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Patience for the Nuts and Bolts

Last night I attended a Bible study in which my pastor was teaching on Romans 1:22-32.  If that verse selection doesn’t fully make sense to you, consider that he was simply following up from the point at which he stopped the prior week.

My pastor is Dr. Wesley Wachob, an accomplished exegete.  One of the joys of attending First UMC in Pensacola is that while I may occasionally disagree on some technical point, I never have to cringe while listening to the sermons.  Elsewhere I frequently have order myself to ignore exegetical problems or those related to Biblical languages while listening to otherwise uplifting sermons.

So, being who he is, Dr. Wachob starting out by teaching precisely what Paul was saying.  It’s not relevant to my point here, but I happen to agree with that position.  I’m also not trying to proclaim Dr. Wachob’s position on all issues related to homosexuality, which is only a minor point of the passage, though it is the primary one for which it is cited.  (I eagerly await the sermon on how gossip and slander represents the true measure of human depravity as in verse 29-30.)  The issue I’m looking at is the starting point.  (For my Methodist readers, Dr. Wachob in no way violated the Methodist discipline in anything he said to the group.)

In particular, Paul is not writing an essay either on what constitutes an appropriate list of sins, nor is he arguing for what things are sinful and why.  He is taking an assumption of what is sinful and tying it all to idolatry, i.e. anything that places anything other than God in God’s place.  Thus homosexuality is assumed to be wrong, based on the Torah, and this is something that Paul can count on as an agreement with his audience.

Thus the point here is that while we can be pretty certain based on this passage that Paul thought homosexuality was wrong, it is as an underlying assumption, rather than as something explicitly explained.  When I say that, if you know my own view of inspiration as message embedded in surrounding cultural views, then you don’t know how I feel about homosexuality generally, gay marriage, or any related issue concerning how we respond to gays in our society today.

The text does not immediately translate itself into modern context.

If you doubt this, consider Numbers 31:15-20.  Does the command that Moses gives, couched in support for the moral preservation, not to mention the physical, of the Israelite people, represent a good standard for warfare?  I would, of course, argue that it does not.  How it can be a command of God in scripture is worthy of a bit more discussion, but that isn’t going to happen today.

Last night in our class there was a gentleman who was clearly quite knowledgeable.  Throughout the discussion he kept asking our teacher to make the application.  His requests were resisted.  Now I understand his impatience, but at the same time I applaud the resistance.  The nuts and bolts of exegesis need to be done first.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t later view the scripture in their canonical context or in the broader context of theology.  It doesn’t mean that we never get down to current, practical applications.  It just means that we have to do the hard work first.

Dr. Wachob’s interpretation of this passage–and mine–will not satisfy many on any side of this debate.  The general desire is to somehow have Romans tell us directly what to do today.  And yes, there are interpretations that make this not address homosexuality as such in its original context.  But that is a very unlikely reading of what Paul is trying to say.  Paul is talking not about some isolated group of people, but rather is talking about all gentiles here (he’ll get to the Jews later) and making a case that all have failed.  That is is theological point.

It may require some patience.  But it is worth it.

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