Stretching credulity: On an exegesis of Matthew 8

I like to get information from a number of different sources from time to time, and one source that I like for its general fairness is Ed Brayton’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars (fair warning: Dispatches is heavy on adult language and topics). Brayton is much further left politically than I, but he’s got a good head on his shoulders, and he often denounces irrational criticisms from those on his “side.”

Case in point: Ed posted about some rather poor logic a few days ago, and a commenter going by the name “Priya Lynn” jumped in. Ed (and other commenters) thoroughly criticized many of his/her positions, but I was interested in a site he/she listed called Would Jesus Discriminate?

Now I’ve read my fair share of sites that purport to show Scriptural support for homosexuality (a topic on which I have not quite made any solid conclusions), but this one – well, it’s bad. I think there are some good arguments for homosexuality, but they are largely about cultural norms, not about Biblical exegesis. Would Jesus Discriminate? claims Biblical evidence.

So what is it? Let’s look at just one claim:

Jesus affirmed a gay couple.

The “evidence” for this is the story of the centurion in Matthew 8 and Luke 7. If you’re wondering what the “evidence” is from this fairly well-known story, it’s the Greek words pais in the Matthean account and entimos doulos in the Lukan account that make this interpretation even remotely feasible.

Here’s the problem: pais has multiple interpretations, which the site concedes, and it is used elsewhere in Matthew and other books to signify merely a child. The term itself does not bear connotations of pederasty at all. The exegesis of the Luke passage is even worse: using it to narrow the field of what pais means, the author discounts the interpretation of ‘son’ (although why I’m not sure, if ‘son’ here can be used to refer to any male child) because doulos means ‘slave,’ and the adjective entimos (“dear” in Luke 7:2) signifies that the slave was honored. Thus they conclude:

Taken together, the three Greek words preclude the possibility the sick person was either the centurion’s son or an ordinary slave, leaving only one viable option — he was his master’s male lover.

The problem should be obvious: Couldn’t the slave have merely been honored – well-liked, dear – and not the centurion’s male lover? The answer is of course yes, so the trilemma is faulty. (There are other reasons to think that Matthew had something else in mind in his choice of pais for the servant; see here for thoughts on a Matthean chiasmus in this passage.)

But even more importantly, how would this passage constitute an “affirmation” even if the centurion and the pais/entimos doulos were engaged in pederasty? Surely the passage does not give any indication of this; it merely tells of Jesus praising the centurion for his faith in Jesus’ authority and power, not for the centurion’s love for his pais. If the idea is that Jesus affirmed the relationship because he did not condemn it (an obvious false dilemma as well), then this is clearly wrong: Jesus showed disapproval of the actions of certain individuals implicitly without condemning them outright, as in the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4. The whole line of argument falls apart upon further examination.

There are other parts of the site which are common, such as the long-discredited argument than Jonathan and David in the OT were homosexuals, and a few I hadn’t seen, such as Jesus’ mention in Matthew 19 of some who are “born eunuchs,” which they take to mean “born homosexual” because of a perception that many eunuchs were homosexual. (Of course, that is to rip the text out of its context: Jesus is telling individuals that is better not to marry than divorce one’s wife and that some individuals are “born eunuchs” in the sense of not being physically able to consummate a relationship sexually and others “make themselves eunuchs” in the sense of emasculating themselves. Since Jesus is talking first about marriage, it’s fairly clear that the converse he is referring to is celibacy, not homosexuality.)

So whereas I don’t think Jesus would discriminate – that message is a good one – I think this site has their facts wrong in a bad way. No exegesis should have to do that much stretching to be credible, even if the truth might be under the surface.


3 Responses to Stretching credulity: On an exegesis of Matthew 8

  1. Tru Agape says:

    IS using the “pedestry” stump the best you can do to present your counter argument? You rely on the concept of pedestray, which is not what was being described by the way, to dismiss all of the undeniable facts Luke and Matthew’s account contain. Your argument tries to substitute “conception” for “substance”. And you unfortunately toss the historical facts to the side. How dishonest of you!

  2. Tru Agape says:

    I meant to say : “Your article substitues “substance” for “conception”.

  3. Mr. B says:

    Your comments are ironic, Tru: If my “article” is insubstantial, as you say, then why do your comments feel a lot like hand-waving? If I am relying on the pederasty interpretation (I’m not and said so explicitly) and it is wrong, what is the correct meaning and why? What are the “undeniable facts” in the Lukan and Matthean accounts that you are referring to? What historical facts do I “toss aside”? Before you accuse me of dishonesty on my own blog, you’d better be ready to back up those accusations with concrete facts.

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