Nonparallelisms, Round 2

There are at two more non-parallelisms I find troubling in 1st Corinthians 6:9-10.

Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (ESV)

Here’s my 2nd cause-for-pause: Every item in the list speaks to the condition of our heart, except for one.

Men who practice homosexuality is identified as only behavioral, and it quite explicitly ignores any and all heart condition.

But wait! Jesus is all about the heart. In fact, most of us believe (know?) God is infinitely more concerned for the condition of our hearts. But, well, not here. I guess it is okay to imagine male homosexual trysts. To all my hetero-bros out there: Hey, knock yourselves out. I’ll pass.

There is at least one other non-parallel aspect of this list but it is totally on us. We permit suspected idolaters and thieves to be senior pastors and elders. We graciously forgive and/or turn a blind eye at the appearance of impropriety in all areas but one. I’ve been told this is a result of legalism. I guess that word sounds a little better than bigotry.

So what am I missing? Why is it okay to imply parallelism with the language when, if fact, there is nonparallelism theologically? How is Paul’s weakened point somehow strengthened by this anomaly?

6 Responses

  1. I hope this isn’t the last round…

  2. Hey Ric,
    While Paul is using parallel grammatical structures, the specific items in the list are not immaterial, and I’m not sure they’re “conditions of the heart.” To us, they may be, but to the church at Corinth, they were likely behaviors as specific as “men who practice homosexuality.” Paul was talking to a Pagan Greek culture, where sexuality was often incorporated into idolatrous rites related to the gods. (Thus, idolatry, adultery, sexual immorality are quite concrete images, similar to the practice of homosexuality).

    The parallelism isn’t JUST serving the function (re: your post below) to say, “we’re all sinners and don’t deserve the kingdom.” The next verse sheds light on that: “And this is what some of you used to be.” Paul is addressing the specific lives and sins of the church there. If you keep reading beyond that, sexuality comes back up again.

    The condition of our heart is important, but for Paul (and arguably for the Gospel writers), confessing Jesus is accompanied by the forsaking of patterns of this world, and he takes sexuality very seriously as an example of the patterns of this world.

    I hear your “causes for pause,” I just think some of our evangelical reductive summaries of Paul or Jesus can sometimes interfere with the context of what Paul is saying. I don’t think this verse is a “clobber verse” for homosexuality–it certainly names it as a sin along with other things, but there are other passages and more significant theological conflicts with homosexuality that don’t even have a specific verse or passage.

    That was a long comment–not trying to be argumentative, I just think context sheds light on how significant (or not) this parallelism is.

  3. Hi Brian,

    First of all, I don’t take your long comment as argumentative.

    It remains bizarre (in my mind) that Paul (or the text attributed to Paul) shifts gears mid-stream. I’m left wondering why Paul did not say, “nor men who steel goods and money, nor men who are committing adultery, …” It is as though Paul forgot to proofread his letter.

    Also, I am left wondering why I can make this a stronger point that is universally applicable to all people across all time and cultures by removing one item. And then of course replacing “this is what some of you were” (which, btw, is uncharacteristically soft) with “this is what you were.”

    Whether this is a clobber verse or not is not my call. I wish it were not used to clobber but unfortunately, it is.

    Thank you for your continued civil discourse on this controversial topic.

  4. More than a few scholars think, based upon Paul’s Greek usage, that the “males who practice homosexuality” were male prostitutes.

    But what does it mean to inherit the kingdom of God anyway? I don’t think it has anything to do with heaven. Those who are actively working for the kingdom are not usually engaged in the above activities. It’s not that they’re unforgiven or unloved, it’s just that their minds and hearts are in the wrong place. They just aren’t on the bandwagon.

    Rather than getting all worked up over the issue of homosexuality, Christians might spend their time better taking a look at the line about the greedy and the swindlers..

  5. I’ve seen and heard of that translation/interpretation. The NCV put both “males who practice homosexuality” AND “male prostitutes” in their translation. covering the bases, i suppose. Or CYA, more likely.

    Yeah, the greedy and the swindlers is another post.

  6. […] Nonparallelisms, Round 2 […]

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