In discussions of homosexuality and the Bible, sexual revisionists sometimes claim that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, and consequently that it must not have been an important issue to him. (We’ll call this the Argument from Silence on Homosexual Behavior – or just “The Argument from Silence” for short.) Why, then, do Christians who affirm the historic Christian teachings regarding human sexuality oppose homosexuality?
There are multiple lines of response to this revisionist objection, including pointing out that we don’t know Jesus never said anything on the topic, we just don’t have a record of it, or by emphasizing Jesus is God, and that the rest of scripture is inspired by God too.
I think one of the most obvious rebuttals to this Argument from Silence is simply that Jesus also didn’t tell people not to beat their wives or have sex with animals. Jesus not addressing a particular topic doesn’t mean the topic isn’t important – he simply had no need to address it, because everyone already knew the Levitical law there. He was a first century Jew, living in Israel, talking to experts in the law. Saying “Men shouldn’t have sex with men, and women shouldn’t have sex with women” would have been completely unnecessary, and would have made everyone wonder why on earth he even brought it up. It was a settled issue at that point, and no one was campaigning for it. So why try to fix what’s not broken?
Some people, not content to just accept the obvious reason why Jesus didn’t teach on homosexuality, have attempted to justify their position by claiming that Jesus did have the opportunity and reason to say something if he were opposed to homosexual behavior, because Jesus encountered someone who had a gay lover – specifically, the centurion in Matthew 8 and Luke 7. It is alleged that παῖς (“pais”), which is the Greek word used to describe the centurion’s servant, implies a young man involved in pederasty with the centurion.
However, there is nothing in the text that indicates that there is a homosexual relationship in view here. The word “pais” doesn’t carry that connotation. It is helpful to note that it is used interchangeably with “doulas,” meaning “servant” or “slave,” in Luke 7. The word “pais” is also used elsewhere throughout the Gospels to indicate those who are clearly not involved in pederasty. For example: The children slaughtered by Herod who are under the age of 2 in Matthew 2, children in the temple in Matthew 21, God’s servants Israel and David in Luke 1, the girl Jesus heals in Luke 8, the boy out of whom Jesus casts a demon in Luke 9, the servants of the Good Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, and even Jesus himself in Matthew 12 and Luke 2 (not to mention twice in Acts 3)! Yes, it is amazing what one can learn with a concordance.
The upshot is that there is no reason whatsoever to suppose that there was a homosexual relationship of any kind occurring between the centurion and his servant. In fact, we actually have reason to conclude that the relationship in question wasn’t homosexual in nature. This becomes apparent from the statement in Luke 7:
When he [the centurion] heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave. When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this to him; for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue.”
That’s a very strong statement. Romans weren’t usually well thought of by the Jews, particularly by the religious leaders and teachers of the law (which, from the geographical context near Capernaum, we can assume were involved). Whether or not they were religious leaders (and the term here, literally “presbyters,” suggests they were), they gave him high praise, claiming that he loved their nation and that he was worthy of healing. That is not at all a small thing, since we do know enough about 1st Century Judaism to know that homosexuality was prohibited.
The Jewish elders were in a good position to know whether this centurion was a homosexual, and whether his “servant” he wanted healed was as well. He was clearly close enough to them that they were willing to be advocates on his behalf. It is consequently difficult to see why they would have such a good view of him if they thought of him as being involved in a relationship they considered to be grotesque. On the other hand, we must ask if the centurion was, in fact, a “God-fearer” in Judaism – a person who admired Judaism and the Jews but had not converted to Judaism. It is unlikely that he would have had a favorable view a religion that explicitly condemned his sexual preferences – much less that he would donate a considerable sum of money to build a synagogue for such a religion!
To sum up, the argument from Jesus’s silence fails to be even remotely plausible, since Jesus wouldn’t need to have repeated what everyone knew and no one challenged. The argument doesn’t get any stronger when the Centurion in Matthew 8 and Luke 7 is brought up, both because the wording and the context never imply a homosexual relationship, and because there are positive reasons to think that the centurion’s relationship to his servant was not homosexual in nature.