January 14, 2008

08. Scripture and its Witness

Just as I was about to continue my reflections on sexuality, in an examination of the place of Scripture in these discussions, I saw that Dr. Robert Gagnon has re-issued, with slight modifications, one of his many essays on this topic. As he is widely considered the “gold standard” spokesperson for the anti-homosexuality position, it would be helpful to take a look at how he addresses this issue from a Scriptural perspective.

It soon becomes apparent that Gagnon is seeking to frame a larger argument rather than merely citing the usual proof texts (as well as a few not-so-usual ones): a kind of Grand Unified Theory of sexuality that will cover all of the various offenses. It is a laudable goal, and Gagnon is not the first to attempt it. There are, however, two problems with his approach.

The first is that his general attitude can be summarized as, “Why does the Scripture condemn homosexuality?” This is, obviously, rather begging the question; he naturally believes the proof texts already have made his case, which he has laid out in exhaustive detail. But in the broadest sense they have not: for the Scripture does not “condemn homosexuality,” or even “homosexual behavior” in a general sense. As I have already noted in previous sections of this series (and will return to again) the primary missing factor in a “general condemnation of homosexuality” in the Law of Moses is the lack of any reference whatever to female same-sexuality, and the fact that the one verse alleged to address this in Romans more likely refers to something else. So Scriptures (definitely the Hebrew Scriptures and very likely the New Testament) neither condemn nor penalize “homosexuality.” Rather, the Law of Moses explicitly refers to one male homosexual act, and Paul may be alluding to this in a few places. (I will return to these Pauline allusions in a subsequent section of this reflection.)

The second problem is that Gagnon ultimately bases his argument not on the Law of Moses or on Romans, but on his reading of Genesis — which he holds to be determinative in establishing God’s plan for human sexuality. Gagnon sees everything else through that lens, relating Leviticus (and Romans itself) back to Genesis at every opportunity. What he derives from Genesis in this process is the understanding that “difference” and “complementarity” are key to licit sexuality. In addition to applying this to homosexuality, in the article I reference above he seeks to draw the incest prohibitions in Leviticus under this same rubric — that is, incest is illicit because the partners are not different enough from each other.

Responses to this view

This argument suffers in the critical challenge that biblical scholars raise concerning the sources for the various scriptural passages and their differing literary style and intent. But responses to Gagnon’s basic premise need not rely on the apparatus of higher criticism.

The first response to his theory is that it does not fit all (or even much) of the evidence. If, for example, difference were the defining requirement for licit sexuality, female homosexuality would also have been ruled out in the Law of Moses. It isn’t. If difference were of primary importance, exogamy would be the preferred marriage structure under Jewish law. It isn’t. One might go further and observe that if difference were in itself the basis for licitness, then bestiality would be permissible — after all what could be more different? Needless to say, it isn’t.

A second response is to note a greater difficulty with Gagnon’s thesis, based on his understanding of his fundamental text: for the creation account in Genesis 2 simply does not emphasize Eve’s difference from Adam, but her likeness to him: she is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. Adam rejects the animals as suitable partners (which though made from earth as Adam was, are fundamentally unlike him, and thus unsuitable) and chooses instead the woman who is made from his own substance, the one most like himself. That this is the correct reading is shown by Jesus’ use of this passage as the cornerstone for his doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage: what God has joined together (capable of proper joining not because different from each other, but because of the same flesh and bone) is not to be put asunder. The couple become one flesh because they already share that flesh. That is what Genesis says, and that is how Jesus applies it.

So Gagnon’s attempt to find out a “reason” for the prohibition on a male same-sex act (not all homosexuality, as he claims) fails. A Grand Unified Theory that will explain why some sexual acts are forbidden under Jewish law while others are permitted is perhaps possible; but we can rule out Gagnon’s theory on these two grounds.

Other theories

Better efforts at this involve either the concept of a divine command which is to be obeyed quite apart from any reason for it (a view favored in classical rabbinic Judaism), or the more anthropological approach (favored in present-day Jewish reflection on the subject) which sees the various laws as deriving from social constructions in a particular society or set of societies, constructions which may explain and unify some of the various laws, or at least demonstrate the process by which they came to be. Thus the incest law (and its mandated violation in the case of a childless widow) is not based on a concept of sameness or difference, but on concerns — both in prohibition and in mandate — about kinship and inheritance and avoiding the entanglement of multiple relationships.

