Book Review: Those 7 References: A Study of 7 References to Homosexuality in the Bible, by John Dwyer
This is a well-done, brief study of the seven scripture passages that specifically address (or are claimed to address) homosexuality. These texts are sometimes called “the seven clobbers,” because they are often used to “clobber” homosexuals. The author is an Episcopal priest and is married to a same-sex partner, so he obviously has a personal bias (don’t we all?). In spite of that, I think he treats the biblical material seriously, fairly, and with respect.
Dwyer does an excellent job of setting each text within the context of the surrounding biblical material, dealing with issues of translation and transmission, and drawing out the historical and cultural worlds of the biblical writers to shed light on what the original authors were trying to say. This book is a great example of what responsible hermeneutics looks like.
However, some of the conclusions Dwyer draws from his otherwise excellent exegesis of the relevant texts left me less than satisfied. In particular, the overall argument of the book would have been stronger had he addressed some fairly obvious objections. For example, he calls attention to the Episcopal (and Anglican) reliance of the three-legged stood of scripture, tradition, and reason to justify careful scientific inquiry into what the original authors meant. But he fails to even mention the fact that the tradition of the church for almost its entire history has uniformly condemned homosexuality. This is not determinative, of course, but neither should it be glossed over, and it is an objection that could have been reasonably dealt with had he made the effort. Having said that, this is not a polemical book and I don’t think Dwyer is trying to present a comprehensive case. He has chosen to limit his treatment to an analysis of the seven specific texts that are commonly used to argue that homosexuality is a sin and has no proper place in the life of the church.
Dwyer also makes no attempt to set his understanding of these texts within any kind of overarching theology of human sexuality, though to be fair, that would required a much longer book and would have demand much more of the reader. As it stands, this is a short and accessible book providing good coverage of “the seven clobbers” from the perspective of someone who wants the church to be a loving and accepting place for homosexuals without requiring them to deny their sexual orientation, something that effectively shuts many homosexuals out of church and drives them away from Christ.
If you have ever wondered how professing Christians can find homosexuality acceptable in the eyes of God and still claim to take the Bible seriously, this book gives as good an answer to that question as you are likely to find. Whether you find the answer convincing is another matter.