October 1, 2014

What Does the Bible Actually Say about Homosexuality?

MOD NOTE: I have been deleting and editing a lot of comments because you are not sticking to the topic. This post is about one thing — EXAMINING WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY. It is not about our personal reflections or ethical considerations of the subject. All I want to do is look at what the Bible says. If you disagree with my interpretation, that is perfectly acceptable, but the proper way to respond is to set forth your interpretation and show why it’s better. Stick to the topic at hand, please.

• • •

In last week’s discussions, a number of comments asserted that the Bible is crystal clear about the subject of homosexuality. Others questioned that claim. It might be worth our while to look at the texts and discuss what we see.

The first point to note is that the Bible only has six passages which speak directly to homosexual relations. Others, of course, have implications for the debate, such as texts from Genesis 1-2, which describe God making humankind in his image, male and female, blessing them that they might be fruitful and multiply, making Adam and Eve and bringing them together to be “one flesh.”

This text certainly sets forth God’s blessing upon the union of woman and man in marriage and the bearing of children through that union. An argument can be made that the union of Adam and Eve is indeed the “high point” of the Genesis 2 narrative, the culmination of God’s plan for humankind and the relationship that best portrays his own nature and character.

More about this Scripture in this afternoon’s post.

What about the passages in the Bible that directly address homosexuality? There are six:

  • Genesis 19 — the story of Sodom
  • Leviticus 18:22 — prohibition of “lying with a man as with a woman”
  • Leviticus 20:13 — law stating that lying with a man as with a woman is an abomination, punishable by death
  • Romans 1:18-32 — Paul’s description of Gentile ungodliness, including “exchanging the natural function for the unnatural”
  • 1Corinthians 6:9-10 — Paul’s statement that “sodomites” (NRSV) will not inherit God’s kingdom
  • 1Timothy 1:9-10 — Paul’s statement that “sodomites” (NRSV) are among the “lawless and disobedient”

What do these passages from the Bible tell us to guide us in our moral consideration of homosexuality?

Lot Flees Sodom, von Carolsfeld

Genesis 19, which tells of the angels’ visit to Sodom and the rescue of Lot from the wicked city, says “But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them'” (19:4-5, NRSV).

We get our word “sodomy” from this incident. The men were calling for Lot to send out his visitors and these men of Sodom intended to rape them. In panic, Lot offered his daughters to the men, but they became enraged and stormed the house. As I read this passage, it may or may not signify that homosexual relations were characteristic of those who lived in Sodom. What is clear is that they were violent, cruel, and willing to use such shameful and degrading tactics as homosexual rape in their opposition to Lot.

An illustration of what I think is happening here — Responding to reports from the former Yugoslavia, Sudan’s Darfur region, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Liberia, in June 2008, the UN Security Council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution classifying rape as a weapon of war. The resolution described sexual violence as “a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.” I think that is more like what is going on in Genesis 19 than a mere description of people who had same-sex attraction or practiced regular homosexual sex. It may be the case that they were homosexuals, but I’m not sure the text warrants certainty about this.

Leviticus 18:22 reads, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

Leviticus 20:13 says, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

These statement are clear prohibitions of male-male intercourse. But they raise some tough questions for those who would try to use them as ethical standards for people today. They are part of the Levitical law, which is notoriously difficult to apply under the New Covenant for many reasons. One of those reasons is that the contexts of these passages pose questions and dilemmas for our moral reasoning. For example, in Leviticus 18, this verse closely follows one that forbids husbands and wives from having sex during a woman’s menstrual period, and considers that every bit as much an abomination as homosexual sex, bestiality, and sacrificing one’s children by fire to the god Molech. In Leviticus 20, the list of death-deserving offenses parallel to male-male sex includes cursing one’s father and mother, and failing to make proper distinctions between clean and unclean animals. If we are going to say that the church is bound to Levitical law, I’m not sure it is appropriate to cherry-pick which clean/unclean distinctions we are going to keep.

In the New Testament, there are two passages in Paul’s epistles with sin lists that some translations and interpreters link to homosexuality.

  • The first is 1Corinthians 6:9-10“Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.”
  • The second is 1Timothy 1:9-10 “the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave-traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching…”

The word Paul uses in both texts, rendered “sodomites” by the NRSV, is a rare one and therefore difficult to pin down as to its exact meaning in Paul’s cultural context. Luther translated it “defilers of boys,” seeing in it an abusive and exploitative kind of pederasty. A second word in the Corinthians text, translated as “male prostitutes” by the NRSV, and “effeminate” in some other translations, literally means “soft.” Luther rendered this obscure word, “weaklings,” and the New Jerusalem Bible brings out its general ethical significance by using “self-indulgent.” Dr. Brian Peterson comments: “Basically, one was considered ‘soft’ if one allowed desires to gain control. This language of ‘soft’ was used to describe men who ate too much, slept too much, and those who engaged in too much sex, whether with boys, or men, or multiple women, or even with one’s own wife.” Some translations have taken one use of this in ancient culture — those who submit as passive partners to pederasts — but the word is broader than that.

That brings us to Romans 1:18-32.

