Bible Translations: Translation Philosophy, Textual Criticism, & Source Documents

Shane Angland (MA Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary), joins the podcast this week to talk about Bible translations and what makes some translations better than others.

Shane is the lead preaching elder at Ennis Evangelical Church in Ennis, Ireland. A native of the west coast of Ireland, Shane served as a missionary in Ukraine with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, and later earned a Masters Degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, where the focus of his studies was on Textual Criticism.

In this episode, Shane explains what Textual Criticism is (and is not), and explains the important elements involved in Bible translation, such as translation philosophy and source documents. He also dispels some common misconceptions about Bible translations, such as that newer translations remove content from the Bible, or that they are less accurate than older translations.

Shane and I have some common friends in Ireland and Ukraine, and it was great getting to know him and listening to him share his knowledge on this subject.

See also the series of articles on Bible translation I posted here years ago:

  1. Making Sense of Different Bible Translations – Part 1
  2. Making Sense of Different Bible Translations – Part 2: the King James Bible
  3. Making Sense of Different Bible Translations – Part 3: Gender-Inclusive Language and the NIV

You can listen to this week’s episode by clicking this link, or by listening in the embedded player below: Making Sense of Bible Translations – with Shane Angland

Making Sense of Bible Translations – with Shane Angland Theology for the People

Shane Angland (MA Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary), joins the podcast to talk about Bible translations and what makes some translations better than others. Shane is the lead preaching elder at Ennis Evangelical Church in Ennis, Ireland. A native of the west coast of Ireland, Shane served as a missionary in Ukraine with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, and later earned a Masters Degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, where the focus of his studies was on Textual Criticism. In this episode, Shane explains what Textual Criticism is (and is not), and explains the important elements involved in Bible translation, such as translation philosophy and source documents. He also dispels some common misconceptions about Bible translations, such as that newer translations remove content from the Bible, or that they are less accurate than older translations. If you’ve benefited from this episode, please share it online, and leave a rating and review for this podcast in the Apple Podcast store. Also, visit the Theology for the People Blog at nickcady.org.

The British Museum, the Louvre, & the Bible

The British Museum in London is one of the greatest museums in the world. It includes the Roseta Stone, which broke the code to reading Egyptian Hieroglyphics, as well as Easter Island statues, and many things of biblical significance. It’s also completely free to the public!

My daughter Hope in front of one of the winged bulls of Assyria at the British Museum

There are so many things of biblical significance in the British Museum that there are entire books dedicated to the subject, such as:

The British Museum: Depiction of the Capture of Lachish from Sennacharib’s Palace in Nineveh

In 2 Kings 18, the Bible tells the story of how Sennacharib, King of Assyria attacked Hezekiah, King of Judah, and that at this time, Sennacharib captured the city of Lachish (2 Kings 18:13) and made it his base of operations in Judah (2 Kings 18:14).

Sennacharib, 2 Kings 19 tells us, tried to intimidate Hezekiah into submission and sent him a threatening letter. The Prophet Isaiah encouraged Hezekiah to defy Sennacharib, and he prophesied Sennacharib’s fall.

In the British Museum, you can see sculptures and base reliefs from Sennacharib’s palace in Nineveh (the capital of Assyria, the same place where Jonah went and against which Nahum prophesied), which depict the Assyrian capture of Lachish.

Interestingly, another item which is held in the British Museum is the annals of Sennacharib, which describe his conquest of much of Judah. These annals mention how he made Jerusalem pay tribute to him (recorded in 2 Kings 18), but while they chronicle the many cities he succeeded in conquering, Jerusalem is left out of the list – which is exactly what the Bible says in 2 Kings 18-19.

The importance of these artifacts, in other words, is that the corroborate the fact that the Bible is historically accurate.

Here are the sermons I preached on 2 Kings 18 & 19 in our “Desiring the Kingdom” series:

The Louvre: The Moabite Stone

In a previous post I showed some of the famous paintings in the Louvre Museum in Paris which wrongly depict Bible stories: Bible Stories Gone Wrong in the Louvre

But the Louvre is more than just an art museum, it is also an archaeology museum, including items of incredible significance, such as Hammurabi’s Code and Tutankhamen’s sarcophagus.