Another important aspect of the sexual laws in general, is that far from representing a recognizable moral framework (in which all people are treated as essentially equal moral actors), the Mosaic sexual and marriage laws are strikingly asymmetric with regard to men and women: not only in the lack of the prohibition on female homosexuality, but (for example) on the question of adultery. Under the Law of Moses a man can only violate someone else’s marriage; a woman only her own. That is, a man could have licit relationships with a harlot, or take a concubine or a second wife, but was by no means permitted to have intercourse with another man’s wife. Similarly, the Law considers it a serious crime for a man to remarry his divorced wife if she has married another man in the interim. (Deut 24:1-4). I doubt anyone today would give such a rule any notice — they might even encourage it as a restoration of the original marriage — yet the Law opposes it in very harsh terms. Again, it would appear that the primary concern is not moral but has to do with kinship and inheritance rights — seen almost exclusively in terms of preserving the integrity of the male line and security of the father’s identity: with a related purpose to preserve the holy land and the inheritance it has become at the hand of God. Hence, most of these laws (as well as many others) refer to the land and its sanctity as a possession to be handed down everlastingly.

So if a Grand Unified Theory is to be sought, it more likely lies in the direction of understanding the sexual and marriage laws in relation to the separateness of Israel from the nations, their distinction in being deliberately unlike those nations, charged with preserving the holiness of the land and inheritance rights. Biblical scholars such as Jacob Milgrom (Leviticus, the Anchor Bible) have written extensively in this quest; and this approach does have the virtue of explaining much more than Gagnon’s employment of Genesis as a touchstone.

Applying these theories

This may help also to explain why female homosexuality is not mentioned in the Law. If Gagnon’s basic thesis were correct (that Genesis offers the key to understanding human sexuality, based on the union of differences) then both male and female same-sexuality would be equally prohibited, just as incest and bestiality are forbidden to men and women alike, and all in the same chapters of Leviticus (18 and 20) dealing with a male homosexual act. What does the Law actually say and what can we learn from it in seeking an explanation for the omission?

There is only one explicit reference to any form of same-sexuality in the Law: the act is described at Leviticus 18:22 and the penalty at Leviticus 20:13. It first says, “With a male do not lay the layings of a woman.” One might say more simply, “Do not (sexually) treat a male like a woman.” The wording of the second passage is slightly different: “A man who lays a male the layings of a woman” followed by the penalty for both. In both cases the word to‘ebah (abomination) is used to categorize the offense. I will address this word in a later section of this series. For the present, I want to ask, in keeping with the discussion, why there is no prohibition (or punishment) for a woman who “treats (sexually) a female like a man.”

I think the reason is quite simple, and it tells us a good deal about how the Hebrew culture saw sex, which supplements the notion of male primacy and inheritance. Put simply, sex is about something males “do” and females “allow.” The wording of the bestiality prohibition is indicative of this way of seeing things, in which men “lay” or “bed” an animal, but women “stand” or “lie down” before an animal to “present” themselves to it. (The vocabulary is different for men and women, reflecting the difference between what a man or a woman would do with an animal.) So the lack of an equivalent prohibition on female same-sexuality is based in part on the inability (from the Hebrew perspective) of a woman to act as a man towards another woman.

This also explains why later rabbinic law holds that a woman who engaged in sexual relations with a woman outside of marriage (a matter not addressed by Scripture) was not judged to have committed adultery, but rather was punished for disobedience:

Although this practice is forbidden [in the oral tradition], no flogging is imposed, since there is no specific negative commandment against it [in the Torah], nor is there any intercourse at all... Consequently, [women who do this] are not forbidden to the priesthood on account of harlotry, nor is a woman prohibited to her husband on account of it, since there is no harlotry in it. However, a flogging for disobedience (mardut) should be given, since they have performed a forbidden act. A man should be strict with his wife in this matter... (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah 'Issurei Bi'ah 21:8)

So it would seem that there are ways to understand the asymmetry in the Law within its own context and without appeal to Genesis: as Maimonides puts it, lesbian sex isn’t sex (“there is no intercourse”), because sex requires a male.

In conclusion

This, of course, leaves us with what appears to be a clear biblical prohibition on at least one form of male homosexual activity, and a stern punishment for it. Obviously the church no longer demands the latter as much as some in it deplore the former. But is this a proper attitude to take towards this text, and the other texts which cast same-sex behavior in negative terms? In the next segment of this series I will address how we might best engage this and other texts, and the Scripture as a whole.

Tobias Haller BSG

The reflections continue in 09. Scripture (2): Perplexity and Guidance.

Further Update: This post and the following, expanded and supplemented with much additional material, including three entirely new chapters, form part of Reasonable and Holy, published by Seabury Books and available on order from Church Publishing Incorporated.


bls said...

Good work! I've been saying this for years to absolutely no effect; nobody ever seems to notice the fact that lesbianism goes utterly un-commented-upon in Scripture - and that therefore, quite obviously, "homosexuality" is not at issue.

If we're going to talk about this, at least let's try to get at what's actually being said at last, instead of everybody injecting their own personal tastes and desires into the conversation.

The shallowness of this discussion has become tedious and wasteful of valuable time and energy - not to mention irrational in the extreme. Gagnon's bizarre declaration that "homosexual practice" is worse than adultery and incest is a sad, sad case in point.

Bryan+ said...

