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January 21, 2017 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

Back to the Future?

In a time when the sexual culture of our nation, and the West in general, is being challenged some perspective may prove helpful.  The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthian Christians (55 AD) in which he stated the following.  “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God (I Cor. 6:9ff).”

The reason for quoting such a long passage in a short article is to draw attention to the phrase, “And such were some of you.”  Corinth was a commercial city on the tiny isthmus between Macedonia and Achaia. It was immersed in the sexual culture of the Roman Empire.  Homosexuality was a common and frequent practice in Roman society which was based on not on sexual orientation but the distinction of the strong verses the weak.  It was institutionalized in the “gymnasium” where young boys were the sexual toys of their teachers.  The Greek word “gymnos” means “naked,” and was the normal posture in the athletic activities of the “gymnasium.”

Marriage in Roman culture was a legal convenience for preserving family and descent records.  Half the population were slaves and ancestry was legally important.  Husbands were not expected to be faithful to their wives.  This would have been a sign of weakness.  Wives were regarded as property.  Promiscuity was the rule.  Divorce was common.  Female children were often taken into the forests as food for the wild animals.  Prostitution was not only common but encouraged since the prostitutes, male and female, were taxed by the government.  Monogamy was rarely practiced.  Nero (54 – 68 AD) was emperor in the time of Paul.  He had sexual relations with his own mother and later murdered her.  He married at least two men and was fond of parading in public with his male brides.  This is the culture against which Paul wrote the instructions which begin this article.  It is out of this culture that these early Christians were called.  “And such were some of you.”

It took a while.  In the beginning the Christians suffered persecution for challenging the social and sexual culture of the empire.  Rodney Stark, in his many books on the triumph of Christian civilization traces the eventual demise of the Roman way as populations recognized that there is a better way.  Human dignity, the sanctity of marriage and the home,  the equality of the sexes,  the beauty of covenant love between man and wife, the privilege of  raising children in the ways of the God, all of this and much more became more attractive and socially stabilizing.  By the time of the Middle Ages the Judeo-Christian ethic had replaced the paganism of Rome.  Slavery also disappeared, at least for a time.  Gladiatorial games were outlawed.  In sexual ethics commitment and covenant love replaced power and passion.

As we begin a new year we find a social and political movement calling itself “progressive” which would like to return to some of the sexual ethics of Rome.  Western culture has been there and done that.  Individuals and cultures all have failures.  The Bible is right.  “None is righteous, no, not one (Rom. 3:10).”  However, we might want to give some critical thought to the idea of regressing to the value structures of ancient Rome.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at END-whs