WordAlone - The Sacraments and Romans 1:26-27
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The Sacraments and Romans 1:26-27

David L. Balch (Brite Divinity School)

April 2004

photo of Dr. BalchThis is only the third trip to Minnesota in my lifetime, so I feel a need to introduce myself. I was not born Lutheran, but was converted through listening to Ernst Käsemann lecture on the New Testament in Tübingen; you will hear some of his concerns for the gospel today. Later I studied with Nils Alstrup Dahl at Yale, whose student, Don Juel, many of you probably knew. I remember Don preparing in the early 70s to return from New Haven to St. Paul to teach at Luther; he was anxious about whether he could communicate with both the German and the Norwegian professors. I teach at Brite Divinity School with Howard Stone, whose Fortress books on pastoral care and pastoral theology many of you probably have read. Howard was born Minnesota Lutheran, but left to study at that foreign seminary in Philadelphia; he does still come back to the lake every summer. And I live in Fort Worth, where John Tietjen spent his last years in ministry among us. John was the Bishop when I was ordained in the old AELC before the merger into the ELCA.

I am not beginning with exegesis on the key problematic texts, but rather with a discussion of the meaning of the sacraments in Paul. I understand this to be a reflection of Käsemann’s influence, and I hope to convince you along the way that this is not an expendable excursus when we are dealing with problematic ethical questions. I will interpret aspects of the meaning of baptism and the eucharist in Pauline congregations. Romans considered the Gauls/Galatians stupid, inferior animals and visually represented them as defeated animals on sculptural monuments. When Paul baptized the Galatians, they rejected this image of themselves as inferior before God (Gal 3:28). When Romans celebrated banquets (convivia), they ridiculed the disabled, cripples, hunchbacks, and obese women, but when Jesus ate his last supper, he took the role of a despised slave (Luke 22:27; see 12:37). Discussing eating, Paul insists that Christ died for the weak (1 Cor 8:11) and that, therefore, the richer must not humiliate the poorer at the eucharist (1 Cor 11:22). Early Christian baptism and the eucharist are then counter-rituals that actively reject Roman symbolic representations (both visual and convivial) of “others” as inferior. We Lutheran followers of Christ then misuse the eucharist if we celebrate the holy supper as a means of declaring our religious, social, or moral superiority to others.

