lens of power, dividing people into oppressed groups and oppressor groups along various axes like race, class, gender, sexuality orientation, physical ability and age.”

This may all seem like foreign territory for the average church-going Christian. But in a university setting, the quasi-religious character of being a “social justice warrior,” in the ideological sense, can be quite evident. It can get really bizarre.

For example, in 2017, a group of students sought to shout-down a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who came to speak at the campus where I work. Many conservative Christians have a less than positive image of the ACLU. But when a group of activist college students protest the mere presence of the ACLU on a secular college campus, then you begin to wonder if something else is going on. In a “social-justice-warrior” as-an-ideology worldview, the only way to respond to oppressive sounding voices on campus is to silence free speech. To my knowledge, aside from a rebuke by our then college president, no disciplinary action was taken against this group of students. Other attempts to shut-down conversations, and deny free speech, instigated by ideologically-minded professors, and/or aggressive school administrators, and propelled by organized groups of student followers, have been growing across college campuses, nationwide.

This is yet a glimpse into a crisis in academia, as the ideological tendency of this “social justice warrior” movement has threatened to compromise the very integrity of the intellectual viability of certain strands of humanities studies. This is not merely a concern of Christians. It also bothers more secular minded thinkers, those who lean towards the more progressive side of culture. If you want to be entertained and horrified, all at the same time, you can learn about the “Grievance Studies Affair,” exposed by left-wing academics James Lindsay, Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose, in 2018. Following the YouTube playlist for this is mind-blowing.

In a postmodern world, where the premodern categories of religious faith have been deemed obsolete, and the modernistic hope for a view of scientific progress, that can solve all of humanity’s problems, is seen to be elusive, the postmodernist can see the world as merely the realm for power struggles. Orthodox Christian faith is left off to the side, for those who advocate an ideological commitment to “critical theory” and “intersectionality.”

But not only is historically orthodox Christian faith rejected, as being a form of privilege, the practice of science, as generally understood, is also under threat, due to an idealogical embrace of Marxist-inspired “critical theory.”  As a result, evangelical Christian thinkers and secularized atheists are finding some common ground, with their concerns, about the idealogical application of “intersectionality,” and the like. It might seem strange that evangelical Christians might have something in common with atheists, in working against a growing intellectual trend, but keep reading….

The War Against Biology: The “Social Justice Movement” as Becoming an Ideology for Some

Take for example, the case of evolutionary biologist, Brett Weinstein, when he taught as a professor at Evergreen State College, in 2017. When a group of students, invigorated by ideas taught by certain other professors of the humanities, sought to ask white faculty and students (particularly those who were male) to leave campus for a day, Professor Weinstein objected to the planned event as ill-conceived. In response, a group of student protestors interrupted his class, sparking a national conversation. WARNING: OBJECTIONABLE LANGUAGE IN THE VIDEO BELOW:

Professor Weinsten, and his wife, also an evolutionary biologist, and both who are not professing Christians, resigned from Evergreen State College, as they felt that their lives were being threatened by this student movement, and the school administration did little to intervene. This sets us up to get to the reason as to why this blog post is so important.

Brett Weinstein is now a public intellectual, a member of what some call the “Intellectual Dark Web,” populated by other public intellectual figures, such as Canadian psychologist, Jordan Peterson and orthodox Jewish commentator, Ben Shapiro. Weinstein’s experience at Evergreen State helped him to see that there are intellectuals, within the humanities, who advocate for a more ideological approach to intersectionality, such as in the case of what constitutes “gender” in a post-modern world. Such intellectuals have been convincing a new generation of students to think that the category of “gender” is merely a social construct. Weinstein sees this as an attack on the very foundations of biology, as a scientific discipline, where the distinction between male and female is a fundamentally biological description, not merely a social construct.

Weinstein suggests that the modern approach to evolutionary biology has failed, as evidenced by his own experience at Evergreen State. He is still an evolutionary biologist, but he believes the current secular hostility towards “religion,” including Christianity, has created a cultural crisis. The postmodern rejection of absolute truth, being promoted by certain disciplines in the humanities, has led to the development of distorted forms of traditional religiosity. For Weinstein, this new situation requires that scientists need to rethink how to approach evolutionary biology.

