Sex in a First-Century Roman Context

Scot McKnight offers a fascinating look at the sexual life of Roman (or Greek) men in his new book A Fellowship of Differents (Zondervan).

“Studies of the sexual lives of Roman (or Greek) men reveal a typical pattern: males had ‘procreational’ sex with their wives, with whom they shared a home, children, and a family life, and had ‘recreational’ sex with others. This was normal sexuality for a Roman male, and to a lesser degree for Roman females. Yes, that’s right. This was the norm. Those recreational others included young boys (pederasty), prostitutes (the percentage of prostitutes in Roman cities staggers the mind), and slaves. It is a sad fact of Roman history that when a female slave is mentioned, as she is in the New Testament several times, there is the likelihood that she was used for sexual gratification. Sex outside marriage was not a moral issue for most in the Roman Empire. . . . Romans believed in uninhibited sexual exploration, married or not. Sexual relations for males, then, occurred at two levels: at home with one’s wife, who was expected to be faithful, and in the public realm with others. At the center of the sexual relations among the Romans and Greek was dominance, for in penetrating another one exercised dominance and status over the other person. . . . In their sexual relations, some husbands participated in sex with women while some of these husbands also engaged in same-sex relations on the side. Paul is describing this sort of relationship in 1 Corinthians 6:9, which reads ‘men who have sex with men’ (NIV), but the explanatory footnote clarifies that the words ‘refer to the passive and active participants.’ Less discreetly, these words describe Roman husbands who have heterosexual relations with a wife, but who recreationally may prefer males–either penetrating them or being penetrated by them. When we ask, ‘Who were those who engaged in same-sex relations in Paul’s day?’ we are then to think mostly of married males engaging in same-sex relations recreationally. Since committed same-sex relations were known in the Roman world, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 could be describing faithful same-sex couples, but this is less likely than a Roman husband’s recreational sex with other men. Lesbianism existed but was not nearly as pervasive as same-sex relations among men.” (pp. 124-25)

McKnight says that the language of Romans 1 about “what is ‘natural’ is as wide as it can get: he [Paul] sees all same-sex relations as outside the divine order, created order and inconsistent with life ‘in Christ.'” (p. 128)

McKnight argues that the church must adopt a “church-shaped” script for helping those in the church who struggle with same-sex attraction. Leaning heavily on the work by Wesley Hill (Washed and Waiting) and Nick Roen he says we need to rid ourselves of the “them” vs. “us” mentality. Rather we need to see them as part of “us”. He quotes Roen: “What if they heard not simply, ‘Don’t have that relationship!’ but, ‘You are welcome in the church, and . . . we will seek to support you in your walk of faith with community, loving relationships, and hospitality’?”(p. 131)

McKnight concludes the chapter with the “church’s most recent challenge.” In his letters Paul was referring to those who “were not so much compelled by same-sex attraction as by sexual indulgence.” (p. 132) Our most recent challenge “is the person who has always experienced same-sex attraction.” It is here that the church must come with a broken heart sympathetic to their struggle and who will feel comfortable with us. “Our posture cannot be one of pity; it must be one of mutual fellowship in the cross and resurrection of Christ, the kind of fellowship where we minister to one another.” (p. 135)

A Fellowship of Differents is a hardcover with 272 pages and sells for $19.99.

Scot McKnight (PhD, Nottingham) is professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary, Lombard, Illinois. He is the author of several books, including the award-winning The Jesus Creed, The King Jesus Gospel, One.Life, and The Blue Parakeet, as well as Galatians and 1 Peter in the NIV Application Commentary series.

Fellowship

Advertisements

About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
This entry was posted in Biblical Studies, New Releases. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sex in a First-Century Roman Context

  1. Michael D says:

    In seminary one of the profs gave a lecture on the sexual ethics of the ancient near east. It shed a very interesting light on the context. I also remember watching parts of the HBO series Rome, which quite accurately portrayed what we understand of Rome in the first century. It is certainly not family friendly viewing but does effectively communication what life was like.

    Like

  2. Mike B says:

    Read 1 & 2 Thessalonians for a better understanding of Paul’s view on sex between men. It is not in agreement with this author’s contentions.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s