Author James B. De Young’s preface opens with the line “Western civilization has been undergoing as dramatic a shift in its ways of thinking and living as at any point in history.” This book is his analysis of that shift.
Yet De Young does not merely wish to analyze that shift on its own, but rather as the relatively long subtitle suggests, to examine contemporary claims regarding homosexuality through the lens of the Bible and other ancient literature and law. The latter part of that description makes this book seem especially compelling, as it implies that the book will work to truly examine the context in which the Scriptures were written and to get a handle on the ancient understanding of homosexuality.
In this task the book both fails and succeeds in various ways.
The format of the book is fairly straightforward. It is divided into three main parts, each analyzing ancient views of homosexuality through a different lens. Thus the author first discusses homosexuality as it is presented in the Old Testament (to include the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and Septuagint), moves on to discuss homosexuality as it is presented in the New Testament (first in Romans, then 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, and then in the teachings of Jesus), and finally moves on to discuss homosexuality in the ancient world.
Throughout the text the author’s goal is to dispel three different ways that contemporary re-interpreters have mishandled the text: by arguing that references to homosexuality in the Bible don’t really refer to homosexuality as such (partly due to the word homosexual having no corresponding term in Hebrew, Greek, etc); by arguing that prohibitions against homosexuality were only meant for Israel; and by arguing that the Scriptures are outdated and irrelevant, either by casting doubt on the meaning and extent of the canon or by re-interpreting Scripture such that it renders references to homosexuality as either contextually irrelevant or contemporarily anachronistic.
In his discussion of the Old Testament, De Young focuses on the creational narrative and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Thus he argues that the creation narrative creates relationships as necessarily male and female, and then spends much time addressing modern interpretations that argue the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was not related to homosexuality (but instead a lack of hospitality or rape). This discussion moves into an analysis of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, working to further point out that these texts associated Sodom’s sin with homosexuality, and that this is not therefore a modern innovation. Finally in this section he addresses the Septuagint, which critics seek to discredit since it uses terminology referring to homosexuality. In each case the author finds through exegesis that each text supports the traditional view.
Moving on to an analysis of the New Testament understanding of homosexuality, DeYoung first addresses Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality as ‘against nature’ in Romans 1, followed by discussions of his use of the term in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. These discussions are largely aimed at proving that Paul was not merely referring to pederasty or cultic prostitution, but was indeed referring to homosexuality as we understand the term today, especially where it is held that Paul and the ancient Christians had no conception of a consensual adult-adult relationship based on love.
In closing this section the author moves on to a discussion of homosexuality as it is seen in the teachings of Christ. While the author notes that while “Christ did not explicitly address the practice of same-gender-behavior or orientation” he did affirm the OT understanding and condemned the practice through implicit or indirect references.
The final primary section of the text is a discussion of homosexuality in extra-Biblical literature. This is especially aimed at addressing how the ancients understood the concept, and looking at legislative precedent in ancient world. In this the author cites Philo and Josephus as furthering the traditional understanding, points out that through a discussion of Plato that ancient Greece was aware of homosexuality as we understand it today, and that they were ok with the practice. This is relevant to the discussion due to the assertion of critics that “the Greco-Roman culture is responsible for the early writers condemnation of homosexuality” ; because “the ethical stance of Jews and Christians toward homosexuality is unique”, it could not have been a mere holdover from Greco-Roman society.
In each of these sections the author painstakingly goes through the ancient languages and contexts to make his argument that the traditional interpretation of each area is correct. The author then concludes his work with a chapter of questions and answers, each answer citing a page in his book for easy reference such that the reader can go directly to the section that answers their specific question, rather than wading through the entire text. This is an interesting feature that I haven’t seen in any other texts.
On the whole, the author presents plenty of support for his case. That said, writing is not the author’s strongpoint. The book is largely tedious, unengaging, and jumbled. The train of thought does not flow smoothly, largely because the author is attempting to do too much at once. The book reads more like a dissertation rather than anything meant for popular consumption.
So far as his arguments go, the author does support his case well, but in each instance is forced to point out that one cannot bypass all ambiguity. Thus after all his argument he does concede, for instance, that “there is no single Greek or Hebrew word meaning ‘homosexuality'” and “a lack of explicit references” due to the use of euphemisms and in another instance settles for arguing that “in light of the linguistic and cultural contexts, one cannot eliminate homosexual practice from the range of meaning.”
In this the author is at least honest that the positions of the critics are not entirely without basis – even if they overestimate that basis – though he does still feel confident in asserting that the thing being condemned is homosexuality as traditionally understood. In this he does a relatively good job.
Apart from his primary argument, however, the author does not present his case in a very charitable fashion (although he is still no Martin Luther or John MacArthur). Thus he begins with the assertion that “Until recently, homosexuality referred to disgusting practices that brought shame and were confined behind closed doors.” The reader gets the impression that the author desires this to still be the case; this is problematic for a variety of reasons that are too long to go into here.
In other places the author puts words in the mouths of Biblical authors in a question-begging manner; thus in one of his dramatization that serve as introductions to each chapter writes “To have sex with men was against his religion, Lot had often confessed.” This assertion comes before the analysis of Sodom and Gomorrah has been done, thereby short-circuiting the actual analysis.
Finally, while the author aptly notes that “Every person comes to the matter of homosexuality from an established opinion, which has been shaped by a worldview” , he doesn’t spend any time unpacking his own worldview and his own [extra-Biblical] biases. A similar shortsightedness can be seen when the author asserts that “One’s worldview determines whether homosexuality is perceived as right or wrong.” Yet this simply isn’t true, and there is no better evidence than this very book.
The very fact that a book needed to be written going through a systematically dismantling the ways in which contemporary scholarship has re-interpreted the Scriptures goes to show that those who have bought the argument that homosexuality isn’t condemned in Scripture aren’t necessarily operating off of a different worldview. As this book could be used to show, these individuals very well may hold the infallibility of Scripture and believe every other tenant of the Christian faith, but have simply been convinced by shoddy exegesis that the traditional view of homosexuality is mistaken and Biblically inaccurate – where this is the case the individual is not operating outside the Christian worldview.
On the whole, this book could make a decent reference work for exegesis of passages dealing with homosexuality, but even for this purpose the text is fairly jumbled and not the easiest to follow, simply because De Young tries to pack too many different rebuttals into one book.
TL:DR – Not the best book on the topic, albeit well-researched.
-“Homosexuality must affirm that the male gender by itself, or the female gender by itself, is an adequate representation of the divine image. It claims that the sexual differences arising from Creation are not foundational and essential and can be bypassed and overlooked.”-p15
There are a few nit-picky problems with this text.
The first of these is the seemingly arbitrary connection of homosexuality with pride towards the beginning of the book. The argument in that section doesn’t really tie into the overall flow of the book, and merely serves to further muddle the text.
The second of these is that the author introduces each chapter with a dramatized version of some story; these are largely annoying, further muddle the flow of the text, and merely serve as an attempt to subtly insert the author’s views through narrative form.
The third of these is that even though the author clearly has a high degree of familiarity with the original language and textual criticism, he still chooses to base one of his introductory dramatizations around the woman caught in adultery, which as any first year student of the canon knows is not original to the text but a later addition.
The final criticism of this text is that the author seems to arbitrarily argue against a distinction being made between homosexual condition and homosexual practices. For some reason that isn’t ever really established, the author feels the need to argue that the Bible does more than just condemn homosexual practices, but condemns homosexuality itself (though he does seem to waffle on this point). This is one of those areas that serves well to demonstrate the way in which the author fails to get beyond his own biases.
He may or may not be a Time Lord.
Categories: Book Reviews