Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Bible and Homosexuality

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.

29 comments:

Peterson Toscano said...

Michael, thanks, I always appreciate the WIDE view of scriptures to help get to the heart of an issue, especially when chruch leaders developed doctrines that at the core are designed to oppress others, not reveal the truth of God.

Bob Painter said...

Wait a minute! You're straight AND Christian! How can you be gay-affirming?!?

Thank you for your words of grace. I really appreciate your thoughts...BOB

David W. Shelton said...

Michael,

Thanks so much for your thoughtful presentation of this very complex topic. We're in the process of assembling a four-week Bible study on this issue for our community, and this simply confirms what I already know to be true.

Keep your eyes on JESUS and keep pressing on!

-epm said...

... perpetuates misunderstanding by not drawing attention to historical and cultural circumstances...

I wonder if the fact that Christian religious leaders, translators, and biblical scholars are almost universally male (in most cases dogmatically so) also has something to do with this.

mark b said...

Michael, I respectfully disagree with your assessment of lesbianism as not being found as sin and not in the Bible. Romans 1 :26-27 states For this reason "God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and then the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

You are correct that these verses are in the context of idolatry. What is idolatry but sin. These men and woman were exchanging the natural truth for how they were created by dishonoring their bodies among themselves. They gave up the truth of God for a lie and worshiped the creature (fleshly sin=unatural desires)rather than the Creator. (see vs 24-25) for the context that you mention as vitally important which I agree.

You say since Lesbianism is not mentioned in the old testiment, hence it it was not against Gods law. The context is the same as it is for poligamy and incest. The law was given to point out our depravity as sinners in need of a savior. True beleivers are freed from sin through the blood of Jesus. They are given a Spirit that guides them in the purpose for which we were created to glorify God. In returning to sin the Spirit will now convicts our hearts of our sin so we may turn move away from it to righteousness. If we are not convicted , then the Holy Spirit does not in dwell in us and we are not His. (1 Thesolonianians 1:5 )

Michael , I pray you prayerfully reconsider you position regarding Gods Word in this manner. I beleive you and Mr. Toscano love Jesus and value His Word. The word Homosexual may be a stumbling block to many but unatural acts should not. God loves all mankind (homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual) but He detest sin (unatural acts) and wants all to come to the Truth which is Him.
May God show me the Truth if i am wrong.
Thank you for allowing me to post and as David and Bob aptly put. May His grace abide in us as we Keep our eyes on Jesus and may His Word be Known by all.

Dee said...

I am straight and christian and I prefer following the teachings of christ where he tells us to love our fellow man and not to pass judgement on them.

Sue said...

Wow, very thought-provoking. Thanks for posting this. I too am a great fan of grace, and have a hard time with the hard-line fundie approach to homosexuality. Just as Jesus ate and drank with prostitutes and tax-collectors, so I think today he would eat and drink with gays and others who strive to gain acceptance in mainstream society.

Which is not to say that I think homosexuality is God's ideal. But until we can reach out in love to ALL people, the message of Christ is distorted. Grace comes first, lifestyle is something between God and individuals.

mark b said...

Absoultely Dee, But what we see when we read all Gods Word is that God will pass judgement on us if we don't repent and accept saving grace. So His children must pass on the truth of His word to those who are unaware of the wrath that they face without repentance. For those that love the Lord JESUS to go in our sin is to deny the truth and love the sin more than Him. I to struggle with sin and for those that love me and ignore my sinful habits and allow me to experience the painful consequences is unloving. May we do it with a heart of love and may it be received with open eyes and thanksgiving. Thank you Michael for letting me post.

Michael said...

Mark,

Since lesbianism was not condemned in the OT, no one could claim it was sinful during the OT era. Paul states the principal that "where there is no law, there is no transgression." (Rom. 4:15). This fact alone makes the traditional view on homosexuality problematic.

The context of Romans 1 is clear that a particular people exchanged the glory of God for images of men and animals. Idolatry came first. Then God gave them over to shameful lusts. People who still worship God and don't exchange God for idolatry but engage in homosexual behavior don't fit this scenerio.

mark b said...

Michael ,
The context of Romans 1:26-27 is specifically natural relations not images. If you are a believer then 1 timothy 3:16 is true.( all scripture is God breathe) It is clear from this part of romans that lesbianism is sin.

The bible also does not use the word trinity but from its context you can infer its reality.