Secular, Atheistic Thinking That Wishes to Revive Christianity/Religion as a “Useful Fiction”

In his mind, Professor Weinstein contends that “religion,” which would include Christianity, still serves as a “useful fiction,” necessary for the survival of the human race. So while Weinstein rejects Christianity as an ultimate truth claim, it is nevertheless an invaluable aid that should be tapped to help secular society transcend the current cultural crisis, marked by the rise of ideologically-driven “critical theory” and “intersectionality.”

At the recent Unbelievable? conference in London, podcaster Justin Brierley sat down with Brett Weinstein and theologian Alister McGrath to discuss Weinstein’s ideas, as part of Brierley’s Big Conversation program. Given the background of Weinstein’s academic experience, the discussion is pretty amazing.

Brett Weinstein rejects the New Atheism of a Richard Dawkins, that negatively views Christianity as a disease or “virus of the mind.” (If you do not understand what Dawkins is talking about, view the following video. Otherwise, skip it, and move on to what I have written below):

Brett Weinstein believes that Dawkin’s approach to religion deserves a much better explanation. Ironically, for Christian listeners, Brett Weinstein thinks that Neo-Darwinian evolution holds the key for understanding and accepting “something” like Christianity, as a positive force for good for humanity. In that sense, something like Christian faith can be a “useful fiction,” to help humanity survive. This is the same type of message being propagated by those like Jordan Peterson. It is just that Peterson and Weinstein seem unable to make that jump of seeing Christianity as actually being true, in and of itself. This is a massive topic, and this blog post merely reveals the tip of a really, really big iceberg.

What interested me the most about the conversation below was the lack of enthusiasm for Alister McGrath’s response to Brett Weinstein, among a number of Christian listeners. But since McGrath does NOT subscribe to the “conflict thesis”; that is, the idea that evolutionary science and biblical faith are in direct opposition with one another, there was not a whole lot to disagree with, aside from Weinstein’s wishful thinking for something like Christian faith, but not exactly Christian faith, to emerge, to address our current problems, as a human race. McGrath’s answer was straight-forward enough, suggesting that historic orthodox Christian faith is sufficient to address the challenges that Weinstein brings up….(plus Christianity is true, and not merely a “useful fiction”).

Two hours, yes, but worth the intellectual workout. Enjoy.

 

 

For a similar discussion/debate that Alister McGrath had with skeptic Michael Shermer, please view it here.

 


The Silver Chair: C.S. Lewis Against the Seduction of Secularism

C.S. Lewis’ 1953 fantasy children’s novel has a scene where Jill and Eunace, the human children, along with their faithful, yet gloomy companion and Marsh-Wiggle, Puddlegum, have been living underground, for what seemed like forever. In their search to find Prince Rillian, they were stuck in a maze of dark caverns and sailing the Sunless Sea, in a world governed by a witch, the Lady of the Green Kirtle. The children and Puddlegum have not seen the sun for a long, long period of time. The Green Lady seeks to enchant the others, in hopes of preventing them from returning to Narnia, and meet up with Aslan:

Slowly and gravely the Witch repeated, “There is no sun.” And they all said nothing. She repeated, in a softer and deeper voice. “There is no sun.” After a pause, and after a struggle in their minds, all four of them said together. “You are right. There is no sun.” It was such a relief to give in and say it.

“There never was a sun,” said the Witch.

“No. There never was a sun,” said the Prince, and the Marsh-wiggle, and the children.

For the last few minutes Jill had been feeling that there was something she must remember at all costs. And now she did. But it was dreadfully hard to say it. She felt as if huge weights were laid on her lips. At last, with an effort that seemed to take all the good out of her, she said:

“There’s Aslan.”

