Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, most people say. But Ron Goetz, the Bible-Thumping Liberal, doesn’t quite agree, in a post Luke’s Gay Apocalypse: “Two Men in One Bed”:
Well, technically, he didn’t, at least not as an abstract category. But he did mention four gays and lesbians–flesh and blood, living, breathing homosexuals.
Thanks to John Meunier for the link. But is there any substance in this apparently improbable claim? Here is the passage in which Goetz finds this mention:
I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.
Luke 17:34-35 (NIV 2011)
And I’m sorry to say that this translation already shows the weakness of Goetz’s argument. He quotes the verses from KJV, which reads “two men” where the updated NIV has “two people”, and misunderstands “men” as implying that these two people are male. Unfortunately there is nothing in the Greek text to suggest that they are. So, if we reject as Goetz does the argument that in ancient times men who were not sexual partners, and perhaps whole families, often shared beds, we end up with the conclusion that these two in one bed are what they most commonly are, at least in our culture: a married couple.
Now some might want to argue differently from the Greek text, noting that the words translated “one” and “the other” are both masculine in verse 34 (but feminine in verse 35). But that is easily explained. Jesus clearly didn’t want to specify either that the man was taken and the woman left or vice versa. So, in the Greek version of his words, the appropriate grammatical gender was used for people of unknown sex, and that is the masculine.
Sadly Goetz has been led astray in the same way as Wayne Grudem, although in a different direction. Both were brought up in the 1960s reading Bible versions, like KJV and RSV, in which the word “man” was often intended to be understood in its older gender generic sense. But both misunderstood some of these passages according to the male only sense of “man” which has dominated in English at least since those 1960s. And sadly they read their misunderstandings back into the original language Bible text, and allowed them to reinforce their very different cultural presuppositions.
Goetz does better in looking at the context, to answer the objection that his interpretation goes against it. He finds the mention of Sodom in verses 28-29, and writes:
I don’t believe the sin of Sodom was homosexuality. But there are many today who believe that it was, and I think most of the Jewish believers in Luke’s audience may have believed it as well.
Jesus knew that by recounting key details of Sodom’s destruction, his audience would have man-on-man sex on its mind. Jesus intended for us to understand that the “two men in one bed” were gay. It is no accident that for more than a hundred years every minister preaching on the rapture from Luke 17 has had to disavow the sexual content of verse 34.
The problem here is that Goetz seems to be extrapolating this understanding of the sin of Sodom back from “today” and “for more than a hundred years” to nearly 2000 years ago, at first tentatively with “most … may have believed” and then as an unqualified assertion “Jesus knew”. But, as Joel quoted only a few days ago from Jennifer Wright Knust’s words in the New York Times,
“Sodomy” as a term for gay male sex began to be commonly used only in the 11th century and would have surprised early religious commentators. They attributed Sodom’s problems with God to many different causes, including idolatry, threats toward strangers and general lack of compassion for the downtrodden.
So I’m afraid Goetz’s case from the context looks very weak – and ironically the arguments against it come from his fellow liberal Bible scholars like Knust.
Goetz is more convincing in his follow-up posts on “Two Women Grinding Together,” part 1 and part 2, when he argues that in verse 35 the word “grind” is being used as a metaphor for lesbian sexual activity. Unfortunately he ruins his argument towards the end of part 2, when he tries to connect the Greek verb Luke uses, aletho “grind”, with letho “be unseen” and aletheia “truth”. His suggestion that aletho can be split up as a-letho and so originally meant “not be unseen” looks to me like a folk etymology. The 19th century Greek scholars Liddell and Scott were far more likely correct to see aletho as a variant of aleo, the verb for “grind” used by Plutarch as a euphemism for lesbianism.
So did Luke intend these verses to be about homosexuality? I don’t think we can rule this out completely. It seems to me unlikely that it was his main intention. But I would accept that there might have been some deliberate innuendo in his wording, to leave open the possibility that even in same-sex couples one might be taken and the other left behind. And, as I discussed concerning the parallel passage in Matthew in the first of my recent posts on the Rapture, in this case the one who is taken goes not to heaven but to God’s judgment.
That parallel in Matthew, 24:40-41, is interesting because in it there is almost no possibility of a reference to homosexuality. It is daytime, and the first two people are working together in a field, whereas, as Goetz also discusses, the two women are explicitly grinding at a mill, not Blake’s “dark satanic” variety but a hand-mill. Now I am usually rather sceptical about using source criticism in exegesis. But in the case of such a parallel between Matthew and Luke I think most source critics would hold that Matthew’s version is closer to the original version of the saying. That implies that it is closer to what Jesus really said.
So it seems highly improbable that in this saying Jesus was at all talking about homosexuals. His message is not that only one of each gay couple and one of each lesbian couple will be taken away to be judged, and the other will escape by being left behind. Rather it is to all of us, irrespective of sexual orientation. We will not escape just because our partner, at work or in the sexual sense, does, but each of us individually will face God’s judgment. And it will come at a time that
no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, [nor even Harold Camping!,] but only the Father.
Matthew 24:36 (NIV 2011)