  1. Aspects of the Meaning of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist in Paul
    1. Baptism according to Gal 3:28
      1. Hans Dieter Betz (189) approvingly quotes Wayne Meeks (182), who describes this verse as “performative language” that has “the power to assist in shaping the symbolic universe by which that group distinguished itself from the ordinary ‘world’ of the larger society.” Betz concludes (190), “there can be no doubt that Paul’s statements have social and political implications of even a revolutionary dimension…. Being rescued from the present evil aeon (Gal 1:4) and being changed to a ‘new creation’ [6:15] implies these radical social and political changes.” Betz continues (190) writing that the phrase “neither Jew nor Greek” here “declares that in the Christian church the religious, cultural, and social distinctions between Jews and Greeks are abolished.” Betz thinks (191) that this language is “most likely a variation of the well-known Hellenistic political slogan “Greeks and barbarians.” As formulated in Zeno’s Politeia, the slogan “proclaims the unity of mankind through the abolition of the cultural barriers separating Greeks and non-Greeks” (192).
      2. The much-admired Republic of Zeno [335-263 BCE], the founder of the Stoic sect, may be summed up in this one main principle: that all the inhabitants of this world of ours should not live differentiated by their respective rules of justice into separate cities and communities, but what we should consider all men [humans] to be of one community and one polity (panatas anthropous … heis bios kai kosmos), and that we should have a common life and an order common to all…. This Zeno wrote, giving shape to a dream, … but it was Alexander [the Great, 356-323 BCE] who gave effect to the idea. For Alexander did not follow Aristotle’s [384-322 BCE] advice to treat the Greeks as if he were their leader, and other peoples as if he were their master (despotikos); to have regard for the Greeks as for friends and kindred, but to conduct himself toward other peoples as through they were plants or animals; for to do so would have been to cumber his leadership with … festering seditions (staseon). But, as he believed that he came as a heaven-sent governor to all, and as a mediator for the whole world, … he brought together into one body all men everywhere, uniting and mixing in one great loving-cup, as it were, men’s lives, their characters, their marriages, their very habits of life. He bade them all consider as their fatherland the whole inhabited earth, …as akin to them all good men, and as foreigners only the wicked; they should not distinguish between Grecian and foreigner by Grecian cloak, … but the distinguishing mark of the Grecian should be seen in virtue, and that of the foreigner (allophulous) in iniquity…. (Plutarch [c. 50-120 CE], On the Fortune of Alexander 329B-D, trans. Babbitt)
      3. “The Jews seem to have appropriated this slogan,” Betz observes (192), “correctly assuming that they themselves belong to the barbarians.” “Naming the Jews first [in Gal 3:28] seems to indicate that the Jews on their own initiative gave up their prerogatives…. By contrast, Col 3:11 names the Greeks first, thus implying the self-abnegation by Greeks of their socio-cultural supremacy” (Betz 191).
      4. Then Betz (191) makes a connection that is rare in commentaries: “a clear instance of this kind of self-abnegation was the behavior of Peter at Antioch, when he took up table fellowship with Christian Gentiles (Gal 2:11-14).” Even though Gen 17:10-14 and Lev 11 are scripture, Peter accepted and lived out radical social/political/religious changes in his identity as a believer in Christ; laws about circumcision, purity, and kosher no longer kept him from eating with, probably celebrating the eucharist with, uncircumcised, pork-eating pagans who believed in Jesus Christ (Dunn 619). Paul may have shied away from the social rebellion of Christian women and slaves this implies in 1 Cor 7 and Philemon (Betz 195), but Paul remained consistent in living out the denial of social/religious distinctions between [Christian-] Jews and Gentiles (see e. g. 1 Cor 10:25, 27 and Rom 14:1-6).
      5. Instead of following Betz in surveying the philosophical context, J. Louis Martyn clarifies the cosmology involved in God’s new creation by identifying the “elemental spirits of the cosmos” (stoicheia, Gal 4:3, 9). Martyn (Comment #41) points out that these “elements” are composed of pairs of opposites (Sir 33:15; Philo [c. 20 BCE-50 CE], Heir 133-40, 146, 164-65, 177; Aristotle [384-322 BCE], Metaphysics 986b; 1005a), that is, air vs. earth, fire vs. water. Jews accused Gentiles of confusing these elements with God (Wis 13:1-5). Martyn has overlooked Ps.-Aristotle, On the Cosmos, probably from the first century CE, that outlines the “elements”:
      6. …the elements are mingled…. Some people, however, have wondered how the cosmos, if it is composed of the “opposite” principles (I mean dry and wet, cold and hot), has not long ago been destroyed and perished; it is as if men should wonder how a city survives, composed as it is of the most opposite classes (I mean poor and rich, young and old, weak and strong, bad and good….) But perhaps nature actually has a liking for opposites; perhaps it is from them that she creates harmony …, just the way she has joined the male to the female …. (Ps.-Aristotle, On the Cosmos 396a28-396b9)
      7. Martyn argues (404) that when Paul writes of the old cosmos (Gal 6:14-15; 3:28), he has this science in mind. Paul can write Gauls in Asia Minor and assume that they learned this “physics” in school, but the baptismal formula proclaims that these opposites do not polarize the new creation. These divine cosmic elements no longer enslave (Gal 4:3-5). Christ’s death abrogates such opposites, specifically Jew/Gentile, slave/free, male/female (Gal 3:28). Here cosmology and ecclesiology are closely intertwined. But Mosaic laws, which at an earlier stage of God’s revelation separated Israelites from other ethnic groups (Neh 9; 13; 2 Macc 6-7; Josephus [c. 37-100 CE], Ant. 4.102-58; see Feldman 1998a, 96, 117, 130-31), were reinforced by Hellenistic science that divided the cosmos into such pairs of opposites. God’s eschatological act in Christ’s cross, however, heralds the new creation, which abrogates the duality of the old cosmos, including the distinction between those who are circumcised and those who are not. “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world (cosmos) has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!” (Gal 6:14-15) In this cosmology and ecclesiology, those who keep Mosaic laws that segregate ethnic groups at meals, like the apostle Peter after he withdrew from Gentile Christians in Antioch (Gal 2:12b), are living in the old cosmos, not living in God’s eschatological new creation, which Paul named “not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel” (Gal 2:14).