Genesis 19 is about forced homosexual rape as a weapon of conflict. The Leviticus texts are problematic because they are part of the old covenant law that includes many prohibitions we don’t consider binding. The words Paul uses in a couple of his sin-lists don’t really speak to homosexuality except for specific abusive and exploitative forms of immoral behavior. However, Romans 1 may be clear. The key words are found in 1:24-27 —

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. (NASB)

In context, the sexual behavior described in these verses is part of a long diatribe detailing the idolatry, immorality, and depravity of the Gentile world. It began when the nations did not honor God or give him thanks as their Creator, but foolishly trusted in their own wisdom and became idolators. In the broader context of Romans, Paul is setting forth a description his fellow Jews would have wholeheartedly commended. Romans 1:18-31 is Paul’s “orthodox” portrayal of the Gentile world from a Jewish point of view.

The big problem is idolatry. Out of that idolatry, all kinds of immoral and destructive patterns of behaving and relating arose. In addition to the sexual behavior he notes “unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful…” So the first thing to note is that this diatribe is describing homosexual behavior that is rooted in idolatry and linked with a whole host of deadly sins that reflect “ungodliness and unrighteousness” (1:18).

The second point to note is that the homosexual behavior described in Romans 1 grows out of “degrading passions” and “burning desires.” It does not reflect any kind of faithful, committed relationships but portrays people out of control sexually, surrendering to intense lustful cravings.

The third point is the most difficult for anyone who might want to find sanction for homosexual relations in Scripture. Paul describes both men and women abandoning the “natural” function for the “unnatural,” suggesting that male-male or female-female sex is contrary to natural law and the design of the Creator. Male and female bodies were made sexually complementary and the union of male and female fulfills the Creator’s design for spouses to become “one flesh” and produce children. That is the “natural” pattern.

One final point must be made about this Romans passage.

Romans 1:18-32 shows a great deal of formal arrangement, and it shares many similarities with tracts against Gentile idolatry in Jewish literature of Paul’s day. Brendan Byrne has an impressive list of parallels in his Sacra Pagina commentary.

In the letter of Romans, 1:18-32 serves an important rhetorical function. One of Paul’s main purposes in writing the epistle was to justify his worldwide ministry to the Gentiles and to help bring peace to Jew-Gentile relations in the Roman congregations. The first part of the apostle’s argument is designed to help his self-righteous Jewish audience understand that they are equally bound by sin and in need of the Good News of Christ despite their possession of God’s law. With that in mind, Romans 1:18-32 functions as a rhetorical trap. Byrne describes how this works:

These parallels show that in 1:18-32 Paul argues out of a defined tradition in Hellenistic Judaism. Within the framework of the intra-Jewish dialogue that he is conducting at this point and for his own rhetorical purposes, he is beguiling the implied reader with a conventional polemic against the Gentile world and its idolatry. He is not directly targeting the Gentile world and certainly not the Gentile believers in Rome. He is not even “demonstrating” the sinfulness of the Gentile world; he takes that for granted. As in Gal. 2:15 (“We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners”) and before springing his rhetorical trap (2:1), he induces his Jewish dialogue partner at this point to sit back and say, “Yes, that’s the Gentile world we all know.”

Romans (Sacra Pagina Series)

When Paul gets to 2:1, he “springs his trap” as he turns to his Jewish audience and addresses them with these words: “Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” In other words, in Romans 1:18-32, Paul describes the sinfulness of the Gentile world using terms that get the most passionate agreement from his Jewish audience, so that he could then turn the tables on them and prove that they are just as guilty as the Gentiles they condemn.

Whatever we make of Paul’s words in Romans 1, we must keep these points in mind. Do they have any impact on the way we view homosexuality today, in our own cultural contexts? From my perspective, Romans 1 is the only text in the Bible that directly speaks to the subject, and it appears that even this passage must be read carefully and interpreted in its context.

 

Comments

  1. Ok, now for my response to the take on the Romans passage. I agree that the primary point of the passage is to address idolatry. However, all the “fruits” of idolatry listed are still all consider sin, so that doesn’t get the sexual part off the hook. The point of the passage isn’t that being gay is wrong, but that sinful actions are symptomatic of a deeper issue: a sin nature that is rebellious against its creator. But the sinful acts themselves are still considered objectively wrong. But to say that: “this diatribe is describing homosexual behavior that is rooted in idolatry and linked with a whole host of deadly sins” does not mean that there are other homosexual activity (such as a “committed relationship”) that are ok, any more than there is a good form of greed, deceit, murder, or hating God. On the second point, when the passage talks of homosexual behavior as growing out of degrading passions and burning desires, it isn’t specifying. It is demonstrating the origin of such behavior generally. Surrendering to intense lustful cravings is exactly what all sexual sin is, there isn’t a version of homosexual behavior to which this doesn’t apply. The passage isn’t implying that those who love and worship God properly can find a proper way to express homosexual activity, but that the activity in general is a result and expression of contempt for God’s purposes in creation, and thereby a spurning of His will generally (like any other sin). As for the rhetorical trap, this is an insightful observation, but it in no way renders the previously described behaviors as actually acceptable, unless Paul is deliberately calling “sin” several things that he truly knows are not. Rhetorical device? Yes, but his points remain valid.
    I couldn’t agree more that we need to exercise the utmost care in handling this text. Specks and planks, right? To many use this as a hammer against homosexuality because it’s not a particular sin they struggle with, but why isn’t anybody using this as a hammer against greed? Case in point, the phrase “received in themselves the due penalty for their sin.”: We’ve all heard fundamentalists saying that this refers to aids as divine punishment on the homosexual community. This is absurd on several levels: aids affects all communities of all people, and did not exist (as far as we know) during Paul’s time. Paul was NOT making a prophecy about something that would happen in the 1900’s, he was making an observation about the present. So what is the “due punishment” that homosexuals receive “in themselves?” Could it actually be that instead of singling out homosexuality as especially wicked or depraved, more than the other sins, that instead Paul is making the point that homosexual behavior, as the fruit of idolatry, is in fact its’s own punishment?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Case in point, the phrase “received in themselves the due penalty for their sin.”: We’ve all heard fundamentalists saying that this refers to aids as divine punishment on the homosexual community. This is absurd on several levels: aids affects all communities of all people, and did not exist (as far as we know) during Paul’s time. Paul was NOT making a prophecy about something that would happen in the 1900?s, he was making an observation about the present.