This is a nicely argued and fascinating alternative perspective that's grounded in scripture and scholarship. I particularly appreciate your critique of Gagnon.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks bls and Bryan+
Gagnon's content is not nearly as impressive as some seem to think. His "ranking" of sexual sins is rather seriously flawed, especially given the Rabbinic opinion on lesbianism, which is far less serious than any other of the violations, incurs no penalty in itself (only for disobedience when engaged in by a married woman), and is not classed as adultery! Gagnon is expert at amassing great piles of apparent evidence which on closer examination don't actually support his case; but those who buy his basic premise are impressed by the size of the edifice.

Bryan+ said...

Tobias, are you saying that size does not matter?

Marshall Montgomery said...


Your argument about difference/likeness has been made by Wm Stacy Johnson of Princeton Seminary. Is he your source for this? In an (as yet) unpublished paper, one of my footnotes reads:

...the procreative potentiality of heterosexual relationships plays a crucial role in most conservative arguments, as does the doctrine of gender complementarity. As for this latter doctrine, an opposing viewpoint is offered in a review of Robert A. J. Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Abingdon Press, 2002) by William Stacy Johnson of Princeton Theological Seminary in Theology Today (Vol. 63, No. 3, October 2006, 390-392), who offers this provocative argument: “Gagnon misguides the reader…by wrongly conceiving the reason for the biblical prohibitions as ‘gender complementarity.’ The very idea that male and female genders ‘complement’ each other is more modern than ancient. In standard histories of sexuality, in fact, premodern societies are characterized as thinking in terms of gender hierarchy, not gender complementarity. Nowhere does the biblical text itself focus on complementarity. When Adam sees Eve, what strikes him is not her difference but her sameness (“‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’” [Gen 2:23]). Furthermore, this text is more about kinship than sexuality, as is made clear when Laban speaks the same words to Jacob (Gen 29:14). Besides, even if some notion of gender complementarity were at work in the ancient prohibitions, any limitations flowing from the structure of humanity as male and female now have been overcome for Christians through the waters of baptism. For in baptism, ‘there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal 3:28).”

Thanks for the food for thought.


Tobias Haller said...

Thanks Monty. I wasn't aware of Johnson's article, but we do seem to be playing a similar tune. I first broached this publicly in "A Response to Fairfield on Genesis" in the Voice of Integrity Summer 1996 issue. This was a response to Bishop Fairfield's dissenting paper on the Righter Trial. I also make reference to this concept in my 1997 study Lawfully Joined beginning on page 42.
This resource has been available on the web for some time, and has been referenced by a number of scholars.

Of course, this idea is not new; what is novel is this notion of "complementarity"!

Ann Marie said...

I have often wondered how much of a role the understanding of conception played in Leviticus. God's promise to Abraham was that his (Abraham's) descendents would be numerous. There is also God's command in Genesis to be fruitful and multiply. Survival was dependent on having nummerous offspring.

I have read that the understanding of conception was that the male planted the perfectly formed seed in the woman's womb. The woman then nutured this tiny human being. (Once again there is an active-passive role.)

If the seed is not planted in a woman's womb then it does not grow. Because it is already considered to have all that is necessary to be human that is akin to murder, especially when one considers the necessity for procreation to survive. Therefore, a man who lays with a man as with a woman would not be procreating and would actually be killing the tiny seed. This could also be some of the thoughts against masturbation as well.

However you cut, there is much more to the prohibitions against two men laying together than just the act of sex itself.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie

alfrednorth said...

I very much appreciate the thought that has gone into this series, as well as its non-disputatious, or apolemical, tone. It is this very appreciation that impels me to point out an error that may flaw your argument.

Contrary to what you may have read, St. Augustine did not read Paul's letter to the Romans (v. 1:26) in the manner that you recite (using commendably elegant circumlocution). This is an error of transmission introduced by Brooten in his Patristic Interpretations, as pointed out by Joseph Fitzmyer in his commentary on Romans (Anchor Bible) at p. 287. Since the earliest days, the church fathers have read Paul to refer to relations between females alone, as Fitzmyer explains (with reference to classical authors such as Lucian, as well as to the second-century Apocrypha of Peter (32)--see p. 286).
As an added consideration, you might consider whether you might not be susceptible to a charge of anachronistically crediting Paul with the ability to appreciate 20th-century feminism by reading the passage as you do. Surely the women of the first- century Mediterranean civilizations had little if nothing to say about how their husbands related to them in intercourse, let alone craved unnatural entry to the point that Paul would deem them, rather than their husbands, morally responsible for the activity.
All in all, I think the case for your reading of Romans 1:26 is too weak to support your argument.

Erika Baker said...

you say that "lawfully joined" has been referenced by a number of scholars.

Would it be possible to get some more information on this? Whenever people ask me for reading material on LGBT issues that goes beyond people's personal experience I can only think of one or two names or links. It would be really helpful to have a more comprehensive reference list.

Anonymous said...

