I was recently sent a pamphlet written by former Florida appellate judge Robert P. Smith titled “On Pressing the Apostle Paul: Attesting the Pastoral and Prophetic Vision of the Episcopal Church.” According to its author, this curiously named essay, written in 2006, “picks up the response [to the Anglican Communion] where our eminent scholars [who wrote To Set Our Hope on Christ] left it, free of the caution they seemed to exhibit in their answering for the whole Episcopal Church. Smith argues that (1) the Apostle Paul had a cultural prejudice against same-sex relations that was not really based on religion and that (2) modern biblical translations have exaggerated Paul’s anti-gay position.
“On Pressing the Apostle Paul” offers some very interesting arguments, but they are unlikely to move the quasi-fundamentalist “biblical Anglicans,” and they are unnecessary to convince liberals that Paul was either mistaken or has been misinterpreted. But there are, no doubt, many moderate Anglicans who find it difficult to resist the assertion that the Bible condemns homosexual activity, even in the absence of rigorous support of such an assertion. For these people, the Smith essay can be an eye-opener.
Smith contends that Paul’s disapproval of homosexual activity is not justified by an appeal to Jewish law or to “natural” law. Instead, Paul simply assumes that women are inferior to men and that sex properly involves the penetration of a socially inferior person by a socially superior one. A man who assumes a “feminine” role, whether in his general behavior or in a sex act, fails in his duty to uphold the proper masculine domination of women.
Modern translators of the Bible, Smith argues, have downplayed Paul’s misogyny, but, in the process, have misrepresented Paul’s attitude toward homosexuality.
It is pointless to try to restate Smith’s reasoning here. One needs the details provided in the essay to fully appreciate his argument. Suffice it to say that an unbiased reader is likely to come away from “On Pressing the Apostle Paul” with an increased appreciation for the pitfalls of translation and possibly a bit of skepticism regarding the phrase “the Word of the Lord” declared after a scripture reading. Increased skepticism about the notion of “homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture” is another likely outcome of an unbiased reading of “On Pressing the Apostle Paul.”
Robert Smith’s essay in a PDF file intended to be printed as a 24-page stapled booklet can be found here. A PDF file with pages in sequential order can be found here. The author can be reached at the e-mail address given in the essay.