      An assumption similar to the one that John in the Book of Revelation was prophesying details that would happen in the high-tech 1970s and could not be understood until then, and all Christians for 1,970 years before Hal Lindsay were too ignorant to truly understand. Do I need to go on about just how arrogant an assumption that is?

      Could it actually be that instead of singling out homosexuality as especially wicked or depraved, more than the other sins, that instead Paul is making the point that homosexual behavior, as the fruit of idolatry, is in fact its’s own punishment?

      That the Goyim have not Torah, and rut like animals in the dirt instead of Transcending the Animal?

      • Hay Carumba, HUG, I usually love your comments, but sometimes they are just a bit too cryptic for me to decipher.

    • “aids affects all communities of all people” Sorry, not true. By and large it affects only those who engage in particular behaviors or those who partner with those who engage in particular behaviors. There is SOME cross infection, but it is not significant. AIDS is still largely a disease that affect homosexual practitioners and I.V. drug users.

      Other than THAT one point, the post was pretty solid.

      • No, you are right, I was making a sloppy generalization. I just meant that it was by no means an exclusively homosexual affliction, heterosexuals get it too.

      • CORRECTION: This applies to first world countries. In Africa and other third world countries it IS pandemic.

      • Actually, there are NO reported cases of HIV in Lesbians that have resulted from sexual contact.

    • +1

  2. I think the argument from Romans is the only ‘safe’ one as it avoids all the issues related to OT law under the New Covenant, cultural issues and so forth (most of which are probably valid points).

    I believe the Romans argument is actually a little stronger than CM puts it. Certainly it is part of the ‘trap’ for his Jewish interlocutor, but it only ‘works’ because of its truth. It also involves idolatry but that is not the starting point or the ‘real problem’. The starting point for Paul’s argument is the failure to acknowledge God as God or be thankful. Once one fails to acknowledge God (in his argument, as creator and sustainer) one begins a downward progression (Paul is painting a picture of the pagan world of his day, with a rather broad brush) and one of the first steps is idolatry. As has been pointed about in other comments, there are strong ties to Genesis in this chapter. There are also ties forward in Romans – specifically to Rom. 3:23 (the ‘glory of God’ thing, which is almost certainly a reference to the image of God, and to Rom. 8 where even creation gets ‘fixed’ [the created order restored and the 'sons of God' along with it]).

    What Paul is arguing (to get an ‘amen’ from his Jewish interlocutor) is that the root problem is the failure to acknowledge God, which leads to these other things, most of which are seen not as ‘sins’ as much as ‘judgment’, probably in the sense of ‘natural consequences’. Thus, the failure to acknowledge and worship the true God almost naturally leads to idolatry and so forth.

    The point about ‘against nature’ is not so much a natural theology argument as it is an argument about God’s ‘created order’, which was very important in ancient Jewish theology. The real point (to cut to the chase and shorten this diatribe!) is that Paul is painting picture of entropy (to use a scientific term as an analogy). The more ‘God gave them over’ the more corrupted the ‘image of God’ (‘glory of God’) becomes and the farther away from God’s original plan (created order) mankind moves, and the less ‘human’ (in the ‘image of God’ sense – no offense intended – just repeating Paul) one becomes. That thought is not carried all the way through (since v. 29-32 take in a lot of sins, designed to hit closer to home) but Paul does seem to be drawing on a ‘fall theology’ and its consequences.

    I don’t think Paul mentions homosexuality since it is worse than other sins (he lists some pretty bad ones farther down the list) but that it supports his argument about the fall leading to more ‘dehumanization’ (the more corrupt the ‘image of God’ becomes; note that Paul’s language suggests people use each other for their own pleasure) the farther one gets from God. It is as much an argument about broken ‘community’ as it is an argument based on personal morality (especially v. 29-32).

    I think it is worth noting that in Rom. 3:23 ‘all [those justified by his grace] sinned [aorist, past] and all fall short [present, continuing] of God’s glory’. The image of God is being restored in his people, but that will not be complete until the ‘adoption’ and restoration spoken of in Rom. 8. Thus, we still (as believers) live as less than the humanity God intended (and intends) for us to be, thus we are all ‘against nature’ in some sense now.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Once one fails to acknowledge God (in his argument, as creator and sustainer) one begins a downward progression…

      A Decline Narrative, degenerating from a past Golden Age through Silver, Brass, and Iron to the present state. Kind of like Entropy on a moral and Cosmic scale.

  3. “God gave them over to dishonorable passions…”

    Don’t know how much more context you meed CM. Sure that passage fits a larger puzzle which is not about homosexuality, but you can’t honestly read that passage and say “I think the context reveals something other than a general disapproval of homosexual relations.”

