by Al Maxey

Issue #537 ------- June 28, 2012
To doubt everything and to believe everything
are two equally convenient solutions; both
free us from the necessity of reflection.

Henri Poincaré (1854-1912)

Did Jesus Really Say That?!
Was Jesus Condoning Homosexuality
in His Statement in Luke 17:34?

There are a number of statements made within the pages of the Bible that have puzzled people for centuries. Some are the result of poor theology on the part of those who seek to interpret the passage, others are the result of poor translation by those who sought to convey the original thought (and not always truly understanding authorial intent) in another language to those of different times, places and cultures. There are indeed times when fullness of meaning is "lost in translation" or "confused by cultural dissimilarities." In most such scenarios there is little if any "damage" to eternal truths or principles, although one may be left somewhat confused or conflicted with respect to certain "peripherals" associated with a passage. There are some instances in this interpretive process, however, that can become quite serious because the passage may appear to promote a practice contrary to clearly revealed divine precepts and proscriptions. A good example of this can be seen in the statement by Jesus recorded in Luke 17:34.

Contextually, Jesus is speaking about the coming of the kingdom of God, something which, as He spoke, had past, present and future connotations, as well as both temporal and eternal applications. Some scholars see in this and parallel passages (such as Luke 21; Mark 13; Matthew 24) a reference to the upcoming fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the subsequent demise of the Judaic legal and ceremonial system in 70 A.D., while others view His teaching as far more apocalyptic in nature, with a view to the Parousia at the end of time. Most likely our Lord had aspects of both in mind as He spoke to the people, employing both type and antitype together (an understanding of which can prove helpful in one's interpretation). Regardless of which application one chooses, however, one theme that is consistent throughout, and relevant to each perspective, is: this "coming" will occur when one least expects it, it will be sudden and dramatic and climactic, and thus a sense of urgency must prevail in one's preparation for His appearing (regardless of its ultimate form, time or place). That urgency is impressed on the hearer by our Lord's use of some striking illustrations, including an appeal to "remember Lot's wife" (Luke 17:32) as the day of the Lord's "visitation" fell suddenly upon Sodom and its environs. The plight of this woman is especially relevant as she hesitated and looked back as she fled, which proved to be her undoing. "Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it" (Luke 17:33).

What immediately follows from the lips of the Lord, as recorded by Luke, has been the subject of no little debate over the centuries. Notice Luke 17:34-36 -- "I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left" (King James Version). It should not come as any surprise that a good many people over the years have perceived this passage as being perverse -- two men in bed together, and women "grinding together." It has troubled them that Jesus would bring such images to mind, especially the image of two men together "in bed," and it troubles them even more that they aren't sure how to "explain it all away" in a satisfactory manner. I found it interesting that in a great many commentaries this statement was completely ignored. It was as if the commentators, not knowing what to make of it, chose not to deal with it at all. They just pretended Jesus never said it. Unfortunately, that doesn't make the statement disappear. It is still there, thus it deserves to be dealt with, and in a responsible manner. I don't think any of us really believe Jesus was promoting any kind of sexual perversity. Yet the thought of "two men in one bed" at night, especially in our sexually permissive society, does not bring immediately to mind a wholesome image (and believe me, some within the homosexual community have indeed sought to employ this statement by Jesus to their advantage). So, what is the explanation here? Clearly, there has to be one!

First, let me point out that there is a textual difficulty here. Very, very few translations and versions include verse 36. It is regarded by most biblical scholars as an addition to the original text. Thus, you won't find that passage in most Bibles (although a few have joined with the KJV in including it). Those few who have included it, have placed it in brackets and/or provided a footnote to indicate that the verse was most likely a scribal addition. Dr. Bruce M. Metzger stated that "the manuscript authority" against its inclusion in the text is "weighty," and that it is most likely a "copyist assimilation" of Matt. 24:40, where this statement does appear, and where the statement about the "two men in one bed" does not appear [A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 168]. "Verse 36 is wanting in nearly all the oldest authorities. It was subsequently inserted in this place by copyists from Matt. 24:40" [The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 16, Luke: pt. 2, p. 91]. "The Revised Version omits verse 36 on good authority. ... Some think that it is an interpolation from Matthew since the oldest manuscripts do not contain it; it is omitted by the highest and best critical authorities" [H. Leo Boles, A Commentary on the Gospel According to Luke, p. 339].

