Christian churches around the world are bitterly divided
over the issue of homosexuality. Some teach that the
Bible condemns intimate same-sex relationships.
Other Christians base their views of human sexuality on
science, which leads them to accept lesbian, gay,
bisexual, and transgender people.
Each group finds it difficult to have a meaningful conversation
with the other. The churches have reached an impasse.
How do they move forward?
Many people assume that we know and understand what
the Bible says on same-sex relationships. However, we
probably do not. The Bible is full of complexity. For ten
years I have carried out academic research to find a biblical
perspective on homosexuality. It has been a fascinating
journey with many surprises. After all these years, I have
not finished. The books included in the Bible
are rich and multi-faceted.
My work draws attention to a much-overlooked fact:
all the biblical texts quoted in current conflicts are far
from simple or straightforward. On the contrary, they are
fraught with pitfalls and dense with ambiguity. This is true
of Sodom and Gomorrah, the terror drama of Gibeah in
Judges 19–20, and Paul's polemic statements in Romans 1.
These stories and texts are highly sophisticated
literature. The writers employ brilliant literary
techniques, including suspense, understatement
and indirect quotation.
My latest book (Trafford Publishing, 2013) has this title:
Love Lost in Translation: Homosexuality and the Bible.
It discusses biblical interpretation and translation in great
detail. Most of the material below is based on this work while
other items will be included in my forthcoming book
Where You Go, I Will Go (2015).
HOMOSEXUALITY & THE BIBLE
An important question is: Are the words 'Bible' and
'homosexuality' compatible? 'Bible' goes back to ancient
Greek biblia, 'books', while the term 'homosexual' was
coined as late as 1869. In ancient literature there was no
equivalent of 'homosexual'. Therefore, we should be very
careful when we discuss sexuality in the Bible.
The Bible is said to contain nine texts dealing with same-sex relationships, five in the Old Testament (OT) and four in
the New Testament (NT). However, only three of these are
of a sexual nature, namely, Leviticus 18:22 (20:13),
Romans 1:26–27 and Jude v. 7.
THE GENDER OF ADAM
The original human being was a 'groundling' or 'earthling'
created male and female in the image and likeness of the
Creator (Genesis 1:26–27). In Hebrew, the noun adam,
'groundling', relates to adamah, 'ground' or 'earth'. The
anonymous narrator is aware of intersex conditions, i.e.
children born with both male and female characteristics.
In biblical terms, such babies are created in the
image of God.
Since early Christianity, theologians have taught that woman
was created from one of man's 'ribs'. However, the noun
tsela in Gen. 2:21 does not mean 'rib' but 'side'.
The original groundling had two sides: one male, one female.
After the surgery, one side became a man while the other
was built into a woman.
SEXUAL LANGUAGE IN THE BIBLE
Sexual language in the Bible is an under-researched area.
The book of Genesis has two frequent verbs for having or
requesting sexual intercourse:
go in to and lie down with.
A few other verbs denoting sexual intimacy occur just
once, such as 'go near', 'touch', 'be with' and
'have fun with'.
TO KNOW IN THE GREEK SENSE
The well-known humorous phrase 'to know in the biblical sense'
is not based on the Bible. In fact, the Hebrew verb yada, 'know',
has no sexual connotations. The popular misconception stems
from ancient Greek literature. It would be more accurate to
say 'to know in the Greek sense'.
In Hebrew, yada often operates as a technical term in
the legal sphere with respect to covenants (Genesis 18:19),
marriage contracts (19:8), interrogations (19:5), and judicial
enquiries (18:21). That 'know' is not sexual is clearly
demonstrated in Gen. 19:33, where Lot did not 'know'
while incest was taking place in his own bed.
WITH A MALE
The Hebrew of Leviticus 18:22 (& 20:13) is difficult to understand.
The common translation is 'With a man you shall not lie down as
with a woman'. This verse has been taken to prohibit sexual
intimacy between two men. However, the Hebrew does not say
'man' but 'male', not 'female' but 'woman'. In addition, the
two prepositions 'as with' are absent in the original.