C. S. Lewis had grown up as an atheist, eventually becoming a Christian, where the love of Christ showed him the truly reality of things. The Green Lady represents for Lewis the seductive power of secularism, bent on keeping us from seeing reality, as it really is. Prince Rillian had been imprisoned, in a spiritual haze, by the power of the Silver Chair, keeping him in spiritual bondage. The Green Lady was hoping to lure the young humans as well into her control, and away from Aslan.

But the children, Puddlegum, and the Prince were able to break free from the clutches of the Green Lady. The Green Lady was exposed as a deceptive serpent, and killed by Prince Rillian. The group was then able to clearly make their way back to the surface, and see the sun again in Narnia.

While there are many competitors to a Christian worldview, I find that Lewis had it right, that the greatest threat of all is secularism, whereby “religion” is shoved into a little, privatized corner. The “real” world, according to secularism, is a world whereby God is dismissed as a fantasy, an irrational, non-evidenced belief, that has been superseded by the world of reason, science and technology. The belief in “scientism,” that contends that only that which can be demonstrated scientifically is really true, reigns supreme in a secular world. The supernatural world of Narnia is merely an illusion, a “virus of the mind,” to quote Richard Dawkins.

The secular atheist rejects the God of the Bible because of insufficient evidence. There is no “sun” and there is no “Aslan” because we have not seen either, living in this secularized world. Well, at least, we have seen no evidence for either in a really, really long time.

And yet, Jill was compelled to remind the others about Aslan.

Like Jill, the Christian community is that assembly of people who are called to remind others about Aslan, to bear witness to the story of Jesus, the truth of the Gospel.

Sadly, there are times whereby the Christian church has reversed the roles, content to live in the land of the Sunless Sea herself. I have spoken with many an agnostic or atheist, who felt a sense of relief, when they were able to crawl out of their experience, in what they perceived as the dark world of “Christianity,” and discover the world “above” whereby they see the “sunshine” of reason, empiricism, and scientism.

I find that when atheists adopt this narrative, it is generally an indicator that the kind of “Christianity” that they emerged out of is one of a Christian community that has forgotten its true calling. Such a distorted “Christianity” has resorted to a type of navel gazing, that seems so self-absorbed with its own internal affairs, that it has forgotten its primary mission; that is, to be the Jills of planet earth, to remember and speak out words of true hope to a lost world, “There’s Aslan.”

After all, properly understood, the Christian faith is not opposed to rationality or scientific exploration. There is no war between the Bible and science.

Nor does genuine Christian faith seek to impose some archaic standard of morality on others today, merely lifted out of a Bronze age, that is better left forgotten. Rather, Christian morality seeks to illuminate the true of nature of what it means to be human.

Furthermore, a distorted “Christianity” often loses sight of the unity believers are called to have with one another.  As author Mac Pier puts it, “Disunity within the church breeds atheism in the world.” Such disunity can often introduce discouragement among the believers, such that we care less about God’s larger mission, to spread the Good News of Jesus. Instead, many Christians will often travel the path of least resistance, going along with the flow, seduced by the voices of the Green Ladies of this life.

As a Christian, are you being lulled into the enchantment of a purely secular world, or are you like Jill, who must remember something at all costs?

“There’s Aslan.”

 

 


Is the Word “Homosexual” in the Bible?

October 11, in a number of circles, is known as “National Coming Out Day.” Many Christians are confused, as to how to engage with others about this. A good place to start is to consider the following question: Is the word “homosexual” in the Bible? Well, the answer is “yes” and “no,” and the reason for this is really, super important.

Merriam-Webster actually lists two different definitions for the word “homosexual,” which could be an adjective or a noun:

1: of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire toward another of the same sex: GAY// homosexual man, was involved in a homosexual relationship
2: of, relating to, or involving sexual activity between persons of the same sex // homosexual acts

Those two definitions can be overlapping, but technically, they are not the same.

Actually, this distinction is profound, having a major ramification on how Christians can best love their neighbor with the Gospel.