Luke 17:35 is also not really a problem for the interpreter, for the "grinding" being done is certainly in no way suggestive of anything perverse, and is only perceived as such by a small number of persons who were "thrown off track and into the gutter" by the "two men in one bed" statement that immediately preceded it, thus suggesting to their inflamed imaginations something inappropriate in the second statement as well. The NIV actually added a word to the text of this verse to help alleviate this misconception -- "Two women will be grinding grain together." The NEB goes even further, identifying the grain as "corn." Although both say more than the actual text, the implication is certainly valid in light of the custom of that time. Also, the parallel passage in Matt. 24:41 is very helpful here, as the women are said to be "grinding at the mill."

The problem, of course, is with the wording of Luke 17:34 -- "I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left" (KJV). Some see the term "taken" as representing the "rapture," with the other person being "left behind." The "taken" one, therefore, would be the one "saved" and "raptured" up to be with the Lord. Thus, IF the "two men in one bed" during the night represent in some way a homosexual relationship, then the argument is that Jesus clearly accepts some of these persons, and will even "take" them into His presence while they are sleeping in a bed with their "significant other" (i.e., while actively engaged in the practice of that life-choice). I think you can perceive why this passage can be a dangerous one if used in this way to promote acceptance of the homosexual agenda.

Most translations and versions render the first part of Luke 17:34 much the same: "two men in/on/upon one bed." One will find some degree of diversity here, however. Some say, "two people" [NIV, CEV, NCV, NLT, the Complete Jewish Bible, and the Easy-to-Read Version, just to name a few], which certainly "eases the mind" of the reader somewhat. A few simply give the number and leave it at that -- "two shall be in one bed" [Wycliffe Bible, Lexham Bible, New Jerusalem Bible, HCSB, ESV]. Of course, some renderings "straighten" the text and let us all off the hook -- "two men will be in the same boat fishing" [The Message]. Fishin', drinkin' beer and talkin' 'bout girls and football. Interesting rendering! In reality, the word "men" does not literally appear in the text; the number "two" stands alone. To the credit of the KJV, this fact is indicated in the text by placing both "men" and "women" in italics (which shows these words were added to the text). So, where did the words "men" and "women" come from?! The Greek number "duo" (two) is indeclinable, and thus not gender specific. So, again, where do we get two "men" and two "women"? The answer lies in the second half of each verse -- "the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left." In verse 34, these two terms appear in the masculine form, while in verse 35 they appear in the feminine form. Thus, we know that men are in view in the former verse, whereas women are in view in the latter. The Greek word for "other" in verse 34, by the way, is "heteros" (I know, I know; but I couldn't resist!).

Some insist that even though the phrase in verse 34 ("the one ... the other") is masculine (while the same phrase in the very next verse is feminine), it should be understood of a man and his wife. True, there is no grammatical grounds for this, but it is less "disturbing" to some who simply can't accept the concept of two men in bed together during the night. Dr. John Gill (1690-1771), an English Baptist pastor, theologian and author, who was a strict Calvinist, wrote in his Exposition of the Entire Bible, "The word 'men' is not in the text, it is only, 'there shall be two in one bed,' and may as well be understood of a man and his wife, since it is not so usual for two men to lie in one bed." Another possibility is that the word translated "bed" may actually be a reference to the "couch" upon which people reclined to eat (the big meal of the day usually being eaten at night). This is the Greek word kline, which means "a couch: for sleep, sickness, sitting or eating; used for reclining at meals" [The New Strong's Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words, p. 1189]. At the "Last Supper," for example, Jesus and His disciples were "reclining" at the table for this Passover meal (this would have been on just such a "couch"). This depicts an intimacy among close companions (John was actually leaning up against Jesus -- John 21:20) which certainly does not necessarily denote anything of a sexual nature (few would suggest Jesus and John were "gay lovers," for example). Frankly, I think there is much to commend this translation of the word, linking the action to close companions at the evening meal, rather than two men sleeping in a bed. Young's Literal Translation, by the way, renders this phrase: "two men on one couch." H. Leo Boles observes, "'Two men on one bed' may be a 'dining couch,' so some think" [A Commentary on the Gospel According to Luke, p. 338]. "The words may be rendered, 'there shall be two upon one couch' -- that is, sitting together at supper, which was also in the night season: it was the custom of the ancients to sit upon beds, or couches, at meals; and they had a bed, or couch, which held two persons only, and was called 'biclinium'" [Dr. John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-Sword]. This was simply part of the culture of that time, although the thought of men reclining upon a couch to eat the evening meal, even leaning up against one another, is rather foreign to our Western and modern thinking. More in keeping with macho thinking today would be two men bass fishing in a boat drinking beer (as per the rendering of The Message, which seeks to convey biblical thoughts and actions in terms consistent with modern thinking and practice). Each, thus, conveys the same message: intimacy of association among close companions.

