How should we read the Scriptures?
How not to examine the life of Jesus.
Was Jesus gay?
Peter Tatchell, the gay activist, certainly entertains the possibility. On his website he comments on a fragment of manuscript apparently found by a Biblical scholar, Morton Smith, at a monastery near Jerusalem in 1958. It was supposedly a fragment of a letter by Church Father, Clement of Alexandria, where he speaks of a “secret” Gospel of Mark, which contains this passage in Chapter 10:
But the youth, looking upon him (Jesus), loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.
According to Tatchell, “The precise nature of the relationship between Christ and the youth is not spelled out. Sexual relations are suggested but not explicitly stated.”
So he’s not spelling it out, just reading between the lines of possibilities. He uses this ambivalence to declare that, as it’s not explicitly stated whether Jesus was homosexual or heterosexual, then it is wrong for us to assume either. Not really a valid argument unless the official Gospel accounts give us any cause for questioning his sexuality.
So do they?
Sussex University chaplain, Paul Oestreicher, writing in the Guardian on April 12th 2012, certainly believes so. He was focussing on Jesus’ relationship with the apostle John. His first observation was that John was the disciple that Jesus “loved in a special way”. What a loaded statement! He was referring to the following verse:
… and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved … (John 20:2)
Oestreicher then heaps his own observations onto a set of “evidences” for an untoward relationship. There’s the image in Christian art of John’s head laying on Jesus’s breast at the Last Supper. There’s also the fact that Jesus was unmarried and that John seems to have been well integrated into Jesus’ family. I could go on and reference such “luminaries” as Rt. Rev. Hugh Montefiore (nicknamed Hugh Montefiasco by his students) and Bishop Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop in the U.S., but there’s no point, as this issue is really not open to debate. After all, this article did appear in The Guardian, the bastion of the liberal establishment and no friend of Biblical Christianity!
So, where are we? We have been introduced to two spokespeople, Peter Tatchell, the gay activist and Paul Oestreicher, the liberal Christian. The former seeks to normalise his lifestyle within a Christian framework and the latter is fully aware, as a columnist, that controversy sells. Each has a clear agenda to promote. Does this mean that truth has been compromised in order to push these agendas? Judge for yourselves.
First we look at Tatchell’s source document, the “secret” Gospel of Mark. This has absolutely nothing to do with the actual Gospel of Mark, appearing in the Gospels in our canonical New Testament. It doesn’t even belong in the category of “Gospels that didn’t quite make it” into the Bible, such as the Gospel of Thomas. It doesn’t even fall into the category of a document that has actually been discovered and read. It is just something referred to within an ancient letter supposedly written by a Church Father and found by Morton Smith, a professor of ancient history, in a monastery at Mar Saba, in Israel. And even then, no-one apart from this professor has seen the original documents and many are certain that, assuming it exists, it is a forgery anyway. The clincher seems to be that Smith was gay, which suggests a personal agenda, though this hasn’t been proven.
But we can discount any possibilities of a personal agenda, or even the accusations of forgery, because, as Christians the instructions are clear. We are not to derive any doctrine or certainly any inferences to the character of Jesus from any document outside the revealed Word of God, the Bible. So really, although non-Christians may be provoked, amused or intrigued by Peter Tatchell’s views, as Christians we are on safe ground and so do not need to trouble ourselves in this particular debate.
With Paul Oestreicher it is not so simple, as he is taking the Bible, specifically the Gospel of John, as the source document for his views. Let us remind ourselves of the verse that seems to have set this whole thing off.
… and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved … (John 20:2).
The Greek word used here for “loved” is phileo. It is the type of love that is best expressed as “friendly affection”. It is neither the deep spiritual love, God’s kind of love, suggested by agape and neither is it the carnal passionate lustful love of eros. Phileo love is what we sometimes call “platonic” love, epitomised by the sort of drunken exchange you may find in a TV soap, “Hey, you’re my best mate, you know I really love you … just as a friend of course”.
John the apostle was Jesus’ best friend. Period. Absolutely no suggestion of any eros shenanigans. So we can rest assured … Jesus was assuredly not gay!
So what was Oestreicher up to? Laying aside his bid for centre stage through the use of controversy, we here have a case of the person who has an idea / plan / scheme / revelation then furiously leafs through the pages of his Bible to build up a case to support his ideas scripturally.
For the previous article in this series, click here.
For the next article in this series, click here.
To find out what is my favourite book of the Bible, click here.
You can reach Steve with any comments or questions at the Saltshakers Web Community website.