Was Jesus Gay?—An Examination of the Secret Gospel of Mark
Over the last several centuries, people have made Jesus what they wanted Him to be. In nineteenth-century Europe, Jesus was a Romantic, then an Existentialist. In the United States, the foremost historians of the 1920s considered Jesus a social reformer. Forty years later, in the 1960s, the same historians saw Him as a radical revolutionary pushing for political change. Most recently, Jesus has been characterized by some scholars as a libertine and a homosexual. This is a clear reflection of our “sexually liberated” age, just as other versions of Jesus proliferated through the ages are snapshots of their own time. So long as we craft God in our own image, God cannot condemn us, and we will always be approved regardless of our error. George Tyrell famously commented in 1909 that when the Liberal Protestant scholars looked back at Christ “through nineteen centuries of Catholic darkness,” what they saw was “only the reflection of their Liberal Protestant face, seen at the bottom of a deep well” (as quoted in Bryan, 1996, p. 339).
Interestingly, the homosexual community feels that the traditional “hetero-normative” Jesus is a reflection of heterosexual Christians who have read into Jesus their own sexuality, while ignoring the possibility that Jesus was a homosexual. Rollan McCleary, an Australian academic who recently wrote a book arguing that Jesus and His disciples were gay, was asked if his own homosexuality tainted his research. McCleary replied: “You could see that either way. You could also say that heterosexual people have their eyes wide shut on the matter, that they don’t want to see that Jesus would have been of a gay disposition…. You maybe have to be gay to read the signals and to see things and research things which other people wouldn’t” (as quoted in Johns, 2001). Lately, gay scholars have seen many things in the Bible that heterosexuals have apparently missed for the past 2,000 years.
Several works, both scholarly and popular, have been published in the last decade suggesting that Jesus was gay. In 1992, J. Robert Williams, the first actively homosexual priest in the Episcopal Church, penned a book titled Just As I Am: A Practical Guide to Being Out, Proud, and Christian. Six years later, gay playwright Terrance McNally wrote the play Corpus Christi, which featured a gay Jesus (named Joshua) and his “sexual adventures with his 12 disciples” (“Was Jesus Gay?—Terrance…,” 1998). These popular works have been followed by several scholarly investigations that attempt to argue Jesus’ homosexuality from biblical and theological evidence. The same year McNally’s play went up, Finnish scholar Martti Nissinen released his book, Homoeroticism in the Biblical World, judged by some to be the best work yet published on the subject. The twenty-first century has witnessed an eruption of these sorts of studies, some more respectable than others. McCleary’s 2003 book, Signs for a Messiah, is based largely on John’s Gospel and Christ’s astrological chart. Theodore Jennings looks to liberation and feminist theologies to construct a more “homocentric” gospel narrative in his 2002 volume, The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament. Queering Christ, Robert Goss’ semi-autobiographical telling of his homosexual guilt and expulsion from the Roman Catholic Church, might also be mentioned. The marked increase in these types of publications in the last five years is an indication of Western society’s growing acceptance of homosexuality.
Typically, these books begin by dispensing in one way or another with the five explicit biblical injunctions against homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10). Some carefully attempt to explain away the passages in question, blaming the sexual biases of the ancient world for adversely influencing the Bible writers, while others dismiss the offending verses with a simple wave of the hand. After dealing with the negative commands, these scholars turn to the gospel narratives to develop their own “reading” of the traditional Gospel story. Jesus’ life is deconstructed to shed “new light” on His attitude toward same-sex relationships and His own homosexuality—postmodern hermeneutics at their best. Despite a complete absence of biblical support for their thesis, most of these liberal scholars do not have to read very far to find what they are looking for (in the jargon of biblical interpretation, this is known as eisegesis). British homosexual advocate Peter Tatchell summed up one popular position in a 1998 press release:
We don’t know for sure whether Jesus was straight, gay, bisexual or celibate. There is certainly no evidence for the Church’s presumption that he was heterosexual. Nothing in the Bible points to him having desires or relationships with women. The possibility of a gay Christ cannot be ruled out (“Was Jesus Gay? Missing…,” 1998).
