Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Evil love

I'm going to comment on an argument that Matthew Vines used in his debate with Michael Brown. Indeed, this is part of his post-debate argument. 

The argument is that St. Paul isn't categorically condemning homosexuality. Paul is only condemning abusive homosexual relationships. And that's because Paul was unaware of "loving, committed" homosexual relationships. Indeed, it wouldn't even be possible for Paul to know that since people in his own time lacked our scientific understanding of homosexuality. 

There are several major problems with this argument:

1) As Robert Gagnon has documented, there are some favorable treatments of homosexual relationships in Greco-Roman literature: §3:

Therefore, the notion of "loving, committed" homosexual relationships was not unknown to people in Paul's own time. 

2) In addition, the question of whether Paul "knew of any loving, committed homosexual relationships" is a trick question. For that way of framing the issue can mean two different things:

i) Yes, there were "loving committed" homosexual relationships back then, but Paul didn't know about them.

ii) Paul didn't know about them because there's nothing to be known.

This is where the argument from silence is deceptive without further qualification. Take the following comparison:

Why doesn't the Bible mention griffins? Is that because Bible writers were ignorant of griffins? Or because griffins don't exist? 

The reason Scripture doesn't mention griffins is not because there are griffins, but Bible writers were unaware of their existence, but because there are no griffins.

Likewise, to say Paul didn't know about "loving, committed" homosexual relationships is a slanted statement because it begs the question. That way of casting the question implies the reality of the very thing in dispute.

iii) But here's another point. Suppose there are, in fact, loving, committed homosexual relationships which Paul didn't know about. Does it follow that Paul's position on homosexuality is not a categorical condemnation? Let's take a comparison:

The Bible condemns parental incest. Suppose you said, Bible writers were unaware of loving committed incestuous relationships between some mothers and their teenage sons. Therefore, Biblical condemnations of parental incest only apply to bad examples of parental incest. The wrong kind of parental incest. The Bible doesn't condemn parental incest across the board. 

Now, for all I know, there may in fact be cases in which some mothers and teenage sons are deeply committed to each other in a loving sexual relationship. But that wouldn't make it right. That would be morally twisted. That would be a psychopathological relationship. There's such a thing as evil love. Indeed, there are various examples of evil love. 

A mother shouldn't feel that way about her teenage son–much less act on her feelings. And a boy who feels that way about his mother is radically socially maladjusted. Something went drastically wrong in his moral and psychosexual development. 


  1. It should be pointed out that Matthew Vines said he did not believe Paul was ignorant of long term, loving same-sex relationships. His position was only that Paul was not addressing these sorts of relationships. Paul was addressing lustful ones.

    I don't agree with Matthew Vines, but I think Dr. Brown and Dr. James White need to give up the "Then Jesus was ignorant" or "Then Paul was ignorant" remarks. Matthew Vines obviously isn't going to concede that and his position doesn't require that.

    It would be ashamed if people like Dr. Brown and Dr. White continued to waste time with an objection Matthew Vines can easily side-step. Unfortunately, Dr. Brown didn't acknowledge this in his debate after Vines clearly stated it.

    What they (Dr. Brown, Dr. White, us) is show that Paul had in mind homosexaulity per se and not just "aberrant" forms of it.

  2. I should also add that Matthew Vine's position *seems* to indicate Paul was ignorant of loving, long-term same-sex relationships. For instance, when he asked Dr. Brown to mention a single 1st century source that spoke of homosexuality in these terms, the significance of that question would only seem to be that there is no 1st century source because there was no awareness of such relationships. If Vine's doesn't claim Paul was ignorant of it, then there really is no significance to the fact that we don't happen to have a 1st century source that mentions it explicitly.

    Nevertheless, Vines will clearly deny that ignorance of Paul is the implication when pressed on this point... and, like I said, his position doesn't require it. He can easily side-step it. And so we shouldn't waste time trying to hammer to it.

  3. I don't agree with you remington. Vine’s has no consistent, coherent position. I've seen Vine's original vid, his most recent one with the lesbian, and read most of his book. Like his more academic predecessors, he's content to throw everything he can at the wall in the hope that something will stick. Indeed, I find it most likely that he is being deliberately deceptive. He knows that his target audience (people in the church between the ages of 16 and 28) by and large does not care if his position is consistent. All they care about is hearing a reason why they no longer have to toe the line on Biblical sexual ethics.

    Sometimes he argues Paul couldn’t have meant x because x was unknown to “the ancients.” Other times, in the original vid he actually deploys both contradictory arguments without batting an eyelash, arguing that in Rom 1 Paul is arguing that it is only unnatural and wrong for those who are born heterosexual to engage in homosexual behaviors (not to mention that while treating the same passage he amazingly argues that by “unnatural” all Paul means is social mores like his teaching about long hair in 2Cor). So…did Paul know about these things or not? Was it only a social convention for heterosexuals to behave like homosexuals as with men and long hair or is this ok now that we know some folks are bisexual? Vines doesn’t care what Paul thought. He wants to maintain his sinful lifestyle and have others praise him for being so brave to do so.

  4. Derek,

    Whether Vines is consistent or not is not as important as the fact that he *could* consistently affirm that Paul was not ignorant of long term, loving same-sex relationships and that wouldn't, so far as I see, effect his argument. Suppose your right that Vines is inconsistent. Then Vines gets into a formal debate with James White and Dr. White, taking the first opening speech, spends his time attacking Vines on the grounds that "Paul would have to be ignorant!" (after all, Dr. White and Dr. Brown have made this their main refutation of Vines). Then Vines gets up after Dr. White and says "Sorry, but no, my position doesn't require. Maybe Paul was ignorant or he wasn't. But my reading of Romans 1 and other passages only requires that Paul was addressing something *different* than long term, loving same-sex relationships. And see, this is proven by Paul's use of the word 'lust' here..."

    So you see, it's very easy for Vines to side-step that issue, and that's exactly what he did with Dr. Brown. And it would be very easy for someone else to follow Vines basic argument here and say "Well maybe Vines is inconsistent, but I'm not and this is what I'm saying."

    Thus, we should focus on the stronger form of the argument... especially since Vines did exactly that (took the strong form) as soon as Dr. Brown tried to the "then you must think Paul was ignorant" tactic.