      8. This philosophical and cosmological as well as social/political/religious development radically changed Judaism. Since we are Lutherans and are associated with an evil past in the German holocaust, I pause to argue with two examples that observing historical discontinuity is not anti-Jewish. First, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE, editors inserted speeches into Jeremiah [627-587 BCE] that include the following (3:16b, NRSV), “they shall no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; nor shall another one be made” (compare Jer 23:7-8). Deutero-Isaiah [c. 550 BCE] too, of course, proclaimed (43:18), “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing,” referring to the new exodus from Babylon. Second, another radical historical disjuncture occurred in the late eleventh and the twelfth centuries CE with the emergence of kabbalah (Scholem 119; compare any book by Moshe Idel) and the writing of the Zohar, apparently by Moses de Leon in Spain (Scholem 186-90), a book that rational Jewish scholars called a “book of lies” (Scholem 1). As a Christian I leave that internal debate to Jews, here only observing that every religion I have studied must deal with radical discontinuities. How we evaluate those discontinuities matters greatly, and we Christians have made serious, lethal mistakes in the ways we have theologically evaluated discontinuities between earliest Judaism and Christianity.
      9. Earliest Christianity internationalized Judaism. Before Alexander the Great, gods and goddesses were located geographically and ethnically, Marduk in Babylon, Isis in Egypt, Yahweh in Judea. Judeans’ exile in Babylon raised questions about whether Yahweh was still God in Babylon, and deutero-Isaiah proclaimed the one, creator God of history (e.g. 43:5; 44:6-8; 45:5-7). The imperialistic conquests of Alexander the Great and of Augustus Caesar [63BCE-14 CE] raised this question anew, but now inside Jerusalem: how were Judeans to relate to the foreigners in the holy city socially, politically, and religiously (2 Macc 4, 6-7; Acts 10-15)? Paul internationalized and reformed Judaism, insisting on dropping ethnically particular customs such as circumcision of males and kosher food, even making the Sabbath optional, changes which produced extraordinary conflict.
      10. Abraham Heschel posed an alternative for Christians to consider about the question I am discussing. In this paragraph I interpret him, perhaps the greatest Jewish thinker of the twentieth-century from my Christian perspective; I am not audacious enough to claim that he would have accepted my interpretation. “The vital challenge for the church is to decide whether Christianity came to overcome, to abolish, or to continue the Jewish way by bringing the God of Abraham and His will to Gentiles” (Heschel 1996a, 272; quoted by Merkle 273).
      11. Heschel turns the table on the usual view of the Old and New Israel when he stated at his inaugural lecture at the Protestant Union Theological Seminary in New York that “leading Jewish authorities such as Jehuda Halevi and Maimonides, acknowledge Christianity to be a praeparatio messianica, while the Church regarded ancient Judaism to have been a praeparatio evangelica.” (Heschel 1996b, 248; quoted by Rothschild 7)
      12. I affirm Heschel’s second alternative: Paul brought the God of Abraham and the will of Israel’s God to Gentiles, but not to abolish Judaism. Paul did this by acculturating, reforming, modernizing, internationalizing Judaism, without which Paul would have failed in the mission to which he was called by Christ. To argue this point I present a contrasting example. Isis was the most widely worshipped god in the Roman world; many Hellenistic and Roman paintings and statutes present Isis and Horus as Madonna and child. Put crudely, how could a Madonna and child in the Mediterranean world have lost worshippers to Christ? One of the most important answers to that question is that orthodox priests in Egypt refused to modernize, internationalize, to accommodate their worship. They took their crocodiles with them from Egypt to the Isis temple in Rome; and even in Rome prayers to Isis had to be in Demotic, not Greek or Latin (Balch 2003a, 171-73). The rigid, orthodox priests of Isis killed her! Isis had no apostle Paul, who by contrast, abrogated (kataluo, Gal 2:18; contrast Matt 5:17) what many had considered crucial ethnic symbols of Judaism, thereby both generating enormous conflict—and bringing the God of Abraham to Gentiles, without circumcision and kosher food, even without the sabbath.
      13. I will present visual images of what hearing the baptismal proclamation in Gal 3:28 meant to the Galatians in a moment. But first, why have I inserted what may seem like a digression at the beginning of a paper on whether the ELCA should authorize Lutheran pastors to marry gay and lesbian persons and/or to ordain them? The question of continuity and discontinuity is one of the most important ones that historians and theologians must address (Käsemann 213, and constantly in lectures in Tübingen, 1968-69). I have raised the issue of continuity and discontinuity between the Hebrew Bible and Paul because our contemporary question involves analogous theological and ethical discontinuities. How could we be Christians unless we are in continuity with the teaching and life of Jesus and Mary, Paul and Prisca? And how can we be Christians in the twenty-first century unless we are in discontinuity with Paul about whether Christians may own slaves? [1] The ELCA ordains women, but I remember Nils Dahl, describing the Norwegian church ordaining women for the first time and sending them from Oslo to pastorates not far from the northpole. However we interpret the New Testament, ordaining women is in discontinuity with much of the two-thousand year history of the church. Do compelling theological and ethical imperatives move the ELCA now to analogous actions in marrying and/or ordaining gay and lesbian Lutherans?
      14. As promised I want to communicate how radical the baptismal formula in Gal 3:28 is visually by showing views of a monument, the Altar of Zeus in Pergamon, that celebrates the victory of the gods over the giants, and also of the Athenians over the Persians, and of the Pergamenes over the Gauls/Galatians (Schefold 334-37; Pollitt 79-108). This sculptural monument proclaims the inferiority of the Gauls, the very Galatians whom Paul baptized, proclaiming their equality. (powerpoint 1, from Knittlmayer and Heilmeyer) The Altar of Zeus in Pergamon was built between 165 and 156 BCE by King Eumenes II to celebrate the Pergamene victory over the Gauls/Galatians, that is, contemporary with the Maccabean war against Antiochus IV Epiphanes. A frieze that celebrates the victory of the gods against the giants runs for 120 m. around all but the west side of the altar, where there is a staircase. (ppt 2) The first three sculpted groups I will show are on the east frieze: first, the goddess Athena, daughter of Zeus, defeats the giant Alkyoneus, whose earth mother, Gaia, is on the lower right. (ppt 3) To Athena’s left, Zeus, father of the gods, accompanied by an eagle, battles the leader of the giants, Porphyrion, whose arm has snake-like scales. (ppt 4) Hecate fights against Klytios, who has snake-legs and is throwing a boulder. (ppt 5) On the south frieze a young god (Aither?) seizes a giant with snake-legs, human body, and a lion’s head and paws. This, perhaps the most famous altar in antiquity, presents the Gauls/Galatians as defeated, snake-like, sub-human animals, exactly (see above) what Zeno, Alexander and Paul refused to do! When the Gauls/Galatians heard the gospel proclaimed by Paul and were baptized hearing Gal 3:28 pronounced over them, they died with Christ to the Hellenistic and Roman view of themselves as stupid, sub-human animals.
