The End of Cowardice, or, Do you have the faith of the Centurion?

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Originally, I was going to play the role of the coward on this post, but after this week I don’t think I should. It is easy for me, behind the closed doors of the internet, to say and to think and to write what I want. I didn’t post this one, like I have done before. Why? Oh, you know why. No one likes to be bad to read the bible differently than that which they have been taught. Put this view out there, and you’ll get accursed of a lot of things. Some of them….. are pretty hurtful, if I must say so myself. This is the assignment this week, to take a hermeneutic which is wholly different than my view and explore that they have to say. Call it what you want, but it may be one of the most pastoral things that we are doing – to wrestle with another view point, wholly different than ours.

I would like your honest opinions, based on real scholarship and not what makes you afraid to read the text as such.

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I am using the interpretations offered here and here for this paper.

I am against purposely abusing Scripture and twisting it to fit our own viewpoints; however, if one can show  that a passage’s interpretation should be changed using sound scholarship, then I must submit. One of those passages is Luke 7.1-10 with the parallel in Mathew 8. I value the unsaid alongside that which is said, and what is unsaid here seems to be very loud, although not as loud as Queer Hermeneutics would have us believe. If we value the very words of Scripture themselves, then we must understand that words, even individually, will have some meaning. To that end, I agree that this passage may be hiding something, although I wouldn’t go as far as some might.

The Centurion moves between calling the sick person doulos and pais, which scholarship has shown to have been used to refer to the younger partner of a male-male relationship. These types of relationships were common, especially as scholarship shows, with the implantation of the marriage ban for Roman soldiers. The key theme here is scholarship. Where I cease following Queer Hermeneutics, however, is the interpretation of this passage to affirm that Christ Himself affirmed gay partnerships, and of course for today, gay marriages. My first thought here is that the ancient cultures wouldn’t necessarily identify their lifestyles with ‘gay’ and ‘homosexual’ as we do today. There is little doubt in my mind that Christ through the Gospel writers detected the change between doulos and pais, especially since both Matthew and Luke record the use of pais while Luke records the change of terminology, without emendation to the change. Yet, I would be hard pressed to see it as a divine seal of gay marriage, especially since the questions which are also unanswered would have been against Christ’s other teachings. For example, the Centurion’s pais may have been younger than adulthood which would go against the (rabbinical) interpretation of Mark 9.42-50. Further, since it was a master-slave issue, we would have to assume that if Christ was affirming gay relationships by His silence, then He must have been equally affirming slavery of the worse kind. But, is there anything of value in seeing the text as alluding to a love between a man and a man which was unquestioned by Christ?

Yes, as I believe that it shows that Christians today may not have all of the answers to the inner workings of the Divine Mind and what we assume to be love. While Christ neither affirmed nor denied the Centurion’s relationship which his pais although we may be able to say that being silent to the man’s situation, if such existed, Christ affirmed the Centurion and the pais’ love. Christ praised the man’s faith and was able to cast it against what should have been the believing Israel. Like Amos, who from outside of the Kingdom became a prophet to the Kingdom, the Centurion stands as a testament to what real Faith is supposed to be. But, what does this do for the interpretation of Scripture? It beckons us to always being willing to reform our views and theological assessments with scholarship without going completely overboard and allowing our desires to replace the soundness of a Scriptural viewpoint. Finally, it reminds that in Scripture, the story is not just about what is said, but often times what is unsaid.

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Now, for the kicker – here are my expressed view from a post a few years ago.

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Post By Joel Watts (10,111 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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3 thoughts on “The End of Cowardice, or, Do you have the faith of the Centurion?

  1. Excellent post, Joel. What a strange and interesting story…

    The fact that the Centurion risked his station and social standing by visiting Jesus, the town rabble-rouser and curious apparent worker of magicks, for the purposes of healing what we first read as his doulos and then learn is actually his pais says a great deal. When one breaks down the mechanics of the Centurion’s actions and lays it against the cultural mores of the day, it’s clear that the Centurion was going to a potentially perilous length for someone society says shouldn’t and doesn’t matter. The personhood of slaves was non-existent, regardless of the manner in which the status of slave was acquired. But there was more here… There was a love that eschewed the hazards of such a brave and potentially very harmful series of events that led the Centurion to Jesus for healing.

    One of the sticking points in the argument against homosexuals is the fact that Jesus himself never found it significant enough to mention himself. It’s not as if various permutations of same-sex relationships are new, indeed the historical record shows that same sex relationships pre-date Christ by at least several thousand years, and are obviously still in practice today. Had Jesus wanted to comment on the issue, this was the place for him to have done so. This was the perfect opportunity to show mercy while rebuking behavior that we’d later learn via Pastor Fred Phelps that “God Hates.” But he didn’t. Like in real life, the nature of the man’s love was irrelevant to the matter at hand and the exercise of Christ perceived as remarkable faith without caveat.

    I just hope that none of the indoctrinated Southern Baptists with “witness tees” featuring slogans about “The Faith of the Centurion” get wind that the big burly man on their shirt was more than likely a gay dude. On second thought, that would be VERY interesting, indeed.

  2. I think its funny that conservative bible scholars are trying to take away Jesus sparing the life of the adulterous woman under claims that was not written by “John” (whatever that means, right?) and for this passage, they avoid the terms pais and doulos, in the name of saying slaves were just like employees; give me a break. I dont agree with queer hermeneutics, but to deny the original languages, and that there is nothing we can do to earn a miracle from Jesus, is beyond me. Sigh.

  3. Huge and powerful post Joel. I think I would give my answer here in the same way I replied on the Crystal Cathedral post.

    I don’t think as a church we have a right to stand in the way of gay marriage within society. I do however think that we have a right to model marriage within the church as Church leaders that marriage is heterosexual.

    Paul allowed for polygamy within the church – which was legal in society and yet called for the church eldership to model marriage as being between a man and woman.

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