Did Jesus Affirm a Gay Couple?

A friend sent me a news story today about a set of billboards in Dallas, Texas that cite the Bible in support of homosexual relationships. Because you can find all kinds of crazy things on billboards, I initially didn’t think much of this report. But I was really intrigued by the picture of one billboard that was included in the story (see it at right).

The message reads simply, “Jesus affirmed a gay couple. Would Jesus Discriminate?” What caught my attention was not the suggestion that Jesus affirmed homosexual conduct. This is standard fare among religious progressives, and I have heard this many times before. What caught my attention was the single Bible text quoted in support of the message—Matthew 8:5-13.

I am very familiar with the biblical texts that progressives usually cite in support of homosexual behavior, and this is not one of them. At least it was not one that I was aware of. R. T. France’s 2007 commentary doesn’t mention such an interpretation of that text. Neither Robert Gagnon (2001) nor James DeYoung (2000) respond to any such interpretation in their books debunking pro-homosexual interpretations of key biblical texts. So I had to do some digging. Where was this interpretation of Matthew 8:5-13 coming from?

It turns out that the billboard reflects an obscure interpretation of the text that first appeared in 1978 but that was most recently defended in a 2004 article in The Journal of Biblical Literature: “Mistaken Identities but Model Faith: Rereading the Centurion, the Chap, and the Christ in Matthew 8:5-13” by Theodore Jennings and Tat-Siong Liew (pp. 467-94). But what I found in this article does not support the message contained on this billboard. The billboard suggests that Jesus affirms gay relationships—presumably between consenting adults—and that an example of his approval appears in Matthew 8:5-13. But this is not at all what Jennings and Liew argue.

In the article, the “gay couple” that Jesus affirmed was a Roman soldier and his young boy sex-slave. In short, Jennings and Liew argue that the Greek word pais—usually rendered as “servant” in verse 6—is actually a mistranslation. Jesus didn’t heal the centurion’s “servant.” Rather, Jesus healed the centurion’s “boy-love” (p. 468). The paralytic is a young boy who was the sexual plaything of a Roman centurion. The authors contend that such “forced pederastic relations” between Roman soldiers and young boys were both “legally permissible and socially prevalent” during Jesus’ time (p. 486). They argue further that the centurion is worried that Jesus will steal away the paralytic as his own “boy-love,” and that is why the centurion doesn’t want Jesus actually to come to his house (vs. 8, “I am not worthy for You to come under my roof”). Because Jesus “marvels” at the “great faith” of the centurion in verse 10, the authors conclude:

“The way Matthew’s Jesus seems to affirm the centurion’s pederastic relationship with his pai/j, we contend, may also be consistent with Matthew’s affirmation of many sexual dissidents in her Gospel” (p. 492).

The other sexually dissident behavior that Jesus affirms includes adultery, prostitution, and perhaps lesbianism (p. 493).

The problems with this article and with the billboard are manifold. First, it’s blasphemous and outrageous to suggest that Jesus supported this kind of behavior. In the Sermon on the Mount alone (a favorite text among progressives), Jesus unambiguously condemns sexual immorality (Matthew 5:28) while affirming the sanctity of the marital union (Matthew 5:32). Are these authors seriously going to suggest that Jesus goes against the Old Testament and his own teaching to affirm the alleged homosexual conduct of the centurion and his sex-slave? The whole suggestion strains credulity at every level.

Second, I’m not alone in finding this reading to be completely implausible. Jennings’ and Liew’s novel interpretation of Matthew 8:5-13 has not been widely received in scholarship and was subsequently debunked in the same journal on historical grounds (see Saddington, pp. 140-42). There was a reason that I couldn’t find the interpretation mentioned in France’s commentary. It is so out of the mainstream that it didn’t even bear mentioning.

Third, even if Jennings’ and Liew’s interpretation were correct, it would prove more than what this billboard probably intends to prove. Do the authors of this billboard really wish to suggest that Jesus supports forced sexual predation of older men upon underage boys? I certainly hope not.

In any case, it is very clear that the message of this billboard is absurd, and its supposed biblical basis is a farce. For any of you readers who may come upon a message such as this one, be assured that the claim is absolutely baseless. This is the kind of revisionist historicism that supports progressive interpretations of key texts. It’s not serious, though it is seriously damning, and people should pay no heed to it.

40 Responses to Did Jesus Affirm a Gay Couple?

  1. James Coats September 10, 2010 at 1:56 pm #

    I live in the DFW Metroplex and have seen these billboards…very sad and dangerously misleading for so many people.

