Jesus of Nazareth lived in a cultural context highly influenced by Greek and Roman tradition. There is a story in the gospels of Matthew (8:5-13) and Luke (7:1-10) that most certainly illustrates pederasty as not having a negative value in Jesus's thought. Most versions of the Bible are not accurate in their translation of the story of the centurion and his servant "boy." Most translators just use the term "servant" or "slave," leaving the implication of an adult. However, the Greek word used is the same as a youth in a homosexual relationship with a man (or a pederastic relationship). Biblical scholars believe that Matthew and Luke basically tell the same story taken from a common source, known as the Q source. Matthew's story reads as follows:
When Jesus arrived in Capernaum, a Roman army captain came and pled with him to come to his home and heal his servant boy (italics added) who was in bed paralyzed and racked with pain. [Note: Luke's version adds that the servant boy was very dear to him.]
"Yes," Jesus said, "I will come and heal him."
Then the officer said, "Sir, I am not worthy to have you in my home; (and it isn't necessary for you to come). If you will only stand here and say, 'Be healed,' my servant boy will get well! I know, because I am under the authority of my superior officers and I have authority over my soldiers, and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave boy, 'Do this or that,' and he does it. And I know you have authority to tell his sickness to go——and it will go!"
Jesus stood there amazed! Turning to the crowd he said, "I haven't seen faith like this in all the land of Israel! And I tell you this, that many Gentiles (like this Roman officer), shall come from all over the world and sit down in the Kingdom of Heaven with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And many an Israelite——those for whom the Kingdom was prepared——shall be cast into outer darkness, in the place of weeping and torment."
Then Jesus said to the Roman officer, "Go on home. What you have believed has happened!" And the boy was healed that same hour!
(The Way: The Living Bible)
Since pederastic relationships were so common and accepted in the ancient world of Jesus, it is likely that, as the story indicates, Jesus himself had no problem with the practice of pederasty. In fact, Jesus was deeply impressed with the Roman army captain and states, "Nowhere, even in Israel, have I found such faith." From what we know, the relationship of the army captain to his beloved servant boy was probably as a mentor and educator into the world of manhood, as well as sexual. His role would be to introduce the young man to people who would later help him in his advancement, and the captain would teach him how to be a good citizen. It was probably also assumed that when the servant boy got older he would take his place in the world as a heterosexual (or bisexual) man, have a family, and initiate a new boy lover. Increasingly, however, the Romans became uncomfortable with the aristocratic and ruling class having their young men in this relationship and instead assigned young slaves to the pederastic relationship.
This increasing discomfort with pederasty may account for the view of Paul in the New Testament. In his letter to the Romans (1:27), Paul writes, "And the men, instead of having a normal sex relationship with women, burned for lust for each other, men doing shameful things with other men." Many biblical scholars believe that Paul is referring to the practice of pederasty in this passage, in that the Greek phraseology used in this verse is the same used to describe the pederastic relationship. He wanted to make the new religious expression based on Jesus Christ very distinct from Roman and Greek practices, so he would attack those customs and practices he felt to be alien.
Today, we would refer to the practice of pederasty as pedophilia or, in the case of early adolescence, ephebophilia. In the context of our culture, this is considered harmful and damaging to individual development. Indeed, in the context of our culture, this is often true. This illustrates how important cultural context is to understanding any particular sexual behavior. There seems to be nothing inherently harmful or damaging in sexual acts alone, but rather harmfulness and damage must be interpreted within the context of the way each particular behavior is seen in each culture and in terms of its long-range effects on the individual.
Duberman, M.B., M. Vicinus, and G. Chauncey, Jr. Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past. New York: New American Library, 1989.
Ford, C.S., and P.A. Beach. Patterns of Sexual Behavior. New York: Harper Colophon, 1951.
Haeberle, E.J. The Sex Atlas. New York: Seabury Press, 1978.
Kloppenborg, J.S., et al. Q Thomas Reader. Sonoma, Calif.: Polebridge Press, 1990.
Lawrence, R.J. The Poisoning of Eros. New York: Augustine Moore Press, 1989.
Murphy, F.J. The Religious World of Jesus: An Introduction to Second Temple Palestinian Judaism. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991.
Strong, B., and C. DeVault. Understanding Our Sexuality. 2d ed. St. Paul: West, 1988.