"The very idea that male and female genders ‘complement’ each other is more modern than ancient. In standard histories of sexuality, in fact, premodern societies are characterized as thinking in terms of gender hierarchy, not gender complementarity."

The question, though, at least for the Christian theologian, is how male and female relate in the Christian revelation, not in "standard histories of sexuality."

I don't think that we can entirely dismiss the notion of sexual hierarchy in scripture. But that idea does not necessarily exclude the idea of complementarity. Both seems to co-exist fine in, say, the discussion of family relationships in Ephesians.

"Hypotassomenoi allelois...." The usual English translation of the verb is "to submit." But really, what sense does it make in English for wive and husbands to "submit to each other"? The connotation in English of superiority and humiliation is meaningless if the relationship is mutual.

Similarly, though husbands are love their wives as Christ loved the Church and delivered himself up for her. This is a recognition of a differentiation of roles, and an assertion of male "headship" in a "hierarchy," if you please, but hardly a prescription for male tyranny. Jesus' model of rulership is servanthood, his method self-sacrificing love.

So, apart from the intuitive sense of sexual complementarity (a four-dollar word for the notion that men and women do ordinarily have a unique affinity and need for ne another), there are these common parallelisms in the epoistles: "Wives......Husbands....." "Parents.....Children......" It strikes me as perfectly natural.

So I think the relationship prescribed for husbands and wives, at least in the epistles of the New Testament, is only very roughly expressed by the notion of "sexual hierarchy," as if that were the only alternative to a complete relegation of sexual differences to the "accidental."

--rick allen

Tobias Haller said...

Anne Marie,
The issue of "seed" is very important in all of this, as you note. Milgrom goes into this aspect of the argument in great detail; it is very likely one of the reasons female same-sexuality is not seen in the same light, if seen at all.

Alfrednorth, thanks for the comment and the reference. That happens to be one volume of the Anchor Bible series I don't have at hand, but I will look it up. Unless Fitzmeyer is suggesting the the text of St Augustine is in error, then I don't follow this, as the text I have is quite clear concerning Augustine's reading, as I explain at greater length in the previous article in this series. Augustine was aware of lesbianism, and referred to it in another place, but never with reference to Romans 1. When he does refer to Romans 1 he sees it as concerning the misuse of the "members." Perhaps my "paraphrasis" is a bit too polite; but in "Of Marriage and Concupiscence 2.20" Augustine is definitely referring to men making use of their wives: "As regards any part of the body which is not meant for generative purposes, should a man use even his own wife in it, it is against nature." He goes on to clarify that men's abandonment of "the natural use" refers not to giving up conjugal union with their wives, but as well to the unnatural use of the wives. Moreover, Augustine makes essentially the same point in "On the Good of Marriage" 11-12. Note in particular, "[The Apostle] allows as a matter of 'pardon' that sexual intercourse which takes place through incontinence, not only for the begetting of children, and, at times, not at all for the begetting of children; and it is not that marriage forces this to take place, but that it procures pardon for it; provided, however it be not so in excess as to hinder what ought to be set aside as seasons of prayer, nor be changed into that use which is against nature, on which the Apostle could not be silent, when speaking of the excessive corruptions of unclean and impious men... Whereas that natural use, when it pass beyond the compact of marriage, that is, beyond the necessity of begetting, is pardonable in the case of a wife, damnable in the case of a harlot; that which is against nature is execrable when done in the case of an harlot, but more execrable in the case of a wife... When the man shall wish to use the member of the wife not allowed for this purpose, the wife is more shameful, if she suffer it to take place in her own case, than if in the case of another woman." It seems clear to me that Augustine is reading Paul as referring to "their females" (that is, the wives of the male idolaters) allowing or "suffering" the use of the "unnatural." This makes much more sense of Paul's use of "in the same way" -- that is, the men begin to make use of each other "in the same way they used their women." This casts the passage into the world of Leviticus 18, without requiring reference to the writings of Lucian or the Apocrypha of Peter (of which Paul couldn't well have been aware since they post-date him.) Talk about anachronism! The point would be, rather, to show how Paul would understand things within his Jewish and rabbinic context first; and I think my explanation, following Augustine, makes more sense of what Paul actually says. This has nothing to do with feminism, by the way; I think you are reading much more into that verse than is present if you see this as something the women "preferred" -- it simply says they "exchanged the natural use for that which is 'alongside' or 'against' the natural." As Augustine says, they "suffer" this use. Need I add it was apparently part of 1st century gossip that this practice of so using one's wife was one in which Tiberius was rumored to have dallied -- and recall to whom Paul is writing this epistle.

And by the way, Bernadette Brooten is a "she" and is a leading proponent of the notion (contrary to what I am asserting) that Paul is definitely speaking about lesbians, and Augustine's reading is an indication of heterosexism. Her agenda is to prove that lesbianism was much more widely known in the ancient world than is commonly supposed. An easier explanation is that heterosexism did exist, and because it did, and Paul (who certainly shared in it) would not be all that concerned about lesbianism, given his generally Jewish background, which, whatever the Hellenistic world thought, did not regard lesbianism as "serious."