The point of the passage is simply this -- when the Lord comes in judgment (whether that be the events associated with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. or the events associated with the Parousia at the end of time), that coming will be sudden and it will forever bring a separation between people (even people who were extremely close in life). Some will be "taken," some will be "left behind." This would affect families, friends, fellow laborers, even those within religious fellowships. Some will be saved, some will be lost. This has always been true during times of great conflict (such as would occur when Jerusalem fell), and it will most certainly be the case when the Lord returns to claim His bride. Some will be lifted up to be with Him, some will be left behind to face the consequences of their rejection of Him. "Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all" (Luke 17:26-29). Notice the "eating and drinking" references in both examples. This seems to lend some validity to the thought that Jesus may well have had the dining couch in mind in His next illustration. The point is -- people continue with their lives (eating and working; at the table and in the fields or at the grinding mill), and suddenly the end comes!! Some will be taken, some will be left behind. Thus, be prepared.

"The prepared and unprepared mingle in closest intercourse together in the ordinary walks and fellowships of life when the moment of severance arrives" [Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1014]. This passage is "a warning that the apocalyptic moment reveals ultimate destinies; even those closely associated are separated" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 998]. The Pulpit Commentary refers us (and I believe rightly so) to Paul's comments in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 "where he paints how the faithful servant who is living when the Lord returns in glory will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. The other will be left. Thus, as it has been strikingly observed, 'the beings who have been most closely connected here below shall, in the twinkling of an eye, be parted forever'" [vol. 16, Luke: pt. 2, p. 91]. "Christ is represented as coming 'as a thief in the night' (1 Thess. 5:2) and at a time when no one is expecting Him (Matt. 24:44)" [H. Leo Boles, p. 338]. It will be a day of "awful truth," as one commentator phrased it: a time of rejoicing for those "taken," but a time of great suffering for those "left." Part of that "awful truth" is that some of our loved ones will not be coming with us into the presence of our Lord. May this place a burden on our hearts for their spiritual well-being, so that on that day part of our rejoicing will be to see them lifted up with us. It is with this desired result that our Lord left us this warning (and sacred charge) in this passage.

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

(A 193 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism

(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

Immersed By One Spirit
Rethinking the Purpose and Place of
Baptism in NT Theology and Practice

(A 304 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in the Philippines:

I have been reading all your articles in your Reflections. I really like them because they are helping me learn the Truth. I also use some of them in my lectures. I liked this issue: "True Church, True Name." I have been teaching this here for many years. I found this article so convincing that I am asking your permission for me to reproduce it and distribute it to our brethren here in the Philippines, and particularly to my fellow Filipino preachers, many of whom have no access to computers or the Internet. Keep up the good work, brother, and may God bless you and keep you.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Your Reflections are most refreshing! Thank you for calling the church to wake from their slumber. You remind me so much of Carl Ketcherside (and I say that as a compliment).

From an Elder in Oklahoma:

I want to apologize for being so behind in reading your Reflections. We were in Rwanda visiting our daughter and son-in-law who, along with our four grandkids, are missionaries there. In the "Readers' Reflections" section of Issue #533, a former elder from Texas mentioned anointing a woman with oil. I have also anointed a couple of people with oil, but would very much like to find out how other elders did the anointing. I purchased a small vial of oil from a Christian book store for that very purpose. However, as I've never seen anyone else anoint someone with oil, I really don't know how to do it. I guess I'm looking for pointers. Al, I want to thank you for all the grace-filled, God-inspired writing that you do! By the way, I am the one who had my granddaughter take my picture between you and Edward Fudge at The Tulsa Workshop a few years ago. I love that photo -- two of my favorite authors and me!!