There are also items in the Louvre of biblical relevance, such as the “Moab Stone,” which bears one of the oldest written references to the Kingdom of Israel. It mentions specifically a victory which Moab had in a battle against the Israel, whom it refers to as the House of Omri.

This parallels a story found in 2 Kings 3.

Omri was the sixth king of Israel, and the most famous king to come from the House of Omri was Ahab, who famously tried to convert Israel into a pagan nation, with Baal worship as its official religion. Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, in which God sent fire from heaven upon a sacrifice as a sign that He alone is God.

Another important element of the Moabite Stone is that it refers to Yahweh as the God of Israel.

These and other items in these museums help us to see that the Bible is trustworthy and accurate, and as archaeologists make more discoveries, those discovers validate, rather than contradict, the historicity of the Biblical accounts.

Bible Stories Gone Wrong in the Louvre

After our recent trip to London for my masters graduation, we took the train to Paris, and during our time in Paris we spent a day at the Louvre museum, which (along with the British Museum in London) is full of items of biblical relevance.

However, in the extensive Italian painters section, I came across several famous paintings which depict biblical scenes, albeit incorrectly.

The Wedding at Cana

This famous painting by Paolo Veronese is one of the highlights of the Louvre, and is held in the same room as the Mona Lisa. It depicts the famous scene from John 2 in which Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding in the town of Cana.

The only problem with this painting is that it is set not in a small Jewish village in Galilee, but in a large Greco-Roman city reminiscent of Athens. Cana was a small town, a village even, right north of the border between Samaria and the region of Galilee.

I like this painting though, especially how there’s a ton of interesting stuff going on in it, and Jesus is just chillin’ in the midst of it.

The Pilgrims at Emmaus

This is one of my favorite stories in the Gospels, and a key passage in understanding Christ-Centered hermeneutics, as Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to understand the Scriptures, showing them how all of the things written in the Books of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets (i.e. the entire Old Testament) was about him (see Luke 24:13-49)

However, you might notice the beautiful Alps in the background of this painting – which would make sense if Jesus had been in northern Italy rather than in Jerusalem. Apparently, although Titian was a great painter, he had never been to Israel, because then he would have known that there are no snow-capped mountains visible from the Judean desert near Jerusalem.

This is of course not to mention the anachronism of the servant’s clothes, which were not in style until at least 1000 years after the events recorded in Luke 24.

Saint Stephen Preaching in Jerusalem

This painting by the Italian master Carpaccio, is one of my favorites, because it shows that it’s possible to be good at painting, but bad at history.

It depicts the story found in Acts 7, in which Stephen, a deacon in the early church, preached to a crowd in Jerusalem right before they stoned him to death for his faith in Jesus, making him the first martyr of the Christian faith.

However, you might notice that Carpaccio’s depiction of Jerusalem has it filled with minarets: towers attached to mosques from which the Muslim call to prayer is heralded. Furthermore, notice the many people in turbans, the traditional dress of Muslim men in the Middle East.

At the time of Carpaccio, Jerusalem was indeed full of mosques and muslims. However, Islam wasn’t invented until over 600 years after the events which took place in Acts 7! In the 1st Century A.D. there were no muslims and no mosques in Jerusalem!

Sometimes people criticize Christian pop music and movies as being subpar, but these paintings show us that it is possible to make great art that is quite inaccurate from a biblical perspective.

9/11 – 20 Years

Today marks 20 years since the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Those of us who are old enough to remember it can all remember where we were when it happened, but those who are younger have all felt its effects. 

Personally, I remember that it was a Tuesday and I was working for Christy Sports in Golden, Colorado in the snowboard shop, and we had the day off to attend a seminar hosted at the Burton Snowboards Colorado headquarters in Denver, so I was parked behind the shop waiting for a colleague to meet me so we could drive down together. He was over an hour late. This was before most people had cell phones, so I just had to stand and wait for him. When he arrived, he told me what had happened. I remember the confusion of that day; at first, people assumed it was an accident, until it became clear it was an attack. 