Rick, we've been round this block many times, and you appear to me here to be raising an issue with which I'm not concerned. Obviously hierarchy exists in the world-view of Paul. But this is not complementarity. (I'm not sure you are saying it is, btw.) Parents are not "complementary" to children; nor masters and servants; nor men and women. The latter can engage in "mutual" behavior (conditioned in that world by a fairly rigid hierarchy, somewhat mollified by Paul's injunction to charity and treating people well), but they are not "complementary" -- they do not make up a lack one in the other. "Mutual submission" of man and wife means that delicate interchange in human behavior in which people fulfill each others needs, one serving the other. This is an important part of Jewish sexual law, concerning the "rights of the wife" to sexual satisfaction, and the notion of sex as a "duty" to meet the emotional needs of the couple. And this can be done by couples of all sorts and conditions, and they feel it to be quite natural.

Tobias Haller said...

Additonal note in response to a comment I was asked not to post. There are two numbering systems for Augustine's "Of Marriage and Concupiscence" the passage numbered 2.20 in my source is the same as 2.35 in other sources. This would explain the distinction between my reference and Fitzmeyer's.

Grandmère Mimi said...

It's puzzling to me that anyone would rush to the Law of Moses for proof-texting, because we already ignore much that is prescribed in the Law of Moses. Why let go of this law, rather than that law? It seems like picking and choosing.

Regarding same-sexuality between women, I learned much here that I did not know before - as I usually do. That's what happens when I hang out with folks who know more than I do.

Christopher said...

As Pope Benedict XVI has said of John Paul II's theology of the body, a significant source of this "complementarity" notion, it is "innovative". For those who know Benedict's own understanding of theology, "innovative" is not high praise. His turning ship through his Platonic approach, however, will take time and he himself may not have considered the implicatiosn in his enyclical, Deus Caritas. It is, however, at odds with John Paul II's own theological musings on matters of the body which can lurch toward the crudely physicalist as if tab A into slot B suggests that we are not fully human beings without the other, which endangers Chalcedon.

I would recommend also from an intellectual history point of view, Thomas Laqueur's "Making Sex". The modern binary understanding of gender is just that modern and is being read back into Scripture as Gagnon does (and that makes it ideological, in my opinion rather than strictly exegetical).

To speak of women as a separate "female nature" as John Paul II does or to speak of male and female as "complementary" is modern. Aquinas would not have understood things thus, and neither would Augustine. As Montgomery mentions, hierarchy is their understanding, but all possess a human nature even if women are considered flawed men.

And honestly, our best science is closer to Augustine and Aquinas in this matter, but in an ironic reversal of their placing the male as the template of the human. Men develop from what is a "female template" in the womb that requires not just a Y chromosome but hormones of certain sorts. Oppositely, we know in birds, the male is the template. This shows in older age in hens who develop combs due to increased testosterone levels, just as in men, with age, decreased testosterone levels tend to lead to mellowing.

This is all to say that "likeness" suggests a common humanity at the core of who we are--a human nature. Now as to whether there is a hierarchy in that likeness (a la Augustine and Aquinas) is another matter. I think they were wrong (as clearly Aquinas was using flawed Aristotelian science) and implicit in Augustine's hierarchy (that women are saved through men who are saved by Christ) is a potential breakdown of Chalcedon and the universal significance of the Incarnation (Elizabeth Johnson comes to mind).

Complementarity can be used to suggest quite boldly that Christ took on a male nature, rather than a human nature, and that women have a "special nature" a la John Paul II. It endangers Chalcedon and does so by reading modern categories and assumptions back into the text as well as reading the text prescriptively and proscriptively rather than descriptively.

If I recall, a council from the Medieval period noted that Adam is Eve and Eve is Adam. When speaking anthropologically before God, both Eve and Adam represent humanity interchangeably. Indeed, the rib story reinforces our oneness/likeness. Difference must be understood within this matrix, not instead read into our humanity as dividing up nature. Some of the previous putdowns of women by the fathers (Tertullian especiallY), including Irenaeus, lurch toward docetic tendencies in hatred of creation, the very thing he wished to overcome. Luther is actually better in this regard than the fathers.


Christopher said...

I might add that is not our relations with one another to be guided not only by Ephesians but by John? Christ to the Church relates to us as friend? If Christ so to the Church, how is it that so many interpret men should relate to women as slaves? By trying to read a unitary understanding into conflicting texts within our canon, we end up choosing that which we prefer. The truth is there is some conflict between the Johannine and Ephesians models and they may not be reconcilable, but both offer resources for doing theology nonetheless.

Tobias Haller said...

Two places where it was cited are Joanna Selznik Dulkin's Brit Rayut and in a resource for the study of marriage and sexuality from issued by the Standing Commission on National Concerns. I don't have a link for it, unfortunatly.