      15. Now I switch to a different sanctuary in Pergamon, that of Athena, built earlier around 223 BCE by king Attalos I for (ppt. 6 and 7) a sculpture of a Gaul/Galatian killing himself and his wife. This was a famous statue in antiquity, stolen by Nero [37-68 CE] for his Golden House (Balch 2003b, 99-103 with fig. 2). According to Schalles (413), this statue reveals classical views of the Galatians, their apparent courage, strength and boldness, but also their naiveté and stupidity.
      16. Finally, another sculptural monument, the Sebasteion at Aphrodisias, built in the Julio-Claudian period, that is, in the early first century CE in Asia Minor (Smith 1987, 90), to celebrate the Caesars as conquerors of the provinces, which are typically represented as women. (ppt 8) Claudius is represented defeating the female Britannia (Smith 1987, plate XIV), and (ppt 9) Nero defeats the female Armenia (plate XVI). Because there is an inscribed base, we know that there was a statue of Judea defeated (or annexed; Smith 1988, 55, 58, with plate VIII; ppt. 10), but regrettably, the statue has disappeared.
      17. In these three sculptural monuments, the Altar of Zeus and the Temple of Athena in Pergamon and the Sebasteion in Aphrodisias, all in Asia Minor, we see the images that conquering, imperial powers, Pergamon and Rome, presented to their defeated enemies, whether Gauls or Jews: The sculptures visually represented the colonized Gauls as animals and defeated provinces as women. When the Jew Paul proclaimed the gospel to the Gauls, both he and they refused to internalize the values of those imperial visual images, but proclaimed and confessed, on the contrary, their equality before God with the powerful Romans. As did the Jewish disciple Peter initially in Antioch (Gal 2:12a), they acted out their confession by celebrating the eucharist together. I emphasize that this affirmation of social/political/religious equality was developed in the church by Jews, by Peter and Paul, not first by Gentile Christians.
      18. In the context of current rhetorical encomia/vituperation, Greek authors argued that a people’s / state’s politeia (constitution) is the cause of their success / domination (Polybius [c. 200-118 BCE], Hist. VI.2.9-10; Dionysius Hal. [wrote 1st decade BCE], Rom. Ant. II.3.6; I.9.4), that is, that the Romans’ constitution is not only politically but also morally better; therefore, they rule the world. Since Josephus wanted to argue that Moses’ politeia (constitution, that is, Torah) is better, not worse than the Romans’ constitution, he must dispute this (Against Apion [c. 100 CE] II.166). This debate explains Against Apion II.125: the anti-Jewish rhetorician Apion had argued that Jews are unjust and impious because they are not masters of an empire. Josephus expresses surprise at this argument, but since key historians had argued that the Romans are successful because of their just and pious constitution, it would follow that other peoples were subordinate because their constitutions were inferior, that is, unjust and impious (Balch 1982, 116). We have seen above that Pergamene and Roman sculptural monuments visually represent the defeat of Gauls and Jews, in that culture not only a presentation of their military defeat but also of their religious and moral inferiority. Christian baptism (Gal 3:28) rejected this imperialistic assumption that some ethnic groups (Gauls and Jews) are morally corrupt, worse than their conquerors. Are such assumptions part of North American and North American Christians’ attitudes today?
    2. The Eucharist according to 1 Corinthians 11 and Luke 22
      1. Both Jews and Gauls had been conquered by Rome, but in Christian baptism, both Paul and his Galatian converts confessed-affirmed that they were not spiritually or morally inferior to Romans. On the contrary, “there is no longer Jew or Greek….” The Eucharist is a similar confession-assertion. Recent studies mention “the symposium and entertainment at the banquet” (Smith 2003, 34-38), but miss one crucial element. In a chapter on “deriding the disabled,” Robert Garland (85), whose examples I cite below,[2] notes that “the derision of the deformed at drinking parties [Roman convivia, Greek symposia] remained popular throughout the centuries and was developed into an art form of brutal sophistication by Romans of the Imperial era.” In convivial settings hunchbacks, cripples, dwarfs, and obese women clumsily imitated acrobats, jugglers, and dancers (Garland 84 with plates 6, 8, 10, 55, 57), all the more grotesque because the majority of slaves who served at drinking parties were young and attractive. Ppt. 11: terracotta dancing dwarf, late third century BCE. Ppt. 12: terracotta dancing dwarf, probably second or first century BCE. Ppt. 13: dancing dwarf on red-figure skyphos (pot) of classical date. Ppt. 14, Hellenistic or Roman bronze statuette of hunchback (Garland #46), Ppt. 15: terracotta of hunchbacked dwarf holding grapes, late third or early second century BCE, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Garland #47).
      2. Horace [65-8 BCE] (Sat. 1.5.50-70) describes two former slaves trading insults at dinner: one mocks a second for his puny stature, and the second in turn mocks the disfiguring scar on the first’s bristly forehead, claiming that he could play the part of the Cyclops without the aid of a mask. Plutarch (Table-Talk 621E, trans. Clement and Hoffleit) observes that an insensitive symposiarch might order a stammerer to sing, a bald man to comb his hair, or a lame man to dance on a greased wineskin. He narrates the “rude mocking” of Agamestor the Academic philosopher, who had a weak, withered leg. The other banqueters “proposed that each man of them all drain off his cup while standing on his right foot.” Agamestor in his turn had a narrow jar brought to him, inserted his defective foot, drained his cup, and commanded the others to do likewise. Since they could not, they paid the penalty. Plutarch, one of the few ancient authors to display sympathy for the deformed, urges delight that is useful, not the companion of ridicule and insolence; the sensible will guard against hatred and anger (622B). But the mockery of the obese, the hunchbacked and the lame was a stock joke in New Comedy (Garland 77). Paul’s opponents in Corinth may have dishonored him because he had been whipped and degraded like a slave leaving scars on his body (Glancy 124-35).
      3. Garland cites (77; compare Richlin 70-80) several theories of humor, one by Bergson that “the function of laughter is to intimidate by humiliating.” Garland himself notes (75) that one of the social functions served by the humor that he investigates in “to bolster group cohesiveness at times when the unity of the able-bodied majority is threatened and demoralized…. [the disabled] remind the rest of us of what we ineluctably and inalienably have in common.” Douglas (365-68, cited by Garland 83) has demonstrated a direct relationship between joking and social structure: “the joke works only when it mirrors social forms; it exists by virtue of its congruence with the social structure” (Douglas 371-72). “A successful subversion of one form by another completes or ends the joke, for it changes the balance of power” (365). “The joke consists in challenging a dominant structure and belittling it” (373). A joke differs from a ritual; the former “expresses something that is happening, but that is all. The social niche in which it belongs is quite distinct from that of ritual which is enacted to express what ought to happen” (368). According to Douglas’ definition, I suggest, Roman banquets were rituals; Roma convivia defined social structures as the Roman elite thought they ought to be.