How do we go about having helpful conversations about “LGBTQ” questions, in evangelical, Bible-believing churches, who desire to hold to a traditional view of marriage, while trying to figure out how to better love others? Perhaps we should start by talking about what IS and what is NOT in the Bible. (credit: Christianity Today).

Now, before I jump in any further, it bears emphasizing that when it comes to the topic of homosexuality, we are not simply quibbling over the meaning of words. Ultimately, we are talking about real people, with real lives, with real stories, that need to be heard. Yet part of hearing those stories about real people includes understanding what people mean when they use certain words. So, it really becomes important that we do not front load incorrect thoughts into our minds when we let people tell their stories, when they use certain words.

That being said, let us dig deeper into this….

On the Meaning of the Word “Homosexual,” and How it is Used in the Bible

In that Merriam Webster definition, they go onto say that the word homosexual entered the English vocabulary, in about 1891, in the sense of definition number 1. Definition number 1 refers to what we might call “same-sex attraction” today. It did not specifically mean someone who acted on their same-sex attraction, in the sense of actually being sexually active with another person of the same sex, which is the second sense of the word. However, it could mean that. But it does not necessarily imply definition number 2.

That definition number 2, or the second sense of the word, came later in English usage, eventually carrying the sense of embracing a particular identity, being actively involved in some type of sexual relationship. In other words, it is more than just “same-sex attraction.” It means acting upon that attraction, in terms of behavior. Today, the meaning has expanded, assuming that sexual activity with someone of the same sex is within a morally justifiable category.

Furthermore, definition number 1 could mean actively engaging in lustful fantasy, for another person of the same-sex. But it does not necessarily mean that.

Think about the alternative word, heterosexual, that appeared in the English language, at the same time homosexual did. Do heterosexuals engage in lustful fantasies, for members of the opposite sex? Sometimes, yes. But not 24×7.

In the language of modern psychology, someone is a heterosexual, even if they are sound asleep, or mentally absorbed in a baseball game. To be heterosexual does not implicitly mean that such a person is always acting on their opposite-sex attraction, in the sense of having a sexual relationship, or lusting after someone.

Likewise, the word homosexual, as in definition number 1, generally refers to having a “same-sex attraction,” but it does not require the idea of actually acting upon that desire, whether that be physically, or just mentally. In other words, a homosexual has a “same-sex attraction,” 24×7, everyday of the week, but they do not always act on that attraction, either physically or mentally.

The lateness of the word entering the English vocabulary explains why the King James Version of the Bible, translated in 1611, does not have the word homosexual, in its text. Following on from a previous post on this topic, let us consider 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankindNor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. (KJV)

All of the moral categories that the Apostle Pauls mentions, such as fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, etc., all refer to repeated, unrepentant patterns of sinful human behavior. These are not mere inclinations, dispositions, or orientations, that suggest some potential or possibility of sinning, brought on by situations where such temptations arise. We all have these, to varying degrees. Rather, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul has in mind those sinful, unrepentant patterns of human activity that are unbecoming of truly committed followers of Jesus Christ.

The highlighted phrase above, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind , goes back to two interesting Greek words, malakoi, which the KJV takes to be “effeminate,” or the one who is the passive partner in a same-sex, male sexual relationship, and arsenokoitai, which the KJV renders as “abusers of themselves with mankind,” or a man who beds with another man. Technically, malakoi means “soft,” by itself, but it was also used in the Greek language in the same-sex partnered sense, in the manner that the KJV most probably alludes to.

 

People To Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, by Preston Sprinkle. I highly recommend this book for those who wrestle with same-sex attraction themselves, or who have loved ones who wrestle with such questions.

Digging Into Bible Translations, About “Homosexuality”

The point here is that the Apostle Paul is designating an actively engaged upon sexual activity, with respect to homosexuality. In the words of the Apostle Paul, in the Bible, there is no strict parallel to “same-sex attraction,” as a type of orientation, inclination, or internal disposition, which originally led to the coining of the word homosexual, in the late 19th century, by the psychologists of the day.