Thanks as always for the input. You've answered one of Rick's concerns in greater detail. It is very important to understand just how dangerous to orthodox theology this novel idea of "complementarity" is. It really represents a defective anthropology. I've never been at all impressed with the work of the late pontiff, by the way. I don't think he was really very firmly grounded in orthodox thinking.

fatherjones.com said...

I actually am glad that Gagnon is the go-to guy for the anti-gay movement - because his work is so flawed. I have heard his work referred to as 'magisterial,' I believe it only impresses people by virtue of its immense size and that it offers a relatively coherent world-view with an explanatory power commensurate with the anti-gay agenda. Frankly, I believe the lady doth protest too much -- but one never knows with folk in Pittsburgh.

Anonymous said...

"It is very important to understand just how dangerous to orthodox theology this novel idea of "complementarity" is."

For the life of me I still don't see how it is a danger to anything. With respect to the foundation of a family in bringing children into the world, a man can't do it without a woman and a woman can't do it without a man. That doesn't strike me as such a revolutionary or dangerous observation.

"Men develop from what is a "female template" in the womb that requires not just a Y chromosome but hormones of certain sorts." In other words, men are females plus a little something else. Or, to say the same thing another way, females are males who are lacking a little something. We must only hope that no one distorts this into asserting that you think females "defective" or "flawed," as so many have insisted Thos. Aquinas did.

-rick allen

Tobias Haller said...

The correct link to the Brit Rayut resource is through the Keshet page of Jewish same-sex marriage resources. The Title is "Brit Rayut: A blueprint for a Sam-Sex Jewish Wedding Ceremony." I mistyped the url in the previous comment.

Tobias Haller said...

Rick, the "threat" is the threat of any doctrinal error or heresy in that it unbalances the foundation of the faith. In this instance, the theory is that "the divine image in humanity is incomplete without male and female" (an idea that appears in Barth, in a theological reflection of the US House of Bishops, since repudiated, and in the thought of John Paul II -- all of them in their efforts to rule out same-sex relationships and bolster the institution of heterosexual marriage). This is a theological error. It is based on a misreading of Genesis 1. The "danger" specifically is that it undercuts the doctrine of the Incarnation as enunciated at Chalcedon, which asserts the Jesus Christ in himself is the fullness of the divine image as well as fully and completely human; and the theology of baptism, which asserts that through that sacrament each individual Christian participates in that image. Aquinas lays all of this out in detail in refuting the doctrine advanced by some in his time, and post-date by the worthies above.

I have no trouble with people trying to come up with a theology of marriage, including opposition to same-sex marriage if they like, but when their "theories" actually conflict with core doctrines, this is one indication, for me at least, that they are off track. It is, in fact, the tendentious scholarship of folks like Gagnon, and the erroneous reflections of folks like Barth and JPII that do more than anything else to convince me that the argument against same-sex relationships being capable of moral virtue is specious, and may ultimately be based on irrationality. A rational argument that actually meets the evidence would be welcome.

Anonymous said...

Toby, I still don't get it. Looks to me like "the divine image in humanity is incomplete without male and female" is just a restatement of "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them."

I don't know where your quote is from, but it seems to me rather elementary that "humanity" is incomplete without male and female (not mention short-lived). In the incarnation God did not become "humanity," but a particular person, who happened to be male. I just don't get the argument that the incarnation requires gay marriage. Maybe it's coming up.

--rick allen

Tobias Haller said...

Rick, if you want to go to Aquinas' explanation of why that statement is wrong, perhaps it will make more sense to you. I cited it in an earlier part of this discussion. Briefly, it is that the divine image is represented in the mind, and since the mind is present in each individual (male or female) the divine image is present in each individual. It's that simple. It does not require a male and a female to "complete" the divine image. Nor the human nature, as Chalcedon shows. Each person is fully human in and of him or herself. BTW, "male and female" in Genesis 1 are nouns, not adjectives as we tend to hear them. A better translation would be, "a male and a female, he created them." Genesis does not mean God "made" people and then "made them" male and female, i.e., gave them sexuality. This is the source of much of the misreading of this text.)

I've never said this necessarily leads to gay marriage. What I am saying is that, because the assertion is an error, it cannot be used as an argument against gay relationships. My effort in this series is to address the objections, and as they fall one by one see what is left, if anything, of the case against same-sex relationships.

Anonymous said...

""male and female" in Genesis 1 are nouns, not adjectives."

I think they can be either--at least based on a quick look at "zakhar" in the old B-D-B.

"Genesis does not mean God "made" people and then "made them" male and female."

I don't think I've ever read it serially like that. But that those made in God's image come in two sexes is somewhat prominent. It doesn't say he made us to walk upright, or to have opposable thumbs.

--rick allen

Tobias Haller said...