  2. Derek September 10, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    Now that’s what you call “jumping the shark”! From a strictly PR standpoint, that billboard is going to backfire.

  3. Charlton Connett September 10, 2010 at 2:36 pm #

    Denny,

    This is not the first time I’ve heard this claim. I can’t remember what I was studying for in seminary, but I came across this argument then as well. However, the argument I read was simply that the “servant” in the passage was likely a “love interest” the centurion had taken up while he was stationed away from his home and away from his family. The argument there had no mention at all of the servant being a young man. Again, I’m sorry I can’t remember the article or any other information about the argument. When I was reading it I simply laughed it off and marveled that people could come up with such a convoluted interpretation for such a simple passage.

    However, I did a quick search, and apparently it is a popular enough position that some websites discuss it. (Yes, I know, you can find almost anything online.) Both a website (and magazine) The Gay & Lesbian Review (article link: http://www.glreview.com/article.php?articleid=32) and a Christian gay apologist, Rick Bretlinger (website: http://www.gaychristian101.com/Gay-Centurion.html ) put forth this interpretation. Along with those two sites I found a few others that argued for the pederasty position you noted above.

    It looks like this position might now be becoming popular enough that if you are not very familiar with it you should take the time to understand it. At least you should if you expect that you will run into anyone arguing that the New Testament condones homosexual behavior.

  4. Joe Blackmon September 10, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

    When people make claims like this about scripture and Christ, it makes me want to take one of those Nerf swords and bop them on the back of the head. It couldn’t possibly do any damage, but it would sting.

  5. Derek September 10, 2010 at 4:03 pm #

    The scary thing is, Christ won’t be wielding a nerf sword.

  6. Donald Johnson September 10, 2010 at 4:32 pm #

    Jesus was a Torah-observant Jew. This allows one to fill in many gaps in his teaching, simply fill it in with what the Tanakh teaches.

  7. mark September 10, 2010 at 4:37 pm #

    I am glad to say I haven’t seen these billboards yet, but more thankful for your insightful research and article Dr. B.

  8. mark September 10, 2010 at 4:37 pm #

    I am glad to say I haven’t seen these billboards yet, but more thankful for your insightful research and article Dr. Burk

  9. Donald Johnson September 10, 2010 at 4:51 pm #

    I bet it will lead some people to look up the verse in their Bible and scratch their heads.

  10. john September 10, 2010 at 5:22 pm #

    I’m with Donald. Epic fail. I also kind of feel sorry for the centurion. How come people assume that just be cause he actually cared about his servant, suddenly he’s a love interest? Dude’s prolly rolling in his grave.

  11. Dan September 10, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    The website advertised on the billboard has an explanation of their interpretation of the passage: http://www.whywouldwe.net/site/jesus-affirmed-a-gay-couple They do an awful lot of exegetical back flips.

  12. Donald Johnson September 10, 2010 at 9:13 pm #

    I read the article. Even if ALL of their exegesis is correct, it does not mean what they claim it means.

    According to the article, a gay centurion asks for healing of his homosexual love-slave. Jesus heals the slave and points out that the faith of the centurion was greater than found in Israel.

    What was the centurion’s faith? It was that Jesus did not even need to be there for the slave to be healed, that is, Jesus had the authority to heal at a distance.

    There are many stories of Jesus with unexpected inversions or surprise twists. But that does not imply an affirmation of the centurion’s possible homosexual choices, as it was an affirmation of the centurion’s example of faith.

  13. sslf22 September 10, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    You are missing the point. Jesus healed the servant without passing judgment on either the Centurion or his slave. He didn’t say to the Centurion, why should I heal your slave when you are committing an abomination with him? He didn’t use this as an opportunity to claim all homosexuals would be denied entry into heaven. Why bring a passage like this into the bible unless it is meant to show homosexuals of God’s amazing mercy and grace which is extended even to them?

  14. Charlton Connett September 11, 2010 at 7:47 am #

    Sslf,

    Read the Saddington link given by Denny in the original post to see why the “male lover” does not hold up under scrutiny.

    Why give this account? To demonstrate that it is faith that is pleasing to God. Not ethnicity, not perfect religious purity (the man is a gentile centurion, not a Jew). This account is to show the amazing grace of God that extends to all people who will have faith in his Son, Christ Jesus. Yes, even homosexuals can experience the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God that all of us so desperately need through Christ (as can child molesters, murderers, thieves, gossips, unfaithful spouses, disobedient children, and any other sinner you want to mention). The point is that all people can find forgiveness through faith in Christ.