    I once heard someone interpret Romans 1 to say that homosexuality doesn’t bring God’s wrath, it is God’s wrath.

  4. It is worth bearing in mind that the idea of sexual orientation, of homosexualITY as opposed to homosexual acts, is a thoroughly modern one that was unknown in the ancient world. Everyone knows how pederasty was practiced among the Greeks, but there was no clear division between men who were attracted towards men and men who were attracted towards women. They had no words for ‘gay’ and ‘straight’. The Greeks were more interested in the dominant/submissive distinction than the male/female one.

    Accordingly, when it comes to applying these Scriptures to people who may or may not regularly engage in homosexual acts but who have built their identity and lifestyle around their being attracted to people of the same sex, we have to be extremely careful since in the biblical cultures there simply were no people who so understood themselves. The Bible speaks to acts, and only acts (even the Romans passage, which to our modern ears might seem to refer to sexual orientation – ‘burning in desire for one another’). What it says about those acts seems clear enough, I think. When it comes to talking about orientation, that quintessentially modern concept, we simply have no choice but to extrapolate and/or derive our beliefs from some other source. The Bible won’t be able to help us there.

    • This is an important point, Glenn. I don’t know how to speak to it at this point.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Everyone knows how pederasty was practiced among the Greeks, but there was no clear division between men who were attracted towards men and men who were attracted towards women. They had no words for ‘gay’ and ‘straight’. The Greeks were more interested in the dominant/submissive distinction than the male/female one.

      That’s pretty much what Dennis Prager wrote in his essay “Why Judaism Rejected Homosexuality”. That in the ancient world (“for these are the things which the Goyim do”), the distinction was between Penetrator and Penetrated, not man and woman. The unconfirmed preaching that the Canaanites preferentially did it “doggie-style” while the Jews after Torah did it face-to-fact further enhances the image: Sex as one Animal Forcing Dominance on another Animal, with the Penetrated crouching in submission before the Penetrator. While Torah was to Transcend the Animal into people in Covenant with God. (And I wonder if that was part of the general knowledge triggered by the imagery in Romans 1:18-whatever?)

    • It depends on how we should define homosexuality. Is homosexuality the physical act of sex (or sexual behavior) between two people of the same sex? Or, is it merely same-sex attraction but not necessarily in a sexual way? In other words, can two men have a loving and caring relationship with one another void of any physical or sexual activity? If so, would this relationship be defined as a homosexual relationship? I think not. The definition of homosexuality as I see it must involve the physical act of sex between two people of the same sex. Ironically, throughout Scripture when this term is used, it is almost always used within the context of sexual behavior.

  5. Those two words in 1:Corinthians 6 with the one repeated in 1 Timothy 1 are extremely troublesome. I was most disappointed to see Tom Wright in his new translation render 1 Timothy as “practicing homosexuals” and 1 Corinthians as “practicing homosexuals of whichever sort. I think Luther was closer and not tossing away 10% or so of the population in the name of Jesus.

    No homosexuals that I know believe that pederasty, in the sense of using young boys, is acceptable and child molesters certainly fit in those lists of unacceptable behavior. Jesus said that people corrupting little ones might better have a millstone tied around their neck and tossed in the sea but the six passages quoted above don’t have any words from Jesus.

    It’s too bad we don’t really have a good understanding of those two words Paul uses in 1 Corinthians. A translator has to say something, but better to reflect our uncertainty than to pin on labels that reflect our prejudice. Luther was not one to mince words but I think he struck the right balance there.

  6. Greg’s comment about God’s image open an interesting thought for me:

    “Male and female he created them, in his image he created them” – in that sense, homosexuality can also be seen as moving further away from ‘us as his image’.

  7. Pastor Don says:

    I’m always late with comments because I don’t have time to read and contemplate posts the morning or afternoon they’re posted. But I think there is something being set aside that I think Christians in general believe. That something is that the Bible (the 66 books of the Protestant Bible) is God’s self-revelation of himself through the words of chosen people he used to pen the original writings. In our effort to explain Scripture from the context of the culture a particular writing was first revealed to can cause us to fall into statements that center around “Paul said this but no where can it be found that Jesus said this.” That is begging the question and reducing Paul’s words which Peter stated was Scripture to nothing more than an opinion one might find in the “Antiochan Times.” God is revealing himself and his preferences through all the words of all 66 books.

    I think Chaplain Mike did a good job with his post on what Scripture says about homosexuality with some exceptions. First, accepting the point that rape is always bad whether it is considered an act of war or an act of violence outside of war, why don’t commentators point out that however you might describe what the men of Sodom wanted to do, it was preferable from Lot’s standpoint for them to do it to women rather than to men? Second, while the words Paul uses are not found outside of Scripture and thus “questionable” as to their meaning according to some commentators, the study of their morphology makes it clear (I think) what he’s talking about–sexual intercourse with another male. Third, those who have been commenting on the lists of sins in Romans are right–they are lists of sins! And it seems that’s the point few are willing to state.