SUE, God does raech out to sinners as all man should know, but he does not condone the sin. When Jesus was brought the adulteress by the mob who were ready to stone her. Did He not say you without sin cast the first stone. He followed up after her accuser left telling her to go and Sin no more. Jesus forgave her but did not condone the sin.

Michael said...

Mark,

Verse 26 starts out with "Because of this..." and v24 starts with "Therefore..." You must read the whole point prior to these verses (starts in v18) to get the full context and argument (goes into chapter 2). Verse 23 reveals the context includes exchanging God for images "made to look like mortal man, birds, animals, & reptiles." The context is clearly idolatry.

Before this passage was written, there was no scripture/law declaring female homosexuality was sin. If your premise is true, then God first (and only) condemned lesbianism here in Romans in a passage talking about idolatry. This is not very clear communication.

Anonymous said...

I believe like the OT mentions "mankind" that when the term homosexuality is used it refers to both gay and lesbian at the same time. I totally agree with Mark B on this one. dh

Lavon said...

A position of "silence" can be argued against lesbianism and homosexuality with more evidence than for it. If lesbianism and homosexuality were accepted practices during Biblical times, one would think as much would have been written about them as has been written about male/female unions, specifically marriage. If same sex marriages were widely practiced or normal during the times spanning the old and new testaments, why isn't there some reference to them in the Bible. There isn't because same sex marriages were not normal or practiced and didn't exist when the Bible was written. Although sex between members of the same sex occurred during Biblical times and was practiced by some societies, the Bible always depicted it as sinful and they never went so far as to establish same-sex marriages.

A clear understanding of the whole of God's word clearly indicates that God only approves of the sexual relationship between members of the opposite sex within the institution of marriage. There is no existence or approval anywhere in scripture of alternative relationships like same sex marriages or unions.

Michael said...

Lavon,

Good questions, but the argument from silence could be applied that way to a host of things. Just because there is no example of a particular relationship, doesn't mean it was condemned by God. For example, a single person adopting a child isn't referenced in the Bible, but that doesn't make it a sin. With all the things that ARE listed as condemned in Leviticus, if lesbianism was a sin, why wasn't it listed?

The Bible does not "clearly indicate" that God only approved of sex in marriage, and specifically in monogamous marriage. Why did David, Solomon, Gideon, Abraham, etc. have sex with slaves and concubines and have more than one wife? Where is that condemned?

Yes, you're right that there is no good example of a homosexual union in the Bible, but that in and of itself, doesn't prove it's always wrong. My challenge is that it's possible from a study of homosexual references in the Bible to conclude that only certain forms of homosexuality were condemned (as certain forms of heterosexuality), e.g. common practices of the day such as pederasty, homosexual cultic prostitution, and rape or humiliation.

Lavon said...

Agreed, arguments from silence could be applied to a host of things. The point is that an argument from silence neither proves nor disproves much, if anything, either way (condemned by God or not condemned by God).

A degree of clarity has emerged after much vexed exegesis. The tide is flowing toward the understanding that the Bible indeed does condemn all forms of homosexual sex. Many scholars now assert that the Bible addresses not only abusive or cultic forms of homosexuality but also the loving, caring homosexual relationships of today. Robert A. Gagnon's The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon Press, 2001) concludes that the Bible unequivocally defines same-sex intercourse as sin. Reviewers critical of the book tend to challenge its understanding of the biblical authority rather than its exegetical arguments.

When Paul states in Romans 1:26-27 that acts of sexual passion between two women or two men ("consumed with passion for one another" NRSV) are "unnatural," he did not mean "contrary to what a person feels is natural" but rather "contrary to the natural order as God originally created it. God the Creator made man and woman for each other, to cleave together, to be fruitful and multiply. When human beings 'exchange' these created roles for homosexual intercourse, they embody the spiritual condition of those who have 'exchanged the truth about God for a lie.'

Love can be present within lesbian and gay relationships; but are such relationships in accordance with love that is "the fulfilling of God's law"? Is there harm present in same-sex relations? Homosexual practice in its most common form represents such serious health risks that it constitutes a sin against the body. A simple understanding of human reproduction and anatomy is enough to make it clear that homosexual intercourse is behavior that is contrary to the intent of nature.

Faithfulness is foreign to the experience of most male homosexuals. There is little indication, for instance, that monogamy is typical of gays -- even in long-term committed relationships (marriage, etc.).

