Homosexuality, Science, and the "Plain Sense" of Scripture

By David L. Balch
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (2000). 318 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Alex Montoya
11.2 (Fall 2000) : 242-243

David L. Balch, professor of New Testament at Brite Divinity School of Texas Christian University, edited Homosexuality, Science, and the “Plain Sense” of Scripture, which contains 10 distinct articles on the topic of homosexuality and the Christian faith. The majority of the contributors adhere to the revisionist view, including Balch. The volume is helpful in understanding both the position of the revisionists as well as the basic reasonings for their position. The articles are well written, showing scholarship in the field, and an obvious transparency of their hermeneutical presuppositions.

Chapter 1 is “Meddling Through: the Church and Sexuality/homosexuality” by Mark G. Toulouse of Brite Divinity School. He traces the development of the homosexual debate with the rise of the sexual revolution in the l960s, and how homosexuality moved from being a disease to a sexual orientation. He advocates further dialogue, or the church will continue to muddle through, he says.

Chapter 2 is “Same-sex Eros: Paul and the Greco-Roman Tradition” by William R. Schoedel of the University of Illinois, in which he argues that Paul’s attack on same sex eros in Romans was but a reflection of the attitudes held by the Greco-Roman world of his day. The outcome is that we cannot read our views of sexuality into Paul. In addition there seems to be a development of the nature of family which goes beyond sexuality: “Ironically, many defenders of what has now become the traditional family do not see that the call of gay couples for status as families is in fact a recognition of the basic strength of the traditional model” (72).

Chapters 3 and 4 deal with the issues of science and the Bible. Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse co-author “The Use, Misuse, and Abuse of Science in the Ecclesiastical Debates,” where they conclude that science “will not solve the ethical debate about homosexual behavior for the church” (119). Christine E. Gudorf in “The Bible and Science as Interpreted Sources” adopts a revisionist view of the texts and states that “the traditional biblical texts quoted against homosexuality are not sufficiently persuasive to justify excluding all homosexual persons from either church membership or clerical roles” (139).

“The Bible in Christian Ethical Deliberation concerning Homosexuality: Old Testament Contributions” by Phyllis A. Bird is chapter 5. It looks at the traditional OT texts against homosexuality. Her conclusion is that “sexuality as we understand it today is not addressed in the Bible. . . . The term s of Israel’s culturally shaped understanding will not satisfy our present need” (168).

Chapters 6 and 9 are the only chapters which clearly stand against the revisionist position. Christopher Seitz of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, argues convincingly for the traditional view in chapter 6, “Sexuality and Scripture’s Plain Sense: The Christian Community and the Law of God,” where he states that “the church is constrained on the basis of Scripture’s plain sense to proscribe homosexual behavior among its members” (p. 191). Kathryn Greene-McCreight of Smith College in chapter 9, “The Logic of the Interpretation of Scripture and the Church’s Debate,” rightly surmises that the argument in the church today “is really about hermeneutics, about the interpretation and use of Scripture” (245). She concludes that “the Bible rejects homoerotic activity whenever the topic is dealt with” (245).

Paul’s discussion in Romans is given a revisionist view by David E. Frederickson in chapter 7, “Natural and Unnatural Use in Romans 1:24-27: Paul and the Philosophic Critique of Eros,” and by Robert Jewett in chapter 8, “The Social Context and Implications of Homoerotic References in Romans 1:24-27,” where “natural” does not mean natural, and where a cultural distinction needs to be made.

Chapter 10 is “Christian Vocation, Freedom of God, and Homosexuality” by Nancy J. Duff of Princeton Theological Seminary, where the thesis, based on the doctrine of vocation and the freedom of God, is that some people are called into homosexual relationships (261). She obviously rejects the plain sense of Scripture.

Balch’s conclusions follow the revisionist reasoning, and his appeal to Jewish readings seem only to cloud the issue.

Overall, the book is a source for understanding the position of those who advocate the homosexual lifestyle and its acceptance and inclusion in the church. With only 2 of 10 articles presenting the traditional position, it is clearly biased, and thus not profitable for those who seek rebuttals to the revisionist arguments.