    I believe God makes it clear in his book of self-revelation that women having sex with women or men having sex with men is not honoring him. Nothing that is sin honors him. God says in John 1 that Jesus is the true light and gives light to everyone and to those who receive him he gives them the right to become children of God. We than read in 1 John 1.7 that, “…if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” I sin everyday. I have sins I commit over and over in spite of me not wanting to. I lie, I lust, I gossip, I do a lot of things. Others do other things like get drunk, or cheat, or steal, or have sexual intercourse with another of the same sex. It’s not about being accepted or not being accepted by Christ if you do or if you don’t do any of those things, it’s about realizing that what you do does not honor God and is therefore sin. Realizing that and asking God to forgive us for our sin and asking him to remove it from us is all that he asks of any of us. The only time any of us have pause to be concerned about our standing with God is when we tell him or want to tell him, “You’re wrong God. I know better than you. What I’m doing (take your pick…stealing, lying, committing adultery, having homosexual sex, etc.) is not wrong. It feels too right to be wrong. And I know, because a lot of people agree with me!” That is idolatry. Who is our idol? Ourselves. What to do? If you’re a Christian you know what to do.

    Every one of us finds parts of the Bible hard if not impossible to accept because it challenges us at our core. Sure, we can try and come up with an interpretation that excuses us from that part but that doesn’t change what God has said about it (e.g., what he says about lust in the Gospels). What’s important is we agree with God and ask forgiveness for all the ways we dishonor him and be open to what the Holy Spirit says to us through his words. Grace is the power of God and the gift of God that makes it possible for us to be accepted by a righteous and holy God. It is not our perfection he seeks, it’s our hearts. God moved David, whose sinful ways were exposed for all eternity, to write these words, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

    I write these words to myself, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

    • Professor Failure says:

      “Why don’t commentators point out that however you might describe what the men of Sodom wanted to do, it was preferable from Lot’s standpoint for them to do it to women rather than to men?”

      This is easy. Because raping his daughters represented a *property* crime (they were primarily a financial asset for Lot, being family was a secondary consideration). And property crime is a lesser offense than *raping a male guest*, as the responsibility of a host toward a guest was sacrosanct in the ancient world.

  8. Professor Failure says:

    “Why don’t commentators point out that however you might describe what the men of Sodom wanted to do, it was preferable from Lot’s standpoint for them to do it to women rather than to men?”

    This is easy. Because raping his daughters represented a *property* crime (they were primarily a financial asset for Lot, being family was a secondary consideration). And property crime is a lesser offense than *raping a male guest*, as the responsibility of a host toward a guest was sacrosanct in the ancient world.

    • Just to let you guys know, Latter-day Saints believe that Joseph Smith retranslated this disturbing portion of the account to read as follows:

      Genesis 19:9–15

      9 And they said unto him, Stand back. And they were angry with him.

      10 And they said among themselves, This one man came in to sojourn among us, and he will needs now make himself to be a judge; now we will deal worse with him than with them.

      11 Wherefore they said unto the man, We will have the men, and thy daughters also; and we will do with them as seemeth us good.

      12 Now this was after the wickedness of Sodom.

      13 And Lot said, Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, plead with my brethren that I may not bring them out unto you; and ye shall not do unto them as seemeth good in your eyes;

      14 For God will not justify his servant in this thing; wherefore, let me plead with my brethren, this once only, that unto these men ye do nothing, that they may have peace in my house; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.

      15 And they were angry with Lot and came near to break the door, but the angels of God, which were holy men, put forth their hand and pulled Lot into the house unto them, and shut the door.

      In this version, the men of Sodom got mad at Lot because his objections implied that he was judging them and condemning them. So they decide they want to rape his daughters too. Lot pleads for the safety of his daughters and the guests, “just this once only.”

      • “Why don’t commentators point out that however you might describe what the men of Sodom wanted to do, it was preferable from Lot’s standpoint for them to do it to women rather than to men?”

        That isn’t the issue. Lot didn’t want them to commit those atrocious acts to God’s messengers. To His angels. To His holy men. The express purpose of those two messengers of God was to find righteous men in that city lest it be destroyed. It is not an issue of male/female, but of who was on the receiving end of this victimization. Which, angels of the Lord. To understand that you must read Genesis 18 when Abraham pleads for Sodom and Gamorrah and God makes the bargain to go into the cities and find 50 righteous men. Abraham proceeded to plead and bargain with God, until finally God said that if He found 10 righteous men, the cities would be spared His wrath.

        As for Romans, I agree that it is a rhetorical device. I also read it as those going to these fertility cults are more than likely within the bond of marriage so they are committing adultery. They are turning from their relationships, that which is natural, towards lust and degradation, towards terms that could only be termed exploitative. Those were literally orgy that held no meaningful analog to a healthy, God-filled relationship. And besides, there is too much ambiguity surrounding what the translation of what bibles are calling “homosexuality”.

        I agree with everything else CM mentioned and have no further thoughts on them…well, I do, but nothing that changes what CM posted.

  9. Chaplain Mike,

    First of all, thank you for treating the actual text in this article, not just sounding off about the subject matter with all of its baggage. You honor Michael Spencer’s intention for this site by doing that. You ended this one a little abruptly, though, which left me waiting for some kind of closure.

    Now, on to the actual subject matter… Luther’s translation of ?????????????? in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy are somewhat suspect to me. While he was a pretty good Hebrew professor, his Greek was considerably weaker. He wasn’t terrible at it, but it simply wasn’t his strongest subject. The Greek word ???????? (found in the 1 Corinthians list immediately before ??????????????) is often defined as “soft” or “effeminate.” Paul was fairly thorough but not overly redundant (except intending to be emphatic). I find it hard to believe that mere “softness” would rate high enough to merit two places on this list. Interpreting the noun as “men (and the plural implies the possibility of including women) who bed other men” is well within the pale. But it is far from settled.