      4. Precisely here the Christian eucharist differs from, that is, opposes Greek symposia and Roman convivia. All agreed that participants in a common meal should have equal status (Theissen 2003, 380, who gives the following references). Pliny [61-112 CE] (Ep. 2.6) realized this equality by eating and drinking the same as his freedmen. Socrates (Xenophon [c. 430-362 BCE], Mem. 3.14.1, trans. Marchant and Todd) educated participants of common meals to practice equality: “Whenever some of the members of a dining club brought more meat than others, Socrates would tell the waiter either to put the small contribution into the common stock or to portion it out equally among the diners.” At the Saturnalia Cronosolon insists, “all shall drink the same wine…. All shall have their meat on equal terms” (Lucian [born c. 120 CE], Saturnalia 17, trans. Kilburn). But the text in Lucian makes it clear that, whatever the ideal, he is protesting against the common practice of inequality.
      5. Lampe then supposes (40) that the converted rich Corinthians (relatively few of them) continued their un-reflected pre-baptismal behavior by bringing their own food of differing sizes and qualities, and those in control of their time (not the slaves) began eating early. But Lampe recalls (44) Paul’s insistence that Christ died also for the weak (1 Cor 8:11), so strong Corinthians Christians are not allowed to look down on or to offend the weak. The richer should not humiliate the poorer (1 Cor 11:22). Second, Christ’s death, signified in both baptism and the eucharist, stands for Christ’s self-denial (Phil 2:7-8). “In the eucharist Christ’s self-denial for the benefit of others is made present among us” (Lampe 45). Paul exhorts all not to seek only his or her own interests, but the interests of others (Phil 2:4). Third, a connection between the sacramental representation of Christ’s death and ethics is based on Rom 6:2-8; Christians die with Christ. This is also true for the eucharist (1 Cor 10:16). “Such a cross-existence includes self-denial and active love for others (2 Cor 4:15; 4:12; 1 Cor 4:11-13”; Lampe 45).
      6. Despite all the fine parallels between contemporary symposia and the Christian eucharist drawn by Smith (2003), in this sense the eucharist is a counter-ritual opposed to Roman convivia. Victor Turner demonstrated that “rites of transition take people out of old structures of society into a kind of counter-society in which an anti-structure to the old structures of society is built up” (Theissen 1999, 122). “The eucharist becomes an occasion for acting out social differences” (133). If we add Garland’s observation that Romans commonly ridiculed the disabled and Glancy’s argument that Paul himself was among the disfigured, we arrive at the conclusion that the eucharist is indeed a liminal meal opposed to Roman convivia that reinforced social stratification between rich and poor, beautiful and disfigured, the elite virtuous and the non-elite vicious. Whereas Roman monuments and banquets disempowered Gauls and the disfigured, eucharists proclaim and act out their acceptance by God and the ekklesia.
      7. Not only the Pauline but also Lukan eucharists honored the despised. Slaves waited tables in the ancient world; people felt that both the slaves themselves and the work they did was menial and “dirty” (Osiek and Balch 29 with n. 111; Sprinkle 45-48). Slaves lived in “service areas” of the house, although one should not make this domestic distinction into segregation (Balch 2004). House owners placed kitchens, where slaves cooked, as far as possible from their beautiful triclinia (dining rooms), where elite guests reclined (Osiek and Balch 205 citing Foss). The redactor of Luke follows the Lord’s Supper (22:15-20) with Jesus’ foretelling his betrayal (vss. 21-23) and the disciples’ dispute about precedence (vss. 24-30). Luke removed the dispute about precedence from its Markan context (Mark 10:41-45), where Jesus is still on the road from Galilee to Jerusalem, and deliberately placed it chapters later in Jerusalem immediately after the eucharist. As they accepted the eucharistic bread and wine, Lukan congregations reclining in their Roman triclinia heard Jesus assert: “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves (diakonon). For which is greater, one who sits [reclines] at table, or the one who serves (diakonon)? Is it not the one who sits [reclines] at table? But I am among you as one who serves” (ho diakonon; 22:25-27). Slaves no longer serve dinners in the modern world; waiting tables has come to be an honorable profession. We pastors no longer feel it to be despicable to serve the eucharist in our churches (Sprinkle 50-51). Jesus played the despicable role of a slave, but we ordained ministers play honorable roles. How do we recover and practice Jesus’ despicable service? Concerning slaves (not honored pastors), Jesus told the following parable: “Blessed are those servants [slaves] whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit [recline] at table, and he will come and serve them” (diakonesei autois, Luke 12:37). Could the contrast with Roman convivia be greater? Romans mocked the despised; at his last supper Christ took on the role of the despised. Shall we now exclude the despised from our eucharists or not allow the despised to serve?
    3. Summary and Reflection on Baptism and the Eucharist
      1. To summarize: baptism has social-political implications that no one ethnic group is favored by God, a value that actively rejects a pervasive assumption in Greco-Roman texts and visual representations (the Altar of Zeus at Pergamon) that Gauls were stupid, immoral animals. Baptism introduces believers devalued by society into a new cosmos, removing them from the power of the old creation, the foundational “elements” that were polarized into circumcised / non-circumcised, weak /strong, male / female, slave / free, beautiful / ugly. The sacrament of baptism internationalized Judaism, abrogating not Judaism but symbols that many Jews had considered crucial to their identity, a radical change over which the apostles Paul and Peter had significant conflict. Without Paul’s reform, the mission to the Gentiles to which Christ called him would have failed, as did the Isis cult. Judaism functioned as a preparatio messianica for us Gentiles.
      2. Similarly in the eucharist we bodily act out the equality of all those sharing the body and blood of Christ. Peter’s table fellowship with impure Gentiles (Gal 2:11-14) involved self-abnegation, giving up superior spiritual and moral privilege over the Gentiles, despite Gen 17:10-14 and Leviticus 11 that demand circumcision of males among the people of God as well as ritual purity for food. Like baptism, the sacrament of the eucharist actively ritually rejects key practices of typical Greek symposia / Roman convivia, where entertainment commonly involved derision of the deformed and disabled, hunchbacks, cripples, dwarfs, and obese women, visible contrasts with beautiful, young slaves who served the food. The Jew Paul himself would have been considered deformed at a Roman convivium, but not devalued as inferior at the eucharist, a remembrance of Christ who died for the weak, the humiliated, and those who like Paul were deformed by having been whipped as slaves. At his own last supper, Christ took on the role of the despised, surely a model for contemporary pastors, a model that does not exclude gay or lesbian persons from serving the eucharist.
