by Rev. Elder Don Eastman
The Bible is a collection of writings which span more than a thousand years recounting the history of God’s relationship with the Hebrew and Christian people. It was written in several languages, embraces many literary forms, and reflects cultures very different from our own. These are important considerations for properly understanding the Bible in its context. There are vast differences in doctrines between various Christian denominations, all of which use the same Bible. Such differences have led some Christians to claim that other Christians are not really Christians at all! Biblical interpretation and theology differ from church to church.
What was the Sin of Sodom? – Scripture Study
Some "televangelists" carelessly proclaim that God destroyed the ancient cities of
Announcing judgment on these cities in Genesis 18, God sends two angels to
Horrified at this gross violation of ancient hospitality rules,
Several observations are important.
First, the judgment on these cities for their wickedness had been announced prior to the alleged homosexual incident.
Second, all of
Fourth, if the issue was sexual, why did God spare
states it clearly. The people of
The Holiness Code – Scripture Study
Christians today do not follow the rules and rituals described in Leviticus. But some ignore its definitions of their own "uncleanness" while quoting Leviticus to condemn "homosexuals." Such abuse of Scripture distorts the Old Testament meaning and denies a New Testament message. "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination." These words occur solely in the Holiness Code of Leviticus, a ritual manual for
Hebrew religion, characterized by the revelation of one God, stood in continuous tension with the religion of the surrounding Canaanites who worshipped the multiple gods of fertility cults. Canaanite idol worship, which featured female and male cult prostitution as noted in Deuteronomy 23:17, repeatedly compromised
What is an "Abomination"?
An abomination is that which God found detestable because it was unclean, disloyal, or unjust. Several Hebrew words were so translated, and the one found in Leviticus, toevah, is usually associated with idolatry, as in Ezekiel, where it occurs numerous times. Given the strong association of toevah with idolatry and the canaanite religious practice of cult prostitution, the use of toevah regarding male same-sex acts in Leviticus calls into question any conclusion that such condemnation also applies to loving, responsible homosexual relationships.
Rituals and Rules
Rituals and Rules found in the Old Testament were given to preserve the distinctive characteristics of the religion and culture of
The New Testament – Scripture Study
Most New Testament books, including the four Gospels, are silent on same-sex acts, and Paul is the only author who makes any reference to the subject. The most negative statement by Paul regarding same-sex acts occurs in Romans 1:24-27 where, in the context of a larger argument on the need of all people for the gospel of Jesus Christ, certain homosexual behavior is given as an example of the "uncleanness" of idolatrous Gentiles.
This raises the question: Does this passage refer to all homosexual acts, or to certain homosexual behavior known to Paul’s readers? The book of Romans was written to Jewish and Gentile Christians in
The homosexual practices cited in Romans 1:24-27 were believed to result from idolatry and are associated with some very serious offenses as noted in Romans 1. Taken in this larger context, it should be obvious that such acts are significantly different from loving, responsible lesbian and gay relationships seen today.
What is "Natural"?
Significant to Paul’s discussion is the fact that these "unclean" Gentiles exchanged that which was "natural" for them, physin, in the Greek text, for something "unnatural," para physin. In Romans 11:24, God acts in an "unnatural" way, para physin, to accept the Gentiles. "Unnatural" in these passages does not refer to violation of so-called laws of nature, but rather implies action contradicting one’s own nature. In view of this, we should observe that it is "unnatural," para physin, for a person today with a lesbian or gay sexual orientation to attempt living a heterosexual lifestyle.
Reference to Lesbianism?
Romans is the only statement in the Bible with a possible reference to lesbian behavior, although the specific intent of this verse is unclear. Some authors have seen in this passage a reference to women adopting a dominant role in heterosexual relationships. Given the repressive cultural expectations placed on women in Paul’s time, such a meaning may be possible.
The Other Verses…
I Corinthians 6:9
Any consideration of New Testament statements on same-sex acts must carefully view the social context of the Greco-Roman culture in which Paul ministered. Prostitution and pederasty (sexual relationships of adult men with boys) were the most commonly known male same-sex acts.