Tatchell’s quote illustrates that the argument for Jesus’ homosexuality finds its strongest support, not in Scripture, but in its silence. Homosexual advocates argue that the absence of any explicit commentary on Jesus’ sexuality ought to remove the ancient assumption that He was heterosexual. Demonstrating to their own satisfaction that there is nothing in the New Testament that necessitates Jesus’ heterosexuality, these scholars move on in search of passages favoring Jesus’ homosexuality, the “signals” that McCleary mentioned. Unfortunately for them, biblical references to support their political thesis are few and circumstantial. Most are vague and focus on men whom Jesus “loved,” such as Lazarus (John 11:36), the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:21), John (John 21:20), and the “beloved disciple” (John 20:2). Love in these contexts is interpreted as homoerotic love. Further evidence is supposedly found in Jesus’ healing of the centurion’s servant in Luke 7:1-10. Because the text says the servant was “dear to him,” it is alleged that centurion and his servant were gay lovers. That Jesus healed him is presented as proof that He condoned their homosexual relationship (cf. Horner, 1978; Jennings, 2003).
These arguments are supplemented by the censorship hypothesis to which Tatchell alluded: “Large chunks of Jesus’s life are missing from the Biblical accounts. This has fuelled speculation that the early Church sanitised the gospels, removing references to Christ’s sexuality that were not in accord with the heterosexual morality that it wanted to promote” (“Was Jesus Gay? Missing…,” 1998). Some scholars believe that the original gospel accounts of Jesus’ life contained homosexual references not found in the canonical gospels that we possess. These passages allegedly were censored by “hetero-normative” church leaders of the first few centuries who felt that homosexuality was an abomination. Though this may sound conspiratorial, proponents do put forth some evidence in support their theory (in contrast to the usual wild speculation), evidence that some scholars have accepted as valid. This evidence—which nearly every Christian homosexual advocate uses to support the cause—is the so-called “Secret Gospel of Mark.”
Secret Mark (as I shall call it) is one of several apocryphal gospels that circulated in the early centuries of the Christian era. These alternative accounts of Jesus’ life range from a few verses to entire books. Some, such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdelene, have received much attention, but most are obscure and known only by New Testament scholars. Secret Mark is unique among these in that it claims to be an expanded version of the canonical gospel of Mark, not an independent gospel. It contains two passages, otherwise unrecorded in the gospel accounts—the first fitting between Mark 10:34 and 10:35 and the second in the middle of Mark 10:46. Fragment 1 reads:
And they came to Bethany. And there was a woman there, whose brother was dead. And she came and fell down before Jesus and said to him: Son of David, have mercy on me. But the disciples rebuked her. And in anger Jesus went away with her into the garden where the tomb was; and immediately a loud voice was heard from the tomb; and Jesus went forward and rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And immediately he went in where the young man was, stretched out his hand and raised him up, grasping him by the hand. But the young man looked upon him and loved him, and began to entreat him that he might remain with him. And when they had gone out from the tomb, they went into the young man’s house; for he was rich. And after six days Jesus commissioned him; and in the evening the young man came to him, clothed only in linen cloth upon his naked body. And he remained with him that night; for Jesus was teaching him the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. And from there he went away and returned to the other bank of the Jordan.
Fragment 2 describes what purportedly happened in Jericho:
He came to Jericho. And there were there the sisters of the young man whom Jesus loved, and his mother and Salome; and Jesus did not receive them.