      3. The Gauls were named and visualized as stupid animals; Pergamenes and Romans thought they could legitimately kill them and celebrate their victory in an altar to Zeus, one of the most beautiful and famous in antiquity. The deformed and disabled were satirized by Romans at their banquets, and these marginalized folks were open to verbal abuse and more. Such myths / legends of superiority have lethal consequences. Among us I need only mention the lethal effects of Luther’s “On the Jews and their Lies” (Sherman; Beck 22, 39-40; Ericksen and Heschel). In our own country where we now discuss how to interpret the Bible, 4,752 blacks were lynched between 1882 and 1968, blacks who were dehumanized by ordinary Christians as “beasts, dogs, snakes, animals, and brutes” (Allen, Als, Lewis and Litwack 10, 12, 13, 20, 33). Romans mythologized and visualized Gauls as beasts and killed them. (Ppt. 16: lynching of Lige Daniels, Aug. 30, 1920, Center Texas (Allen #54, plus many others in Texas); ppt. 17: lynching of Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie, June 15, 1920, Duluth, Minnesota; Allen #29; also #94). Christians / Lutherans have mythologized and killed Jews and blacks. To Lutherans gathered here at Word Alone I do not need to assert that this is opposed to the gospel as we both see and act it out with our bodies in baptism and the eucharist.
      4. There are too many parallels between these evils and our present social conflict over gay / lesbian persons in our churches. Please let me illustrate. Robert Gagnon uses inflammatory language, not about Gauls, Jews, or blacks, all of whom were judged inferior and immoral by the dominant majority in their culture, but about gay / lesbian Christians. He refers to their “depraved sexuality” (244), “degenerate passions” (250, n. 12), to gays “disgusted by their self-debasing conduct” (263), their “transparent self-degradation” to which Paul has a “visceral response”(269; 286; 289, n. 56). Gagnon relates gay / lesbian lifestyle to “incest, promiscuous premarital intercourse, prostitution, bestiality, adultery, and pedophilia” (279, n. 44; 283), as a “particularly revolting sin” (283) that is heinous (311).[3]
      5. Gagnon’s book is ignorant of the gospel. When he lays out “my own premises” (344), his first sentence is: “my basic assumption is that the Christian Scriptures are the most significant authority and guide for church decisions.” “I believe the gospel at its core is a message of liberation. By liberation, I mean something more noble than tolerance or permissiveness” (345). “I have come to the conviction that the gospel message exists in its purest form in the Bible (particularly in the Gospels and the authentic Paul), for all its warts and problems” (346). There is nothing in Gagnon’s premises of the Pauline gospel of Christ’s cross and resurrection by means of which God justifies all who believe (Augsburg Confession, Art. IV: Justification; Tappert 30-31; compare Arts. XII, XIII on repentance and the use of the sacraments), but of the authority of the Bible and moral demands. For Christians who participate in the sacraments, Christ and Christ only gets to live in the conscience.[4] The Gagnons of the world are attempting to invade the consciences of Christians at the eucharist, but guilt is Not Permitted at the Eucharist. When reading Gagnon’s book, I was reminded of the words, “St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it” (Luther, “Preface to the New Testament,” in Lull 117).
      6. Even though same-gender sexual acts and sexual relations with an animal, bestiality, are mentioned together in Leviticus 18, the parallel has been culturally lethal. Solon rejected comparing barbarians with animals (Plutarch, Fortune of Alexander, quoted above p. 2). However surprising for modern persons it might be, in Greek society women were understood to be depraved, wanton, wet, wild animals whose presence threatened the integrity of the household, and they were open to abuse, as were slaves and Paul himself (Carson 82, 85-86; see Glancy 111-12). Barbarians, women, slaves, and Paul in the Greco-Roman world, and also Jews and blacks in our Christian / Lutheran West have been dehumanized and brutalized. Is Gagnon really historically and ethically naïve enough not to know that such language is potentially lethal in our violent society? Human depravity is more than a doctrine (Augsburg Confession, Art. II in Tappert 29). Both Greeks and Romans and more recently we Christian Westerners have demonstrated it. But we are discussing more than anthropology. As I demonstrated above, the gospel as our bodies experience it in baptism and the eucharist actively ritually opposes dehumanizing Gauls, Greeks, women, slaves, the deformed, cripples, hunchbacks, “others” whom even our sacred texts may encourage us to think are spiritually and morally inferior to us, bestial. The irony is that “we” have sometimes become more bestial than we imagined “them” to be.
      7. Gay and lesbian persons have been executed in North America. Matthew Shepard was tied to a wooden fence, clubbed with a revolver, and left for dead outside Laramie, Wyoming, on Oct. 6, 1998 (see The Advocate Nov. 10, 1998, p. 13; Nov. 24, 1998, pp. 26-30; Mar. 16, 1999, pp. 20-37; Oct. 12, 1999, pp. 37-53; Dec. 7, 1999, pp. 10-12). Senator Trent Lott then compared gays to alcoholics and kleptomaniacs. Billy Jack Gaither, member of a Baptist choir, was beaten to death with an ax handle and thrown onto a pyre of burning tires on Feb. 19, 1999 (see The Advocate, Apr. 13, 1999, pp. 24-31). Pfc. Barry Winchell was beaten to death with a baseball bat on July 5, 1999, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky (see The Advocate, Aug. 31, 1999, p. 29). Last year (April 2003), Senator Rick Santorum, Chair of the Republican Senate Caucus, compared homosexuality to incest, bigamy, and adultery. The FBI reports 27 murders of queers in the US in 2002-2003 (Moser 13, a reference I owe to my pastor at St. Matthews, Gordon Roesch; ppt. 18: mother’s photo of Stephanie Thomas, a 19-year old transgendered person murdered with a semiautomatic weapon at corner of 50th and C Streets, Washington D. C., Aug. 12, 2003).
      8. When Gagnon concludes his book (471-86) with an attack on the ethics of gays and lesbians, I am reminded of the pagan Celsus’ attack [written 175-181 CE] on the early Christian mission (and of Apion’s attack on Judaism; see above). Celsus could be compared to a modern sociologist; he explained the attractiveness of Christianity by the low social class and gender of those converted, despised people that should cease to exist (Cook 82). Celsus complained that Christians are able to persuade only silly, ignoble, insensate, and slavish people, women, and little children (Origen, Against Celsus 3.55; Cook 88; MacDonald).
      9. Some gay and lesbian Christians have initiated and supported the Christian faith of thousands; I give two examples. At Brite Divinity School twenty years ago I took the faculty position of Bill Countryman, who moved to Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Bill is an absolutely great teacher, whose classroom ability and books have introduced and supported thousands of persons to have, maintain, and deepen faith in Christ. Steve Sprinkle is my colleague at Brite, our Director of Field Education. Over the past decade he has guided hundreds of students in their beginning attempts at ministry and has just published a wonderful book on Ordination. Are Professors Countryman and Sprinkle “depraved, degenerate, and bestial,” to whose lives we should have a “visceral response”? They are rather called and ordained ministers and professors, as well as baptized, faithful co-believers with whom we share the Eucharist whose lives have been put at risk by other Christians whose inflammatory rhetoric does not correspond with the gospel. Should we, like the apostle Peter, withdraw from them to demonstrate our superior purity and morality? Would we not then be celebrating a Roman banquet rather than a eucharist, celebrating our difference from those deformed cripples, hunchbacks, obese women, gays and lesbians?