A literal rendering of the text is 'With a male you shall not lie down (the) lyings-down of a woman'. The plural form mishkevey (lyings-down) is extremely rare. Since Lev. 18:6 prohibits all incestuous relationships, 18:22 (& 20:13) possibly means 'you shall not
commit incest with a male'.
Scholars have wondered what actually went on in Genesis 9
as Ham saw his father Noah's 'nakedness'. This happened
while the latter was drunk. Noah's sons Shem and Japheth
acted discreetly towards their father while Ham was
disrespectful. For this reason Noah pronounced a curse
on Ham's son Canaan.
Some commentators believe that the 'nakedness' episode
denotes sexual assault. However, the Hebrew wording is
untypical of rape and sexual violence. Instead, Ham failed
to observe the important commandment to 'honour father
The Hebrew nouns qadesh (m) and qedeshah (f) in
Deuteronomy 23:17 mean 'consecrated one'. They are often
mistranslated as 'cult prostitute'. This is problematic
because evidence of temple prostitution in ancient
Canaan is virtually non-existent.
Some Bible translators render qadesh as 'sodomite' and
others use the modern word 'homosexual'. In this manner,
the biblical message is distorted. Both qadesh and qedeshah
is likely to mean 'priestly worker' attached to
SODOM AND GOMORRAH
Historically speaking, the famous story of Sodom (Genesis
18–19) was the first to be used against gay people. This began
with Philo, a Jewish philosopher who lived in Alexandria in the
first century CE. He read the Bible in a Greek translation and
wrote in Greek. Philo interpreted the biblical city of Sodom as
a hotbed of pederasty. His approach was accepted by the
Church Fathers and has continued, with relatively few
changes, until the present day.
However, numerous textual problems in the original Hebrew
text of Genesis 19 remain unresolved and under-researched.
A detailed exploration of the very complex narrative shows
that the plot is unrelated to sex. Instead, the narrator
discusses vulnerable foreigners mistreated by local authorities,
illustrated by the case of Abraham’s nephew Lot (Gen. 19:9).
THE CRIME OF GIBEAH
For the terror drama of Gibeah in Judges 19–20, the narrator employs brilliant literary techniques. Prima facie the story is
about a brutal murder incident involving gang rape. The
deeper agenda, however, is strongly political. The story
provides an allegory of the bitter feud that raged for
years between King Saul and his successor David.
Saul was from Gibeah, which in Judg. 19 is presented as the
home of brutal, irresponsible rogues. Like the rape victim in
the story, David was from Bethlehem of Judah. During his
time of service at Gibeah, David suffered mistreatment and
several murder attempts at the hands of Saul.
In the Bible, eunuchs are an often overlooked group. At first,
eunuchs are excluded from the community of believers
(Lev. 21.20; Deut. 23.2). However, several prophets challenge
such discrimination and treat eunuchs with respect.
Daniel enjoys the favour of the chief eunuch of King
Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 1:9). At a critical moment, Jeremiah
is rescued by an African eunuch (Jer. 38:7–13). According
to Isaiah, the God of Israel will personally invite faithful
eunuchs to take a seat of honour in his temple. They will
receive 'a name better than sons and daughters' (Isa. 56:5).
The eunuchs reappear in the Second Testament. Jesus speaks
of those who were born that way and those who have become
eunuchs 'for the sake of the kingdom of heaven' (Matthew 19:12).
A famous eunuch is the Ethiopian official who is baptized
by the apostle Philip (Acts 8:26–39). In this manner, the
prophecy of Isa. 56 comes true. Ancient exclusions based
on people’s sexual condition are no longer valid. What
matters is faith (John 3:16). The apostle Peter learns this
in a vision: 'You must not call profane what God
has made clean' (Acts 10:15).
