Why do ministers bring up the “rapture” when it’s not in the bible? I ask because “rapture” proponents often reject LGTBQ issues.

The rapture question is interesting, because it reflects a preoccupation with last things that was common during the time Jesus and later Paul lived. Both Jesus and Paul probably believed the end would come in their lifetime. We know Paul believed that, and though portraits of Jesus are filtered through later authors, we can infer that too. For Jews like Jesus, last things meant the Day of Yahweh, a day when Yahweh would return and restore the faithful to life on earth, in the promised land. For Christians, this seems to involve some kind of space flight. I can’t be sure but it seems like Gnostic idea, except the Gnostics believed we escaped our human bodies–that was the point. Mainstream Christians believe we keep them.

According to what I’ve read, the inspiration from the “rapture” idea comes from a line in 1 Thessalonians (Paul’s first letter) and uses the Greek word harpazo being “to seize” (as in “God will seize us into the air”). A Latin word for harpazo is raptus, which also means to seize or carry off. An Anglo-Irish Dispensational theologian named John Darby believed the Rapture or Harpazo would precede the great Tribulation which is then followed by the second coming. This idea was published by Darby in 1833. By the 1920’s, a pre-millenial organization, World’s Christian Fundamental Association, which opposed theological modernism, won the sympathy of the American Southern Baptist denomination.  “By the 1920s,says William Akenson, author of Exporting the Rapture, “Darby’s belief system had become the doctrinal template of the fundamentalist branch of North-American evangelicalism. (I emphasize with bold-face the close connection between Darby’s idea and American evangelicalism, which has historically been anti-LGBTQ and is especially so today.)

Today, the concept of “rapture” is widely associated with certain evangelical Christians, who are often socially conservative (especially those who are white and southern). Some disagree about the particulars. But since many of these evangelicals also tend to frown on LGBTQ issues, the ideas of Rapture and anti-LGBTQ may have become associated, though Darby himself never considered the validity of LGBTQ. (Indeed, these terms were unknown at the time; the first use of the word “homosexual” was by J. A. Symonds in 1891, though same-sex sex acts are no doubt as old as opposite-sex sex acts.)

How does the Bible stand on homosexuality (a 19th c. word)? Leviticus frowns on male-to-male intercourse, probably because as a post-exile text written by the Priestly author, Leviticus encouraged all Jewish men to marry and reproduce, regardless of their own preferences. As we’ve often discussed, Leviticus’s laws are directed at a population in danger of dying out, so reproduction was an imperative for all citizens, which is not true now. In the New Testament, Paul also frowned on male-to-male sex, which he associates with the Greeks, among whom it was widely practiced. (Paul also believed people should abstain from heterosexual behavior until the end times, though he added “it is better to marry than to burn.”) The Hebrew bible does not mention sex between women, since women could not choose to refuse men. (Milton argues that women never refused men until after the fall, which I add light-heartedly, since I often teach Milton).

However, we know from the midrash that rabbinic Jews believed bible laws could and should be adapted to new circumstances. The Bible sanctions slavery and execution of disobedient children by stoning, which we no longer accept as ethical or moral, so we all pick and choose which laws we consider relevant to us today. The New Testament, in particular, shows Jesus engaged in strong male friendships (I am not suggesting anything more). In John, Jesus issues one commandment–love one another.

Moreover, though the technology of gender reassignment is recent, gender fluidity is as old as biology. A famous Greek prophet, Tiresias, lived as both a woman and a man, and in the European middle ages we have evidence of people who dressed and lived–and in the case of actors and prostitutes worked–as members of the opposite sex. On this question the bible is silent. But I think the attitudes toward non-cis sexuality in the bible reflect the prejudices and imperatives of the times when they were written (post-exile Jews were repeated exhorted to reproduce and have large families). I am not sure that if the bible were written today, the same prohibitions would be in it.


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