  2. Exegetical Comments on Romans 1:26-27
    1. These verses are in a section of Romans that extends from 1:18 to 3:20. The heading is that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness (asebeian kai adikian; 1:18)….” Paul characterizes humanity before God; all have knowledge of sin through the law and are accountable (3:19-20). But then, Paul reveals, God discloses God’s righteousness through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ (3:21). Paul must answer the objection: “do we then overthrow the law by this faith?” (3:31a) His response is to appeal to the example of Abraham. “Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justified the ungodly (asebe), such faith is reckoned a righteousness.” 4:4-5) Paul’s most basic indictment of humanity concerns “impiety” (1:18), and he concludes by appealing to the scriptural example of Abraham, who trusts the one who justifies the impious (4:5). In other words, Abraham considers himself impious (asebeis), precisely the indicted sinner whose vices including the sexual ones are listed in Romans 1, whom God justifies.
    2. The initial section (1:18-32) describes the state of the Gentile world, but 1:23 (compare Ps 105:20 LXX) already alludes to Israel’s sin. Israel’s worship of the golden calf is also part of Stephen’s indictment in Acts 7:39-43, idolatry so embarrassing that Josephus (Ant. 3.99, written 93-94 CE]) omits it entirely “because it reflected badly upon the Israelites as a people so fickle that they quickly forgot all the miracles that G-d had performed for them…. Instead of the scene in which Moses breaks the tablets, we have a description of his displaying them to the rejoicing multitude (Ant. 3.102”; Feldman 1998b, 412). That is Biblical (re)interpretation! (Prof. Dahl also saw 1:18-2:11 as a unity and referred me to Pohlenz 527).
    3. The idolatry of the Gentile and the Jewish world provokes God’s wrath, who abandons the world to the consequences of its/our own behavior. Three times (vss. 23-24, 25-26a, 26b-28) Paul pairs human “exchange” (God for images, the truth about God for a lie, and natural use for unnatural) with God’s “giving them over.” God’s delivering humans to themselves results in “senseless minds” (vs. 21), lust and impurity (vs. 24), that Paul graphically illustrates with a long vice list (vss. 26-31).
    4. Interpreters generally agree that Paul here utilizes Hellenistic Jewish traditions that include Wisdom 14:22-27, but his allusion to Israelite idolatry at Sinai means that a reference to Israelite same-sex activity as referred to in Lev 18:22 and 20:13 is not unlikely. Further, Hubbard’s parallels demonstrate that accusations of sexual immorality, including same-gender activity, was also the stock in trade of Greek and Latin rhetoricians, so that Paul’s source is not exclusively Jewish accusations against pagans. Paul’s Gentile-Christian audience in Rome would have heard such accusations in their own courts. I observe that Paul’s indictment in Romans 1-2 is an inter-Jewish indictment, not one of the Christian Paul against Judaism (compare Neh 9:16-19).
    5. Hultgren and Taylor (10), after citing historians who argue that homosexual activity in that world was primarily pederasty, note the sweeping nature of Paul’s statements and assume that same-gender sexual activity was widely practiced and tolerated among Gentiles. This must be modified by Hubbard’s conclusions that it was primarily an upper-class activity and that (Gentile) rhetoricians attacked the practice, as the Jew Paul is doing.
    6. I admit that debate between philologians over the meaning of chresis in Rom 1:26-27 is confusing. David Fredrickson argues that the modern ethical question about sexual activity focuses on the object of sexual desire and activity with the result that modern versions mistranslate chresis by “relations” (RSV) or by “intercourse” (NRSV). Fredrickson has demonstrated that Paul’s language, in contrast to the modern debate, participates in a discourse that focuses not on the object but on the subject of sexual desire and activity. But Frederick Danker in BDAG still defines the word by “the state of intimate involvement, relations, function, esp. of sexual intercourse.” The texts Danker gives do not support the translation “intimate involvement,” unless “intimate” means “sexual. Xenophon [430-360 BCE], Symp. 8.28 contrasts “use of the body” with “friendship of the spirit.” Plato [429-347 BCE], Laws 8.841a concerns the “use of sexual intercourse” and whether one uses it rarely. Ps.-Lucian [2nd century CE?], Amor. 25 gives an argument that the “use of a woman is better than the use of a boy,” hardly a reference to relational “intimacy” in the modern sense. Therefore, Fredrickson’s conclusion holds: Paul is concerned with the problem of the subject’s insatiable, compulsive, addictive “passion,” not with the modern question of the object of sex. Paul does not focus on whether the sexual activity is homo- or heterosexual. Unlike Danker, Fredrickson has interpreted a complex of terms in Romans 1, desire (epithumia, vs. 24), passion (pathos, vs. 26), inflame (ekkaio, vs. 27), appetite (orexis, vs. 27), and error (plane, vs. 27); when used with this complex of terms, chresis refers to the male’s / husband’s “use” of a woman /wife, or rarely, to the wife’s use of the husband.[5]
    7. I (1998) elaborated on one of Fredrickson’s observations, that ancients drew a parallel between sex and food: Plutarch (Mor. 993A-999B) criticizes the “use” of food that is out of control, and he employs the same complex of terms that Fredrickson has discussed in relation to sex. Paul’s focus, then, is on females’ and males’ insatiable “use” of others sexually, as Plutarch opposes insatiable appetite for food. Heterosexual persons also experience this sexual sickness; most of the sexual abuse stories in our newspapers concern heterosexual persons.
    8. “Natural” use (vs. 26) of sex and food is opposed to insatiability, is not “consumed [inflamed] with passion” (vs. 27). Most modern writers assume “orientation,” whether gay or straight orientation. Paul does not. Vs. 27 describes bisexual desire: men give up natural use of women (“natural” meaning to be sexually active and to be capable of being satisfied, not addicted) and are inflamed with passion for other men; this is not a description of “homosexual” conduct in the modern sense, but of bisexual desire that is out of control, that cannot be satiated.
    9. Paul discusses humans who live without God, who worship the creature rather than the Creator (vs. 25). Without God human passions focused on our own desires become diseased, insatiable, a theological conclusion that prepares for 3:21, “but now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, … the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Conclusions on Baptism, the Eucharist, and Romans 1

