If my evangelical friends thought I had gone overboard with my call to A New Reformation, they will think I’ve gone off the deep end with this assessment of homosexuality and the Bible!
I have to admit, for years I have wondered how anyone could defend homosexuality in light of certain passages of the Bible. But that was before I did an honest study of those passages and discovered misinterpretations, AND before I learned that several words in those passages are almost certainly mistranslated! I believe these misinterpretations and mistranslations are grave injustices that need to be rectified.
A few observations that are undeniable: Female homosexuality was never condemned in the Old Testament, hence it was not against God’s law. Female homosexuality is only mentioned once in the New Testament in a seven-word phrase, in the context of idolatry. (Romans 1). There is no Hebrew or Greek word in the Bible that is equivalent to our modern term “homosexual.” The word homosexual first appeared in English Bibles in the 1946 RSV version. The word “sodomite”, referring to a male homosexual, is not in the original Hebrew or Greek. The two words most often translated “homosexual” are the Greek words “malakos” and “arsenokoitai,” obscure Greek terms whose translations are disputed by scholars.
The fact that female homosexuality is not condemned in the OT is amazing. If God was against all forms of homosexuality, why did He mention only male homosexuality in the Holiness code of Leviticus? The code also includes specific laws against incest (spelled out with attention to every conceivable sexual liaison), adultery, rape, and bestiality, but no law against female homosexuality. Its absence is a mystery, unless only certain forms of homosexuality are condemned. In addition, the NT teaches that “new covenant” believers have been released from the OT law. We are not obligated to obey the law, unless it becomes necessary in order to keep Christ’s law of love.
Context—literary, cultural, historical—is King when it comes to proper interpretation of the Bible. The passage in Romans condemning homosexuality is in the context of idolatry. The people doing these shameful acts are not worshiping the one true God, but idols. Are the acts shameful because they are homosexual or because they are part of idol worship? Shrine prostitution, with both male and females, was not uncommon in the Roman empire and among pagans throughout Israel’s history.
The term malakos is translated “effeminate”, “male prostitutes”, or “homosexuals”, depending on the version and literally means “soft” as an adjective. “Arsenokoitai” literally means “male bed”, and is translated “abusers of themselves with mankind” (KJV), “homosexual offenders”, or “sodomites.” Put in their historical context, malakos probably means “catamite” (New Jerusalem Bible), which is the young teen or boy in the common-for-the-day Greek/Roman pederastic relationship, with “arsenokoitai” probably referring to the men who used them sexually.
The church’s traditional view of homosexuality has not adequately explained these facts and perpetuates misunderstanding by not drawing attention to historical and cultural circumstances and the problems with the term “homosexual” as an English equivalent to the original Greek words. For a more detailed study, check the link on the title of this post.