    Just to make you aware of my “agenda,” I am a Missouri Synod Lutheran, and I believe (as you pointed out in the Romans passage) that a gay lifestyle does not fit with the order of God’s creation–original or new. Even so, I’m not scared by people who would try to show that several of the texts we have come to lean on in the last few centuries don’t really mean what we think they mean (Inconceivable!) or that the Levitical Law does not hold the same position in the life of a Christian as it did to the Hebrew society before Christ.

    On that note, I hope some day that you are able to write about Luther’s essay “How Christians Should Regard Moses” from LW vol. 35 (If you need a copy, you now have my email address.). And for anybody who makes it this far in the comments and is not aware of that little gem, find a copy of it somewhere, and read it well.

    Pax,

    Eric

  10. MOD: Sorry, David, way too long for a comment. Either direct us to the article and/or summarize it for us.

  11. Church Layman says:

    “Why don’t commentators point out that however you might describe what the men of Sodom wanted to do, it was preferable from Lot’s standpoint for them to do it to women rather than to men?”

    I think I follow your logic, but we need to correct one of your statements – Lot’s “choice” was not, as you said, between giving up a man or a “woman” to the people of Sodom, Rather, he chose between giving up a man and giving up not one, but two of his own elementary-to-middle-school-aged daughters. Virgins. Probably pre-pubescent. By your implication, Lot, and apparently God, found homosexuality *so* abhorrent that it was better to appease a mob by giving 2 of your 12-or-younger-aged daughters to be gang-raped than risk the possibility of homosexual activity.

    • I wonder if the Bible intends us to believe that Lot was doing the right thing by offering up his young daughters in place of his male guests. The Bible is full of flawed believers, and I don’t believe this straightforward narrative is accompanied anywhere by praise for Lot’s “choice.” We might want to hesitate before equating Lot’s preference with God’s.

      • Professor Failure says:

        Again, all this tells us is about how much Lot’s culture valued women. From Lot’s perspective, they are worth little more than cattle.

  12. For comparison here is a link to a brief article from DPL* on this topic. http://unspiralnotebook.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/homosexuality-in-the-nt-excerpt-from-dpl/

    (D. F. Wright, “Homosexuality” in Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters: A Compendium of Contemporary Scholarship (1993), pp. 414ff):

  13. Peter McNaughton says:

    For me, the Leviticus verses make short work of this subject. It’s wrong to lie with a man as if with a woman. This book of the Bible was rather deftly dismissed in the post, but it occurred to me, outside of this chapter, can you show that incest is a sin?

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      A) The book of Leviticus was not dismissed in this post; Chaplain Mike was merely attempting to put it into context with the rest of the Biblical canon.

      B) Unless you are willing to totally commit to all of the commandments in the book of Leviticus, or even just chapters 18 and 19, then it is a real reach to say that anything in the book of Leviticus makes “short work of the subject.” According to chapter 19, bi-weekly or weekly paychecks or stipends break Levitical law, as do tattoos. We really have to do a more careful literary analysis of this

      C) One of the great things about putting a verse into context with the rest of Scripture is that it presents a more solid defense. Check out Genesis 19. Once you get past the story of Sodom, you see the repercussions of incestuous relationships between Lot and his daughters. Later, in 1 Samuel, Amnon rapes his half-sister. The sin of incest is not merely condemned with a mere list of “here’s who you should not sleep with”; it is supported by narratives that reveal the destructive nature of incestuous relationships.

      Not that it matters, but the fields of clinical psychology, criminology, and sociology also confirm that incestuous relationships carry serious negative physical and mental consequences.

      • Peter McNaughton says:

        A. It certainly appears that Chaplain Mike was explaining Leviticus 18 in a manner to show that it is problematic to use as a guide to our behavior today. This seems to be why he brought in the death penalty for cursing your parents in chapter 20: such a prescription seems extreme to us today. I think this was dismissing this book for use in understanding biblical attitudes toward homosexuality.
        B. I agree with you, and Chaplain Mike, that anyone trying to cherry-pick which Levitical prescriptions to keep or dismiss has some ‘splaining to do. However, it does seem to me that while the New testament clearly removes mandatory circumcision, Sabbath keeping, and diet, the teachings related to sexual relations seem to remain consistent with the OT. Simply put, Leviticus 18 is still the go to biblical passage concerning who I am not allowed to sleep with.
        C. I’m not sure I understand your point here, but my momma always said I wasn’t her smartest child so maybe I just missed it. When I read Genesis 19 per your request, I found nothing about any repercussions of incest. It is true that the daughters knew their father wouldn’t agree, which is why they got him drunk, but otherwise the description was almost clinical in its detachment. Of course we are horrified by the story, but that’s because we know Leviticus 18 and thus understand the sinful nature of this act.

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          A) I see where you’re going a little more, now that you clarified your statement. Still, I would argue the exact opposite: that Mike used the book of Leviticus specifically “for use in understanding biblical attitudes toward homosexuality.” He even concedes that it does act as a clear condemnation of homosexuality. However, where I think the confusion comes in is that he questions the way in which we apply it to the ideal present-day attitude of the Church toward homosexuality.