From a Reader in Alabama:

In your last Reflections you wrote the following: "Brethren, we have played this silly sectarian 'name game' far too long. What appears on some sign in front of some building is of very little importance to me anymore. Such self-designations are only markers attesting to diversity of perception and practice among disciples of Christ. What matters to me far more now is the sign of the Spirit within individual disciples -- that's the 'church sign' that truly counts." Bro. Al, all I can say is: you hit the nail on the head!! Good job!

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Please add me to your mailing list. I probably represent a segment of the Church of Christ that is torn between liberalism and legalism. I admire the zeal the legalists have in their pursuit of Truth and fidelity to the Scriptures, yet they so often miss God's love and grace when they attack others who dare to disagree with their narrow views. The liberals, on the other hand, in their pursuit of God's love and unity with others, seem to be too willing to compromise simply to get along. I spent some 20 years in Baptist and Free Methodist circles before returning to our brotherhood. Many in those churches strive to follow Christ, and they do so zealously. It is unmistakable that God is working in their lives. Whether they will be rejected by God at the judgment, I do not know. Some of their theology and practice is different from what I understand the Bible to be saying. And yet, their love of God, as well as their Christian walk, is real. So, I appreciate reading articles (such as yours) from various perspectives, hoping to find a personal balance between the two extremes. It looks to me like your Reflections can be a big help to many of us in doing that!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

You need to go to the Memphis School of Preaching, or somewhere like that, so you can be taught to understand the Scriptures before it is too late for you (if it isn't too late already). You are going to stand before God someday for your teaching. What then?!!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Your study titled "True Church, True Name" was amazing!! Particularly your last paragraph. I also loved your line about not having to be twins to be brothers, just having to have the same father. Thanks for your ministry, brother. May God bless you tremendously this week.

From a Minister/Author in California:

God bless you, Al, for your work. May I have permission to reproduce your poem ("Help Them Be One"), which was in your last Reflections, on my Facebook page? This poem is marvelous!!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Thanks for your excellent article: "True Church, True Name." I completely agree with what you wrote. Concerning names, there is a fairly large congregation called the "--------- Church of Christ" that, a few years ago, changed its name to "--------- Church," dropping the "of Christ." Within six months their attendance increased by 1200 people. To me, that just shows what a stigma is attached to the name "Church of Christ." This is just another problem that "we" have to deal with in our society. I almost wish that our congregation here would do the same thing. Not just to get "numbers," but to help remove the "stigma" associated with the Churches of Christ. There is one more thing: a concern I have, that maybe you can help me with. As you know, many groups are accepting those who are practicing homosexuals as members of their congregations, and some are even becoming priests and preachers. There is a Church of Christ preacher of a large church in the west who has offered to have a joint ministry with an openly homosexual church. What are your thoughts on this?

From a Reader in Alaska:

You nailed it again, brother! I haven't done the proper research to say this definitively, but there is a large body of circumstantial evidence that indicates our version of the doctrine of exclusivity (i.e., "We are the one true church, all others are wrong") can be traced back to Sidney Rigdon, who, as you may know, was an associate of the Campbells before he linked up with Joseph Smith. One of my "bucket list" items is to research just how much cross-pollination there is between the two movements. Again, great job this week on your Reflections ("True Church, True Name").

From a Reader in Texas:

It is interesting to me that when I have asked my fellow members of the Church of Christ if they are saved, the reply I almost always get is, "I hope so!" If "we" are so sure that "we" are the "one true church," why can't we answer "Yes!"?

From a Reader in Michigan:

Speaking of church "names," there are a couple more, such as "church of the firstborn" (Hebrews 12:23), and one of my personal favorites: "the Way" (Acts 9:2; 24:14), which the NIV even capitalizes (how much more "authoritative" can you get? LOL). Pass the Advil, please!