Take a closer look at the BDB. The adjectival use is rare (and the examples questionable; for instance, most modern translations don't translate Jer 20:15 as "a male child" but as "a male, a child" preserving the noun use. And the citations from Numbers 3:40,43 read perfectly well as nouns.) More current lexicons don't cite an adjectival use. In any case, in Genesis 1:27 they are definitely nouns, not adjectives.

In any case, the point is, contra the erroneous assertion, that both the man and the woman each are made in the divine image; it is not divided between them, nor incomplete in either of them, nor does it require both of them to be "realized."

thomas bushnell, bsg said...

one anonymous said that the ancients thought about hierarchy and not complementarity. this, like most generalizations about "the ancients" is incorrect.

Plato's Symposium is as yet the best, clearest description of sexuality as connected with complementarity, in the celebrated speech "by" Aristophanes.

but there, alas for the conservatives of today, Plato/Aristophanes is too honest to rig the dice, and so the complementarity is sometimes male/female, sometimes male/male, and sometimes female/female. But still comes the heretical notion that, to be complete a person must be sexually joined with the appropriate sort of partner.

Anonymous said...

"the divine image...is not divided between them, nor incomplete in either of them, nor does it require both of them to be "realized.""

Now I'm getting confused. Who exactly says that it is? And where? Links would be helpful (tho I know not always available).


--rick allen

Anonymous said...

“One anonymous [me] said that the ancients thought about hierarchy and not complementarity.”

I think what I said was that complementarity and hierarchy are not an either/or sort of thing. One doesn’t exclude the other.

”Plato's Symposium is as yet the best, clearest description of sexuality as connected with complementarity, in the celebrated speech "by" Aristophanes. But there, alas for the conservatives of today,…complementarity is sometimes male/female, sometimes male/male, and sometimes female/female.”

Of course. But there is also a “hierarchical” ranking of the three types. The man-man types are plainly the highest: “these alone prove in a public career to be men,” and, in rather marked contrast to our contemporary expectations of politicians, they will of course, at maturity, “paiderastousi” and only reluctantly have anything to do with women.

(Not that we can uncritically assume that this Aristophanes speaks for Plato, especially after the number the real Aristophanes did on Socrates in The Clouds.)

So I think it was someone else who characterized “complementarity” as a purely modern notion.

I’m not sure about the “alas” for conservatives—I don’t know that Plato carries much normative weight for most, though I’m awfully fond of him, and have never been sympathetic with schemes to eliminate his influence on Christian thought.

“But still comes the heretical notion that, to be complete a person must be sexually joined with the appropriate sort of partner.”

See my questions above (if not answered in the interim): Who are these heretics? And where is their heresy displayed?

--rick allen

Grandmère Mimi said...

...both the man and the woman each are made in the divine image; it is not divided between them, nor incomplete in either of them, nor does it require both of them to be "realized."

Well, of course! Else there would be a whole raft of priests, bishops, and the pope himself forced into "incompleteness" by the celibacy rule in the RCC.

Tobias Haller said...


I have provided links and citations to you before in previous sections of this series. However, to draw them together here, let me present some of the "errors" (I won't call them heresies because I think that goes higher to a level of persistence, and in at least two of the cases -- Barth and the chair of the HoB Theology Committee -- they saw the error of their ways and changed their minds in later life. I would like to think that had someone had the courage to point out the problem to John Paul II he would have corrected his overstatement.) In any case, here are the statements, including Aquinas' sed contra

The grace of God has this particular form; that it is in the differentiation and relationship of man and woman, the relation of sex, that there is this repetition, is an indication of the creaturliness of man... This creaturely differentiation and relationship is shown to be distinct and free, to reflect God’s image and to prove his special grace, by the fact that in this particular duality (i.e., to the exclusion of all others) he is alone among the beasts and in the rest of creation, and that it is in this form of life and this alone, as man and woman, that he will continually stand before God, and in the form of his fellow that he will continually stand before himself. Men are simply male and female. Whatever else they may be, it is only in this differentiation and relationship. This is the particular dignity ascribed to the sex relationship. It is only creaturely, and common to man and beast. But as the only real principle of differentiation and relationship, as the original form not only of man’s confrontation of God but also of all intercourse between man and man, it is the true humanum and therefore the true creaturely image of God. — Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III, page 186.

Both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament the understanding of sex is rooted in the conviction that the divine image in humanity is incomplete without both man and woman. — The House of Bishops Theology Committee, Report 1977

So when the Priestly writer said, “In the image of God He created them; male and female He created them,” I believe the writer was saying that the human opposites male and female complement each other into a wholeness which reflects God's nature and purpose... But this principal is basic in Scripture: It takes maleness and femaleness, masculinity and femininity, coming together to reflect the image of God. — Bishop Andrew Fairfield, Minority Report in the Righter Decision, 1996

Man became the 'image and likeness' of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning. — John Paul II, General Audience November 14, 1979; "By the Communion of Persons Man Becomes the Image of God"