These fragments were found in a letter seemingly written in the late second century by Clement of Alexandria to an unknown Christian named Theodore. Clement wrote in response to questions Theodore had sent him regarding a heretical gnostic sect called the Carpocratians. This sect is known from Irenaeus and Eusebius, and was characterized by its belief in metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls. Carpocratians believed that a soul could not be liberated until it had experienced all aspects of earthly life—including all aspects of sexual activity. Theodore had asked Clement about some of the scripture they were using to justify their actions, particularly some passages from Mark’s gospel. Clement responded by explaining that there were actually three versions of the book of Mark circulating in Alexandria: the canonical version, used by “those who were being instructed,” the secret version, reserved for those “who were being perfected,” and the Carpocratian version. According to Clement, Mark wrote his gospel in Rome, where he spoke directly with the apostle Peter. After Peter’s death, Mark moved to Alexandria, bringing with him his research notes. There, he “composed a more spiritual gospel” by expanding his original gospel to include mystical truths for the spiritual benefit of enlightened Christians (the orthodox congregation in Alexandria over which Clement presided also tended toward gnosticism). This secret gospel was then stolen by a rogue elder in the church and given to Carpocrates, who added to it his own “blasphemous and carnal doctrine.” Theodore needed to know how to distinguish genuine Mark from the corrupted version, which they used to legitimize their sexual license. Apparently, Carpocrates had strengthened the innuendo in Fragment 1 by adding “naked man with naked man,” a phrase Clement assured Theodore was not in the original text (1.67-68).
It is Fragment 1, attributed to Mark, that skeptics and homosexual advocates use as their most potent ammunition in the battle over Jesus’ sexual orientation. Morton Smith, the scholar who discovered and catalogued the letter from Clement, was the first to suggest that Secret Mark might indicate that Jesus’ teachings contained erotic elements. He based this on three observations from the text: (1) the description of the young man’s affection for Jesus: “the young man looked upon him and loved him, and began to entreat him that he might remain with him;” (2) the young man’s attire (or lack thereof): “in the evening the young man came to him, clothed only in linen cloth upon his naked body;” and (3) Clement’s denial of the phrase “naked man with naked man” (Hendrick, 2003, p. 142). Smith tied this speculation regarding Jesus’ homosexuality into his theory that the historical Jesus was a charismatic magician Who baptized His disciples (contra John 4:2) into His secret mystery cult. It is worthwhile to quote his theory at length:
…[F]rom the scattered indications in the canonical Gospels and the secret Gospel or Mark, we can put together a picture of Jesus’ baptism, “the mystery of the kingdom of God.” It was a water baptism administered by Jesus to chosen disciples, singly and by night. The costume, for the disciple, was a linen cloth worn over the naked body. This cloth was probably removed for the baptism proper, the immersion in water, which was now reduced to a preparatory purification. After that, by unknown ceremonies, the disciple was possessed by Jesus’ spirit and so united with Jesus. One with him, he participated by hallucination in Jesus’ ascent into the heavens, he entered the kingdom of God, and was thereby set free from the laws ordained for and in the lower world. Freedom from the law may have resulted in completion of the spiritual union by physical union. This certainly occurred in many forms of gnostic Christianity; how early it began there is no telling (as quoted in Eyer, 1995).
Smith was a scholar of some repute, known for his depth of classical knowledge and linguistic abilities. Despite his credentials, the initial reaction of the scholarly community toward this radical theory was one of strong distaste. Eyer catalogued some of the most reputable scholars’ remarks concerning Smith’s interpretation: “…a morbid concatenation of fancies…” (Skehan); “…venal popularization…” “…replete with innuendos and eisegesis…” (Fitzmeyer); “…an a priori principle of selective credulity…” (Achtemeier); “…in the same niche with Allegro’s mushroom fantasies and Eisler’s salmagundi” (Danker). Many more quotations could be listed (Eyer, 1995).
Though Smith’s magician theory has never gained much of a following in the academic world, his suggestion that Jesus practiced sexual initiation rituals was too sensational to be forgotten. Skeptics have used Smith’s innovative hypothesis to debunk Christianity as a religion of arch-hypocrites who denounce the very lifestyle of their founder. Pointing to Matthew 19:12, these enemies of the cross accuse Christ of posing as a eunuch in order to satisfy his lasciviousness. By preaching celibacy, Jesus was able to disguise His true intentions of having sexual relations with His followers. According to one particularly vicious attacker, “Jesus was never a eunuch as the Christians sham but a gay lecher feigning to be a eunuch by the help of his warriors (disciples and other Christians)” [Atrott, 2002]. Another skeptic turned Smith’s suggestion into a certainty: “The plain meaning of the words naked man with naked man and whom Jesus loved support the conclusion that Sexual union with a man as part of the sacrament was practiced” (Kahn, 2004, emp. in orig.). A final quote from an anonymous agnostic reads: “[The Clement letter] makes references to the effect that Jesus was understood to have engaged in possible homosexual practices involving the ‘rich young man’ mentioned in Mark’s Gospel. I am making the point that the Christian hierarchy have been deceiving and lying to their followers right from the start” (as quoted in Miller, 1999).