From a Reader in Texas:

Thanks for this wonderful explanation (in your latest Reflections) of the "church," and who we are as members of that church -- the Body. It seems so simple to many of us, yet so difficult for others to grasp the truth of your message. I pray that eventually, with love and patience and lots of prayer, the "Body" will slowly come together, knitted together by His broken body and spilled blood, and that we can finally find fellowship with ALL of the "true church" (His One Body). It was also very nice to be able to follow your family vacation back east through your Facebook posts and photos. Al, I am very proud of you for the testimony your actions proclaim to the world.

From an Elder in Florida:

I knew a preacher from West Texas once whose congregation participated with other congregations of the Church of Christ in a weekly panel discussion on TV. Each of the participants had his name and the name of his congregation on a plaque in front of him. This brother would change his plaque each week. One week it would read: "----- Street Church of Christ." Another week it would be: "----- Street Church of God." Then: "Family of God at ----- Street." There was quite a flap over this, as viewers wanted to know why he was "changing churches" all the time. He used this to make the same point that you made in your article: there is no "Scriptural name" for the church, only various descriptions.

From an Elder in Texas:

I remember reading an article years ago by your cousin G. C. Brewer, who was lamenting how we have gotten hung up on our "name." I'm sure if you asked a first century Christian what the name of the church is, you would get a puzzled look, since the early church had no name, only descriptions. I like what Rick Atchley, our minister, once said, "The Lord doesn't have to look at the sign outside to know if His people are inside."

From a Reader in Canada:

"True Church, True Name" was very well-written. As always, I enjoy your articles. You have such a wonderful heart for loving our God and His precious Son Jesus, as well as all men (whatever congregation they may belong to). I appreciate your ministry so much, as it motivates me to keep on keeping on in these terrible times of worldwide upheaval.

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Your article "True Church, True Name" was a beautiful, concise and refreshing way to start off the summer! I can see that you have taken God's greatest commandment of all to heart: "Love one another." If only the masses would come to realize that without love for one another, nothing else matters!

From an Elder in North Carolina:

I found it interesting that you and your wife were in Clemmons, NC the same week we were. We live about 220 miles west of there, but come to camp at Thousand Trails near Mocksville. Maybe next year, when you come back to NC to visit your son and his family, we can get together. By the way, the Sunday that you attended at a Baptist Church, we attended at a Christian Church in Clemmons.

From a Minister in Georgia:

While navigating Facebook and looking at some of my friends' and fellow preachers' pages (I am part of the Non-Institutional branch of our heritage), I was surprised that you are listed as a "friend" by a great many of them! Perhaps they are just keeping a watchful eye on you. However, I would like to think that perhaps you have written many things that are resonating with the ring of Truth for them!

From a Reader in Washington:

My husband and I agree with most of what you said in your article "True Church, True Name." What you said needed to be said. Hopefully, it will prove to be helpful to many who are still struggling in some of these areas. Would you agree with us, however, that to provide some balance in this matter we should also recognize that there are false teachers in this world, and thus it is incumbent on everyone to have a knowledge of the Scriptures so as to recognize these people? False teaching is not approved by God. Thank you again for your writings. We appreciate them so much, and we look forward to reading all that you write. I also enjoy following you on Facebook. I have found Facebook to be a good way to reach out to others. As a matter of fact, I recommend your writings to a number of my friends on there, including a young woman in the Philippines who contacted me and is wanting to learn more about the Bible. May God bless you as you continue to share from His Word that which is true (John 8:32).

From a Reader in Alaska:

This conflict about church names, and the different denominations, puzzled me for a long time. I could not believe that any local denomination would be the ONLY "true church." Those who hold this kind of belief are truly in a state of confusion. I concluded, after much thought and investigation, that the "true church" is simply the one Christ Himself established. So, how do I explain all the different church names? My conclusion is that those who ascribe to the various denominational groups are basically simply meeting with people of like traditions. As long as we don't confuse our own traditions with Christ's teachings, then it just doesn't matter what name a church has or what traditions it follows. It was also recently pointed out to me that another reason these days for various church names concerns state and federal laws, and the need for these groups to be recognized as a legal entity by the government. I never believed that any group (Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, etc.) was the ONLY "true church." Your article supports my conclusion, although with slightly different points. Thank you!!

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