Homosexuality in Job?

As many of you know, I have been teaching through Job with my high school Sunday School class. They’ve been having a blast, and to be honest so have I. This coming Sunday we’ll be covering Job’s monologue (chps 29-31). Of course, the entire book of Job is interesting, and is even more interesting to teach to this group of students who genuinely don’t know how it ends. The tension that this has caused for them is very, very real. In a way it’s a unique case because it allows them to identify with Job in a way that most Christians never even come close to. But, I digress. My point here is to discuss Job 31.31-32.

Here are the relevant verses in a few versions:
NIV: 31 if the men of my household have never said,
‘Who has not had his fill of Job’s meat?’-
32 but no stranger had to spend the night in the street,
for my door was always open to the traveler-
NKJV: 31 If the men of my tent have not said,
‘Who is there that has not been satisfied with his meat?’
32 (But no sojourner had to lodge in the street,
For I have opened my doors to the traveler[a]);
ESV: 31 if the men of my tent have not said,
‘Who is there that has not been filled with his meat?’
32(the sojourner has not lodged in the street;
I have opened my doors to the traveler),
NLT: 31 “My servants have never said,
‘He let others go hungry.’
32 I have never turned away a stranger
but have opened my doors to everyone.

BHS:
31 אם־לא אמרו מתי אהלי מי־יתן מבשרו לא נשבע׃
32 בחוץ לא־ילין גר דלתי לארח אפתח׃

Each week I create a mini-commentary for the students, with my thoughts on Job coupled with copious footnotes on a variety of issues and from a variety of sources (though I will be the first to admit that the breadth of sources could expand). After everyone has finished processing the fact that, yes, I use footnotes in handouts to high schoolers, we can move on. I was reading the Anchor Bible on Job, by Martin Pope (I’d link to it on Amazon, but of course it’s out of print), and he argues quite vociferously for an interpretation that sees Job 31.31 as speaking of homosexual acts. He appeals to the Aqhat myth, noting that it includes a bit about having the flesh sated, and that most view it in that context as referring to a sexual act. He also uses other Biblical evidences to bolster his point, most notably the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative from Genesis 19. The more common interpretation, which Pope says does violence to the text(!), but which Hartley (The Book of Job, NICOT) and Alden (Job, NAC) both follow is to see Job 31 as having to do with hospitality. With this in mind they argue that Job is making the case that you would be hard pressed to find someone who has not enjoyed the hospitality of his table. There is yet another option, presented by Balentine (Job, Smyth & Helwys). This option, which Balentine credits to Habel, sees similar language used to describe Job’s friends in 19.22. Following on this, the idea is that “v. 31 should be coupled with v. 32, in which case Job may be denying that he ever gave any members of his household reason to treat him with the same contempt,” (Balentine, Job, 491).

I have yet to survey any journals to which I have access, so there may well be other options out there. At present, the section on this in the handout I plan to give to the students on Sunday reads thus:

Who is there that has not been filled with his meat? – There are a variety of proposed interpretation for this verse. The most common is that Job is making the point that you would be hard pressed to find someone who had not enjoyed the hospitality of his table.1 Another possible interpretation reads the verse more literally than the ESV, and so argues that Job is saying he has never let the men of his tents (his servant and family) commit homosexual acts with travelers (cf. The story of the divine messengers at Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19.1-11).2 There is another option that sees this line as playing off of Job 19.22 where Job describes his friends as a “pack of wild animals longing to be ‘sated with his flesh.'”3 This opinion further argues that vv. 31-32 should be seen as Job making the case that the members of his own household ever had reason to be so displeased with him.4

1Hartley, The Book of Job, 420.

2Pope, Job, 207-208.

3Balentine, Job, 491.

4Ibid.

So, I would be very interested in any thoughts you all may have. Is one interpretation more likely than any of the others? Are you more convinced by one of them, and if so, why? I have been inclined in the past, when faced with a passage or couplet in Job that is difficult to pin down, to give the students all of the options, and then let them know which one I favor. In this case, I haven’t read enough to favor one over the others yet.

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4 thoughts on “Homosexuality in Job?

  1. Cal– I’m far too ignorant to stick my neck out and discuss validity of options on this. But, I wanted to just pat you on the back for presenting options to the students. I love the fact that you encourage them to own the book’s meaning. I have a few questions though.

    What does your pastor (read: boss) think of your interactions with the students on Job? Does he use this same approach with the adults? If not, has he stated why?

    Delete this and drop me an email if you don’t want to have this discussion publicly, I’m just absolutely fascinated to hear how your philosophy of YM is affecting the larger community.

    Earl

  2. Earl – I’ve no problem discussing this publicly, and it should make for an interesting conversation, though I would still like some thoughts on the options for Job 31.31 from any lurkers out there!

    My pastor, and if you ever referred to him as my boss he’d call you on it, thinks that whats going on with the students in Sunday school is great. He likes that they are interested in the text, and he also like that I’m pushing them to learn it. He doesn’t use the same approach with the adults, and there are probably a variety of reasons for him not doing that. I can’t speak with certainty, but I would imagine two of the largest issues are, 1) adults don’t always have the same passion to learn things, especially when they think the already know them (not saying anyone at my church falls perfectly into this category, but as a generalization) and 2) my pastor doesn’t know Hebrew and Greek, and because of this would find it somewhat difficult to interact with all of the options…though he could certainly interact with some.

    So, those are just two of my hunches, as I said, I can’t speak with certainty. He is certainly interested and open to talking about things, and that’s one of the reasons I really enjoy ministering with him.

  3. Calvin – Exactly what is there to ‘call me on’? He’s above you in the heirachy, isn’t he? That makes him your boss, doesn’t mean he needs to be a totalitarian micromanaging supervisor. I referenced it like that because I would expect a supervisor of any sort to have an active understanding of the performance of those being supervised, which was significant to my next part.

    I’m not convinced that your style shouldn’t translate to the ‘adults’ as well. The problems you write about with your kids were created by the people your pastor preaches at on Sunday morning. It seems like if your kids are so self-centered they probabaly learned that from self-centered parents… see where I’m going with this one?

    I just don’t think I’d let him get away with a ‘well, I’m glad that works for you…’ answer. But then again, that’s probably why authority figures find me frustrating.

    Earl

  4. Earl – He wouldn’t call you on it in a bad way. But he is extremely concerned with making sure the church is not perceived as a corporation, overly institutionalized, etc. He figures the best way to avoid the perception is to assure that it isn’t true. To be certain, he sees himself as my mentor, my shepherd, and someone who is further along in life…but he would balk at being called anyone’s “boss.” Beyond that, I technically report to the Board of Christian Education. Though, practically, he is the one I report to.

    It would be interesting to see something like what I’m doing work with adults. I think it could work, but I’ve yet to see it done.

    I certainly see where you’re going, and I agree. Students tend to learn from the adults around them, and youth ministry’s tend to reflect the churches of which they are a part. I’d be a little cautious, since we have such a small sampling here, about making generalizations…occasionally an apple does fall far from the tree.

    Aside from that, I’m not sure the students here are any more self-centered than anyone else. Some of them are even starting to get the idea that love is about being others-centered. Which is really encouraging.

    My perception really isn’t that anyone is getting away with saying “well, I’m glad that works for you…” Changing the way people perceive and teach takes time, and patience. Beyond that, I think I listed some legitimate possible barriers in my previous comment. Do you disagree that they are legitimate barriers?

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