I ran into another old man at Island Jo’s coffee shop. I liked his haircut and asked him about his barber. As in many small towns, this led to a rather extended conversation. He told me that he had been to church and that he liked this church because they preached against homosexuality. Mind you, this was my first conversation with this man and it was the only “virtue” of his church that came up. I had to wonder why this issue was so important to a man who was at the coffee shop with a woman I presumed to be his wife.
Maybe I’m being judgmental, but I wonder, did he want to identify sin with some behavior with which he didn’t struggle so that he could feel self-righteous compared to those “evil” people? It made me think of the Westboro Baptist doctrine of hating others so that we don’t have to feel bad about ourselves. Let’s face it, that doctrine isn’t unique to religious groups.
I mentioned in my last Beach Meditation that above all of the technical skills required to parse theology and hermeneutics, I believe there are two over-arching principles with which our conclusions must be consistent. God is love and the mark of being a follower of Jesus is love and that love is the kind of love that humbles itself to serve others so that they can bear fruit that will glorify God.
I know of too many LGBTQ who have been hurt by both hateful and well-meaning people like myself who claim to be Christians. I had a preacher once who said, “Don’t judge Jesus, by the people who claim to be his friends.”
I don’t think I’ve ever had a hateful attitude toward homosexuals, but I did understand the Bible to teach that homosexuality was a sin – not a 10 commandments level sin, but still a sin. But because I love the gay people I’ve known and I’ve always been open about what I believe, I’m sure I’ve come across in hurtful ways – especially given the overall tenor of the modern church as a context for my words.
But for years, I have been looking for some guidance on a biblical understanding of homosexuality. It was easy to find those who understood the Bible to teach that homosexuality was a sin. But despite my inquiries to various pastors whose churches I knew to be inclusive, I was unable to find anyone who would dig into the Bible and help me to understand how they came out on the inclusive end of the scale.
I follow a gay couple on YouTube. Chris and Clay are song and dance men and I’m a sucker for singing and dancing. Yesterday, I watched the video in which they shared their coming out story. Clay’s family had been supportive without making a big deal out of it. But Chris had grown up in the Bible belt and his family, while affirming their love for him and that nothing would change how they felt about him, his family believed that his lifestyle was sinful. He was so deeply hurt. I could feel my own eyes well up with tears as he shared his pain.
In the description of the video, Chris shared an article that at last gave me a jumping off point for re-examining the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality. The author, Ed Oxford, believes that what the Bible teaches is a prohibition against the ancient practice of pederasty in which adolescent boys were given to men in high position – sometimes even by the boy’s parents.
The OT commands against male with male relations may well have referred to this pederasty or pedophilia. The word translated ‘male’ in the two key verses of Leviticus, 18:22 and 20:30, could refer to a male of any age but typical usage referred to boys of an age to be circumcised and one-year-old male livestock to be used in sacrifices, young males.
There is some ambiguity here since the meaning seems to be dependent on the context. Leviticus 12:2 clearly implies that ‘zakar’ refers to a male baby. Whereas in Genesis 1:27 and in the pairing of animals for the ark, ‘zakar’ seems to refer merely to gender.
In the case of Leviticus 18, it isn’t clear whether it is saying a man shouldn’t have sex with a man as though their partner were a woman or whether it is saying a man shouldn’t have sex with a boy as though their partner were a woman, which would refer to the common practice of pederasty in that day.
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 ־ – זָכָ ר zkr male
His research showed that translations from the Hebrew in this passage and the Greek in the New Testament took it as a prohibition on pedophilia until the RSV translated 1 Corinthians 6:9 as ‘homosexual’ in 1948, the year my parents graduated from high school. The first German translation to go this way was in 1983, the year my stepson was born. The earlier KJV went with the delicate but vague translation which went with ‘abusers of themselves with mankind’.
The New International Version translation of 1Corinthians 6:9 reads “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men.”
Paul appears to have used ‘arsenokoitai’ only twice, here in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. The roots of the word come from ‘arseno’-‘man’ and ‘koitai’-‘bed’ (a word from which we get the English word ‘coitus’). The footnote in the NIV says that the two words used in the Greek, ‘malakoi’ and ‘arsenokoitai’ are referring to an effeminate male using another male as a “man bed”. It might be worth noting that in the other uses in the New Testament, ‘malaka’ is used to describe clothing as soft or fine.
An issue I have with the NIV translation is that the Greek says ‘oute malakoi oute arsenokai’, literally ‘not soft ones, not man-beds’. At first, it seems that ‘soft ones’ and ‘man-beds’ are separate items on the list of badly behaving people (together with the sexually immoral, idolaters, and adulterers). This suggests that Paul is not condemning one partner and viewing the other as a victim.
Yet, this understanding didn’t evolve in modern Bible translations until the mid-twentieth century.
The two words ‘arseno’ and ‘koitai’ are, according to Kevin DeYoung, the same Greek words used individually (as opposed to Paul combining them into one word) in the Greek translation of Leviticus 18 and 20. The Septuagint was the Greek translation of the Old Testament used at the time that Paul wrote his part of the New Testament.
For centuries ‘arsenokoitai’ was translated into various languages to mean ‘boy abusers’. The heavy tie to the ambiguous language of Leviticus likewise renders Paul’s usage to be ambiguous.
Given Jesus’ protective nature with respect to children (millstone anyone?) I have no doubt that ‘boy molesters’ are a no-go in the kingdom of God.
Romans 1:24-27 Does appear to be talking about queer sex but in the context of idol worship in the Isis temple.
Paul appears to have accepted that some of the revolutionary things that he taught, like “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28), would not be fully realized until we get to heaven.
It certainly isn’t clear to me what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. That word doesn’t exist in the original languages of the Bible. Behaviors that some equate with homosexuality are described but in terms that in their cultural context could be referring to instances of male-on-male rape, pedophilia, and the worship of idols.
I will continue to pray for and work toward a better, more clear understanding of biblical teaching on sexuality and sexual abuse.
If you have sincere questions about or insights into the meaning of the original Hebrew and Greek texts, please share them in the comments. But be warned, those who approach this discussion with a hateful attitude will be blocked and their comments deleted. Before you show us what you know (or think you know), show us how much you love the people engaging in this discussion. If you can’t “speak the truth in love”, keep it to yourself.