We went to Denver and instead of a seminar, we ended up watching the TV reports at the Burton headquarters. Downtown Denver was absolutely empty, as no one knew if there were going to be more attacks. 

I went home, and my dad was there; he worked at the Denver Mint, and since that was a federal building, it was considered a high risk for attack.

At this point in September, I had just returned home from my first trip to Hungary, after which I felt called to move to Hungary, and was making plans to go there in January. I did end up moving to Hungary in January, and one of the ministries I worked in was a refugee camp.

The camp was in an abandoned Soviet military base which had been reopened in 2006 by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) to house refugees from the Bosnian war, and had then been kept open to house refugees from Kosovo. Around the time I came, there were still many refugees from former Yugoslavia, but quickly the camp filled with over 2000 Afghan refugees.  

While working in this camp, I got to know my now wife, Rosemary, and together we saw many people from Afghanistan, Iran, Kosovo, and other muslim-majority countries become Christians. As these people came to Europe to escape the conflicts back home, many of them had the opportunity to read the New Testament and hear the gospel, and meet Christians, and attend a church for the first time in their lives – and God used His Word to change their hearts and their lives.

My heartfelt condolences go out to the grieving families whose lives were changed when over 2,997 people lost their lives on September 11. I pray that the Lord would be their comfort and that they would find in Jesus the hope of the resurrection and life everlasting.

May we also honor and thank the first responders and emergency workers who served that day and in the weeks following. May we pray for our medical workers today as well as they serve the hurting and sick in the midst of this current crisis.

Let us also be in prayer for those who served in the military over the past 20 years, and for the families of those who lost family members in service. And let us pray as well for the Afghan people and the Afghan Christians who are now suffering under Taliban rule today.

Will Suicide Send You to Hell?

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 says:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

This text has been used, particularly by the Roman Catholic Church to say that if a person commits suicide, they go directly to Hell – no passing Go, no collecting $200.

“Mortal Sins” and “Venial Sins”

Using these verses as justification, the Roman Catholic Church labels suicide a “mortal sin,” for which no atonement can be made, as opposed to “venial sins” which a person may be cleansed of through paying for them via suffering in purgatory.

First of all, the entire idea of mortal and venial sins goes contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture, which states that there is only one unforgivable sin, which is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (click here for an explanation of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit). Furthermore, it is only Jesus who atones for our sins, we cannot atone for any of our sins, and to claim that we can “pay” for our own sins through our sufferings is to negate and minimize the work of Jesus on the cross, and say that Jesus suffered and died in vain.

The key passage used by the Roman Catholic Church to justify this belief in mortal vs. venial sins is 1 John 5:16-17. I have written about those verses and what they mean here: What is the “Sin Unto Death,” and Why Should We Not Pray for It?

“You” and “Y’all”

In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, Paul uses the plural form of “you” – in other words, he is saying: “All y’all (together) are the temple of God.”

What’s important to remember about this passage, is that Paul the Apostle is writing to the Corinthian church about their church. Some in the church were harming and tearing apart the church with their divisive attitudes and actions, and Paul is giving them a stern warning that if anyone destroys the temple of God (the Church which He loves), God will take that personally and not let is slide.

Later in 1 Corinthians, in chapter 6, Paul once again speaks of the Temple of God in relation to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but there he does so in regard to the individual believer. This passage in 1 Corinthians 3, however, is not written to or about the individual believer, but to the church about the church. So the point of the passage is not about suicide at all, but it is a warning to those who would harm and tear apart the church with their words and actions.

When Christians Were Killing Themselves

Until the Edict of Milan, AKA the Edict of Tolleration was issued in 313 AD, Christianity’s status in the Roman Empire was that of religio illicita, an “illicit” or illegal religion (as opposed to Judaism, which held the status of religio licita)During this time, Christians throughout the Roman Empire experienced waves of persecution, usually dependent on the attitudes of local authorities, although there were times when persecution was the official policy of the entire empire – such as during the reigns of Nero and Diocletian. Christians also faced persecution outside the Roman Empire.

