Εἰσελθόντος δὲ αὐτοῦ εἰς Καφαρναοὺμ προσῆλθεν αὐτῷ ἑκατόνταρχος παρακαλῶν αὐτὸν καὶ λέγων· κύριε, ὁ παῖς μου βέβληται ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ παραλυτικός, δεινῶς βασανιζόμενος. καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· ἐγὼ ἐλθὼν θεραπεύσω αὐτόν. καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ ἑκατόνταρχος ἔφη· κύριε, οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς ἵνα μου ὑπὸ τὴν στέγην εἰσέλθῃς, ἀλλὰ μόνον εἰπὲ λόγῳ, καὶ ἰαθήσεται ὁ παῖς μου. καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπός εἰμι ὑπὸ ἐξουσίαν, ἔχων ὑπ᾿ ἐμαυτὸν στρατιώτας, καὶ λέγω τούτῳ· πορεύθητι, καὶ πορεύεται, καὶ ἄλλῳ· ἔρχου, καὶ ἔρχεται, καὶ τῷ δούλῳ μου· ποίησον τοῦτο, καὶ ποιεῖ. ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐθαύμασεν καὶ εἶπεν τοῖς ἀκολουθοῦσιν· ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, παρ᾿ οὐδενὶ τοσαύτην πίστιν ἐν τῷ Ἰσραὴλ εὗρον. λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι πολλοὶ ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν καὶ δυσμῶν ἥξουσιν καὶ ἀνακλιθήσονται μετὰ Ἀβραὰμ καὶ Ἰσαὰκ καὶ Ἰακὼβ ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν, οἱ δὲ υἱοὶ τῆς βασιλείας ἐκβληθήσονται εἰς τὸ σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον· ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων. καὶ εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τῷ ἑκατοντάρχῃ· ὕπαγε, ὡς ἐπίστευσας γενηθήτω σοι. καὶ ἰάθη ὁ παῖς [αὐτοῦ] ἐν τῇ ὥρᾳ ἐκείνῃ.
When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him asking for help:“Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible anguish.” Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Instead, just say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come’ and he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found such faith in anyone in Israel! I tell you, many will come from the east and west to share the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, but the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; just as you believed, it will be done for you.” And the servant was healed at that hour.
The whole argument based in this text centers around Matthew’s use of the Greek word παῖς (servant). The argument, in a nutshell, is this:
- Sex between Gentile masters and slaves was commonplace.
- Jesus did not tell the centurion to stop having sex with his slave.
- Therefore Jesus did not have a problem with homosexual practice.
Frankly, this argument is so far-fetched that I can’t believe that anyone with a functioning brain could buy it; on the other hand, I am a die-hard Calvinist who believes in the noetic effects of sin, so I don’t know why I was so surprised by this one. There are four arguments against this assumption that Jesus was endorsing homosexual relations in his encounter with the centurion at Capernaum. Individually, they are strong arguments. Collectively they make an airtight case against a prohomosexal reading.
Here they are, in summary form:
- Sex with males slaves was not a universal phenomenon. Not every Roman officer or official was having sex with his slave so Jesus could hardly have assumed such behavior was going on in this specific case. This is especially true in Luke’s parallel passage where the centurion is portrayed as a “God-fearer.”
- Taking this position means that you implicitly believe that Jesus was endorsing rape! We know that the form which much master/slave homoeroticism took in the Greco-Roman world included not only coerced sexual activity but also forced feminization, up to and including castration. By the reasoning of those who put a pro-homosexal twist on the story, we would have to conclude that Jesus had no problem with this particularly exploitative form of same-sex intercourse inasmuch as he did not explicitly tell the centurion to stop doing it.
- The Jewish elders in Luke 7 could not have supported a homosexual relationship. Luke adds the motif that Jewish elders interceded on the centurion’s behalf (7:3-5). Should we argue that these Jewish elders had no problem with same-sex intercourse, when every piece of evidence that we have about Jewish views of same-sex intercourse in the Second Temple period and beyond is unremittingly hostile to such behavior? Such an idea is so asinine as to defy description!
- Matthew and Luke did not interpret Jesus’ healing as support for same-sex intercourse. There can be no question of Matthew or Luke reading into the story a positive view of same-sex intercourse on the part of Jesus. If even Paul, the most vigorous Jewish proponent in the Bible of the abrogation of the Mosaic law, was strongly opposed to same-sex intercourse, what chance is there that Matthew, the most vigorous proponent in the New Testament of the retention of the Mosaic law, would have recognized in this story a prohomosexual element? Luke’s reference to the Apostolic Decree in Acts 15, with its prohibitions drawn from those enjoined on the resident alien in Lev 17-18, including the one against porneia (sexual immorality), could not have read an affirmation of homosexual behavior in the story. So if three of the earliest extant interpreters of the story, those in closest proximity to Jesus’ views and time, did not detect any pro-homosexual content in it, it is likely that contemporary interpreters who do are simply reading their own biases into the story.