I’m always amazed at the lengths people will go to contort the Bible to defend their own ideologies. For example, one pro-gay Christian website claims that the centurion who sought Jesus’ help to heal his servant in Matthew, chapter eight, was actually in a sexual relationship with that servant. The primary evidence for this comes from the centurion’s use of the term pais to describe the servant, which the site’s operators say refers to a male lover. From this the authors conclude, “Jesus restores a gay relationship by a miracle of healing and then holds up a gay man as an example of faith for all to follow.”
First of all, just because Jesus healed someone, it doesn’t follow that Jesus affirmed everything that person did. When Jesus healed ten lepers, only one of them returned to give God glory for his healing, but that doesn’t mean Jesus endorsed the religious laxity of the other nine (Luke 17:11-19)
So even if the centurion and his servant did have a sexual relationship, it does not follow that Jesus’ miracle affirmed every aspect of that relationship. In fact, the word “relationship” is really a euphemism, because this would be a case of an older man purchasing a younger male for sexual purposes, or what we would call a “sex slave.” I doubt that the revisionist critic would describe this episode by saying, “Jesus restores a master-slave relationship by a miracle of healing and then holds up a sex-trafficker as an example of faith for all to follow.”
The authors of this article admit that this relationship may seem “repugnant,” but they explain it away by saying that marriage in the same time period was also basically a kind of slavery, so what’s the big deal? They write, “In that culture, if you were a gay man who wanted a male ‘spouse,’ you achieved this, like your heterosexual counterparts, through a commercial transaction—purchasing someone to serve that purpose. A servant purchased to serve this purpose was often called a pais.”
There are differences: whereas slaves couldn’t “divorce” their masters, wives could divorce their husbands (see Mark 10:12). But more importantly, Jesus shows compassion to people in spite of their sins, and his healings and deliverance from harm are invitations to spiritual salvation. For example, Jesus saved the woman caught in adultery from being executed, not so that she could return to her sinful ways, but so that she could repent of them. That’s why he said to her, “Do not sin again” (John 8:11).
That said, there is no evidence that the centurion and his slave actually were involved in a sexual relationship. New Testament professor John Byron writes:
The Greek noun pais is used in the New Testament twenty-four times and has a range of meanings that include “adolescent,” “child,” and “servant.” [In the Greek Old Testament, i]t appears numerous times and it always refers to a “servant.” There are no occurrences of the term anywhere in the Bible that can be interpreted [as] referring to the junior partner in a homosexual relationship.
Other attempts to tease out of Scripture hidden pro-homosexual meanings are similarly dubious. It’s no wonder, then, that the arguments for a “gay-affirming” Jesus are usually arguments from silence—arguments based on what Jesus did not say. They claim, in so many words, that since Jesus never condemned homosexuality, he must not have seen anything wrong with it. In a 2012 interview, former president Jimmy Carter essentially did that when he said:
Homosexuality was well known in the ancient world, well before Christ was born, and Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. In all of his teachings about multiple things—he never said that gay people should be condemned. I personally think it is very fine for gay people to be married in civil ceremonies.
Since there is an unbroken tradition of Christians condemning same-sex behavior from the beginning of the Church’s history, we can safely conclude that this tradition comes from Jesus and the apostles. Indeed, it would be downright bizarre if Jesus approved of homosexual behavior only to have all of his followers teach the opposite—including Paul, whom Jesus chose as an apostle and inspired author but who clearly condemns homosexual behavior in his own writings (Rom. 1:26-28, 1 Cor. 6:9-10, 1 Tim. 1:10).
The Episcopalian bishop Gene Robinson is in a legal marriage with another man, yet when it comes to Jesus’ silence on homosexuality, he admits, “One cannot extrapolate affirmation of such relationships from that silence.” Robinson instead claims that all “we can safely and responsibly conclude from Jesus’ silence is that he was silent on the issue” (God Believes in Love, 83-84). I wonder if Robinson would likewise say that “all we can safely and responsibly conclude from Jesus’ silence on polygamy, incest, bestiality, idolatry, and child sacrifice is that he was silent on those issues.”
He likely wouldn’t, because Jesus’ affirmation of the Old Testament’s prohibitions on, for example, murder show that he would never have supported child sacrifice, and so it is an absurd question to ask. Likewise, Jesus’ affirmation of the Old Testament’s prohibitions on sexual immorality show that he would never have supported sexual activity between people of the same sex, or any kind of behavior that violated the universal moral law.
However, that does not mean Jesus would have simply stood in condemnation of those who violated God’s moral law. Instead, he offered to them (which includes you and me) the gracious offer of salvation through him. According to New Testament professor Robert Gagnon:
What was distinctive about Jesus’ ministry was not that he refused to make judgments about the conduct of others, or even that he lowered his moral standards. On the contrary, in many areas he elevated those standards. What was distinctive was his incredibly generous spirit even toward those who had lived in gross disobedience to God for years. He expended enormous effort and exhibited great compassion in the search for the lost. Jesus did not wait for the lost to come to him. He went looking for them (The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 212).