During this period, many Christians were martyred, and martyrs were highly regarded and respected as those who had been willing to pay the ultimate price for their faith. In fact, martyrdom was so highly regarded, that people began to seek it out and desire it, as a way of expressing their devotion to Jesus. Ignatius of Antioch, for example, wrote about his desire to die as a martyr.

But some people took it even further. Jerome writes about a young woman named Belsilla who flagellated herself so much that she died from her self-imposed injuries. Another woman, Agathonike, upon witnessing the execution of a bishop by burning, also threw herself onto the fire, declaring “this is the meal that has been prepared for me.” She died in the flames, even though she had not been arrested nor charged. There are other accounts of Christians volunteering to be martyred even though they were not even being sought by the authorities. [1]

The Donatists, who considered themselves particularly hard core and dedicated (and looked down on those they considered less-committed, even to the point of questioning their salvation), greatly desired to show their devotion by being martyred. Some Donatists even went to the point of simply killing themselves to show how spiritual they were, i.e. how much they were not attached to this life and how much they desired to depart this world and be with Christ.

The Response of the Church

Seeking martyrdom and committing suicide became such a big issue with the Donatists in particular that it threatened the credibility, and even the existence of the church in their area of North Africa.

Judaism had always considered suicide to be sinful, whereas in pagan Roman culture it was considered an acceptable way to exit this life, and was practiced mostly by the wealthy, in part because slaves were not allowed to commit suicide since their lives did not belong to them, but rather to their masters.

It was Augustine of Hippo, a native of North Africa himself, who took up the challenge of addressing this issue and clarifying Christian thinking on this subject. In his book ‘The City of God’, Augustine considered what the Bible has to say about suicide and weighed various arguments for and against suicide. His conclusion was that suicide is always wrong as it is a violation of the sixth commandment (“Thou shall not murder”), and is never justified even in extreme circumstances. This became the official position of the church. [2]

And yet…

Just because 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 isn’t talking about suicide, it must be noted that suicide is clearly a sin and is never the answer.

Help is available for those who are struggling. You can contact me directly here, or call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Hotline if you need someone to talk to immediately: 1-800-273-8255.

Video

In this week’s Sermon Extra, Mike and I discussed this topic, as it came up in our current series: 1 Corinthians: Grace & Truth at White Fields Church.

The Offense of the Cross: Cicero, the Early Christians, and Us

Boulder County & the Flatirons

The symbol of the cross is universally recognized today as the symbol of Christianity; for many in the Western world it is familiar and welcome. However, in the ancient world, in the first century AD, when this symbol was first used by early Christians, it was downright scandalous.

Paul the Apostle refers to the message of the cross as foolishness to the Greeks, a stumbling block to the Jews, and an offense to all. (1 Corinthians 1:22-23, Galatians 5:11)

The reason is because, for people in the ancient world, the cross was a terrible instrument of torture and execution. 

The thing that made crucifixion so terrible is that it didn’t kill you right away; it was designed to make a person suffer as much as possible, for as long as possible. And for this reason, crucifixion was reserved for only the very worst kinds of criminals.

Because of how terrible crucifixion was, the Romans did not allow their own citizens to be killed by crucifixion, no matter how dastardly their crimes; only slaves and those without rights were allowed to be crucified, since it was exceedingly inhumane. 

Cicero, the Roman statesman and philosopher said that crucifixion was so horrible, that the word “cross” should never be mentioned in polite society.

Let the very word ‘cross,’ be far removed from not only the bodies of Roman citizens, but even from their thoughts, their eyes, and their ears.

Cicero, 106-43BC, Pro Rabirio Postump 16

For the Jewish people in particular — to be crucified on a cross was considered a fate worse than death, because according to the Jewish Scriptures, anyone who was killed by being hanged upon a tree was considered “accursed”. (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)

And so, just imagine if you told someone back then that you were a follower of Jesus — a man who had been crucified… That person would have thought: “Whoa… Even if he was innocent, that’s probably something you should keep to yourself! That’s not something you want to go around advertising, because: that’s humiliating!”