In I Corinthians 6:9, Paul condemns those who are "effeminate" and "abusers of themselves with mankind," as translated in the King James version. Unfortunately, some new translations are worse, rendering these words "homosexuals." Recent scholarship unmasks the homophobia behind such mistranslations.
The first word – malakos, in the Greek text-which has been translated "effeminate" or "soft," most likely refers to someone who lacks discipline or moral control. The word is used elsewhere in the New Testament but never with reference to sexuality.
The second word, Arsenokoitai, occurs once each in I Corinthians and I Timothy (), but nowhere else in other literature of the period. It is derived from two Greek words, one meaning, "males" and the other "beds", a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Other Greek words were commonly used to describe homosexual behavior but do not appear here. The larger context of I Corinthians 6 shows Paul extremely concerned with prostitution, so it is very possible he was referring to male prostitutes. But many experts now attempting to translate these words have reached a simple conclusion: their precise meaning is uncertain.
Scripture Study Conclusion…No Law Against Love
The rarity with which Paul discusses any form of same-sex behavior and the ambiguity in references attributed to him make it extremely unsound to conclude any sure position in the New Testament on homosexuality, especially in the context of loving, responsible relationships. Since any arguments must be made from silence, it is much more reliable to turn to great principles of the Gospel taught by Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. Do not judge others, lest you be judged. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love . . . against such there is no law.
One thing is abundantly clear, as Paul stated in Galatians 5:14:
"…the whole Law is fulfilled in one statement,
‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself".
"The homosexuality the New Testament opposes is the pederasty of the Greco-Roman culture; the attitudes toward pederasty and, in part, the language used to oppose it are informed by the Jewish background."
Robin Scroggs, Professor of Biblical Theology,
Union Theological Seminary,
"One cannot be absolutely certain that the two key words in I Corinthians 6:9 are meant as references to male homosexual behavior."
Victor Paul Furnish, Professor of New Testament,
"The strongest New Testament argument against homosexual activity is intrinsically immoral has been derived traditionally from Romans , where this activity is indicated as para physin. The normal English translation for this has been ‘against nature.’ Two interpretations can be justified concerning what Paul meant by the phrase. It could refer to the individual pagan, who goes beyond his own sexual appetites in order to indulge in new sexual pleasure. The second possibility is that physis refers to the ‘nature’ of the chosen people who were forbidden by Levitical law to have homosexual relations."
John J. McNeill, Adjunct Professor of Psychology,
Union Theological Seminary,
"A close reading of Paul’s discussion of homosexual acts in Romans 1 does not support the common modern interpretation of the passage. Paul did not deny the existence of a distinction between clean and unclean and even assumed that Jewish Christians would continue to observe the purity code. He refrained. However, from identifying physical impurity with sin or demanding that Gentiles adhere to that code."
William Countryman, Professor of New Testament,
"The Hebrew word ‘toevah,’ here translated ‘abomination,’ does not usually signify something intrinsically evil, like rape or theft (discussed elsewhere in Leviticus), but something which is ritually unclean for Jews, like eating pork or engaging in intercourse during menstruation, both of which are prohibited in these same chapters."
John Boswell, Professor of History,
The following books are highly recommended for those wishing to carefully study issues of homosexuality as related to the Christian Church:
Boswell, John. Christianity, social tolerance, and homosexuality: gay people in
Countryman, Louis William. Gifted by Otherness: Gay and Lesbian Christians in the Church. Morehouse Publishing, 2001.
Furnish, Victor Paul (1979). The Moral Teaching of Paul.
Goss, Robert E and Mona West, ed Take Back the Word. Pilgrim Press, 2000
Hanks, Tom. God So Loved the
Helminiak, Daniel A. What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality.
Heyward, Carter. Touching Our Strength: The Erotic As Power and the Love of God. Harpercollins 1989.
Horner, Tom (1978). Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times.
McNeill, John J. (1988). The Church and the Homosexual.
Scroggs, Robin (1983). The New Testament and Homosexuality.