In the days of the early church – I’m thinking specifically of the 2nd century – Christian apologists had to defend the faith against false charges, accusations, and misrepresentations. One such apologist, Athenagoras (d. 200 AD?), wrote a booklet to Roman rulers called A Plea for the Christians. This apology by Athenagoras is still quite relevant today because it discusses things we still talk about today. I’ll come back to this booklet later, but for now I want to point out what this 2nd century Christian apologist said about sexual immorality and homosexuality.
Athenagoras refuted the claim or accusation that Christians were very sexually impure compared to non-Christian Roman citizens. He said Christian spouses – man and wife – were committed to one another and instructed to avoid and detest adultery while the same could not be said of the Romans. He also argued that Christians avoided and detested homosexuality. As Athenagoras introduced this topic, he noted that he is not comfortable to “speak of things unfit to be uttered.” But he briefly did in order to defend Christian sexual morality:
“For those [Romans] who have set up a market for fornication, and established infamous resorts for the young for every kind of vile pleasure – who do not abstain even from males, males with males committing shocking abominations, outraging all the noblest and comliest bodies in all sorts of ways, so dishonoring the fair workmanship of God. …These men, I say, revile us for the very things which they are conscious of themselves, and ascribe [them] to their own gods, boasting of them as noble deeds, and worthy of the gods. These adulterers and paederasts [pedophiles] defame [even] the eunuchs and once-married, while they themselves live like fishes, for these gulp down whatever falls in their way….”
In other words, while non-Christians accused Christians of being sexually immoral, it was actually the non-Christians who were far more sexually immoral as was seen in their homosexual and pedophile practices (which were even part of the religious stories of their gods!).
One more thing worth noting is that Athenagoras mentions how the old Roman laws condemned homosexuality and pedophile acts. When Roman citizens commit these acts, they “do violence in contravention of the very laws which you and your [Roman] ancestors, with due care for all that is fair and right, have enacted.” In other words, those old Roman laws of sexual morality were good and fair: we Christians follow them, you Roman citizens do not!
Much more could be said here, but I’ll end with the following points: 1) the early church agreed with Scripture that homosexuality and adultery were sinful acts, 2) the early church desired to live sexually pure lives in the midst of a sexually impure culture, 3) the apologists did not give in to culture’s ways, but stood for Scripture’s truth when (falsely) accused, and 4) the apologists were not afraid to mention the usefulness of good and fair government laws which Christians obeyed.
This booklet, A Plea for the Christians, is recommended reading if you want ancient Christian help in standing for the truths of the faith. Next time, I’ll share what Athenagoras said about Christians and abortion.