But: here’s what’s interesting: for the early Christians, the fact that Jesus had been killed upon a cross was not something they tried to hide. Instead, the symbol of the cross became the main symbol they used to identify themselves – which is surprising, because the cross was generally consider to be the ultimate symbol of humiliation and defeat.

Furthermore, the message that the early Christians embraced and wanted to share with the world was what they called, “the message of the cross,” and “the good news of Christ, and him crucified.”

Paul the Apostle knew that the message of the cross was difficult for many people to accept. For the Jews, the idea of a crucified Messiah was a stumbling block. For Greeks, the idea that you could be saved through the death of an executed Jew seemed ridiculous. The idea that God would come to Earth and allow himself to be beaten, mocked, rejected and crucified, seemed completely unreasonable. They couldn’t wrap their heads around it. The Greek gods made humans serve them; they didn’t serve people – and they would never sacrifice themselves to save guilty people. 

Just as the message of the cross ran contrary to popular thinking back then, the message of the cross also runs contrary to popular thinking today.

The message of the Cross requires you to admit that you have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and that you are powerless to save yourself. This is why Paul talks about “the offense of the cross” (Galatians 5:11)

The message of the cross offends our sensibilities and our pride by telling us that we are sinners who need a Savior, and that we cannot save ourselves. In order to receive this salvation, you have to humble yourself before God.

Another part of the offense of the Cross is that the message of the gospel is exceedingly simple. Many people in Corinth seemed to believe that in order to “find God,” you had to be really smart, or exceedingly “good.” And yet, God chose to bring salvation to the world in a way that was so simple that even  even a child could understand it, and in a way that it was available to people who had lived immoral lives. 

Another part of the “offense of the cross” is that God says that His reason for saving you was not because you are better than other people. Salvation is simply an act of God’s grace: completely undeserved and totally unearned. You can’t take credit for it. The message of the cross leaves no room for pride or arrogance.

And when you really embrace the message of the cross, on the one hand it forces you to be incredibly humble, but on the other hand it fills you with an incredible sense of confidence – because the message of the Cross is that God loves you, and He has acted to redeem you, and if you have put your faith in what Jesus did for you, then God has sealed you and made you His own: He has adopted you as His Child, and placed His Spirit inside of you — and therefore you can be incredibly confident, knowing that you have nothing to fear in life or in death because God has promised that He will cause all things to work together for your ultimate good and for His ultimate glory.

For more on the message of the cross, see this sermon titled, “The Message of the Cross & the Power of God”

The Formation of the New Testament Canon: Part 2 – Recognition, Disputes & the Gospel of Thomas

In Part 2 of this two-part series, Mike and I discuss the process through which the New Testament was recognized as Holy Scripture.

At what point were the books of the New Testament recognized as Scripture? Who was involved in that process, or who made that determination? What about the disputed books, and why was the Gospel of Thomas kept out of the Bible?

We answer these questions and more in this episode. (Click here to listen to Part 1.)

Click this link to listen this week’s episode, or listen in the embedded player below: The Formation of the New Testament Canon: Part 2 – Recognition, Disputes & the Gospel of Thomas

The Formation of the New Testament Canon: Part 2 – Recognition, Disputes & the Gospel of Thomas Theology for the People

In Part 2 of this two-part series, Nick and Mike discuss the process through which the New Testament was recognized as Holy Scripture. At what point were the books of the New Testament recognized as Scripture? Who was involved in that process, or who made that determination? What about the disputed books, and why was the Gospel of Thomas kept out of the Bible? We answer these questions and more in this episode. Make sure to check out the Theology for the People blog as well.

The Formation of the New Testament Canon: Part 1 – Nicaea, Constantine, & Conspiracy Theories

Last week Mike and I sat down to discuss some common misnomers and conspiracy theories regarding the formation of the New Testament canon.

What actually happened in Nicaea? Did Constantine play a role in the formation of the New Testament canon? Who was King James?

Did anything happen that should cause us concern that the Bible we have is not trustworthy, or has been tampered with?