The skeptics quoted above are not scholars, and they have little or no training in biblical interpretation (or so it seems from their writings). In the main, scholars pay more attention to the dry details of the lexicography and historical analysis of Secret Mark and Clement’s letter. As noted by Hendrick, “homosexual acts by Jesus should be a non-issue for a historian, though one may appreciate ecclesiastical concerns about the contexts of the texts” (2003, p. 142). Nevertheless, as is indicated by the brief bibliography above (and a quick search of Amazon.com), the homosexuality insinuated in Secret Mark is very much an issue for several influential writers. For those seeking biblical approval for homosexuality, Secret Mark has become a secret weapon.
Yet does this passage prove that Jesus was gay? In no way! The three observations on which this assumption rests must be examined:
The language of the young man. While it is true that the young man (thought by some to be the rich young ruler mentioned earlier in Mark 10 [see Meyer, 2001]) “looked upon Jesus and loved Him,” there is no suggestion in the text that this was an erotic love. It is not uncommon to read of Jesus loving others—both men and women. He loved the young ruler, John, and Lazurus, but He also loved Mary and Martha (John 11:5). The love of the young man toward Jesus was doubtless of the same nature as the love Jesus had for the world (John 3:16) and for His heavenly Father (John 17:23)—the pure, dispassionate love that ultimately results in sacrifice (John 15:13). If we are to understand love (agapaô) as sexual love, then the New Testament commands to “love your enemies” and “love your neighbor,” and Jesus’ instruction to His disciples to “love one another” as He had loved them must take on an entirely new meaning
The attire of the young man. The young man was wearing a linen garment (sindon) in the fashion of the Greeks, which would not have been unusual. According to Miller, “the rich man would not have worn his woolen outer garment inside the house necessarily, and there still is nothing to suggest any disrobing or even physical contact” (1999). The phrasing “clothed only in a linen cloth wrapped around his naked body” is also not unique; the Greek phrase is exactly the same as Mark 14:51, the account of the young man fleeing from Gethsemane. It has even been suggested that this similar phrasing is intentional, and indicates that these two men are one in the same (see Meyer, 2001). The linen garment he was wearing also was used by Jews as a burial shroud (see Mark 15:46), so it is possible that the young man was wearing the robe as a result of his time in the tomb (see Fragment 1).
The denial of Clement. Clement stressed to Theodore that the phrase “naked man with naked man” was absent from the genuine text of Mark, and we have no reason to doubt his word. The phrase is only mentioned because it seems to have been included in the Carpocration version of Mark, which, according to Clement, was manipulated by those heretics to justify their libertine practices.
Summing up his examination of Fragment 1, Miller concluded: “One simply cannot find any real clues to any kind of sexual contact, content, or intent in this passage. It is pure speculation (and counter to what we know of the culture and history of the day) to somehow imagine these words to refer to homosexual behavior” (1999, emp. in orig.). The Greco-Roman literature to which Miller alluded made no secret of homosexual love. Erotic references in those works are never subtle, but always explicit. Plato’s Symposium narrates a dinner party of philosophers discussing love (eros). Aristophanes, one of the guests, unabashedly notes that “all who are male slices pursue the males; and while they are boys…they are friendly to men and enjoy lying down together with and embracing men.” In Lives of the Caesars, the Latin historian Seutonius described the alleged sexual indisgressions of Rome’s emperors more explicitly than can be quoted here. The Ancients were not embarrassed to record sexually explicit material, and “the absence of such images and terminology would constitute a prima facie case against seeing it in [Fragment 1]” (Miller, 1999, emp. in orig.). Thus, these passages in no way endorse the theory that Jesus was gay.
