This 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.
- Aspects of the Meaning of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist in Paul
- Baptism according to Gal 3:28
- 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).
- 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)
- “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
- 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).
- 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”:
- …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)
- 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).
- 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.
- 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
- 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).
- 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)
- 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.
- 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?  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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- The Eucharist according to 1 Corinthians 11 and Luke 22
- 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, 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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
- 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?
- Summary and Reflection on Baptism and the Eucharist
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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. 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).
- 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
- 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).
- 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).
- 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?
- Exegetical Comments on Romans 1:26-27
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- “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.
- 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
Luther’s comments on scriptural interpretation in “How Christians Should
Regard Moses” were enlightening in the sixteenth century are still are in the
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.
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 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.
 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.
 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  258-60.)
 “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)
 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.