We answer those questions in Part 1 of our 2-part episode on the formation of the New Testament canon. Click here to listen, or listen in the embedded player below: The Formation of the New Testament Canon: Part 1 – Nicaea, Constantine, & Conspiracy Theories

The Formation of the New Testament Canon: Part 1 – Nicaea, Constantine, & Conspiracy Theories Theology for the People

In Part 1 of this two-part episode, Nick and Mike discuss some common misnomers and conspiracy theories regarding the formation of the New Testament canon. What happened in Nicaea? Did Constantine play a role in the formation of the New Testament canon? If so, is there anything we should be concerned about? Check out the Theology for the People blog as well. 

The Heavenly Audience: What Changed in Heaven When Jesus Died and Resurrected?

Recently this question was submitted via the page on this site where you can Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic:

Based on your knowledge of activity in Heaven what was going on in Heaven prior to the crucifixion and how did it change, if at all after Jesus resurrection? For example, was there joy in the presence of angels over sinners repenting before Jesus died and rose??

Interesting question! Here are my thoughts:

The Sons of God Shouted for Joy

In the Book of Job, when God speaks, God challenges Job by saying this:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? …when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

Job 38:4-7

The “sons of God” mentioned here is a reference to the angels. What this is telling us is that at the creation, the angels were “the audience” who watched and cheered as God created the universe.

The Heavenly Audience

This theme of the angels being an audience, watching the things which happen on Earth, is carried through the Bible.

At the beginning of the Book of Job, we read about Satan asking for permission from God to afflict someone. The picture we get from that scene is that those in Heaven are aware and attentive to the happenings of people on Earth.

Not only are those in Heaven aware and attentive to what is happening on Earth, they seem to be emotionally invested in what is happening on Earth. For example, in Revelation 5, we read that when no one was found who could open the seal, there was weeping in Heaven until it was revealed that the Lamb was worthy to do so.

The whole picture of Revelation is that John the Apostle gets a preview of Heaven. Starting in chapter 4, John is caught up to Heaven, and what he describes is how, from that vantage point, he joins the angels in watching the happenings down below on Earth. The picture, therefore, is of Heaven being aware of and attentive to, as well as emotionally invested in, the happenings here on Earth.

The Stadium and Those in the Stands

In Hebrews 12:1 we read:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Hebrews 12:1

The picture the writer is painting here is that of a stadium, and Greco-Roman competitions, such as the Olympics. He describes life as being a race, a theme which Paul also discusses, using similar language drawing from Greco-Roman athletic competitions.

But here the writer highlights a particularly interesting aspect of those competitions: as we run this race, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. The “witnesses” are those who were mentioned in the previous chapter, Hebrews 11, where we are told about those who preceded us in the faith – the “Old Testament saints,” as they have been called.

The image the writer is invoking is that of a stadium, in which the stands all around us are full of those who have preceded us in the faith, and who are now “cheering us on” as we run the race that is set before us.

The Angels and the Saints

What we are left with, therefore, are two groups: the angels and the saints. Both groups are apparently aware and attentive to what is happening on Earth, and are rooting for us and eagerly awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promises.

What Changed in Heaven When Jesus Died and Resurrected?

The word angel literally means “messenger” in Greek, and this aligns with what the Bible tells us about angels; that they are “ministering spirits.” It would seem that the angels have been and still are aware, attentive to, and emotionally engaged in what is happening on Earth.

Thus, to answer your question, I do think there was joy in the presence of the angels over sinners repenting – prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The one thing which changed when Jesus died and resurrected, is that those who were kept in Abraham’s Bosom awaiting the redemption of their souls were released from Sheol and taken to be in God’s presence.

I have written a detailed explanation of this here: Did People Go to Heaven Before Jesus’ Death and Resurrection?

So, what changed is that from that point, not only the angels, but those who had died in faith were brought into Heaven.

Thanks for the great question, and God bless you!

Did Jesus Heal a Centurion’s Same-Sex Partner?

