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Equal Opportunity Peggy-Sue Exegesis

October 15, 2010

I want to provide a specific example of what I was getting at in a recent post (Dad, Peggy Sue, and Exegesis) in which I cautioned against “Peggy-Sue exegesis.” What I mean by this is using the tools of the exegetical trade, not in service of uncovering genuine authorial intent but in service of promoting an agenda extraneous to Scripture. I realize that whether a given case is an instance of the former or the latter is often debatable. “Peggy-Sue” exegesis may be done in all sincerity or may be done without sincerity. Sincerity is not the issue. Self-deception is insidious, but if one has teaching responsibility, it is not only a matter of “self.”

The case I have in mind here is one that I think most people here would agree is both genuinely extraneous to Scripture (I hope I am not now deluding myself in this) while being unquestionably a passionate concern for many people and a particularly hot social issue of our day. Along with this, the exegetical “trick” involved is, or ought to be, self-evidently risible, a stretch beyond the breaking point. Please tell me if you don’t see it that way once I am finished.

The example is from so-called “gay” theology. I cite it not because of personal animus toward people of this persuasion. I do understand the Bible to teach that homosexual behavior is sinful behavior, but I am also not citing this because I think “their” sins are worse than my sins. My sins, which are many, are washed away by the blood of Christ, and being forgiven much calls for loving much. So will they be for all who call upon the name of the Lord. So I am very happy for anyone to receive full forgiveness through faith in Christ. Blessings of Christ, then, upon the individuals whose efforts I am now about to criticize.

Every day as I drive home, I pass a billboard which is a variation of the following striking claim:

“Huh?” you might say. So, being a good Berean, you run home and pull out your Bible. Still can’t see it?

Here’s how it works:

In Matt. 8:6 a Centurion comes to Jesus and asks for help as follows:

“Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.”

As it happens, the word which the ESV, and almost all versions, renders “servant” is the Greek word pais. Apparently, this word pais is sometimes used in Greek to refer to a same-sex partner. I neither dispute this as factual nor verify it. Check out Plato’s Symposium if you are inclined to hunt out such references.

This is an example of the “may also be translated” ploy. The problem is not so much whether the particular word can have a certain meaning, but whether there is any reason to believe that it does in fact have this meaning here. If you suspect that a Roman soldier going to solicit help from a first century Jewish holy man is unlikely to “out” himself in such an offhanded manner, then you probably are thinking clearly.

I can appreciate the wish for this group to see public opinion toward them changed, but it is hard for me to believe than intelligent people actually believe themselves that the passage ought to be interpreted in the way they suggest. Are they sincere? I don’t know, but I would venture to opine that their interpretive position has zero chance of being correct.

The matter is, in fact, rather worse than what I have stated so far, because of two possible implications of this reading, the first vicious, the second blasphemous.

Pais, in the first instance means “boy.” By extension it was used for “servant,” these often being literal “boys,” though not exclusively. In the sense of “servant,” pais does not have to have the semantic component of “male minor.” In days past English used “boy” in this regard, though this usage is generally now archaic or otherwise unacceptable. An analogous case, however, is the word “maid.” Its “literal” use is, or was, “unmarried female,” i.e. maiden, virgin. However, I would venture to suggest that for many people it’s primary meaning now refers to a female domestic servant of unspecified age (and indifferent virtue).

That the Greeks may have used pais for a homosexual paramour I do not doubt, since Greek homosexuality was largely pederastic. Thus when using pais in this context, it might simply just mean “boy,” in the primary sense of “minor male.” So the vicious implication of this exegetical spin is that it would support not only homosexuality per se, but also pedophilia. The “pedo-” in this word? Yeah, that’s our old friend pais.

In other words, if the billboard is right about the Centurion’s “orientation,” there is no guarantee that his “partner” is in fact a consenting adult.

It gets worse.

Let me just quote Acts 4:30:

“…while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

“Servant” here (and in v. 27) is also pais. I will refrain from elaborating.

Wicked as these potentialities may be, I do not suggest in any way that they are in the conscious intent of the group who put these billboards up.

But I hope that you can see here how passionate wishes may resort to wholly spurious techniques to garner support from the Bible where no support actually exists. This is not a subtle example, yet I do not doubt that it “works” for a significant number of people. If not genuinely persuasive, it at least provides a measure of “cover.” If those around you act as if it is valid, you can feel affirmed.

Okay, yes, I’m really more concerned with instances in which things are not that bleedin’ obvious. I mean they look pretty clear to me, but I could always be wrong.

To leap from the frying pan into the fire, this is exactly the kind of song and dance I see happening in what we once called “evangelical feminism,” now “egalitarianism.”

A (the) key verse for this poisition is Gal. 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I agree that one imaginable implication of this verse would be that gender would be irrelevant in regard to Church leadership. However, one does not have to look far in the rest of Paul’s corpus, or elsewhere in the NT, to find evidence that it is highly unlikely that Paul would find this a valid implication of his words.

Not only so, but as the particular “gay” theology interpretation of Matt 8:5-13 inadvertantly ends up supporting pedophilia, the “egalitarian” take on Gal. 3:28 inadvertantly ends up supporting same-sex marriage. If there is no male and female in Christ, what does it matter what the gender of one’s fiance(e) is?

I have no particular wish to pick on either “gay” churches or those of the “egalitarian” persuasion. These are just one (blatant) example and one (debatable) example of what–to my admittedly fallable perception–are, let’s say, hearts getting the better of heads in application of the Scriptures. Believe it or not, I am far less concerned with the conclusions than I am with the process. Debate over these and other important matters should center on what Scripture has to say about them, and maintaining the purity of Scriptural interpretation is something I think we can all agree on, even if we differ on any number of particulars.

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