          B) Actually, there are still a lot of Levitical laws which have neither been affirmed or negated by the New Testament. I agree with you that most folks seem to go to Leviticus 18, but to me, that chapter is a lot like a master promisory note for a loan or a credit card. Once the loan is refinanced or consolidated, or the terms of the credit card contract are changed, then the lender issues a new contract, rendering the old contract obsolete. There may be some overlap in the language and requirements of each contract, but that old contract is still rendered obsolete. If I continue to rely on the terms of the old contract, I might miss something about the new contract that was issued.

          Same deal with the book of Leviticus. It overlaps in many places with the New Testament, but the covenant issued as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice changes the terms of the contract. We still need the book of Leviticus to see a) what the old contract looked like, and b) where the old overlaps with the new, but centering a whole system of beliefs on that book is still like relying on the old contract of a loan.

          C) I am pretty sure that even someone who had not read Leviticus 18 would have been horrified by the story of Lot’s two daughters. That’s one of the reasons why I followed up that first paragraph with the statement that both the scientific and medical communities are in a general concensus regarding the negative impact of incestual relationships.

          I guess the repercussions of incest were more implied than explicitly stated. By the writer of Genesis specifically mentioning that their children, Moab and Ammon, formed the Moabites and Ammonites, readers were supposed to immediately associate those names with the nations that were a constant threat to the nation of Israel, both in terms of raids and forced occupation, and their influence on the Israelite nation, drawing them into idolatry and child sacrifice. It’s one of those things where you have to put the story into context, in order to get its full effect (that wasn’t intended to be condescending, just pointing it out).

    • The problem with using Leviticus 18 is that you are focusing on the sexual relations chapter and saying it’s a done deal. But keep reading on to 19 and you’ll find that fields planted with 2 seeds is a sin. Clothing made of more than 2 fibers is a sin (like the sweatshirt I’m wearing) and on and on the law goes.

      Seems to me that you can’t ignore those other commands or else it’s just cherry picking….ie moral relativism.

      I could just as easily state that you are in a state of perpetual rebellion for your refusal to abstain from eating bacon, defiling the sabbath, and wearing cotton/polyester blends, and clipping your side burns.

  14. Doug Michaels says:

    An interesting take on another blog, which references this post.

    Seems to disagree on the interpretation a bit, but more importantly makes the same arguments Chaplain Mike does about how to treat the situation among believers. A very thoughtful but long post.

    http://rebootchristianity.blogspot.com/2012/05/oh-what-heck-me-too-christianity.html

  15. Rob ZionFreak says:

    Man, it seems many cannot just take God’s word for what it says so they must twist it to fit their own agenda. The agenda is that they must justify their own lusts by twisting scripture to make their wicked lifestyles okay before God when HE in fact says that it is NOT OKAY! For if they would take the word of God for what it says then they would be left condemned by their own sin and repentance would be required. But seeing many prefer to have have a god that they have formed out of their own imaginations they turn to worship the creation and God gives them up to their vile passions. This is a black and white issue while many strain like wizards that peep and mutter attempting to rape the text of its original meaning. To those who endevour to add or take away from God’s word, God will not be mocked and he has promised to remove their part out of the heavenly city. Truth is truth and is not relative nor subject to OUR OWN HUMAN REASONINGS. TRUTH is absolute and all mankind will be judged by that same standard. SIN is SIN. Homosexuality is a sin just like any other. Homosexuality is an abomination unto God. Woe unto them that mistake light for darkness and bitter for sweet!

    • No offense intended, but I think the point of the post is to determine exactly what the Bible says about the subject, to see if it is a black and white issue (which I personally think it is). I don’t think anybody commenting (at least most) want to twist it for their own agenda, but unfortunately the Bible requires interpretation. It’s not as easy as picking it up and having instant understanding (the ‘magic book syndrome’). It was written to people who lived in a very different culture, spoke different languages (and used words which are sometimes not easy to translate into modern languages if we can even know a precise meaning), and had a very different worldview (scientific, sociological, moral, or even psychological) than we do. The task of the student (who hopefully approaches the Bible with humility and openness instead of bringing his pre-conceived ideas or agenda – liberal or conservative, which we all have) is to understand, as CM has pointed out 1) what it says, 2) what is meant to the original hearers/readers, the 3) how that applies to us. It seems that you want to skip right to step 3 without asking any questions related to step 1 or 2, which is what the post is about – what does the Bible say about this issue?

  16. Marshall says:

    Taking Chaplin Mike’s idea bout Genesis 19 a step further, the common colloquialism for “carnal intercourse” has a variety of idiomatic usages. If a mob were standing outside my house crying “we’re gonna f**k you up!” I would not expect that they were looking for a sexual experience.

    One does wonder what the angry mob was angry about. Just the usual “kill the stranger!” sort of thing is sufficient, I suppose. There really isn’t any evidence they were homosexuals.

  17. The article on poreia (fornication) in Kittel, TDNT[1] insists that all sexual relationships outside of marriage are forbidden.[1] Unless one wishes to argue that homosexual sexual relations outside of marriage are not a sort of fornication just as all other human sexual relationships outside of marriage are they would be forbidden according to the Bible even if they were not mentioned, which the DPL article I linked previously insists they are. This is particular problematic when we also consider, as the DPL further points out, that neither the ancient Near East nor the Bible ever had a vocabulary of “orientation”; homosexuality in the Bible refers strictly to sexual acts.

