Wednesday, February 5, 2014

University of Helsinki
School of Theology
Chair: Old Testament Studies

Martti Nissinen wrote Homoeroticism in the Biblical World, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998 with a desire to address issues of homoeroticism for the modern Lutheran Church in Finland. He uses the term "homoeroticism" advisedly, since "homosexuality" is a word only about 150 years old; one of the great strengths of his book is Nissinen's awareness of historical context and his desire to avoid anachronism.

“Nissinen addresses the crisis in the Finnish Lutheran church in the Introduction, as well as issues of terminology (homoeroticism, homosexuality, and homosociability) and gender and sexual practice.”

Nissinen’s concern is to foreground issues of cultural and temporal location. He shows that for the "plain reading" of such texts to take place, a lot must be known about the text's cultural context and the common usage of words.

“The last chapter, entitled "Homoeroticism in the Biblical World and Homosexuality Today" offers a new way to try to interpret the Bible, especially when asking what relevance it has for those of us dealing with contemporary issues such as sexuality. As a faithful churchman, Nissinen does not want to "throw out the Bible," but as a modern person, he does point out that most church exegesis is deeply flawed when there is no "sufficient correlation between the topics discussed today and the ancient sources." (123)

The point: sexuality as a concept does not exist in any of the ancient literature. Moreover, the gender roles behind homoerotic behavior (and which determine how that behavior is judged in its ancient context) are vastly different than those commonly held now. When homoerotic behavior was condemned, it was because it made a "woman," that is, a passive, weak, and unmasculine being, out of a man (female homoerotic behavior does the opposite, so a woman is seen as attempting to appropriate the potency and active status of a man). Moreover, in the history of the church, "The same reasons have been used to condemn both homosexual and heterosexual contacts: sexuality has been considered an expression of lust and therefore sinful." (125) A relationship consisting of two adult, equal, committed and loving men, or two women, or even a man and a woman, was not a concept for the ancients, and therefore not something we can ask them to reflect in their literature.

A good quotation to end with (125): "Using individual and ambiguous biblical passages as a basis for threatening people with eternal damnation leads to a kid of scriptural positivism, which may turn out to be a matter of the cruel abuse of religious power."


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