On the contrary, Aquinas says,

The image of God, in its principal signification, namely the intellectual nature, is found both in man and in woman. Hence after the words, "To the image of God He created him," it is added, "Male and female He created them" ( Gn. 1:27 ). Moreover it is said "them" in the plural, as Augustine (Gen. ad lit. iii, 22) remarks, lest it should be thought that both sexes were united in one individual. (I.Q93.4 repl obj 1)

As Augustine says (De Trin. xii, 5), some have thought that the image of God was not in man individually, but severally. They held that "the man represents the Person of the Father; those born of man denote the person of the Son; and that the woman is a third person in likeness to the Holy Ghost, since she so proceeded from man as not to be his son or daughter." All of this is manifestly absurd; first, because it would follow that the Holy Ghost is the principle of the Son, as the woman is the principle of the man's offspring; secondly, because one man would be only the image of one Person; thirdly, because in that case Scripture should not have mentioned the image of God in man until after the birth of the offspring. Therefore we must understand that when Scripture had said, "to the image of God He created him," it added, "male and female He created them," not to imply that the image of God came through the distinction of sex, but that the image of God belongs to both sexes, since it is in the mind, wherein there is no sexual distinction of sex, but that the image of God belongs to both sexes, since it is in the mind, wherein there is no sexual distinction. (I.Q93.6. repl obj 2)

Anonymous said...

Toby, thanks for posting those excerpts.

With Barth I am a little reluctant to comment; not only do I not know the extent of his retraction, I am not entirely sure I understand what he is saying in the excerpt you post. Not your fault, of course; you can't post the whole Church Dogmatics. What little I have read of Barth tends to resist easy summary.

But I think none of your examples are asserting the proposition you find so objectionable, the notion that the image of God is not found in the individual. JPII speaks of the imago Dei "not only" here, "but also" there. It's not a question of denying that the individual has the whole image--which is what the sed contra of Thomas, citing Augustine, is directed against.

But surely it's understandable, in an era newly awakened to the community as well as to the individual, that the question is asked, whether there is any acceptable wider scope to be given to that assertion.

Is there any significance to the proximity in Genesis of the declaration that ha-adam is in the image and likeness of God, to the following paralleling statement of that creation as "male and female"? It's not a matter, I don't think, already dogmatically set, but a matter for open speculation, which JPII obviously approached, not in an encyclical, but in a series of reflections in weekly audiences.

The contrast with Aristophanes' speech in the Symposium is in fact instructive. There we are offered an alternative myth (not necessarily offered seriously, of course), of a primeval creation of three sexes. In Genesis, despite its silence about the obvious sexuality of plants, fish, birds, animals, and those "creeping things," we find the assertion "male and female created he them." I wouldn't assert that exegesis necessarily leads where JPII went with this passage. But I don't see it as beyond the pale, either.

--rick allen

Tobias Haller said...

Amen to Barth being hard to grasp. I gave more of the citation here than is usually presented. However, the main problem with his statement, is that he does in fact limit the image of God to the pair. He goes on in later sections (III.4) to condemn monasticism and other societies he sees as encouraging members of one sex to go it alone; including celibacy, but then also noting this is an encouragement to homosexuality, which is a condition to be treated by psychotherapy, in his view. It really is a quite problematical view, though understandable from a Protestant, in that it puts down so much of the glory of the Catholic tradition along with those bits even Catholics might be embarrassed by.

The JPII problem is less severe, in that, as you note, he does not omit the presence of the image of God in the individual, but in his over-all thesis that somehow the communion of persons is an augmentation. This is really a problem for systematics and logic, the problem of parts being greater than the whole; in the face of the testimony that in this case one plus one equals one. People do not "become the image of God through the communion of persons." They are already individually the image of God; "become" implies they aren't.

As to the actual text of Genesis on this point, I think it is in part a rebuttal to those who in some of the pagan mythologies gave to much priority to an "eternal female"; this is an affirmation that both the man and the woman -- a male and a female, as the text actually reads -- affirms that both are creatures of God. Judaism did contend for a while with a myth that this represents Adam's "first wife" who by being made at the same time got "uppity" and left him: she is known in one part of the tradition as Lilith, a ghostly figure who haunts families and brings bad luck. Eve is the second wife on this view.

As this demonstrates, it is certainly possible to read a given text in many different ways! I simply don't think the view that male and female together "make" or "are necessary" for the image of God to be present is either a correct or useful concept; and it appears to diminish the understanding of the Incarnation as the perfect exposition of the divine image, JPII's caveat notwithstanding.

As to Symposium: well, this is probably best seen as a bit of a lark on Aristophanes' part. However, clearly larking or not, it belongs in the same category of etiological myth as Genesis 2: the point for Aristophanes is "Why are people attracted to each other the way they are" and for Genesis "Why does a man leave his home to join up with a wife." The former does have the virtue of addressing a larger portion of actual human experience than the latter, lark or not. But then, this is precisely where a social constructionist view comes in: the Hebrew mind (at least P and E) remain to a large extent agnostic about same-sex relationships.