A while back a friend shared a TikTok video with me in which a young guy was teaching something from the Bible which he portrayed as something people had overlooked, or about which they had been unaware, which could be potentially paradigm-shifting.

What this young man claimed is that the gospels tell us that Jesus healed a centurion’s servant, but that the word used there for “servant” actually means a same-sex lover. Thus, his conclusion was that by doing this, Jesus essentially affirmed and condoned, rather than condemned, homosexual sexual relationships.

The story of this healing is found in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10, and is about a Roman centurion who comes to Jesus and begs that Jesus heal his servant. Jesus agrees and says he will come to the centurion’s home, but the centurion says that he does not deserve to have Jesus under his roof, and that he has faith that all Jesus has to do is say the word, and his servant will be healed.

Did Jesus Heal a Centurion’s Same Sex Lover?

The word in question is the Greek word “Pais.” Interestingly, the word Pais literally means boy. There is another Greek word for servant, the word doulos, but the word pais was used to designate a young, male servant boy.

Pederasty and Sexual Abuse

As Preston Sprinkle explains in his excellent book, People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, it was common in the Greco-Roman culture of Jesus’ day for homosexual sex to be part of the power differential in a relationship, but only as long as the dominant partner was older, of higher social standing, and in the penetrating role. This is often referred to as pederasty, in which older men would have dominant sexual relationships with teenage boys. Both modern psychology and laws would deem these relationships to be unethical and illegal for multiple reasons, as they are abusive and harmful; not only are they an abuse of power, but these relationships were physically, sexually, and psychologically abusive to the younger victim.

Furthermore, Sprinkle goes on to explain that such relationships in the ancient world were not at all like our modern conception of a gay couple in a loving, consensual, co-equal relationship. For example, the penetrating partner in such relationships was not necessarily considered “gay” or “same-sex attracted,” rather this was an act of subjugating the passive partner and was about asserting power.

Pais Alone Doesn’t Imply a Homosexual Relationship

However, there is actually no indication that this centurion had such a relationship with his servant boy just by use of the word “pais.” While these relationships did exist, to assume that this centurion was sexually abusing his servant boy based on the simple fact that he had a servant boy, would be like reading that a man had a wife and then assuming that he must have abused his wife, because some people do that. It’s a major assumption, in other words, that requires a giant leap that is not indicated by anything in the text.

In fact, Luke uses the word doulos (the general word for servant) to describe this boy (Luke 7:2). Furthermore, of the 24 uses of pais in the Greek New Testament, it is never used of a homosexual relationship. So, the idea that this specific servant boy was being sexually abused by his master is definitely not something that ancient readers would have automatically assumed based on the use of the word pais. Furthermore, since any such relationship would have been abusive in nature, to say that this is an example of Jesus condoning or affirming a homosexual relationship is far-fetched and misguided; certainly no one would argue that Jesus, by healing this servant, was affirming or condoning of the sexual abuse of a minor by an older man in position of power.

Would Jesus have healed a gay person?

Although it is very unlikely that this passage is speaking about the healing of a centurion’s same-sex partner, the question remains: Would Jesus have healed a gay person? I think the answer to this question is also very simple: Yes.

Here’s why I say this: because Jesus’ healing of people never hinged on, or depended on, their level of personal righteousness. When Jesus healed the man born blind, he never brought up that man’s struggle with bitterness, greed, or envy. When Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, he never brought up that man’s struggle with lust. Healing is an act of grace, and grace – by definition – is not something that is earned or merited, it is a gift from a God who gives to undeserving recipients.

The message of the gospel is that God shows grace to sinners, and that’s good news for a sinner like me, and for you as well. As Paul tells us in Romans 2, the kindness of God often leads us to repentance.

Recommended Resources for Further Study

I highly recommend the above mentioned book, Preston Sprinkle’s People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue. Preston addresses the topic of homosexuality with scholarly insight and tons of empathy and love. Furthermore, I recommend Justin Thomas’ online course on Biblical Gender and Sexuality. Justin is the lead pastor of Calvary: The Hill on Capitol Hill in Seattle, Washington, and a fellow leader in Calvary Global Network.