Moltmann’s Biblical Hermeneutic and the Gay Debates

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I’ve shared here previously some of Moltmann’s comments about homosexuality and gay marriage from the Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Moltmann from 2009. I thought his comments were helpful just to illustrate where Moltmann stands on that subject (which calls into question the divisive nature of it in the American church). However, one thing you don’t get from that brief exchange is “how he got there” (i.e. coming to the conclusion that “homosexuality is neither a sin nor a crime”) in terms of his biblical hermeneutic and theological method. Below is another short clip with transcript* where Moltmann reflects on why simply quoting the Bible against LGBT people doesn’t cut it. It’s not exactly an extensive exegesis of the relevant passages (far from it!), but it does seem to give us a clue. For other excerpts that I’ve shared from the Moltmann-Emergent conversation, visit here

Tony Jones: There’s a lot of strife in the American Church, and as I look at it, it almost all boils down to biblical hermeneutic. You may say its about gay marriage, you may say its about whether women should preach, and you may say its about different denominations, and you may peal away the layers and you get down to ‘we just read the bible differently than you do’ and different camps all read it differently. You’ve answered it already, but I just want to hear it reiterated, you are advocated a hermeneutic, a biblical hermeneutic, that is reading what’s closest what’s closest to Christ, reading a passage as it can be closest to Christ. The next question is, how do you, by what criteria, do you determine what is closest to Christ? In what I appreciate, even in the title of your book, ‘Experiences in Theology’, you don’t discount personal experience in developing that hermeneutic.

Jürgen Moltmann: Well, my question to some of the fundamentalists is “Do you really read the Bible?” and the second question is, “Do you really understand what you are reading?” Just to quote the Bible on so-called homosexual-persons is wrong because the term does not appear in the original Hebrew words. And so I can go on into that debate, but we should not leave biblical hermeneutics to fundamentalists who only believe in the fifteen fundamentals and not in the rest.”

For the context of Tony Jones’ question (using a hermeneutic that is closest to Christ), see this post at the PostBarthian. Moltmann’s comments here echo his brilliant lecture on hermeneutics, called “Do You Understand What You Are Reading?” (Seriously, if you haven’t had a chance to give that one a listen yet, do yourself a favor and do so!) There is much that could be said about Moltmann’s approach to the Bible, but I’d like to make two brief comments as to how it is relevant to the gay debates that are raging in the church:

1. The biblical witness on this subject is complicated and comes from a world very different than our own. As Moltmann reminds us in this clip, the word “homosexual” doesn’t appear in the Hebrew (or in the Greek for that matter). There is no simple “the Bible says” answer to this issue. This means that our work is cut out for us to understand both what the biblical writers were addressing, and whether / how this is relevant to the current discussion.

2. Our hermeneutical wrestling with the Scriptures (and also our study of the history of interpretation) gives us an insight into what “has been said”, but from there we must discern what “must be said” (Moltmann talks about this distinction in his lecture). We start with what Scripture and tradition says, but then move to: “What is closest to Christ? What is the Spirit saying on this matter?

*This audio was originally part of the Emergent Village podcast (which disappeared some time last year). It was made available again by Tony Jones last December, and is now mirrored over at the PostBarthian. The above transcript was originally posted by the PostBarthian, which I am re-posting here with minor revision and with his permission.

7 thoughts on “Moltmann’s Biblical Hermeneutic and the Gay Debates”

  1. I really appreciate it when scholars like Moltmann approach this subject from a more evangelical perspective (Bo Sanders did for one of his HBC blogs awhile back; very helpful!). One of the criticisms I have about the emergent community is that they get so wrapped up in progressive theology and scholars they forget how easy it is to simply miscommunicate with the evangelical communities they left. Now, the explanations still don’t sit well with many evangelicals and fundamentalists (which is part of the reason why so many emergents aren’t interested/are burned out on talking to them), but I feel like it helps build bridges a lot easier than just talking over their heads all the time.

  2. Does anybody have a more complete work by Moltmann on the gay debate? Or any other insightful work on this matter.

    I still struggle With the thought of gay marriage,

    As far as i understand things currently is: I don’t struggle to love gays and to accept them as Christians as long as they do not act out on their homosexuality, ie. have gay sex. This probably sounds a bit stupid, even to my own ears, but where do I find a better answer.

    But let’s think about tendency to sin.

    I easily lust after women, and I have a short temper. That does not mean I am sinning, it simply confirms I am human.

    Is there any place in the bible where we can bring this debate in for gays to hold themselves in and/ or not to marry?

    As far as being promiscuous, ie multiple partners, I think the bible is quite clear for both gay or straight. (or am I again being stupid)

    1. To my knowledge Moltmann has not addressed this indirectly in his books. The books I most frequently recommend on this topic are Torn by Justin Lee and A Letter to my Congregation by Ken Wilson.
      Lee is a gay Christian and the highlight for me was hearing his story and being able to empathetically enter into his situation. He also has some helpful insights on the relevant biblical texts and the problems with the ex-gay movement.
      Wilson’s book is pastoral and wrestles with how to effectively minister to these people (sometimes married lesbian couples with children) when they came to his church. He lands on something of a middle position that this is a Rom14 disputable matter and that we should unconditionally accept all LGBTQ people without entering into judgment on them (whether positive or negative). He’s also got a good section on Romans 1 and other “clobber verses” frequently used to proof text against gay relationships.

      1. I’ve heard good things about this book but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I did watch Vines’ video talk about this and found it to be very helpful.

  3. James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, Sexuality was the single book that change my whole thought process in relation to the LGBT debate. It is highly theological and breaks down each and every non-affirming view (usually by Gagnon) with a scriptural rebuttal.

    It is hard for me to say how much Brownson’s work has changed my life. It has allowed me to free myself of the burden of judgement and sinful view of our LGBT brothers and sisters. I was having deep concerns with this topic about a year ago, and this book helped me see the light.

    I still uphold and have a high view of the Christian sexual ethic. I just don’t believe scripture separates Straight from LGBT.


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