August 10, 2012

Was the Faithful Centurion Gay?

April 11, 2011

This question might immediately make most of my regular readers do somersaults. I nearly did the first time I encountered this argument, told to me by a friend. The argument deals with the faithful Centurion found both in Matthew's gospel and Luke, and deals mainly with Matthew's passage.

And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented." Jesus said to him, "I will come and heal him." But the centurion said, "Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it."

Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, "Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." And Jesus said to the centurion, "Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed." And the servant was healed that very moment. [Matthew 8:5-13; NASB]

Those who read this passage may immediately be wondering, So...where is homosexuality in all of that? The key in the argument is the original Greek of verse 6:

καὶ λέγων κύριε ὁ παῖς μου βέβληται έν τῇ οἰκίᾳ παραλυτικός δεινῶς βασανιζόμενος

The centurion refers to his "servant" with ὁ παῖς (shown in bold). The argument is that the Greek word refers to a homosexual lover. To quote one presentation on this argument:

In the most common English translations, we read this passage and have no idea the context of this encounter between the Roman centurion and Jesus. The key word is "pais", which is often translated as "servant" or "boy". However, most scholars believe that the term pais in the ancient world was a well-known idiom referring to a male concubine (often younger) and an explicitly homosexual relationship.

Kenneth J. Dover, noted authority on ancient Greece, in his book, Greek Homosexuality, tells us the younger partner in a homosexual relationship is called pais or paidika.

Dr. Robert Gagnon, arguably the foremost anti-gay scholar of our day, writes that pais can refer to a partner in a homosexual relationship. He writes:

“boy” (pais) could be used of any junior partner in a homosexual relationship, even one who was fullgrown.” Dr. Robert Gagnon ("The Bible And Homosexual Practice", p. 163, footnote 6.)

In fact, the overwhelming historical evidence (and perhaps, the implication of Luke 7:2, which literally translates as "had much love for") is that the Centurion and his "pais" were likely involved in a homosexual relationship that was very common in the ancient world. It is worth noting that this kind of relationship is one that today, we would almost universally condemn since it was between and older man and a young pubescent boy. However, these relationships were very common. [source]

Let's review the problems with this argument in two parts...

1) The Lexical Game

The "lexical game" is what I refer to when a person takes the various definitions of a word, finds the one they like best, and essentially ignores the context or use of the word in the individual passage. While παῖς is indeed the word used here in Matthew's account of the faithful centurion, it is not the only time the word is used in the Gospels. Some other times the exact form of παῖς is found:

- In Matthew 12:38, in reference to Christ

- In Matthew 17:18, in reference to the young man whom Christ expelled a mute demon from for the boy's father

- In Luke 2:43, in which it talks of "the boy Jesus" staying behind in Jerusalem

- In Luke 8:54, in reference to the young girl whom Christ raises from the dead

- In John 4:51, in reference to the nobleman's child rising at Christ's command

As we can see here, there are at least five other references to παῖς outside of the faithful Centurion story, and none of them deal, within the context, of a young homosexual lover. Some of them are obviously not speaking of a sexual connotation (such as Matt 12:38 and Luke 2:43) while others are not speaking about sexual connotations given the context (such as Matt 17:18 or Luke 8:54).

Does the word even mean a "young homosexual lover"? I'm sure in some parts of ancient Greece it might have been written to refer to such a person, but the question is whether or not it could be understood here. Some comments from various concordances and lexicons regarding the word:

child, maiden, servant, young man. - Perhaps from paio; a boy (as often beaten with impunity), or (by analogy), a girl, and (genitive case) a child; specially, a slave or servant (especially a minister to a king; and by eminence to God) -- child, maid(-en), (man) servant, son, young man. [Strong's Exhaustive Concordance]

Definition - a child, boy, youth [NAS Exhaustive Concordance]

Definition: (a) a male child, boy, (b) a male slave, servant; thus: a servant of God, especially as a title of the Messiah, (c) a female child, girl. []

The Greek term here is παῖς (pais), often used of a slave who was regarded with some degree of affection, possibly a personal servant... [from the NET notes on Matthew 8:6]

As we can see, most basic Biblical sources point to it referring to a young man or "boy." John Gill and A.T. Robertson likewise say that the word παῖς is used here in reference simply to a youth, with no sexual connotations.

2) Does Luke 7:2 mean anything?

The author of the quoted article states that there is "implication" in Luke 7:2, as it says the Centurion "had much love for" his παῖς. However, this is just one translation - in fact, I couldn't find a translation that bore those exact words. The closest translation that comes to it is the KJV with "who was dear unto him."

The Greek word used in Luke 7:2 which the author translates as "have much love for" is actually ἔντιμος, which means "to regard or value highly." Many translations - such as the NASB, NIV, NRSV and ESV - translate the word in Luke 7:2 in such a manner. Various cases of the word are used across the New Testament, including 1 Peter 2:4 and 6, Luke 14:8, and Philippians 2:29. A quick examination of the context of all these passages will show that it does not refer to the kind of eros love which the article's author is trying to promote. When the passage says that the Centurion had much ἔντιμος for his servant, it meant that the Centurion had much respect and care for those who worked under him - not that the Centurion had any kind of sexual interest in him.

One notable factor about Luke 7:2 that those who make the παῖς argument seem to miss is that Luke has the Centurion refer to the boy as δοῦλος. He then uses παῖς in verse 7 in reference to the same person. What does this mean? That δοῦλος and παῖς are being used interchangeably (as some Greek words often are), and therefore the true context of παῖς is a young male servant...not a young homosexual concubine.

All in all, there are no homosexual connotations in this passage. Anyone who argues so is either playing lexical games or reading too much into the text.