When Paul baptized the Gauls, they heard baptismal language declaring that they were not the inferior animals that Romans visually represented them to be. When Jesus ate his last supper, he provocatively took the role of a despised slave and challenged the future apostles to serve as he was doing. How do twenty-first century pastors offer Christ our despicable service? When Pauline churches celebrated the eucharist, they acted out their opposition to Roman banquets, where the despised, crippled, deformed, and obese were ridiculed. To the Corinthians who were perhaps unconsciously desecrating the sacrament, Paul wrote that in God’s presence they dare not despise the poor. The contemporary church may not despise a whole group of people, gays and lesbians, who confess their faith, are baptized, and desire to serve Christ, some of whom are called to proclaim the Word and celebrate the eucharist. Romans 1 lists the vices of the “impious and unjust”; in Romans 4 Paul provocatively presents Abraham as the scriptural example of these impious persons with their vices / sins, who are justified before God by faith in Christ.

Second Conclusion / Appendix: Two Quotations on Biblical Interpretation

Luther’s comments on scriptural interpretation in “How Christians Should Regard Moses” were enlightening in the sixteenth century are still are in the twenty-first:

The first [public] sermon [from heaven], and doctrine, is the law of God. The second is the gospel. These two sermons are not the same…. The law commands and requires us to do certain things…. The gospel, however, does not preach what we are to do or to avoid….

Three things are to be noted in Moses…. In the first place I dismiss the commandments given to the people of Israel. They neither urge nor compel me. They are dead and gone….

In the second place I find something in Moses that I do not have from nature: the promises and pledges of God about Christ….

One must deal cleanly with the Scriptures. From the very beginning the word has come to us in various ways. It is not enough simply to look and see whether this is God’s word, whether God has said it; rather we must look and see to whom it has been spoken, whether it fits us. That makes all the difference between night and day….

The false prophets pitch in and say, “Dear people, this is the word of God.” That is true; we cannot deny it. But we are not the people [of Israel]….

“God’s word, God’s word.” But my dear fellow, the question is whether it was said to you…. (Lull 136, 140, 144-45)

A contemporary Presbyterian interpreter makes analogous distinctions:

The several meanings of Torah can be ranged under two rubrics: muthos and ethos, or story and laws, or agadah and halachah…. Paul … found it well to emphasize Torah as the story of divine election and redemption, in the eschatological conviction that God’s recent work in Christ had made that election and that redemption available to all mankind, while at the same time to de-emphasize those specific stipulations which seemed to present stumbling blocks to carrying out the mandate, and which seemed to detract form the Torah-Gospel Story of God’s righteous acts which had found their culmination, goal and climax in God’s eschatological act in Christ. (Sanders 121)

Martin Luther and James Sanders agree: when debating commands (halachah) in Leviticus in relation to Christian life style, we must know how to interpret law and gospel / the story of Christ.


Advocate: The National Gay and Lesbian News magazine

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[1] I would discuss this by employing the category “middle axiom” as discussed by Long (108, summarizing J. H. Oldham and John Bennett): Middle axioms “give relevance and point to the Christian ethic. They are attempts to define the directions in which, in a particular state of society, Christian faith must express itself. They are not binding for all time, but are provisional definitions of the type of behavior required of Christians at a given period and in given circumstances.” Even though writers of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament accepted some humans owning others, the contemporary church hearing the gospel with the guidance of the Spirit through political crises in the nineteenth century reached the conclusion that slavery is utterly immoral.

[2] John R. Clarke teaches a seminar on “Constructions of Humor in Greco-Roman Art” this semester (Spring 2004) at the University of Texas at Austin, which he graciously invited me to attend. I learned of Garland’s book in that seminar, for which I thank Prof. Clarke. On Roman banquets see Clarke 223-45.

[3] Gagnon, Homosexual Practice (272) refers to marriage as “an appropriate escape valve for sexual desire.” Further (327), he writes: “There were no exceptions for Paul. Genesis 1-2 provided only one acceptable model. Paul, like all other first-century Jews, opposed same-sex intercourse between men because he believed that woman was created by God to be man’s one and only sexual partner.” The last phrase is ambiguous. If Gagnon refers to monogamy, he has forgotten Sarah and Hagar (Gal 4:21-31). Depending on the century, many Jewish men have been monogamous, but Judaism has not been a legally monogamous society / religion. The modern state of Israel did prohibit bigamy in 1951 (Moshe David Herr, “Monogamy,” Encyclopaedia Judaica 12 [1971] 258-60.)

[4] “In this controversy the main doctrine of Christianity is involved; when it is properly understood it illumines and magnifies the honor of Christ and brings to pious consciences the abundant consolation that they need. We therefore ask His Imperial Majesty kindly to hear us out on this important issue. For since they understand neither the forgiveness of sins nor faith nor grace nor righteousness, our opponents confuse this doctrine miserably, they obscure the glory and the blessings of Christ, and they rob pious consciences of the consolation offered them in Christ.” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Art IV: Justification; Tappert 107)

[5] Gagnon, Bible and Homosexual Practice, 237 responds to Fredrickson in one paragraph on this page without a discussion of the key term chresis in Jewish and/or Greco-Roman texts. He covers his exegetical failure with slogans.