    Another problem for the OP is “the obvious derivation of the word [ arsenokoitai] ]from the LXX of Leviticus 18:22; 20:13 for so long went unnoticed (Lev 20:13: hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gynaikos). It denotes (males) “who lie or bed with other males.” The Levitical definition, far from being hermetically sealed from NT relevance, actually seems to be the presupposition of the NT prohibition as well as the touchstone for the meaning of the term in the NT (see article for further details).

    Far from supposing it no longer of contemporaneous significance,.Paul seems, then, to set his seal of approval on the Levitical definition

    ________
    [1] “Porneia,” in Kittel and Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. VI, pp. 595.

  18. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    News item title just today on MSNBC Web news:

    RELIGIOUS RIGHT WORKS TO KEEP MARRIAGE AN ISSUE.

    One guess what “Marriage Issue” means these days…

  19. I appreciate this article and the many excellent comments. They have helped me to get a better grip on the issue and the bible’s stance.

    On thing that has bothered me though are some of the comments on Lot’s daughters.
    “Why don’t commentators point out that however you might describe what the men of Sodom wanted to do, it was preferable from Lot’s standpoint for them to do it to women rather than to men?”

    I have heard taught, and believe, that this was not a matter of the value of his daughters. Rather that custom was to value your guests even at the expense of your family. It wasn’t that it was better for his daughters to be raped or they were of less value. It was that you protect guests at all costs. Much the same happened with various Al Quaida (spelling?) members in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    I also agree with the comment that God is not necessarily giving His approval by recording this. Just as God recorded David and Bathsheba His word records when His people sin.

    Other than this minor quibble I have found this discussion to quite helpful.

  20. The Decalogue (often referred to as The 10 Commandments tho a more accurate translations is The 10 Maxims or The 10 Sayings or The 10 Words) is not a law; rather, it is a contract between God and the children of Israel. Exodus 19 has God telling Moses that if the children of Israel will follow the covenant, He will protect them. The Decalogue is binding only to those children of Israel who have agreed to follow it: It never was intended as a universal prescription for all humans beings (i.e., Gentiles). There is nothing wrong with Gentiles desiring to follow the Decalogue, but those who do are not part of the original OT covenant.

    The laws Moses laid down in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy are specifically designed to help make the nation of Israel God’s “peculiar people”, set apart from the rest of the world to be a nation of priests. The numerous holiness / cleanliness laws serve no rational function other that to reinforce a sense of separate identity from the rest of the world. It is not merely pointless but counterproductive for gentiles to seek holiness by following these laws.

    God declared David “a man after my own heart” even though David and Jonathon loved each other “with a love that surpasses that of a man for a woman”. This does not explicitly mean that they enjoyed homosexual relations but it certainly endorses a far more closer bonding than typical brotherly love. God clearly has no problem with people of the same sex loving one another more than people of the opposite sex.

    Further, God has no problem with same sex embracing, kissing, or sharing of beds for non-sexual purposes. Christ cuddled with his disciples although nothing in the NT text indicates romantic or sexual love among them.

    Christ commented that it was best if humans could forgo sexual / romantic love to concentrate purely on love of God and love of one’s fellow human beings, but acknowledged many people were unable to forgo sexual / romantic love. He also taught that some people were born asexual. It stands to reason that it is no sin if some are born heterosexual, and that it is no sin if some are born asexual, it follows that it is no sin if some are born homosexual.

    Christ taught no jot or tittle of the law would pass away until the OT covenant was fulfilled, but cheerfully violated many of Moses holiness / cleanliness laws. Ergo those laws must be of human origins for human purposes, not divine origin for divine purposes. When Christ died on the cross he said, “It is finished” meaning the covenant had been fulfilled, and the Messiah had saved the world through the Jewish people.

    The OT covenant is no more. It has been replaced by Christ’s three commandments: Love God with all your heart, strength, and mind; love your neighbor as you love yourself; love one another as Christ has loved us.

    After the resurrection and the establishment of the NT covenant, God showed Peter in a dream that nothing He created was unclean; thus formally doing away with Moses’ holiness / cleanliness laws.

    Throughout the NT we are told God has sheep in many flocks, that we are not to judge His servants, and that there is no difference between male & female, Jew & Gentile, slave & free. Paul taught what some may regard as a sin (specifically purchasing meat from pagan temples) is not necessarily a sin to another person.

  21. I Wish I were Enoch says:

    There is first in this a sort of under-reading of the law, a reduction of the law to just that, being law. A Christological look at the law, and for that matter, all of the Old Testament, reveals that everything God has done is meant to bring man into relationship with Him. As such the law is to be seen as an expression of the elements, in finite form, of God’s nature and character. If that’s the case then sin is not simply an act of disobedience to a law or a moral construct. Rather it is a failure of not acting according to the character and nature of the image in which one was created. So while the law, as a law, does not apply, its expression(s) of the nature and character of Christ certainly do! The real issue is not “homosexuality” as God’s word provides a very narrow set of parameters of what intent of sexual behavior was, and is for. That being the case, homosexual acts are no more, or less, to be reviled than adultery, multiple partners or any other sexual act that is outside of the biblical norms. We err in seeking to define the issue by looking for what is, or might be prohibited when we need to look at it as well through the lens of what is clearly stated as acceptable. If an act is, even by implication seen to be unacceptable and a clear statement of what is acceptable exists without a way to bridge the gap between the two then the implied prohibition is proved correct. The biblical texts on marriage clearly establish what is acceptable.