SOFTIES AND MALE-LIERS
In the NT, two unusual Greek words used by Paul are
assumed to connote same-sex relationships. In 1 Corinthians
6:9, arsenokoitai translates as 'bed-males' or 'male-liers' while
malakoi means 'soft ones'. These terms are not found in
homoerotic literature from ancient Greece and are unlikely
to refer to people with a lesbian, gay or bisexual orientation.
While malakoi is a common word, which perhaps alludes to
people who are spineless or morally weak, arsenokoitai
seems to have been coined by Paul. The context suggests
disreputable economic activity. According to some scholars,
the word refers to men who actively engaged in the
flourishing Roman sex industry by exploiting
young women and men.
A well-known text among Christian debaters is Paul’s letter
to the Romans 1:26–27. However, it is often misunderstood.
The apostle alludes to scandalous events in the past,
particularly certain orgies staged by an anonymous group
of pagan women and men who worshipped different deities
in Roman temples.
According to Clement of Alexandria, an early church father,
the women mentioned in 1:26 practised anal intercourse with
men, an activity which Paul calls 'unnatural'. The men described
in 1:27 seem to have staged an outrageous sexual ceremony,
perhaps dedicated to the goddess Cybele. This text provides
no reference to stable, intimate same-sex relationships
between two Christians.
The short letter of Jude refers to Sodom and Gomorrah in
vv. 7, 9 and 14. The writer suggests that the people of
Sodom committed 'fornication' and 'went after other flesh'
(v. 7). The 'other flesh' (also translatable as 'different flesh'
or 'strange flesh') is unusual as it alludes to sexual relations
between human beings and angels.
According to several scholars, Jude is reflecting on Genesis
6:2–4 where the so-called sons of God took earthly wives
and impregnated them. However, other scholars find it more
likely that Jude is quoting Jewish writings from the
Hellenistic period, including The Assumption of Moses
(v. 9) and the Book of Enoch (v. 14).
RUTH AND NAOMI
The Hebrew Bible contains an extraordinary story with two
female protagonists. The book of Ruth begins on a tragic
note and finishes overflowing with optimism. The two widows
Naomi and Ruth build a life-long relationship in which they
support and care for each other. Ruth vows never to leave
Naomi (Ruth 1:16–17).
The strength of this bond is accepted and celebrated by
everyone in Naomi's community, Bethlehem. When Ruth
gives birth to her son Obed, Naomi's neighbours exclaim,
'Naomi has had a baby!' (4:17). Ruth becomes an
ancestress of King David (4:21–22).
DAVID AND JONATHAN
The relationship between David and Saul’s son Jonathan is
remarkable in several ways. Their faith in the God of Israel is
pivotal. Jonathan says to David, 'May God be between you
and me forever' (1 Samuel 20:42). In spite of the hostility of
his father, Jonathan establishes an unbreakable bond with
David, which even encompasses their descendants.
When Jonathan dies on the battlefield, David laments, 'I
grieve for you, my brother Jonathan, my beloved. Your love
to me was wonderful, surpassing the love of women'
(2 Samuel 1:26).
SAME-SEX LOVE IN THE GOSPELS
The gospel of Luke mentions two men who share a bed
(17:34). Matthew 8:5–13 tells the story of a Roman
military officer who begs Jesus to heal his beloved pais,
who is seriously ill (cf. Luke 7).
The Greek word pais has several connotations: (a) 'boy', (b)
male slave, and (c) a male lover. A number of Roman military personnel had male lovers living with them and such may
have been the case of this centurion.
Finally, much has been said and written on the possible
identity of the Beloved Disciple mentioned repeatedly in the
gospel of John. Some have suggested Mary Magdalene, but
the Greek text presents him as male. Church tradition
asserts that the Beloved Disciple was John. Another
possibility indicated by the gospel itself is Lazarus of
Bethany (John 11:3, 35).
I GREATLY APPRECIATE RECEIVING
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Words of encouragement.
My contact address is
Renato Lings PhD