This may be the only time a minister has instructed people to take a closer look at porn.

Pompeii Wall Penie

YouTubeAnother penis outside a Pompeii bathhouse.

If you were walking through the city of Pompeii around 100 B.C., you’d see a wide amphitheater, ornately-constructed bathhouses, column-lined temples…and penises.

Lots of penises.

Around 80 percent of the artwork decorating this ancient Roman town would be considered explicit today, according to Rev. Canon Steve Chalke, a prominent British evangelical Christian.

“Endless penises in this culture,” he said. This decorating style, Chalke believes, should encourage modern-day Christians to reconsider how they interpret the most famous text from the Roman Empire: the Bible.

Penis Wall

A whole wall of penises from the ruins of Pompeii.

Like any good book, Chalke argues, the Bible needs some context if readers truly want to understand its passages.

But today’s evangelicals often choose to take the gospel literally, ignoring the historical contexts in which the passages were penned.

For that reason, many members of the church use New Testament “clobber passages” — or passages used to deny rights to any particular group — to cling to their belief that homosexuality is a sin.

If you’re reading the modern translation of the Bible and then copying and pasting the words into the society you see around you today — or even in Martin Luther’s time — this misunderstanding makes sense.

Penis Ruines

YouTubeA penis indicating the location of a Pompeii brothel.

When Leviticus reads “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination,” the meaning seems pretty straight forward.

If, that is, you know what lying with a man was all about in ancient Roman times. Which, thanks to Pompeii and Chalke, we now do.

“500 years ago, Martin Luther and Calvin didn’t have the tools that we now have to assist us in our contextual understanding of the writings of scriptures. We’ve come miles because of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, miles because of archaeological discoveries around Pompeii, and we’ve had all sorts of other cultural and linguistic leaps forward,” Chalke told the Huffington Post. “It’s our job to use them and I think, in using them, we find these old understandings really don’t work anymore.”

Pompeii Threesome

A Pompeii threesome.

Typically, church leaders avoid talking about porn — much less flashing images of it on a screen behind their shoulder.

But that’s what Chalke did in a video lecture for the Oasis Open Church Network, which he made to teach people about how wild things were in Roman times.

Understanding the New Testament and Sexuality from Open Church network on Vimeo.

Sex, he insists, was everywhere — it was considered natural, and spiritual and totally appropriate between all genders.

But it could also be exploitative. Rules at the time dictated that Roman men could only have affairs with people of “lesser status” — in other words, people who were not considered to be Roman citizens.

“Roman boys were protected in a way that slave boys weren’t. For a Roman man, sex was a legitimate part of life, but you had to have sex with an inferior and you had to penetrate them, you weren’t allowed to be penetrated,” Chalke said.

Pompeii Male Lovers

A&G Reporter/AGF/UIG via Getty ImagesMen in a Pompeii fresco.

Because of this cultural (note: not religious) restriction on same-sex relations — in which wealthy or high-status people were seeking out more vulnerable groups of men — same-sex intercourse was seen as the result of a power imbalance.

It’s this exploitation — not the physical, same-sex relation — Chalke says, that Paul and other Biblical authors, condemned.

They never said anything about mutual, genuine love between people of the same gender.

Pompeii Oral

Pompeii wall art.

“The people Paul is talking about, he said they’ve abandoned God, they’re full of deceit, lying,” Chalke told the Post. “Whoever Paul is talking about, it cannot be the wonderful same-sex couples that are in our church, or the gay man or the transgender woman I know. It just can’t be them.”

So, Jesus-lovers, feel free to kick back, flip through some ancient threesome porn, and come to terms with the idea that Pompeii gay sex was bad — because it was seen as a powerful man taking advantage of a marginalized individual — but modern consensual gay sex is totally cool.

Because this religious leader said you can.

“Our poor understanding of the New Testament has brought misery, persecution, oppression and rejection to countless hundreds of thousands and millions of LGBT people,” Chalke said. “It’s time to apologize for the mistakes we’ve made and move on.”

Pompeii Penis

Look! Yet another penis.


Next, read about why learning the history of porn matters, according to experts. Then, check out the new McDonald’s that opened on top of an Ancient Roman road.

Annie Garau
Annie is a NYC-based writer. For tips, write to [email protected]
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