That these passages are even relevant rests on the assumption that Secret Mark was the original gospel, and that canonical Mark is a censored version of the longer original—an assumption that most scholars are not willing to make. “Most scholars consider [Secret Mark] to be an expansion of the canonical Gospel, as Clement himself believed” (Brown, 2003, p. 89). The story related in Fragment 1 is a blend of a Markan and Johannine elements, containing phrases and allusions probably clipped directly from these other works. It superficially resembles the story of the raising of Lazarus in John 11:17-44, but the details are so confused that it evidently is not a legitimate parallel. A close examination reveals that nearly every phrase in Fragment 1 has been lifted from another part of Mark or from one of the other gospels, usually John. Bruce lists these identical phrases at length, finally concluding that the fragment from Secret Mark is a patchwork of phrases from Mark and John. “The fact that the expansion is such a pastiche…with its internal contradiction and confusion, indicates that it is a thoroughly artificial composition, quite out of keeping with Mark’s quality as a story-teller” (1988, p. 308). Though this pattern does not fit Mark, it is what would be expected from an ordinary gnostic text, such as Papyrus Egerton 2 (see Schneemelcher, 1991, 1:107).
Further suspicion is cast on these fragments by comparing the language of Secret Mark to canonical Mark. The vocabulary and syntax of Secret Mark very closely resemble the style of Mark: in fact, they resemble it a little too closely. Schneemelcher noted: “[E]ven the Marcan character of the fragment is not without its problems. ‘The style is certainly Mark’s, but it is too Marcan to be Mark’; such was already C.C. Richardson’s verdict in 1974, and E. Best in 1979 confirmed this judgment in detail. In Mark itself the Marcan peculiarities of style are nowhere so piled up as in the ‘secret Gospel’!” (1991, 1:107).
Scott Brown, on the basis of redaction criticism, also rejected the originality of Secret Mark. Fragment 1 upsets the neat pattern of Mark’s three passion predictions (Mark 8:31-9:1; 9:31-37; 10:33-45). According to redaction critics, the three cycles are framed by the two accounts of Jesus healing blind men (Mark 8:22-26; 10:46-52). In each passage, Jesus predicts His coming death and resurrection (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34), the disciples fail to comprehend Jesus’ prophecy (8:32; 9:32-34; 10:35-41), and Jesus responds by teaching a lesson on discipleship (8:34-9:1; 9:35-37; 10:42-45) [Brown, p. 102]. However, when the Secret Mark fragment is inserted between 8:34 and 8:35, the entire pattern is thrown off balance. “What is essential to note about this tight, logical, and highly structured pattern is that the inclusion of [Fragment] 1 disrupts the logic and the parallelism” (Brown, p. 103).
Apart from these considerations, most scholars do not consider Clement to be an accurate source of information. Recall that Secret Mark is known only from Clement’s letter to Theodore; it is not mentioned in any other patristic writing. Clement was notorious for accepting fake documents and fake traditions (Parker, 1973, p. 237). “Keen as Clement was on opposing what he regarded as heretical, he seems to have been uncritical almost to the point of gullibility in accepting material which chimed in with his own predilections” (France, 1986, p. 83). Clement quoted from non-canonical sources more than most patristic writers, and was particularly fond of gnostic sources such as the Gospel According to the Hebrews, the Gospel of the Egyptians, the Preaching of Peter, and the Apocalypse of Peter (Bruce, pp. 310-311). Clement quoted the Gospel of Thomas no less than six times, whereas no other patristic writer quoted it more than once (France, p. 83). In other words, just because Clement quoted Secret Mark and claimed that Mark wrote it does not mean that it is legitimate. All evidence suggests that it was the product of Alexandrian Gnostics, not the writer of the Gospel of Mark (Schneemelcher, 1:107).