Why would anyone claiming to be a God-fearing, Christ-following Christian choose such a controversial lifestyle? Are we not admonished to avoid even the appearance of impropriety? We live in a fallen world and we all sin. The majority of evidence reveals that the act of homosexuality is learned not inherited. The majority of evidence reveals that the act of homosexulaity is sin and like any other sin, a true Christian will turn to God for help in overcoming it.

Michael said...

Lavon,
I'll check out Gagnon's arguments. From my study, one is hard pressed to equate biblical admonitions against homosexuality with loving homosexual relationships today. Homosexuality of the OT and NT times was known in the form of rape (subjecting enemies to shame or as in Sodom story), cultic prostitution, and pederasty. Check out a short book by Philo Thelos called God is Not a Homophobe for these arguments.

My study of the Romans 1 passage is that the word "natural" (physis) is same word that Paul used in I Cor. 11:14 to refer to long hair on a man as unnatural. Here the subject is "natural" based on custom not created order.

Homosexual relationships are not necessarily a health risk-- they are when practiced irresponsably and indiscriminately. But so are heterosexual relationships a health risk as in Africa where AIDS spread is predominantly heterosexual. Female homosexuality is a low health risk.

Faithfulness is foreign to many homosexuals, yes, but also to some heterosexuals too. However, there are homosexuals that promote committed faithful relationships.

I have always thought that homosexuality is learned but evidence from life testimonies and experiences with ex-gay groups reveals that theory is problematic. I know many who have done what you said (a true Christian will turn to God for help in overcoming it) but despite sincere, agonizing, and pleading attempts, have not overcome it (e.g. Mel White's story). Why did God answer my prayer to overcome irresponsible drinking but He won't answer a homosexual's prayer to overcome their sexual orientation?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for mentioning the book, GOD IS NOT A HOMOPHOBE, by Philo Thelos. It answers all the arguments offered by the anti-gay crowd, and shows that the Bible is not anti-gay. It merely points to some homosexual sins, just as it points to some heterosexual sins. But the Bible does not condemn heterosexuality as such, nor homosexuality as such. The issue of homosexuality is only one of many, which suffer from the bias of entrenched "scholarship" that skillfully delves as deeply as possible into a merely superficial examination of the issue. The result is always a merely superficial - and wrong - view of the issue. This is the sort of "scholarship" that created the atmosphere that allowed the church to murder millions of "witches" and "heretics." The same sort of "scholarship" supported slavery during the Civil War. That same "scholarship" presently attempts to keep women from the full privileges of the Gospel. If the church now possessed the power it once had, we would be witnessing wholesale slaughter of homosexuals, because of pesudo-scholarship that CANNOT see anything except the traditional interpretation of the Bible that allows people to marginalize millions of people who pursue a lifestyle that is not "mainstream."
The Bible simply does not condemn consensual homosexuality. No one should do so.

EDWIN P. said...

Michael it is so nice to find somebody who agrees with me with regards to the rights of gays and lesbians. I live in Canada where gays and lesbians are protected under human rights and hate crime laws. Gay marriage has been legal here since 2005 under the Federal Civil Marriage Act. It is called Civil for a reason in that the law only applies to civil marriage thus leaving churches free to decide whether or not they want to perform gay marriages. While there are churches that do not perform gay marriages there are also churches that welcomed the change and do. The United Chruch of Canada which is the largest Protestant Denomination in Canada was one church that lobbied for this law to be enacted. As the law allows gays and lesbians to marry but at the same time protects freedom of religion, it is constitutional.

Even though gay marriage is legal, the largest number of marriages performed in Canada are still hetrosexual. And the country has not fallen apart as a result of the new law. In fact, things here have never been better. A country where people of all persuasions can live together in perfect harmony, PRICELESS!

Gay Christian 101 said...

Thank you Michael, for your wonderful post! It is refreshing to see a non-gay Christian who believes truth about this divisive topic.

I appreciate your thoughtful analysis.

Rick Brentlinger

Anonymous said...

There is a way that seems right to man but in the end leads only to death.

Anonymous said...

Genesis tells us that God commanded Adam and Eve to procreate and fill the earth...I would submit that homosexuals can not do such a thing and that we might take the whole counsel of God into mind when dealing with these issues.

EDWIN P said...

