1996-1998 C. Ann Shepherd.

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Revised Friday, December 11, 1998

 

The Bible and Homosexuality

The Bible has long been used by society to discriminate against, and persecute gays and lesbians. Careful study, however, reveals that while the Bible does condemn homosexual and heterosexual cult prostitution, it says nothing about loving committed homosexual relationships. Jesus himself said nothing about homosexuality, which leads many to believe it was not one of his main concerns.

Unfortunately, many passages from the Bible are often taken out of context, or interpreted without consideration for the cultural aspects associated with the time period in which they were written. To emphasize this point, consider the following sentence: "He was such a neat man." In order to understand the writers meaning, you must consider the time period in which it was written. If this sentence were written in the 1900's it would be assumed that the word "neat", was a reference to the man's tidiness. If it were written in 1996, however, the word "neat" could be interpreted to mean both tidy, or the presence of admirable qualities.

Many versions of the Bible exist. Each reflects the limited scientific knowledge, personal beliefs of its translators, and the social beliefs of the time period in which it was translated. Personal biases, and societies prejudices have unavoidably distorted the Bible's many translations. In addition, it is sometimes difficult to find a current word that accurately defines the Hebrew or Greek term in question. Unfortunately, this has resulted in the mistranslation of some of the more ambiguous text contained in the Bible. 

The following is a summary of the common passages used to falsely condemn homosexuals

The Story of Sodom- Genesis 19:1-25

     Many people carelessly proclaim that God destroyed the city of Sodom because of homosexuality. A careful look however, reveals that this is unlikely.

Two angels were sent to Sodom by God, where Lot, Abraham's nephew, persuades the divine travelers to stay in his home. It is important to note that travelers depended on the kindness of strangers. Ancient hospitality codes required people to offer food, shelter and protection to people who were traveling. Without these codes travel would have been difficult, if not impossible.

After the Angels ate and were preparing for bed, all of the people of Sodom converged on Lots home, demanding that the angels come out so that the towns people might know (rape) them. In an effort to protect his guests, Lot denies the angry mob access to the angels, but offers his two virgin daughters instead. This suggests Lot knew his neighbors to be heterosexual. The townspeople refuse, and charge at Lot in an attempt to gain access to the angels. At this point the angels pull Lot back inside the house, and render the angry crowd blind so they can not find the door. The angels then warn Lot to gather his family and leave the city because it will soon be destroyed.

Much confusion over this passage has to do with the phrase to know them. The Hebrew word yadha (to know) has several different meanings throughout the Bible. In most cases it means to "have thorough knowledge of." In many cases it means "to check the credentials of", and in some cases may mean to "have sex with". In this case, however, it is clear that the townspeople wanted to harm the strangers, and because of ancient hospitality codes, Lot felt compelled to protect his guests. The townspeople wanted to perform an act of violence by raping the angels, a grave violation of ancient hospitality codes.

Homosexual rape was not uncommon. Kings of conquered tribes were sometimes raped by the invading army as the ultimate symbol of defeat and humiliation. The men in these armies were not homosexual, they were heterosexuals performing an act of violence. Never in any culture has more than a minority of the population been homosexual, and it is unlikely that all of the men in these armies or all the men of Sodom were gay.

Unfortunately, some people have focused on rape as a sexual act, rather than an act of violence, and have missed the point completely. The reason for Sodom's destruction is made clear in Ezekiel 16:48-50. According to Ezekiel, the sins of Sodom were pride, laziness, being inhospitable, neglecting the needs of the poor, greed, and idolatry (the worshipping of idols). Nothing about homosexuality is mentioned, nor is it mentioned in any other passage of Scripture which refers to the account of Sodom.

An Abomination - Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13

Perhaps the two most widely abused verses used to condemn homosexuality come from Leviticus.

You shall not lie with man as one lies with a women; this is an abomination.
Leviticus 18:22
If a man also lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they should surely be put to death.
Leviticus 20:13

First of all, the Holiness Code of Leviticus was written primarily as a ritual manual for Israel's priests. Christians today are not bound by the rules and rituals described in Leviticus. (Galatians 3:22-25) If Christians today insist on using this passage to condemn homosexuality, then they are also bound by the other rules and rituals described in Leviticus.

Among other things, the Holiness Code of Leviticus prohibits:

Sexual intercourse during a women's menstrual cycle

Tattoos

Wearing certain types of jewelry

Eating certain kinds of meat

Wearing clothing made from blended textiles (cotton-polyester blends)

Cross-breeding livestock

Sowing a field with mixed seed

Eating or touching the dead flesh of pigs, rabbits, & some forms of seafood

Men cutting their hair or shaving their beards

The Holiness Code also endorses polygamy and requires Saturday to be reserved as the Sabbath. Obviously, it is unfair to use these passages to condemn homosexuality, while ignoring the fact that most Christians do not follow the rest of the rules and rituals outlined in the Holiness Code of Leviticus.

It should also be noted that the word abomination was translated from the Hebrew word toevah and means something found detestable by God because it is unclean, disloyal, or unjust. The term abomination is generally associated with idolatry and the Canaanite religious practice of cult prostitution. (Ezekiel) Given toevah's strong association with cult prostitution it is unlikely that this passage applies to loving responsible homosexual relationships.

 

1 Corinthians 6:9 & 1 Timothy 1:10

"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God."
1Corinthians 6:9 KJV
For Whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;
1 Timothy 1:1 KJV

There are two words which appear to have been mistranslated. Malakee (effeminate) which appears in 1 Corinthians, and arsenokeeteh (abusers of themselves with mankind) which appears in both 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy.

The Greek term malakee is used elsewhere in the Bible to mean someone who lacks discipline or one who is morally weak, and never is it used in reference to sexuality or gender. It wasn't until 1946 that malakee was given a sexual connotation when it was translated to mean "sexual perverts" in the Revised Standard Version.

The second term arsenokeeteh literally means "male-active-bed". Unfortunately, arsenokeeteh has been interpreted by some to mean homosexual. The term arsenokeeteh is obscure, as evidenced by the variety of interpretations it has been assigned throughout history (including "people with infamous habits", and "child molesters"). If Paul was addressing male homosexuality why did he choose such an obscure word when there were Greek words that were more commonly used to describe homosexual behavior? Given Paul's concern with temple prostitution, wouldn't it make more sense to assume that "male-active-bed" was a reference to the male cult prostitution that was prevalent in Greco-Roman culture at that time?

 

Against the Laws of Nature - Romans 1:26

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural (physin) relations for unnatural (para physin) ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural (physin) relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.
Romans 1:26

In the preceding passage the Greek words physin and paraphysin have been translated to mean natural and unnatural respectively. Contrary to popular belief, the word paraphysin does not mean "to go against the laws of nature", but rather implies action which is uncharacteristic for that person. An example of the word paraphysin is used in Romans 11:24, where God acts in an uncharacteristic (paraphysin) way to accept the Gentiles. When the scripture is understood correctly, it seems to imply that it would be unnatural for heterosexuals to live as homosexuals, and for homosexuals to live as heterosexuals.

 

See also: Dispelling the Myth by Rev. Bob Ellis. A detailed look at the Bible, Christianity and homosexuality.