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The Bible and Homosexuality

I. The Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Genesis 19 and Judges 19
Genesis 19: Judges 19: 1 In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite, residing in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. . . . 14 So they passed on and went their way; and the sun went down on them near Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin. 15 They turned aside there, to go in and spend the night at Gibeah. He went in and sat down in the open square of the city, but no one took them in to spend the night. 16 Then at evening there was an old man coming from his work in the field. The man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was residing in Gibeah. (The people of the place were Benjaminites.) 17 When the old man looked up and saw the wayfarer in the open square of the city, he said, Where are you going and where do you come from?

. . . 1 The two angels/messengers

came to Sodom

in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom.

When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2a He said, Please, my lords, turn aside to your servants house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way. 2b They said,

No; we will spend the night in the square.

18 He answered him, We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, from which I come. I went to Bethlehem in Judah; and I am going to my home. Nobody has offered to take me in. 19 We your servants have straw and fodder for our donkeys, with bread and wine for me and the woman and the young man along with us. We need nothing more.


Genesis 19: 3 But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. 4 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; 5 and they called to Lot, Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know [i. e., have intercourse with] them. Hebrew: wenedah otam] 6 Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, 7 and said, I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.

Judges 19: 20 The old man said, Peace be to you. I will care for all your wants; only do not spend the night in the square. 21 So he brought him into his house, and fed the donkeys; they washed their feet, and ate and drank. 22 While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a perverse lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door. They said to the old man, the master of the house, Bring out the man who came into your house, so that we may know [i. e., have intercourse with] him. Hebrew: wenedennu] 23 And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing. 24 Look, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.


Genesis 19: 9 But they replied, Stand back! And they said, This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them. Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near the door to break it down. 10 But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. 11 And they struck with blindness the men who were

Judges 19 25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them. They wantonly raped her, and abused her all through the night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. 26 As morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the mans house where her master was, until it was light. 27 In the morning her master got up, opened the doors of the house, and when he went out to go on his way, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. (New Revised Standard Version, 1989, adapted)

at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door. (New Revised Standard Version, 1989, adapted)

Genesis 19 tells the story about Sodom and Gomorrah, in which the men of Sodom come to Lots door, demanding that he present to them for their sexual use the two men who are guests in his home. In an astonishing display of moral compromise, according to our modern standards, Lot offers his virgin daughters as substitutes. But Sodoms men will not have them. They want to rape the two visitors. For their evil intent, the two angelic visitors strike the men of Sodom blind. A similar story occurs in Judges 19. It may well be a variant version of the first. Certainly the order of events in both stories is similar, and a number of Hebrew expressions are identical. In the Judges account a traveling Levite


priest comes to a mans home, and this host, like Lot, offers his own virgin daughter, along with his guests concubine, to the townsmen of Gibeah to prevent his male guest from being raped. In this case the hosts daughter is spared, but the concubine becomes the victim. The Judges story, like that of Genesis 19, is difficult for many reasons. Who cannot be horrified at the Levites blatant disregard of his concubine? All of his actions seem heartless and self-serving. He callously leaves her to the mercy of the corrupt men of the city, and allows her to be abused all night. He shows no concern for her while she is being abused and as she lies dead at the entrance of the house. Both Genesis 19 and Judges 19 are critical texts that reflect the ancient morality of their time. But are they really told for the purpose of condemning homosexuality? Traditional interpretation has identified the sin of the men of Sodom and the men of Gibeah as the attempt to perform a homosexual act with Lots guests. It was not until the eleventh century of the Common Era that a Christian interpreter, Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, concluded that their sin of the men of Sodom was homosexual and therefore designated it by the name, sodomy. But there is more in these texts than meets the eye. The sin of Sodom in this text centers on the evil action of some of its men, who wish to subjugate Lots guests by forcibly raping themthis is hardly what we know today as


homosexuality. There is nothing in either story to suggest that the attackers were homosexual in their sexual orientation, and there is much in the Judges story to suggest that these attackers were, in fact, heterosexual. Furthermore, although in each story the conduct of the townspeople toward the visitors was condemned, strangely enough, no condemnation toward Lot or toward the Levite and his host in Gibeah for offering the women to be raped is even implied in the texts. And certainly through centuries of Christian and Jewish interpretation it appears that few interpreters spend any space condemning them either! Certainly, the actual rape of the concubine by the men of Gibeah in the Judges story is condemned. (Or is it merely the murder of the concubine, which thus destroys the Levites property?). But it appears to the Biblical writers (and indeed, to perhaps the majority of later interpreters to be perfectly all right for the hosts in the two stories to offer the women, who, after all, in ancient culture, were considered the mens possessions) for the disposal of the townspeople! The significant sin that these two texts describe is not the modern concept of homosexual orientation, of which the culture of that time knew nothing, nor even consenting homosexual actions at all. (In fact, the English words
homosexual and homosexuality did not exist in the English language until about