Yes God said to be fruitful and multiply but you have to look at things in perspective. When this command was given Adam and Eve were the only persons on this earth. Today the earth has seen an increase in population from 2 billion to over 6 billion in 75 years and the numbers keep getting higher. We have three times the people we should have on this earth and there is no way we could support 18 to 20 billion only 75 years from now. Homosexuality is one way of turning off the tap. Also single people and persons who marry after child bearing years cannot be fruitful and multiply but there is no censure from God shown in the Bible towards these people. And Jesus Christ never said anything against homosexuality so any Biblical arguments against it are weak and lack sufficient support.

Anonymous said...

I found this site using [url=http://google.com]google.com[/url] And i want to thank you for your work. You have done really very good site. Great work, great site! Thank you!

Sorry for offtopic

Anonymous said...

I'm a little late to the game on this, but I'm speaking to Anonymous' comment "Genesis tells us that God commanded Adam and Eve to procreate and fill the earth...I would submit that homosexuals can not do such a thing and that we might take the whole counsel of God into mind when dealing with these issues."

As there are many barren women living in the world today, would you also tell them that as they cannot procreate the earth, are they forbidden to be in a committed, sexual relationship as well?

Anonymous said...

What if God simply just changed his mind? What if he was all like,

"You know what, times have changed. There are PLENTY of humans roaming the world now, humans are a bit more merciful than they were in the olden days, what the heck? As long as they still worship me and create love and refrain from false ,(Aka Lust, greed, wrath etc.)I see no reason not to lift the ban!"

God has choice does he not? What if he just decided it was time for a change? We don't sacrifice goats anymore nor own slaves! Why can't homosexuality be treated a little more lightly now there are plenty of humans multiplying.

You humans need to concentrate on other things rather than homosexuality like...Caring for the gifts the Lord gave you (Your mind, body and spirit as well as the enviroment and keeping the peace.)

One more comment, no human has the power to say who goes to heaven or hell, only the devine may choose who rests in peace and who burns. Nobody can predict God's full intentions nor make his decisions. (FYI God isn't even a "He" nor a "she". At least from my experience. XP )

Anonymous said...

Hello Thank you! I always wanted to write in my site something like that. Can I take part of your post to my blog?

Sisterlisa said...

No matter what a person says about GLBTs, the bottom line is grace and Jesus covered everything, past, present, and future. Abstinence doesn't get us 'saved' nor does it keep us 'saved'.

B Downs said...

I would like to comment on Paul's usage of natural and unnatural acts. I'm not Jewish,but I found this out researching the subject. In Judaism, Unnatural sex means anal sex and sometimes oral. Here are some examples,

"Since a man's wife is permitted to him,he may act with her in any manner whatsoever. He may have intercourse with her whenever he wants and kiss any part of her body he wants and he may have intercourse with her naturally or unnaturally." (traditionally,this refers to anal and oral sex)

Google Mishneh Torah Laws Concerning Forbidden Relations 21:9 Unnatural intercourse.

Also,try,myjewishlearning.com/life/Sex_and_Sexuality/Jewish_Approaches/Purpose_and_meaning/Sexual_Pleasure-shtml.

Heres' a verse from the Babylonian Talmud

"And with a man you shall not lie the lyings of a woman-this teaches that there are two modes of intimacy,natural and unnatural(vaginal and anal) both of which are punished when committed incenestuously."

come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin59

Also,Google Sanhedrin 59a

So Paul is talking about both the men
and the women having anal sex.

B Downs said...

I read your blog on homosexuality and the Bible and you said that female homosexuality is mentioned once in Romans. When Paul says unnatural sex, that's another way of saying anal sex or sometimes oral sex in Jewish culture Here's an example,

"Since a man's wife is permitted to him,he may act with her in any manner whatsoever. He may have intercourse
with her whenever he desires and kiss any organ of her body he wants and he may have intercourse with her in a natural manner(traditionally,this refers to anal or oral sex), provided that he does not expend semen to no purpose.

Mishneh Torah, Laws Concerning Forbidden Relations 21:9

Here's another passage from the Babylonian Talmud:

"Whence do I know that pederasty is punishable by stoning? Our rabbis taught, If a man also lies with mankind as the lyings of a woman,
both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death, their blood shall be upon them.
A man excludes a minor that also lies with,mankind-denotes whether an adult or a minor as the lyings of a woman- this teaches that there are two modes of lying with a woman,natural and unnatural(vaginal and anal) both of which are punished when committed incestuously."

Google Sanhedrin 54 Babylonian Talmud
or visit come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_54.html