Sexuality and Gender
Series: Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 458
- ISBN: 9783161601996
- Published By: Mohr Siebeck
- Published: January 2021
Sexuality and Gender: Collected Essays by William R. G. Loader is a volume on the historical influence of thoughts on sexuality and gender in the world of the New Testament. The primary focus of the book is on sexuality, with gender as a secondary locus. By sexuality Loader does not mean a narrow focus on sexual theory or sexual orientation. He does mean a broader focus on sexuality that includes numerous sub-areas such as orientation, feelings, behavior, and social norms (1). Given Loader’s goal of exploring the world of the New Testament, the book includes four primary sections that range from “Sexuality and the Septuagint” to “Sexuality and the Pseudepigrapha” to “Sexuality and the Dead Sea Scrolls” and finally to “Sexuality and Gender in the Emerging Christian Movement” (Jesus and Paul primarily).
Chapter topics range widely within each section, but there are common themes, including attitudes toward divorce, remarriage, intermarriage, and same-sex relationships, and common understandings of the creation narrative in Genesis. Throughout each chapter, the reader can be confident they will be introduced to significant historical background work from Loader, who is continually painting a picture of the ancient world for the modern reader. The first section on the Septuagint contains chapters primarily interacting with material in Genesis and Proverbs. The second section on the Pseudepigrapha contains a varied group of chapters ranging from Jubilees to the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs to broader thematic examinations. The third section on the Dead Sea Scrolls is the shortest of the book, including only three chapters, and examines attitudes toward sexuality, eschatology and sexuality, and sexuality issues and conflict. The final section on the Christian Movement includes a wide range of topics though much of it centers on divorce, remarriage, and intermarriage.
Now, I intend to highlight several weaknesses and strengths of the book as I further convey its contents. I begin with the negatives. First, while the title appears to indicate a broader range of topics—particularly those related to gender—Loader does not offer much analysis of gender questions (whether that be gender norms, positions, performances, phenomenological features, behavioral traits, self-ascriptions, or roles). While he does note that gender is only a secondary locus of his research, it is rather unfortunate given the contemporary need for such research and the fact that the title of the book would lead one to assume that gender plays a primary role in the text.
Second, since the book is a collection of essays, the material is at times repetitive. For example, there is significant overlap in the text on divorce and remarriage, particularly between chapters 16 and 17, though there is overlap elsewhere too. Third, I found his argument against premarital sexual chastity rather odd. Essentially, Loader contends that premarital chastity does no good in assisting teens and young adults in navigating difficult questions of sexuality. He argues: “we are probably doing more good for humanity by helping young people address these issues than we would be by insisting on premarital chastity, though the result may well end up being the same in many instances” (294). But nowhere is it proved that sexual chastity and answering difficult sexual questions are mutually exclusive. Nor is it convincing, given that he thinks the end results “may well end up being the same.”
Despite these criticisms, I found Loader’s book to be a fascinating and stimulating read overall. There are numerous reasons to praise the work. Consider first the brutal honesty that Loader writes with. He genuinely seeks to allow the ancient text to speak for itself without his personal opinion coloring what the text might mean. He always interrogates the text with a relentlessness that pays massive dividends. For example, his chapter on “Social Justice and Gender” is a model of fair and balanced exegesis. His conclusion is that the New Testament unambiguously condemns same-sex or same-gender relations despite his opinion that these conclusions are ultimately not morally binding. He argues there are only two options: 1) Believe that scripture is fallible and that we ought to break free from its teachings on sexuality; or 2) Believe that scripture is infallible and that we must make the best of the text’s understanding of sexuality and gender (383-85). Now, some may find such a dichotomy false, worth rejecting and arguing against in an attempt to find a via media. That may be possible. But the reason I think Loader’s argument is worthy of such praise is that it is transparent. He doesn’t attempt to interpret the text to his liking. He states his presuppositions. He earnestly handles the text. And he reaches a conclusion. This is a model for how exegesis ought to be done.
As a second example of praise, I found Loader’s argumentation against Robert Gagnon enlightening. He critiques Gagnon’s approach to same-sex relationships as a misreading of the biblical text. Gagnon interprets Romans 1 as prohibiting the action involved and not necessarily the innate thoughts. However, Loader finds this runs contrary to Paul’s “psychological argument” and that Paul is concerned with far more than mere acts (375-76).
In sum, Loader’s Sexuality and Gender is a tremendous resource. He brings a wealth of historical knowledge to the world of the New Testament to understand how those living in that era understood sexuality. Loader is fair, balanced, and honest. However, it is worth noting that his work is highly technical at times—particularly from a linguistic perspective. Those who lack serious training in the ancient languages will struggle mightily to read vast portions of Loader’s work. Despite this, I think it is worth the effort for the interested graduate student with average language skills, and it is essential reading for scholars of sexuality in the New Testament period. One need not agree or disagree with any number of his conclusions to reap a bountiful harvest.
Jordan L. Steffaniak is a PhD student in philosophy at the University of Birmingham, UK.Jordan SteffaniakDate Of Review:March 30, 2022