  15. Donald Johnson September 11, 2010 at 10:03 am #

    Why would one think that Jesus was supposed to judge anyone in the Centurion episode? He was not sitting as a judge in court. The Pharisees did ask him in a later case with the woman caught in adultery how he would rule, but since it was not a court, it had no legal standing.

  16. Sibyl September 12, 2010 at 2:29 pm #

    Mary uses the same Greek word, ‘pais’ to describe The Lord GOD’s relationship with Israel in the Magnificat. This does not give credence to Jennings and Liew interpretation of the Greek word

    The GBLTQ commentaries of the Bible are always sex centered or eroto-centric. There are no real everyday friendships in the Bible, every relationship is sexualized. Naomi and Ruth, Jonathan and David, Jesus and John were obviously sexually active with one another. That is the only lense these boundariless people can fathom. To hear them talk, there is no greater earthly (or heavenly) joy and no other possible means of human fulfillment than s-xual orgasm. To have sexual relations with whomever (no matter the sex, age, species) one desires (as long as it is consensual) is to them the most basic human civil right and the defense of this right is their first and highest goal. Another goal one sees constantly presented (before the APA organizations and legislatures) by the LBGTQP is the lowering of the age of consent for sex and of ‘children’s sexual rights’ to exercise their ‘sexual gifts’. This would make children of any age the helpless targets of the attentions of pedophiles and without legal recourse. Evidence shows sexual activity with children harms them, but that is beside the point. They must gratify their desires regardless of the outcome.

    Conversely, abstinence, chastity and celibacy in the view of the LBGTQ crowd would be hell on earth.

    How does all this ‘sexual freedom’ pan out as far as actual evidence of the outcome? What evidence is there that their hypothetical sexual practices produce positive outcomes? None.
    Statistically and clinically the evidence is grim that the LBGTQ ‘alternative lifestyles’ and sexual freedom produce unhealthy outcomes. Where sexual freedom is practiced, life-spans decrease, disease, crime and addictions and incidence of mental illness increase. Children who have been used, mis-used and abused suffer greatly for the rest of their lives. So much for the LGBTQP (Q=questioning, P=pederasty, pedophilia) utopia based on the fulfillment of sexual desires.

    Theirs is an alternate lifestyle and an alternate reality where evidence and fact do not weigh heavily in making decisions or determining actions. The consequences are tragic…now and will be in eternity.

  17. Derek September 12, 2010 at 6:31 pm #

    Interesting insight, Sibyl.

  18. MatthewS September 13, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    This one is completely new to me. I’m just shaking my head. wow.

  19. Mark September 14, 2010 at 7:11 am #

    Now I know why I have such utter disdain for liberal theological/biblical scholarship.

  20. Fletcher Law September 14, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    In this gross distortion of God’s word- do the liberals further follow up their logic that slavery is then affirmed?

  21. Michael Templin September 14, 2010 at 10:50 pm #

    Awful use of St. Matthew. I have driven by this sign on the way from Dallas to Ft Worth…at first I laughed, and then it made me very angry.

    Bad exegesis…many people who are not exegetes will just take the sign for truth.

  22. Mitch September 15, 2010 at 3:53 pm #

    Here we go again with the homosexuality obsession. There will always be people who agree and disagree with ideas like the one expressed on this billboard. That will NEVER change. I have no idea how people can spend so much time talking about this.

    For those of you who agree with the billboard, here’s a tip: Don’t make any attempt to fool yourself into thinking that any billboard of ANY size will ever convince everyone to accept your beliefs on this matter.

    For those of you who disagree with the billboard, I would offer the lyrics of the country and western song “I’m For Love” by Hank Williams, Jr. In this song, Hank Jr. sings “If you don’t like it, can’t you just let it pass?”. Talk about sage advice from an unlikely source.

    I’m sure there will be plenty of people chiming in about how important this discussion is because some people might be swayed to believe the “wrong” way, whatever that means.

    Jesus, Mary and Joseph! When I read some of these threads, it’s like listening to a bunch of squabbling, bratty kids!

  23. Chris September 15, 2010 at 6:29 pm #

    Mitch I don’t think anyone is obsessing about it. I think people are rightly concerned about the deception that it represents.

  24. Mark September 15, 2010 at 11:44 pm #

    Mitch, so Christians should not care when some people badly misinterpret Scripture? Interesting.

  25. Mitch September 16, 2010 at 12:41 am #

    Chris, if you don’t think anyone is obsessing about it, take a look at how often people on this blog feel the need to talk about homosexuality and abortion. It’s like there’s nothing else going on in the world. And if you think it represents “deception” then just be happy that you’re one of the “smart ones” who isn’t fooled. Any other reaction is the same old arrogance that so many evangelical christians display when they want to stop people from “believing the wrong thing.”