Thus far I have demonstrated that the Secret Gospel of Mark lends no support to the contention that Jesus was gay, or that He endorsed homosexuality in any way. The Secret Mark that Clement quoted was probably a heretical text written long after the four canonical gospels, and actually constructed from bits and pieces of them. However, the most compelling part of the story has yet to be told. Just as scholars doubt the authenticity of Clement’s quotation of Mark, so they also doubt Morton Smith’s discovery of the letter. Nearly 50 years after his discovery, most scholars believe it to have been a fraud. Here is the story.
In 1958, while searching for old manuscripts in the ancient monastery of Mar Saba, about 12 miles southeast of Jerusalem, Smith made a startling find. On the back leaves of the 1646 Dutch edition of Ireneaus’ letters, scrawled in an 18th-century hand, was Clement’s letter to Theodore, containing the Secret Gospel of Mark. Smith, then assistant professor of history at Columbia University, was not allowed to remove the book from the library, so he carefully photographed the two-and-a-half page document for later examination. Only after he had transcribed and translated the document did he realize its worth. Two years later, in December of 1960, he presented his find to the 96th meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis (Knox, 1960, p. 1). In 1973, he published the document in two books: one a popular read, called Secret Mark, and the other a dense, technical work for scholars, examining in minute detail every aspect of Clement’s letter and his quotation of Secret Mark.
Almost immediately, questions were raised as to the genuineness of the artifact. Though Smith had meticulously amassed evidence demonstrating the authenticity of the letter, several of Smith’s closest associates believed the document to be a forgery. Arthur Darby Nock, Smith’s own professor, famously called the manuscript a “mystification for the sake of mystification” (as quoted in Quesnell, 1975, p. 54)—in other words, a fake for the sake of faking it. Jacob Neusner, Smith’s student at Columbia, also doubted the letter’s authenticity, calling it “the forgery of the century” (as quoted in Miller, 1999). Several scholars have confidently reached this consensus (Brown, Skehan, Quesnell), while several others imply the document was forged without laying any explicit charges (Metzger, Osborn, Criddle, Ehrman). Many clues point to a deliberate “mystification” by Smith.
No copy of the original manuscript exists. Smith photographed the pages while at the monastery library, but was unable to obtain the actual document. Only one other set of photographs has been made (see Hendrick and Olympiou, 2000), and the original document has since vanished—either lost, sequestered, or destroyed by the Greek Orthodox monks of Mar Saba. It is peculiar that Smith, an expert in ancient manuscripts, spent 13 years of his life examining a photograph of the letter without ever going back to the monastery to examine it further (Ehrman, 2003, p. 85). If only we possessed the original document, ink samples could be taken and dated, and the whole matter would be cleared up in hours; as it stands, we must rely on the paleographer’s estimation of the handwriting in a black and white photograph. There is as much physical evidence at this moment for the Mar Saba letter as there is for the Loch Ness Monster.
The letter is undocumented in contemporary sources, and its contents are highly dubious. The manuscript contains no source, even though we would expect an educated 18th-century scholar to acknowledge the provenance of such an important text (see Schneemelcher, 1:107). So it is with Clement’s original epistle. The Mar Saba letter was the first letter of Clement ever discovered (though we have several other works by him). No extant ancient document mentions Clement’s letter to Theodore, nor does Clement himself mention it in any of his authenticated writings. Nowhere does Clement mention alternative forms of the scriptures such as Secret Mark, and while he often speaks of a spiritually elite corp of Christians, they were elite because they more deeply understood the canonical scripture, not some spiritually advanced version of them. Furthermore, Clement encourages Theodore to deny Secret Mark with an oath if necessary, though in his other writings he declares that Christians ought never to swear. Other dissimilarities abound (see Ehrman, pp. 84-86).
There are no major copyists’ errors in the manuscript (Schneemelcher, 1:107). The more frequently early Christian documents were copied, the more mistakes were introduced. If the Clement letter is authentic, it was written in the 3rd century and copied until the 18th, when it was finally reproduced on the back cover of Issac Voss’s Writings of Irenaeus. It is highly unlikely that a manuscript could be copied by hand for fifteen centuries without accumulating at least a few scribal errors.
