We touched first on three issues appearing in the reading for the week: Homosexuality, Women, and Slavery.
Homosexuality: Romans 1:24-26, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:10-11. Some reactions included — shocked and jarred by it, but then there are other passages where Paul says it’s up to God to judge. A handout from MCC entitled The Bible and Homosexuality was handed out (http://mccchurch.org/resources/mcc-theologies/).
Regarding 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, it was noted that these “vice” lists contain Greek words – malakoi and arsenokotai – the first of which can have many meanings including “soft” (referring to fabric) and someone who is easily pliable morally. Arsenokotai seems to be a combination of the words “man” and “bed” and seemed to first appear in writings by Paul so there is no clear context to help in interpretation. Vice lists, however, typically do not list things randomly – the items listed usually relate to one another. So, for example, in 1 Corinthians what comes before these words deals with sexual issues and what comes after money issues, perhaps suggesting that the intention is prostitution. In addition, some translations use the word “homosexual” which is suspect as that word was only coined in recent history.
Regarding Romans 1:24-26: It was noted that it is easy to get pulled in by one passage but we need to look at Pauline Bible as a whole — his intent seemed to reinforce family, honesty, community etc.. — dealing with money and neighbors. Easy to be pulled aside by this passage which is unfortunate because it has been used by churches to justify discrimination or the passages about slavery to justify slaveholders.
It was noted that in Roman society, homosexuality was not unusual. Romans were the conquerors and rulers and Paul and the Jews were the conquered and the ruled over. It may have been a way to differentiate themselves from the Roman society. And, Paul may have been in Corinth at this time (Greece) where homosexuality was prevalent. He elaborates in other passages about orgies and the like so the Romans passage should be looked at in that context. Through those lenses, Paul is trying to develop a more wholesome church. It is also important to read what comes before that passage – Paul is condemning idolatry and it was also prevalent to use sex to worship other gods (shrine prostitutes) and when it says “natural sexual relations” — what is against nature — only recently science has discovered genetics behind sexual orientation and at that time there was not necessarily the concept of a universal natural law – when speaking of what is against nature it often meant against a person’s nature. Some wondered whether this was “the thorn in Paul’s flesh”? Paul seemed confused and conflicted at times especially given his view of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7.
Some noted that they really wanted to hear more from Peter – “the rock” and someone who had a wife and family as Paul seemed to be writing from the lenses of a bachelor – like a first priest (not married).
It was noted that in Paul’s letters, Paul was writing to selected groups of people for specific purposes. He was probably not thinking comprehensively that these writings were going to be used as universal truths. It seems as one reads the letters there are passages intended to address specific issues and conflicts in certain churches at the time and other passages that are more universal.
Women and Slaves: Some scholars today have questioned whether all 14 books attributed to Paul were in fact written by him. Those books universally accepted as authored by Paul are Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Philippians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon. A chart was handed out showing what these books say about women and slavery compared to the books where authorship is questioned. It was clear from the chart that the most troubling passages were almost exclusively in books where the authorship is questioned and in some cases seemed to contradict passages from books scholars are confident were written by Paul.
Acts (Luke is Author):
Pentecost — illustrates the promise that He would come back — God comes back and keeps promises. It was a fulfillment of God’s prophecy that He would come back and we also see Peter stepping forward. One noted that he never thought of the reference to other tongues as other languages as indicated in footnote. There were people there who did speak other languages and so the event was so moving. It seemed to be a call to go out and spread the Word. Spirit — church is led by the Holy Spirit and each of us in our own lives is led by the Holy Spirit.
Acts 10 — Unclean/Clean — Peter went into trance and had a vision and saw animals and voice instructed kill and eat — happened 3 times just before the Gentiles came. Jews and Gentles did not mix together – and the vision reflected on that relationship. God said don’t call anything He made unclean. One of big conflicts Peter and Paul had — Peter focused more on converting Jews. It seems it was part of the early church struggling to define itself. Up until Stephen was stoned in Acts 7, it seemed like Peter was trying to convert Jews but then the focus shifted to Gentiles.
Ethiopian Eunuch — black man coming from Ethiopia. Saw him maybe as an Ethiopian Jew — reading Isaiah, went to Jerusalem. It seemed like strange story — Philip appearing and disappearing and it didn’t seem to fit the context. The Eunuch is reading a very specific chapter in Isaiah. The story itself also doesn’t seem to make sense – why is it there? There’s no back story. Maybe it’s there to show a eunuch, someone not from the region and that there was no reason not to baptize him even if he is different. Also, it may have a geographical aspect – a messenger who lived far away to plant seeds of Christianity which is important for the global mission. He may have been a Jew or, it was noted, that there were a lot of “God-fearers” who were not Jews and wanted to convert but could not because it was difficult.
Acts 9 – Peter resurrects Tabitha was a striking passage.
Highlights of Paul’s Letters – What was striking?
- Paul’s concept of the body of Christ — we are all part of it, get from it and contribute to it.
- Teachings on prayers are woven throughout the letters in very powerful ways. Ephesians 6: pray in the spirit in all times. pray pray pray. Woven into his writings.
- Ephesians 6 – Armor of God.
- Paul gives a lot of tangible metaphors.
- 1 Corinthians 13 (Love) — Context of that was a big church fight in Corinth – a universal truth that comes through — love. This is agape love. Also, Romans 12:12.
- Hebrews — metaphor of Christ as High Priest – the curtain is pulled away and it seems to be a message of inclusivity not exclusivity.
- Interesting the use of the term “church” appears yet Christianity came out of Judaism so why not use the word “Temple”?
- Ingrafted branches imagery was striking – like a second family — choose to be community.
- Liked how Paul handled the divisions of the church — when people said they were of different apostles, for example (Paul, Apollos)…he asks — did any of them die for them? He reasoned with them instead of just saying they were wrong.
- Theme throughout of taking care of others and giving — family, widows etc…
The group concluded with reading the striking passage from the writings of Luke in Acts 2:42-47:
The Fellowship of the Believers
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.