    Mark, what you and everybody else should care about is minding your own darn business. If you think this is a misrepresentation, then make sure you and your family are clear about this and move on. As long as you and the other holy and righteous flock members know that you have the absolutely correct interpretation (and this is the case with every evangelical christian i’ve ever met) then how about you give the rest of us a break?

  26. Mitch September 16, 2010 at 3:11 am #

    I couldn’t sleep and reread this thread. Chris and Mark, I owe you guys an apology. I definitely disagree with both but my last comment was out of line even by my standards. Sorry about that.

  27. Chris September 16, 2010 at 11:29 am #

    Thanks Mitch I really appreciate that! We all at times have said things we regret. It take strength to admit it!

  28. JoinTheDiscussion September 18, 2010 at 5:14 am #

    Every fifteen minutes in America a heterosexual rapes a woman (I hope this ain’t true). Are we gays at par with this? We also have sex with other species and babies, right? So please include that.

    I didn’t know that pedophiles only want boys. Are girls exempted? How many pedophiles are women or lesbians or transgenders? If a certain rare type of male pedophile attacks only little girls, is he still a homosexual?

    “Conversely, abstinence, chastity and celibacy in the view of the LBGTQ crowd would be hell on earth.” — Why is this not hell for heterosexuals as well? Did the Bible not say to be fruitful and multiply or is there an exemption? Aint chastity unnatural for someone like us designed to reproduce?

  29. JoinTheDiscussion September 18, 2010 at 5:47 am #

    interesting insight…

  30. fresh September 18, 2010 at 5:38 pm #

    Not as nice as Mitch.

    If you believe the billboard to be a falsity, please feel free to make your thoughts known to your friends and family! By all means!

    But to obsess about it is kinda wasteful use of time and energy. Fact is there are many on each side of the question whose minds are made up, and all are absolutely certain their position is correct.

    What bugs me is that both have to flaunt their own certainty in my face. The signs are out of place, IMHO, as are the ones that end “signed – God”

    It is blasphemy to claim to speak for God….he can do it quite well Himself, thank you very much.

  31. lamont finley October 3, 2010 at 11:32 pm #

    gay people need to stop this foolishness, they are taking words and quotes out of the bible and twisting it to make it okay for their own selfish reasons. when that day comes they will be judged for thier sins.

  32. Ben Kafka October 7, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

    Dear Benny–it was so nice to find someone who knows what God thinks and wants. While I can’t recall God ever saying anything about homosexuals, you have miraculously found His words between the lines.(I know many humans have written/spoke about what they THINK is God’s mind)
    You know those verses like “cut off your hand,” “gouge out your eye” if they offend. I’ll bet you read between the lines on those too. Hoo, boy, I’ll bet.
    How would God manage if he didn’t have folks like you on earth to translate for Him. Words like “love” and “forgive” and “All who believe in Him..etc” Nope, God didn’t y mean those things to be taken literally. They require translations. And Hallelujah, your one of the many translators. Someone said they’d like to get all the “translators” in a room and not let them out until the survivors agreed on the translation. No respect!
    bk

  33. ELBSeattle November 13, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    The fact is, anyone who reads the Bible brings her/his own interpretation into it. There is no definitive consensus on what the Bible means. One person’s interpretation is no more or less valid than any other person’s. Trying to assert that there is one, singular, ‘right’ way to interpret anything in the Bible is nothing but hubris.

  34. Bobby November 14, 2010 at 10:48 am #

    What’s really amazing is that anyone would use words that are thousands of years old and have been translated, interpreted, re-translated, rewritten and edited many hundreds of times and yet people still want to find some relevance to modern times and modern relationships.

    None of you should be speaking for God or judging anyone else. It appears you have enough problems trying to learn to read and understand your own fear and ignorance.

  35. Sibyl November 15, 2010 at 6:16 am #

    Bobby,
    It is a deception, a lie from the pit of hell, that sex or following one’s feelings and perceived identity will end in health, happiness and fulfillment. Both Science and Scripture have shown this is not true.

    God is smarter and wiser than us. His Word and commandments are statements of fact, reality, truth. They are based on His Unchanging Holy Character. We cannot break God’s Law are unbreakable, we only break ourselves when we attempt to do so. God’s Ways and Will go against the desires of the fallen flesh…but they are better, higher and produce the best outcome.

    Same sex attraction comes from a broken and misdirected sense of identity and an angry rebellion against God. Romans 1 shows us the progression of sin from rebellion to sinful behaviors.

