I hesitate to bring this to your attention because for me, this book amounts to something somewhere between UFO sightings, the ghost of great uncle Jim closet haunting and secret government conspiracies that depict Gorbachev as the one world leader future antichrist. But a few people on facebook have been passing around an article titled “Discovery: Apostle Paul Accepted Christian Homosexuals”. Let’s be clear about something from the start, one can “accepted Christian homosexuals” the way someone like Tony Campolo does, but that is not what the article is talking about. So if you’re with Tony on this issue (as I am – that it’s the lifestyle, not the orientation that is sin), you’re probably not going to agree with what this book seems to be about.
For starters the article is laced with words and phrases like “discovery!” and “definitive” and “reveals” and “well kept secret”. It reminds me of a bad infomercial, and of course, you always get people jumping on those bandwagons too. (And let’s face it it’s not the successful people sitting up in a dark living room at three in the morning with a bag of potato chips waiting to buy into the next “definitive” “well kept secret” from infomercials.) And what’s more? The discovery was made by an acclaimed cryptography. This has all the makings of the Da Vinci code and the Bible code wrapped up in one.
Michael Wood is the retired cryptographer who was apparently able (in his spare time no less) to out-do every scholar and theology in history by unlocking the mystery of Paul’s words about homosexuality in Romans 1.
Go ahead and read the article and watch the really cheesy little video, then come back here where I’ll offer a few thoughts. (Here)
Two arguments are put forth in the article and book trailer:
- The climax of Romans 1 teaches that sins other than homosexuality are sins that lead to death.
- The book claims to solve “unsolved” contradiction between Romans 2 and Romans 3 regarding “works of the law”.
Romans 1 Teaches The Homosexuality Is Not A Mortal Sin
The book teaches Romans 1 to read like this: in 1:18-27 Paul talks about homosexuality, idolatry, and orgies, but it is the climax of the text, 1:28-32, that Paul declares the sins that deserve death, and Paul is forced not to include homosexuality, idolatry and orgies in to that list.
The first thing to observe is that the article and book clearly affirm (or at least does not deny) that for Paul, homosexuality, idolatry and orgies are sins in God’s eyes. The article and book want to say that they are not “sins unto death”, but it does affirm that they are sins nonetheless. Paul says elsewhere that if we walk by the Spirit and live by the Spirit (the Spirit that gives eternal life), we will not sin by gratifying the lusts of the flesh (cf. Galatians 5 et al). So if I were an advocate of the homosexual lifestyle, if I were gay for example, I wouldn’t be cheering this book… I would rather be angry that the book doesn’t go far enough. It still shows that Paul taught against the lifestyle.
The second point to make is that Romans 1 is demonstrating the complete depravity of humanity. Where the article claimed that Paul “deliberately acknowledged that [homosexuality, idolatry and orgies] does not prevent anyone from entering heaven” Paul had the exact opposite thought process in mind. Paul’s point is that it is impossible for any person to enter the kingdom of God, homosexual or otherwise. As a side note, it is remarkable that the article and book hang so much on claiming knowledge of a first century worldview when making their point and yet first century Jews never thought like Greeks and modern people in terms of “entering heaven”. (I could pick this article apart all day long about its mistakes, so I’ll try from this point forward to keep to the main points.)
The third point to make is that the article (and book trailer) lump “homosexuality” and “idolatry” together, if one is a mortal sin, so is the other. Interesting enough the problem of idolatry as a “root” problem to humanities plight is, as N.T. Wright said, a basic spiritual truth (note, Wright is a real, not pseudo, scholar). The articles claim to “reveal” a bunch of stuff can only seem to be a revelation to people who are biblically inept. Idolatry is what caused Adam and Eve to die spiritually in the first place according to the biblical narrative. So the book might want to reconsider its strategy of lumping homosexuality and idolatry together, because it implies the opposite of what the book intends to communicate according to the article and trailer. (For those who are interested in reading what a scholar – not a pseudo scholar – has to say about this, see G.K. Beale’s We Become What We Worship.)
Romans 2-3 Were “Unsolved” Pauline Contradictions
The article and trailers claim that Romans 2 and Romans 3 are unsolved Pauline contradictions is highly deceiving. To quote scholars saying that it is a difficult passage and that people have wrestled with this passage for a the better part of church history is not at all the same as saying that the entirety of those two chapters is “unsolved” or that they are “contradictions”.
In general scholars of all stripes believe they understand those passages. There are no contradictions and no unsolved mysteries about them. The problem is that scholars tend to dispute each other on what those passages mean. But the article and trailer are misleading here too in that they suggest that scholars are unanimous about everything in the bible but only a few passages here or there, and that Romans 1-3 is one of those passages. The truth is actually the opposite. Christian scholars dispute almost everything about the bible, making Romans 1-3 no more or less solved than any other passage generally speaking.
The article and trailer then turns to an apparent discovery of a Jewish understanding of Leviticus 19:18 and imposes that discovery upon Romans 2-3 to solve what the author sees as a contradiction. Keep in mind that the author is a retired cryptographer, and that there are a good number of world-class scholars who specialize in first century Judaism as it relates to early Christianity, and I don’t know any who have put forth Wood’s suspicious interpretation. But anyone who has read any good biblical scholar on Romans 2 and 3 knows that if those passages are read in context in light of all of Paul’s thoughts in Romans and especially in the mind of Paul’s wider biblical narrative, there is no contradiction.
By plucking a passage here or there and then presenting your case in similar fashion as an infomercial you will lead many non-reflective and highly hopeful people into, how did Paul put it in Romans 1, “a suppression of the truth”.
If a healthy discussion on the homosexuality debate is to continue, this book and those who promote are not helping the conversation along. We need serious and credible thought and engagement in these matters.