Circumstantial clues cast suspicion on the entire project. In some ways, this just feels like a forgery. (The following points are taken primarily from Ehrman, 2003.) The vocabulary in the letter is more Clement-like than any other of Clement’s writings, as if the author of the letter had at hand Stählin’s concordance to Clement, written in 1936 (Quesnell, p. 64). Also, the manuscript ends just as it gets to the most tantalizing part; the letter breaks off: “But the many other things about which you wrote both seem to be and are falsifications. Now the true explanation and that which accords with the true philosophy….” Just as the letter prepares to reveal “the truth,” it conveniently ends. The dedication of the books also is mysterious. Smith dedicates the technical work to his teacher, Arthur Darby Nock, the man who went to his grave believing the letter to be a forgery; Secret Mark, Smith’s popular description of the letter, is dedicated to “the one who knows.” Quesnell rightly asks, “Who is ‘the one who knows’? What does he know?” (p. 66). Ehrman also observed from Smith’s photographs a page of text from the book in which Clement’s letter had been copied. Issac Voss, the editor of the 17th-century collection of Ireneaus’ epistles, concluded his book with a warning against scholars who falsify texts and attempt to pass off spurious ones as genuine (p. 87). Directly across from that warning, on the first blank leaf at the end of the book, Clement’s letter begins. The irony is too rich to be coincidence.
It must finally be noted that Smith was himself a homosexual, a potential motive for the forgery. The historian Donald Akenson considered Smith’s two books to be nothing more than “a nice ironic gay joke at the expense of all the self-important scholars who not only miss the irony, but believe that this alleged piece of gospel comes to us in the first-known letter of the great Clement of Alexandria” (as quoted in Ehrman, p. 267, n. 19).
Literary forgeries are nothing new. In the first few centuries of the church, many documents were produced in the name of Peter, Paul, or John. Even today it is not unusual to hear of a scholar trying to pass off a document just to see if it can be done. Bruce Metzger described his own professor at Princeton, Paul Coleman-Norton, who claimed to have found a lost saying of Jesus in an old Latin manuscript of the gospel of Matthew he picked up in French Morocco in 1943. It purportedly continued Jesus’ conversation with His disciples in Matthew 24:51, where He taught that the lost would be “cast into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” One of the disciples asked, “But Rabbi, how can this happen for those who have no teeth?” Jesus replied, “Oh you of little faith! Do not be troubled. If some have no teeth, teeth will be provided.” Thus Professor Coleman-Norton preserved in an “authentic” text a little joke that he had often told his classes, that dentures would be provided in hell to those who had no teeth (Ehrman, p. 69). Yet some scholars were temporarily hoodwinked, and his findings were published in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly.
Even though such influential scholars as Metzger and Nock have ruled Secret Mark a fake, some scholars continue to cling to the hope that it is authentic. The subject lately has been revisited after many years of dormancy (see Meyer, 2001; Brown, 2003; Hendrick, 2003; Eyer, 2004). I suspect this may be attributed to the increasing popularity of the homosexual cause with the academic world, yet this is speculation. It is certain, however, that those who are currently turning to the Bible for support of homosexuality are making use of Secret Mark, even though the authenticity of the text provides no evidence for the homosexual case. Even if Clement’s letter is genuine, it remains doubtful that the quotation from Secret Mark is anything other than a gnostic construction. Moreover, if the letter could be proved to be credible, and the “lost” scripture turned out to be original, homosexual advocates would remain without biblical support for their cause. Neither the fragment nor the Bible indicates that God condones the homosexual lifestyle. Though the gospel writers do not discuss Jesus’ sexuality specifically, the whole of divine revelation testifies to the utter degradation and sinfulness of homosexuality (see Miller, et al., 2004), and to the absolute purity and sinlessness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15). The only evidence in the Bible in favor of homosexuality is that which is read into the text by interpreters trying to shape a Jesus Who approves of their sinful lifestyle. As Christians defending God’s truth, we must be informed of these matters so that we are not taken off-guard by those who would pervert the gospel of Christ to their own ends (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
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Williams, J. Robert (1992), Just As I Am: A Practical Guide to Being Out, Proud, and Christian (New York: Random House).