    God has made a way of escape. He wants to give us new identities as we repent and confess our sin, and ask Him to be Lord of our lives, we are born into His Kingdom and family as His children.

    In place of the old person, the unfulfillable desires, unquenchable hunger and thirst and anger, when we are born into Christ, we receive new identities, with new hearts, new desires, new joy and peace, abundant life. Nothing the flesh, world or devil can give compares with this.
    God’s word is true and effective and penetrates, directs, enlightens, births, washes, rebuilds us by the Holy Spirit into entirely new creatures. God is able to save us to the uttermost if we seek Him with all our hearts. (Acts 20:32, Romans 10:17, James 1:18, 5:16, , I Corinthians 6:9-20, II Corinthians 5:17, Ephesians 5:26, Hebrews 7:25, Romans 12:1-4, Revelation 12:11)

    Facing the Truth is painful, re-learning new ways of thinking, behaving is hard, but far more than worth it…it is like surgery and rehab…the end is worth far more than we give up…sweet satifying fellowship with the God of Holy Love, Truth and Life. Real Love that never dies, Truth that is unshakeable undeniable, Life of peace and joy that never ends. God’s grace and mercy costs everything that is evil, our self-worship, self-righteousness, independence and pride, sinful attitudes and actions, self-destruction, additions, compulsions, hatred, unforgiveness but a bargain…for giving up the the denial, dependency on people and substances, emotional distress, disease, early death that sexual sin has been shown to produce, for giving up and crucifying the conditioned responses and behaviors, we receive Christ’s righteousness, goodness and eternal life. Jesus sets us free from sin, truly free. (John 8:32-33)

  36. Sibyl November 15, 2010 at 6:22 am #

    Correction: that’s *addictions*, not additions in the last sentence.

    Sin is like a metastasizing cancer…like leprosy, it takes over our whole being, spirit, soul and body…emotions, thoughts, behaviors, relationships, every part of our lives.

  37. Sibyl November 15, 2010 at 11:37 am #

    Scripture and (honest) Science (research, clinical medicine, psychology, CDC and police statistics) agree that homosexual practice comes from and leads to negative outcomes.

    Nowhere in Scripture is a homosexual act affirmed or approved. A loving God would not affirm what harms us.

  38. Bobby November 15, 2010 at 11:56 am #

    Sibyl,

    No, the Bible isn’t the final word and homosexual relationship are no more disease inducing than heterosexual relationship.

    I know a woman who gets a urinary tract infection every time she has intercourse with her husband of 15 years. Is that God telling her it’s wrong?

    You’re spreading dangerous and selfish self serving information all because you are not comfortable with homosexuality.

    There’s nothing wrong with being homosexual. Homosexuality is wired into us just as heterosexuality is and it can not be changed, EVER.

    The Bible is not God’s word, it’s man’s words attributed to God.

    If God is smarter and wiser than us human beings, why didn’t Jesus write anything down? Why didn’t God just imprint his “words” onto our DNA? Why didn’t God write about the other parts of the world and tell us the world was round and maybe start new math 2000 years ago or how about this, why would God allow it if it weren’t meant to be?

    No words attributed to Jesus ever condemned homosexuals, but He did condemn divorce. Why aren’t you Christians trying to ban that?

    Please, spare me your superstitious belief and remember, this is America and no matter what you believe or how hard you believe it, Americans have the right to do as they please and worship or not worship as they please and no law of religion will ever dictate how a person lives their lives.

  39. Sibyl November 15, 2010 at 12:03 pm #

    Bobby,

    You are mistaking your feelings, conditioned responses, fleshly desires, fallen nature for truth. …homosexual desires are strong, feel like they must be real, but cause a person to lose their whole sense of identity…end up with a presumed identity, mistaken identity, false identity, and or in the case of abuse/molestation, cause stolen identity.

    One good source to see how identity process can be derailed early in childhood, often before memory is developed, is Dr. Joseph Nicolosi’s most recent book, Shame and Attachment Loss.

  40. Chris November 15, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    Bobby you are spreading foolish and mistaken information all because you are not comfortable with God’s word on homosexuality! It’s understandable as we all are wired to be self-serving. The problem comes when you fail to recognize that fact. When you elevate yourself over Christ! When you make your sexuality your identity.

    There were many things Jesus did not speak directly against. In this case while Jesus may have not mentioned homosexuals Jesus did affirm heterosexual relationships. He could have easily affirmed homosexual couples yet did not.

    You are right! In this country you can believe what you please but don’t mistake that free will and the decisions that come with it to be God’s will!

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