This distinction is vitally important, in how we read Scripture. Simply put, this non-behavioral sense of homosexuality, commonly described today as having a “same-sex attraction,” has no direct correlation to any particular word that we can find in the Bible. In other words, Paul’s teaching here in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which is reflective of other related passages of Scripture, refers to a behavior, not an orientation or inclination.

Some might find the notion of homosexuality, as an orientation or inclination to be objectionable, as it is not found in the Bible. Such critics contend that this psychological category of “same-sex attraction,” should be rejected by Christians, as a result.

But we have terms that Christians use all of the time, that do not find a direct correlation in Scripture. Take just one example, where we use the word “Trinity” to describe the nature of the Godhead, “one God in three persons.” Few Christians realize that the term “Trinity,never appears in the Bible. Nevertheless, describing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as distinct persons within the singular Godhead is an incredibly significant theological concept, that most Christians take for granted.

You can do tons of research on the concepts of same-sex attraction or same-sex relations in the Bible yourself, to verify, but technically, there is no mention of homosexual in the Bible, as it was originally introduced into the English vocabulary.

Nevertheless, the meaning of words changes over time. What typically happens in this situation, a confusion of terminology often results. When the translators of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible sought to update the language of the KJV, in 1946, the old KJV phrase “nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind ,” was replaced with the word, “homosexual.”

That Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible essentially became the “de facto” accepted translation of the Bible, used throughout hundreds of English-speaking, Protestant mainline churches, during the 1950s and 1960s. As a result, the confused use of the word homosexual became ingrained in the minds of many, among multiple generations of Bible readers.

Critics of a traditional Christian view of marriage, as being between a man and a woman, contend (rightly) that the word homosexual was therefore never originally in the Bible.

But the conclusion that is often drawn from this goes beyond what the meaning of the Scriptural text can bear. Therefore, such critics argue, the traditional Christian sexual ethic was and is too restrictive, implying that sexual relations between members of the same-sex, should be allowed to be morally permissible, among followers of Jesus. But this oversimplified approach to the Bible is highly misleading, and ignores a more complex, albeit intricate story.

The RSV was later updated to read as:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.(RSV)

This substituted the previous 1946 RSV translation of homosexual(s) with sexual perverts, in the 1970s update to the RSV. But the trend towards using the word homosexual, in a more explicitly behavioral manner, was underway.

When we get to The Living Bible, in 1971, we see the word appear again:

Don’t you know that those doing such things have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who live immoral lives, who are idol worshipers, adulterers or homosexuals—will have no share in his Kingdom. Neither will thieves or greedy people, drunkards, slanderers, or robbers.(TLB)

The popular New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, in 1984, sought to be a bit more accurate here, but still comes up short:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.(NIV 1984)

Rendering the phrase as homosexual offenders (prepended with male prostitutes) was an improvement over what the RSV did in the late 1940s. By describing such homosexuals as offenders, it implied that some distinction could be made between homosexuality as an orientation, and homosexuality as a repeated, unrepentant form of behavior. But it was still confusing for some readers.

Here is the difficulty: Is the offense actually limited to being a type of sinful behavior? Or is it possibly that possessing a same-sex attraction, not acted upon, is nevertheless, still a type of offense before God?

Let us frame the difficulty this way: Is a celibate homosexual still a type of offender before God? Is such a homosexual, … who day after day seeks to mortify the flesh, and say “NO” to such sexual temptation, who resists putting themselves in situations that might cause them to give into temptation, … still, somehow, nevertheless, continues to exist as an offender, … a mere stench in God’s nostrils?

The ambiguity of the NIV 1984 translation is wholly intolerable today, in an age when same-sex relations and same-sex marriage in particular, occupy a large percentage of the public, cultural conversation.

Thankfully, when the NIV translators worked on the most recent update, in 2011, they made the distinction much clearer, and more precise, in terms specifying that the Apostle Paul had an activity, or behavior, in mind:

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with mennor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.(NIV 2011)

The English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible, as of the last update in 2016, renders these verses like this:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (ESV 2016)

Here the ESV more accurately associates homosexuality with its practice, not with the mere presence of a disposition or orientation, thus showing that Paul had a behavior in mind, in this passage. Both the NIV 2011 and ESV have the following footnote, regarding this phrase in the Bible:

The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts.

