The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics Hardcover – 5 Nov 2001
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"...In its learnedness, [Gagnon's] book will...be in the vanguard of its position and cannot be ignored...." -- Martti Nissinen, University of Helsinki, and author of Homoeroticism in the Biblical World (From the Jacket Flap)
"...the most thorough examination of the scriptural and theological...perspectives on same-sex relations....a tour de force." -- Marion L. Soards, Professor of New Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (From Jacket Flap)
"Gagnon has offered a learned, judicious, and comprehensive examination of the biblical testimony....fair and compassionate...a major resource...." -- Brevard S. Childs, Sterling Professor of Divinity (Hebrew Bible), Emeritus, Yale Divinity School (From Inside Book)
"Gagnon's book is an extremely valuable contribution to the current debate....I recommend this book wholeheartedly." -- C. E. B. Cranfield, Professor of Theology (New Testament), Emeritus, University of Durham (From Inside Book)
"Gagnon's incisive logic, prudent judgment, and exhaustive research should make this book a dominant voice in the contemporary debate." -- Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, O.P., Professor of New Testament, Ecole Biblique, Jerusalem (From the Back Cover)
"I believe that this volume will become a classic in the ongoing discussion of the church's...response to homosexuality." -- Duane F. Watson, Professor of New Testament, Malone College (From Inside Book)
"I cannot regard anyone as qualified to debate homosexuality who has not come to terms with Gagnons encyclopedic examination." -- J. I. Packer, Professor of Theology, Regent College, remarks in Christianity Today, Jan. 21, 2003
"I know of no comparable study of the texts and interpretive debates that surround homosexual behavior." -- Max L. Stackhouse, Stephen Colwell Professor of Christian Ethics, Princeton Theological Seminary (From the Jacket Flap)
"No Christian concerned with homosexuality can afford to ignore this book." -- John Barton, Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, University of Oxford (From the Back Cover)
"No Christian concerned with homosexuality can afford to ignore this book....a meticulous scholarly account...showing the weakness of many modern discussions." -- John Barton, Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, University of Oxford (From the Back Cover)
"The most sophisticated and convincing examination to date....An essential contribution to defusing the emotionalism surrounding the discussion." -- Jürgen Becker, Professor of New Testament, Christian-Albrechts University (Kiel, Germany) (From Inside Book).
"This is a brilliant, original and highly important work, displaying meticulous biblical scholarship, and indispensable even for those who disagree." -- James Barr, Regius Professor of Hebrew, Emeritus, Oxford University, and Distinguished Professor of Hebrew Bible, Emeritus, Vanderbilt University (From the Back Cover)
"probably the fullest and best presentation of the conservative position....expressing the case same-sex intercourse sympathetically and convincingly." -- I. Howard Marshall, Professor of New Testament, Emeritus, University of Aberdeen, Scotland (Blurb Inside Book)
About the Author
Robert A. J. Gagnon is Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (USA). He has published in numerous scholarly journals and is also co-author of: Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views (Fortress Press, 2003). --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
This book is a still probably the definitive defense of a "classic" reading of the Bible. It is a thorough and robust exposition of the consistent biblical teaching on this contentious issue.
Gagnon is not an "ultra conservative" when it comes to the actual text of Scripture (he upholds a version of the document hypothesis, with JEDP writers of the Old Testament, and "Deutoro-Paul" in parts of the NT). But this is actually a strength in this debate, as he is not simply "towing a party line" (i.e. just trotting out the same old, same old story).
If anyone reads him fairly, they will be forced to admit that SSA proponents, and especially those who claim to be "evangelical SSA Christians" are simply twisting Scripture to fit in with their lifestyle. Even the latest books (God and the Gay Christian) for example - are still demolished by this book, despite it being written several years previously.
If anything, this book could benefit from a slight "updating" to engage with current publications, but even without that update, it is still the definitive work on the issue, IMHO.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The reality is that this book is a systematic look at the issue of homosexuality, and is a significant challenge to the hermeneutical partiality of more liberal scholars. Indeed, Gagnon allows the text to interpret itself, rather than asserting assumptions (i.e. only the exploitative homosexual practices is condemned, the ancient world did not have loving homosexual partners, etc.) that aren't accurate. Gagnon provides specific examples of how the claims made by opposing scholars may be an incomplete or eisegetical understanding. If you want to know more about homosexuality, this book is a phenomenal resource.
Contrary to what you might assume, Dr. Gagnon does not believe that every word in the Bible is absolutely true. On page 345 he states, "On the whole I find Paul's exposition of the gospel to be compelling and an authoritative lens from which to interpret and inform my experience. Nonetheless, even though I generally agree with the ultimate point that Paul wants to make on issues of critical significance for Paul, I sometimes have reservations about the way that Paul gets there. For example, I sometimes find Paul's exegesis of the Old Testament to be less than compelling. Paul is still 'my apostle,' but he does not (and did not in the first century) have to be inerrant in every matter."
