In Luke’s Gay Apocalypse (Luke 17:22-37) there are eight verses that have nothing to do with the gay theme. I knew I needed to account for their presence in the text, and consider the alternative interpretations they offered.
But my inquiry into Q, to see if there were any insights there, was simply the next logical step to perform an adequate exegesis. I had no idea that Q would shed so much light on the gay theme in Luke.
My discovery? The Q Apocalypse is the source of all the gay thematic elements in Luke’s Gay Apocalypse. Each and every one of the gay theme indicators in Luke 17 is from the original Q Apocalypse. In contrast, all the verses that point away from the gay theme, or dilute it, are non-Q additions.
(If you are not familiar with the Q Hypothesis, let me direct you to three Wikipedia articles: Synoptic Gospels, Two-Source Hypothesis, and Q Source. In a nutshell, Mark and Q were sources used by Matthew and Luke when they wrote their gospels.)
The consensus among New Testament scholars is that the core of “Luke’s Small Apocalypse” consists of what is known as the “Q Apocalypse.” What follows is the Q Apocalypse–all ten verses of it. It is all quite recognizable, but the non-Q additions (eight verses) are not included.
Please bear in mind that whether or not you accept the theory of the Q Source, the four gay thematic indicators are present, and support the label “Luke’s Gay Apocalypse.” In other words, if there was no Q Source, Luke’s Gay Apocalypse would still be a gay apocalypse.
The Q Apocalypse
23And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them.
24For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day.
26And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.
27 They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.
28 Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;
29 But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.
30 Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.
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.
35 Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
37 And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.
If you’ve been following my argument, you will notice that all four of the gay thematic elements are present in the Q Apocalypse: 1) the Roman cultural indicators (Zeus and Ganymede as seen in the lightning and the eagles), 2) the Jewish cultural indicators (the destruction of Sodom), 3) two men in one bed, and 4) two women grinding together. Everything that gives this pericope a same-sex theme is original to the Q Apocalypse. (I will discuss the absence of “Lot’s wife” from Q shortly.)
Most of the lessons that Bible expositors draw out of the passage (except for the denunciations of homosexuality that they see embedded in the Sodom account) are based on the non-Q verses inserted into the Q material. These non-Q meanings are: 1) the suddenness of judgment, 2) the need to be prepared, and 3) the penalty for nostalgia for worldly pleasures and comforts. These three lessons are not based on the original Jesus Sayings found in Q. (These three lessons are present in the canonical text of Luke, and are of course legitimate to preach on. The focus of this post, however, is on the Q Apocalypse as the source of the gay content in Luke 17.)
When we remove the non-Q verses, the gay thematic elements are more striking. This is understandable since the additions account for eight of the eighteen verses that make up Luke’s Small Apocalypse. The non-Q additions are certainly some of the reasons we haven’t noticed the theme of same-sex relationships before.
The Non-Q Elements in Luke’s Gay Apocalypse
The verses below are the non-Q insertions. Most of these insertions are on the generic theme of judgment, but do not reflect Q’s gay theme. The main “distractor” is verse 32, the exhortation to “Remember Lot’s wife!” While it is definitely related to Sodom, this verse shifts the focus away from Q’s theme and toward the penalty for yearning for your old life after God has delivered you. This warning is valid, but is not part of the original Jesus Sayings preserved by Q.
Verse 31 is used to emphasize the speed and unexpectedness of Christ’s coming, but this verse also was not among the original Jesus Saying preserved in Q. Without this addition, the suddenness and unexpectedness that can be discerned into the Noah and Lot accounts are considerably muted.
Finally, verse 36 was copied from Matthew 24:40. An unknown scribe or scribal community saw its unmistakeable symmetry with verses 34 and 35 and decided to give it a new home in Luke. This underscores the care taken to craft the passage’s parallel structure, and the fact that this parallel structure was noticed early on.
The Eight Non-Q Verses
20And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
21Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
22And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.
25But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.
31 In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.
32 Remember Lot’s wife!
33 Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.
36 Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
None of Luke’s Gay Thematic Elements are Present in Matthew
Prior to inquiring into Q, I compared Luke and Matthew and discovered that none of Luke’s gay thematic indicators were present in Matthew: not the lightning, not the eagles, not the story of Lot and Sodom, not the two men in one bed. And the women’s muloni, the mill, is present in Matthew but not in Luke, which gives Matthew’s grinding the connotation of food preparation that is absent from Luke’s grinding. I knew all of this was evidence of the deliberate design of this passage.
I later realized that the deliberate intent and intelligent design I discerned were actually features of the Q Apocalypse, which had circulated, in oral and/or written form, prior to its use by Luke. The formation of Q is not well-understood yet, but it seems clear that an individual scribe, or a scribal community, wanted to preserve the evidence that Jesus accepted gays and lesbians.
The non-Q additions are responsible for the interpretive loose ends that interfere with seeing the gay thematic material, and mainly interfere by diluting it.
Once we acknowledge the presence of the gay theme, a simple solution emerges for several ongoing controversies surrounding the passage.
Confusion and Conflict Regarding Key Elements of the Passage
- “Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?”
There is continuing debate over several major element of the passage, including whether it is better to be left or to be taken. This has been interpreted many ways, usually depending on the interpreter’s theology and eschatology. In this context John S. Kloppenborg quotes C.H. Dodd’s Parables of the Kingdom (p. 64), “It is not even clear whether the one taken or the one left has the better lot.”
- “Vultures, Vultures Everywhere” or “Houston…The Eagle has Landed”
A second major debate involves the word αετοι, and whether it should be rendered eagles or vultures in Luke 17:37. Kloppenborg, a preeminent Q scholar, believes it is impossible to know the ultimate origin of the eagle proverb, and says that “Its ominous tone is in keeping with the threatening and dark metaphors which surround it.” But, having said that, he is noncommittal.