The 2017 Christian Standard Bible (CSB), likewise, is very careful:

Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom (CSB 2017)

 

How You Read Your Bible Translation Matters

Why bother with parsing through these various translations so carefully?

Because it makes a difference. Three points are in order:

First, as briefly noted above, it demonstrates that the Apostle Paul had behaviors in mind, patterns of repeated, sinful activity, that are not becoming of a disciple of Jesus Christ. With respect to homosexuality, this follows the same pattern as idolaters, adulterers, thieves, greedy people, etc.

Despite the great debate today going on in the wider culture, this has been the historic teaching of the Christian church for 2,000 years. Attempts by those to revise or dispose of a traditional sexual ethic, regarding God’s intent and purpose for marriage, by allowing for active, same-sex relations, whether that be in a “same-sex marriage,” or otherwise, have a serious obstacle in dealing with the Apostle Paul, in the New Testament.

Secondly, traditionally minded Christians need to rethink the importance of making a subtle, yet ultimately highly significant differentiation between homosexuality as a behavior (including lust), and homosexuality as an inward disposition or orientation of some sort, that is not necessarily acted upon.

Thirdly, it is important to drill down on the difference between homosexuality as a disposition or orientation, and homosexuality as lust. The two are not identical. This may sound controversial, but it need not be.

Think of it as the difference between noticing an attractive member of the opposite sex, for a heterosexual, and actually lusting after that person. The latter is the sin. The former is not sinful, for if it were, then it would be a sin for a man to compliment a woman on the nice dress she is wearing. Even more absurd, it would be like a mother complimenting her son on how handsome he looks, and then somehow treating even that as sin. Confusing noticing an attractive person, together with actual lust, creates a rather absurd view of sin.

Likewise, for a homosexual, noticing an attractive member of the same sex, is not the same as actually lusting after that person. True, having a homosexual orientation is an indicator that something is not right, a consequence of the Fall of humanity. But the same-sex orientation is no more sinful than for a single, heterosexual person, who notices an attractive member of the opposite sex, or a married, heterosexual person, who notices an attractive member of the opposite sex, who is not their spouse.

I am not aware of any contemporary, modern English translation that fails to provide some linguistic framework, for making a distinction between homosexuality as a behavior, and homosexuality as disposition or orientation.

Questions about sexuality and gender are the most theologically provocative issues of our day, just as the very nature of the Triune Godhead threatened to split the Christian church, in the great controversies over Jesus’ divinity and humanity, in the 4th through 5th centuries of the Christian movement.

So, on “National Coming Out Day,” having conversations about what the Bible does NOT say, and what the Bible actually DOES say, is really important. With all of the talk today in 2019 about Christians in “hate groups,” reparative therapy, and the like, it would behoove Christians to take a closer look at how Bible translations, over the years, have created confusion. Thankfully, most modern Bible translations are more accurate these days. Christians who love their Bible, and who seek to love others, as Christ loves us, would do well to follow their Bibles in guiding how they carefully think about this most sensitive and difficult topic.

For more information of this topic, I highly recommend Preston Sprinkle’s People To Be Loved. For other posts on this topic see “Is the Temptation to Sin, Itself a Sin?,” “Single, Gay and Christian: A Review of the Book and Its Criticism,” “What Was the Sin of Sodom? (Taking a Closer Look),” “Statements: What Does Nashville Have to Do With Chicago?,” and “Such Were Some of You: The Language of Christian Identity.


Pray for Syrian Christians

Persecuted Christians in Syria are concerned that the recent pullout of American troops from Syria will expose them to dangerous military activity. One Christian leader in the region remarked, “It is very possible that the American withdrawal from the region will lead to the extinction of Christianity from the region.” Please pray for the safety of our brothers and sisters in Christ, in this very dangerous part of the world.


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