Given that he believes the Bible is a fallible book, his arguments have appeal for theological moderates as well as for theological conservatives (such as evangelicals). And even readers who reject his conclusions on non-Biblical grounds will likely be convinced that contemporary attempts to find Biblical permission for homosexual conduct are futile.
I expected this to be a work of detailed Biblical exegesis only, and so I was pleased to discover that Dr. Gagnon includes a very helpful overview of extrabiblical perspectives on homosexual practice in both the Old Testament and New Testament eras. In many ways this is the book's greatest contribution - Gagnon completely dismantles all arguments that the authors of the Bible would have only known of (and therefore were only condemning) exploitative/abusive forms of homosexuality. He also includes an overview of recent genetic, sociological, and psychological research on homosexuality.
It is worth noting that Dr. Gagnon has posted detailed responses to scholars who have criticized his work on his easy-to-find website (just search for his distinctive name). The responses are lengthy enough that you can quickly discern whether or not you will find this volume worthwhile.
All in all an excellent work. Five stars for quality and comprehensiveness, knocked down to four stars because of his writing style (the book is not an easy read).
Yet what is interesting to me is that Gagnon's methodology is certainly not "conservative," but reflects mainstream, "liberal" historical-critical assumptions in his exegesis of texts. This is why so thoroughly a liberal scholar as James Barr, who wrote the anti-conservative polemic FUNDAMENTALISM, can nonetheless commend the book despite the "conservative" conclusions that the author reaches. Thus this is probably the best book for a theological conservative (such as this reviewer) to recommend to any theological "moderate" who is not yet completely decided on this issue. Gagnon is likely to gain a hearing where conservatives will not.
Theological conservatives too may read this work with profit, though they will have to forgive Gagnon's adoption of critical positions on matters of authorship and the like that we would find unacceptable. Fortunately such matters rarely affect the force of his argumention.
In this book, Robert Gagnon takes the Biblical stance that homosexuality is clearly a sin. His book is divided into several parts, going in a logical, chronological order, starting with the Old Testament and ancient Near-Eastern culture, Judaism, the teachings of Jesus, the teachings of Paul and finally, a look at some scientific research in regards to the subject.
At 493 pages this is certainly not light reading--especially considering the copious amounts of footnotes--but it is definitely very heavily researched, citing sources from many ancient cultures, philosophers, historians and religious texts.
Also of note, I noticed that Gagnon is wary of avoiding sweeping generalizations (words like "all", "always", "everyone", etc)--a trait to be desired in objective research that is sometimes lacking. While he largely disagrees with those taking a pro-gay stance, to his credit he makes it known when they have said something that he entirely or at least partially agrees with.
The main question remains: Does Gagnon make a strong case for saying that the Bible is against homosexuality? I would have to say that he does. In addition to his arguments, there are some things I would have pointed out from my studies in the various world religions. For example, Zoroastrianism also speaks against homosexuality as evident in the following passage of the Zend-Avesta.
"Ahura Mazda answered: 'The man that lies with mankind as man lies with womankind, is the man that is a Daeva [demon] . . ." The Zend-Avesta, Fargard VIII, V, 32.
Hinduism affirms that sexual intercourse is to be between a man and a woman in the Upanishads. Bear in mind that India is about 2500 miles away from most of the events in the Bible.
"Prajapati then thought to himself: 'Now, why don't I prepare a base for that semen?' So he created woman and, after creating her, had intercourse with her. A man, therefore, should have intercourse with a woman." The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 6.4.2
Such passages just go to show that it was not just Judaism that was against homosexuality. The Israelites were not the "odd ones out" in affirming that sex is understood to be between a man and a woman.
As for why I gave this book four stars instead of five: I almost never give 5 stars and in the case of this book I did find some things to be desired.
1) There is an index, but not in the traditional sense. It simply lists an index of authors and works. Having both would have been preferable instead of having to skim through nearly 500 pages dense with footnotes and citations. It is for this reason that I don't cite any passages from this book in my review.
2) At one point he mentions the massive health costs to society as a result of allowing homosexuality to thrive. While this was an enticing argument, he gave no sources for that particular claim.
3) There were times where Gagnon went into other territory: head-coverings, divorce, adultery, etc. While there is nothing wrong with this per se, I felt that sometimes he dwelt too long on these tangential topics, almost to the point where I had forgotten as to why he even bothered to bring these up in the first place.
4) Finally, it's just a humorous nitpicking, but if you took a shot of alcohol for every time he used a phrase along the lines of "male-female complementarity" you would be very drunk indeed--if not dead.
OVERALL: While I didn't find this book to be the definitive book on the Bible's stance on Homosexuality, Gagnon comes awfully close, making strong arguments backed by a substantial amount of resources. More importantly, I am glad to see that he ultimately emphasizes (as Jesus Himself would have) that we should "hate the sin, but love the sinner."
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