In a previous Outlook blog (“A Progressive Myth,” 10/4/10), I presented evidence that, contrary to claims by progressives in the sexuality debate, the New Testament writers did know of homosexual erotic behavior that was loving and mutual. But none of my examples involved marriage. Here are three examples of actual same-gender marriage spoken of in Rome. While the writers are all writing around 100 A.D., they illustrate a trend that begins in the New Testament period:
“Bearded Callistratus as a bride wedded the brawny Afer in the usual form as when a bride weds a husband. The torches shone before him, a wedding-veil disguised his face, nor were the words of your song, O Talassus [god of marriage], unheard. A dower was even arranged. Do you not think, O Rome, this is enough? Are you waiting also for a birth announcement?” (Martial, Epigrams 12.42, LCL modified). This, from a comedian who heartily endorsed and practiced bisexuality with social equals.
“Nero, who polluted himself by every lawful or lawless indulgence … stooped to marry himself to one of that filthy herd, by name Pythagoras, with all the forms of regular wedlock. The bridal veil was put over the emperor; people saw the witnesses of the ceremony, the wedding dower, the couch and the nuptial torches; everything in a word was plainly visible, which, even when a woman weds darkness hides” (Tacitus, Annals 15.47, ed. Adler). Suetonius tells of what may be the same marriage (6.29), although he gives the name as Doryphorus; he also tells of a previous marriage to a castrated slave named Sporus, complete with “dowry, bridal veil, and all” (6.28).
“Graccus gave a dowry of 400,000 sesterces to a trumpeter – or maybe he performed on a horn that was straight. The marriage contract was signed, the blessing pronounced, a huge crowd came to the wedding banquet, and the new bride reclines in her husband’s lap. … He’s wearing the bride’s ruffles, long dress, and veil. … Look: a man illustrious in family and fortune is handed over in marriage to another man. … ‘Tomorrow at sunrise I have a ceremony to attend in the valley of Quirinus.’ ‘What’s the occasion?’ ‘ Oh, just a friend of mine marrying a man, and he’s invited a few guests.’ If we are allowed to live just a little longer, those marriages will take place, they’ll take place openly, they’ll even want to be reported in the news. Meanwhile, the fact that they can’t give birth, and use their babies to hang onto their husbands, is a huge torment which these brides cannot escape” (Juvenal, Satires 2.117–138, LCL modified).
Two observations from the above evidence: 1. These same-gender marriages in ancient Rome are the product of popular demand for committed, mutual, homosexual erotic unions, which again contradicts the myth that the New Testament had no concept of loving, mutual, lifelong homosexual relationships. 2. Even a culture like Rome, with more sexual freedom than our own — a culture that saw same-gender intercourse as normal and healthy — thought that same-gender marriage was crossing the line. Juvenal (above) asks how the god Mars can stand by and watch these weddings without pounding his spear into the ground.
What would Jesus say about same-gender marriage? Would the real Jesus ever affirm, what even the pagan world recoiled from? Let’s be honest: the answer is an emphatic no. Can a teacher who likens divorce to adultery, bless such a fundamental violation of the Torah? One can reject his teaching and claim that we know better and have a more advanced form of compassion than he did, but one cannot legitimately put his blessing on such a departure from his teaching.
The sexual ethic of Jesus and his authorized spokesmen (the apostles) was counter-cultural. But now today, revisionists want us to throw that counter-cultural ethic away. We are free to do so if we choose. But we are not free to call it Reformed theology, by any stretch of the imagination. It is a huge departure. As the Orthodox bishop of Belarus told our most recent General Assembly, such a move would be to invent our own pagan religion.
TOM HOBSON of Belleville, Ill., a PC(USA) pastor for 27 years, has degrees from Gordon-Conwell (M.Div.) and Concordia (Ph.D.), and is currently seeking a call.