1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and clarity of vision

A friend of mine has a parishioner who is struggling with the notion of how queer inclusivity reconciles with biblical teachings.  The verses particularly in question are 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

This is one of the seven-or-so Bible quotes that gets frequently trotted out in order to condemn gay folks on the cheap.  It’s particularly convenient for the nay-gay-sayers because, like Lev. 18:22, it seems so uncomplicated: here is a list of people who are sinners, condemned, officially blocked by God (and/or Paul) from getting into heaven.  Clearly, this thinking goes, whatever Paul meant when he included the words “sodomites” and “male prostitutes” on this list, is the same as our understanding of the queer folks in our midst today.

So when my friend asked me my thoughts on it, I first cracked open my exegetical resources, then read the passage in its broader context.  I read about how these verses — especially in view of Paul generally and 1 Corinthians particularly — are about behaviors which demonstrate greed and excess, and which result in breach and division within the community.  Reading in this light, it does not seem at all convincing that Paul’s inclusion of the words “sodomites” and “male prostitutes” amounts to God’s categorical rejection of all people in same sex relationships.

But then a couple days later, I woke up thinking about this text, and for some reason, thought immediately of a second verse:

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

To me, these words from Jesus are a fundamental aspect of Christian posture and priority.  When it comes to judging the evils of others, I need to be sure that I’m know what I’m looking at.  When I endeavor to say “God sez…” I need to make damned sure that I know what I’m talking about.  Maybe I should devote more time and energy into my own spiritual well-being, before attacking that of someone else.  And at the end of it all, I think it behooves Christians to construct arguments about who’s in and who’s out with more than just a small handful of references that work best when stripped from their original context.

First the log…then the speck.

3 Responses to “1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and clarity of vision”

  1. Kathryn Says:

    I did some background research on this verse, too, because I had to teach it in one of my religion classes. I learned that “sodomite” is not a very good translation because the verse doesn’t reference Sodom at all. It’s a neologism that combines the words for “man” and “bed,” and so perhaps can more accurately be considered an allusion to the prohibition on men sleeping with men in the Leviticus quote you mention.

    One reference I read suggested that, when juxtaposed with male prostitutes (literally, “soft ones,” sometimes translated as “effeminates”), it specifically refers to men who pay other men to have sex with them. From what I can tell, this was the most pervasive form of man-on-man action during that time.

    This is interesting for me here in Nicaragua, because that is also the most well-known form of homosexual activity here. I almost feel like the 1 Corinthians could be good in this context if encourages men to dare to seek out real relationships with each other instead of getting their kicks through prostitution.

    I don’t think it’s exegetically unsound to interpret this verse as a general condemnation of men having sex with men (though it is unsound to apply it to women). The question for me is so what? If the Bible doesn’t resonate with my experience of life and God, I don’t accept it. I’m not saying it never challenges me to see things in a new way. But if the Bible would say the sky isn’t blue, I wouldn’t believe it. Anyone who claims they do otherwise is lying. Based on my observations of life, I can’t be made to believe that the love between two people of the same sex isn’t real and true, and therefore good. A few Bible texts that discourage sexual acts between people of the same sex simply can’t match up against my life experience. I have to believe God is in that creation I experience as well as the Bible.

  2. Tom Ryberg Says:

    I totally hear you, Kathryn. I’m just not willing to conclude, based on these scant verses alone, that there was nothing resembling holistic same-sex relationships in the communities of Moses, Jesus, and Paul. I think it’s important to be careful about how and when we are investing the scripture with meaning that isn’t in there to begin with — especially when we do so with the purpose of limiting, rather than expanding, access to the kindom of heaven. It seems pretty clear to me that while there are a few passages intending to prohibit certain types of sexual behavior between males (rape, “womanizing” someone, lusting after others, fornication, adultery, etc.), they cannot reasonably be construed to be a catch-all for what God thinks about homosexuality in our context, nor even proof that the queer folk were all excluded from the kindom of God in biblical days (which is an amazing thought when you think about it!).

  3. Tom Ryberg Says:

    There is some good further discussion on this post to be found here.

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