In contrast, Steven L. Bridge, theology professor at St. Joseph’s College in Maine, points to the generally clear distinction between αετοι (eagles) and γυπες (vultures) in classical Greek literature, and supports the “eagles” rendering. Eagles are often symbolic of deliverance in both the Old Testament and classic Greek literature, whereas vultures are almost always, first and foremost, scavengers of carcasses.
In his monograph on αετοι and γυπες in antiquity, Bridge discusses how the lightning and the eagles are connected with the religious story of Zeus and Ganymede, the ultimate symbols of same-sex relationships in Roman culture. This connection shows the presence of a second cultural indicators of the gay theme in Luke 17, the other being Jewish. Jews and gentiles were Luke’s two target audiences.
- “Well, if that Isn’t Déjà vu All Over Again.”
A third question for some involves the inexplicability of the duplication of the Noah material. If the theme of the passage is simply judgment, even the suddenness of judgment, then there is little motivation for laboring to produce a passage that merely reiterates the message of the original.
Four Examples of Deliberate Parallel Construction
The Days of Noah and The Days of Lot
The major sign of careful construction is the parallelism of the passage. The story of Noah is common to both Matthew and Luke, but only Luke has the parallel story of Lot and Sodom. The “days of Lot” description is structurally identical to the “days of Noah,” but there is a difference in how those “days” are characterized. The details of the Noah account include how “they married wives, they were given in marriage,” but those details are not in the Lot account. The fact that the Q Apocalypse does not have “wives” or “marriage” among the Sodom details indirectly acknowledge same-sex partnerships without the benefit of marriage. The main point here, however, is that the Lot material was deliberately composed to parallel the Noah material.
While I’m on the topic of the Lot material in the Q Apocalypse, let me describe what Lot’s story does not add to the passage or its theme. It does not add the theme of judgment. It does not add the theme of the ordinariness of life at the moment of judgment. It does not add the reference to actual destruction. Those three themes are already present in the Noah account.
What the Lot material does add is the theme of same-sex relationships.
[Let me clarify once more that I don’t believe the “sin of Sodom” was gay and lesbian sex, but was the violation of the cultural demand for hospitality to strangers, which we don’t take very seriously at all. It is, however, useless to deny the same-sex element (in this case, homosexual rape) that is a major element of the story, even though it is subsidiary to the transgression of hospitality.]
Two Men in One Bed and Two Women Grinding Together
Another example of parallelism is, of course, the two men and two women in verses 34 and 35. The phrase in verse 35 (“two women grinding”) is in both Matthew and Luke. But the phrase “two men in one bed” is only present in Luke.
Thus, two of the gay thematic indicators were deliberately designed to mimic two other elements which, taken alone, would carry virtually no same-sex implications. If taken together but in isolation from the other material, the Noah account and “two women grinding together” would be insufficient evidence to argue for a gay theme. However, the presence of the carefully crafted Lot material and the “two men in one bed” indicates that the same-sex associations were intentional.
The Lightning and the Eagles
The third example of deliberate parallels is more a matter of symmetrical placement than of verbal parallel. The Zeus & Ganymede logos, used empire-wide and universally recognizable to Luke’s gentile audience, are strategically placed at the beginning and at the end of the pericope, as though marking out their territory, or functioning as bookends and helping the material to stand upright.
One Shall be Taken and the Other Shall be Left
This final example is not only parallel in construction, but nearly identical in wording: “the one shall be taken, and the other left.” Jesus illustrates the Great Separation using two intimate couples immediately before the climax of the passage, the gathering of the Eagles around the Body of Christ. Verses 34 and 35 contain the first crucial part of the “moral of the story”: Lesbians and gays are not automatically condemned by God.
The Interpretive Coherence of the Same-Sex Theme
The upshot of all this? Once we recognize the common thread running through the major elements of the passage–Zeus and Ganymede, Sodom, and the gay and lesbian couples–the entire passage coheres as a unified whole. Not only do the major elements of the passge become related in a single theme, but several unresolved interpretive questions fall into place as well.
Otherwise, it seems odd that the meanings in a passage as carefully crafted as the Q Apocalypse should contain so much that is muddled and opaque; that in a passage on judgment nothing worthy of judgment should be underscored; that in the Great Separation we don’t know whether it’s better to be taken or left; that we don’t know the rendering and significance of the key word αετοι at the passage’s climax.
The general topic or theme of the passage is indeed judgment, but the examples Jesus uses to illustrate the enactment of judgment don’t tell us what is worthy of judgment, but what is not worthy of judgment.
And this is one very accurate way of describing the purpose of the passage. We’ve never quite known what the basis of acceptability was for the favored members of these pairs. We have surmised that they have an unspoken relationship with God, that they have faith, that they have remained awake and watchful and kept their lamps trimmed, but the passage has forced us to guess what the difference is between those who are taken and those who are left.
That puzzled guessing is understandable, because the point of the passage never has been to tell us the difference between who is acceptable to God and who is unacceptable. The point has been to tell us that homosexuality is not a factor in a person’s acceptability to God. People’s sexual orientation is not among the criteria for whether they’re in or whether they’re out.
Sexual orientation? It doesn’t matter. God doesn’t care.
Luke’s Gay Apocalypse, with the romantically involved gays and lesbians and the gathering of the Eagles around the Body of Christ, tells both Jews and Roman gentiles the “moral of the story.”
Non-Celibate Gays and Lesbians are not Rejected by God.
Homosexuality is Not a Criterion of Acceptability for God.
Lesbians and Gays are Present in the Final Eschatological Gathering of God’s Elect.
[Click here for links to all posts on Luke’s Gay Apocalypse]