1868 when practitioners of the new science of psychiatry invented this term to describe a large proportion of people in society who find themselves attracted romantically and sexually with persons of the same gender!) The actual sin that


these texts cite was the attempted male rape of guests, in a culture in which hospitality was an important matter, and violation of hospitality was an even more serious matter, so serious, in fact, that the host in each of these stories goes so far as to offer his own daughter(s) to protect his guests. This lack of hospitality is clearly implied in the prophetic oracle of Ezekiel 16:49-50, the only other reference in the Hebrew Bible to the incident that Genesis 19 relates: Ezekiel 16:49-50

49 50
Ezekiel 16:49 This was the guilt [ ; awon] of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride [ ; gaon], excess of food [ ; shibat-lehem], and prosperous ease [

; weshalwat hashqet], but did not aid the poor and needy [ ; lah welibnoteyha

weyad-aniy weebyon lo heheziqah]. 50 They were haughty [ ; wattigbeheynah], and did abominable things [ ; wattaaseynah toebah] before Me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. (New Revised Standard Version, 1989, adapted). Ezekiel 16:49 Only this was the sin [ ; awon] of your sister Sodom: arrogance [ ; gaon]! She and her daughters had plenty of bread [ ; shibat-lehem] and untroubled tranquility [

; weshalwat hashqet]; yet she did not

support the poor and the needy [

weebyon lo




heheziqah]. 50 In their haughtiness [ ; wattigbeheynah], they committed abomination [ ; wattaaseynah toebah] before Me; and so I removed them, as you saw. (Tanakh, New Jewish Publication Society Translation, 1985, adapted).


50 (Septuagint Greek Old Ezekiel 16:49 Moreover this was the sin [ ; to anomema] of your sister Sodom pride [; huperephania]. She and her daughters lived in pleasure [ ; en plesmone], in fullness of bread and in abundance [ ; arton kai en euthenia oinou espatalon]; this
Ezekiel 16:49 belonged to her and her daughters, and they helped not the hand of the poor and needy [ ; kai cheira ptochou kai penetos ouk antelambanonto]. 50 And they boasted [; emegalauchoun], and worked iniquities [ ; epoiesan anomemata] before Me: so I cut them off as I saw fit. (The Apostles Bible, 2004, revision of L. C. L. Brentons translation of the Septuagint Greek text, adapted)

A further reference to the Sodom and Gomorrah story occurs in the New Testament letter of Jude (verses 4-8) in a context that seems to indicate that some persons in the first century CE interpreted the sin involved in the story as an example of the arrogance of a group of mortals attempting to engage in sexual relations with angelic beings.
Jude 4 ,

, , . 5 ,


[] [ ] , 6 , , . 8 .
Jude 4 For certain intruders have stolen in among you, people who long ago were designated for this condemnation as ungodly, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. 5 Now I desire to remind you, though you are fully informed, that the Lord, Who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. 6 And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, He has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great Day. 7 Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner, as they, indulged in sexual immorality [; ekporneusasai] and pursued unnatural lust [ ; kai apelthousai opiso sarkos heteras; literally, pursued strange flesh], serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. 8 Yet in the same way these dreamers also defile the flesh [ ; enupniazomenoi sarka men miainousin], reject authority [ ; kurioteta de athetousin], and slander the glorious ones [ ; doxas de blasphemousin; i. e., the angels, above]. (New Revised Standard Version, 1989, adapted). 7

The practice of male rape was a common occurrence in the ancient world, a way of humiliating ones enemies. In that world, it was the practice


of conquering soldiers to humiliate their male prisoners by raping them. In such practice the attacker need not be, and probably was not, a person of homosexual orientation at all. This practice was a way of breaking the spirits of a peoples enemies and a way of impressing their defeat. Ancient Egyptian inscriptions, for example, report that the Egyptian Pharaohs footstool bore the motto, Pharaoh has [anally] penetrated his enemies. It was a way of treating men like women, who were mere property in the eyes of men. Unfortunately this practice is one that is common today in American prisons and in some military organizations in the Third world, and in those contexts the attackers are usually heterosexual persons. Like rape of a female by a male, there is generally little of sexual lust involved in such activity. It is an act of violence, in which the attacker desires to demonstrate power over, or contempt for, another person. The violent abuse of another person sexually is the sin in question in these two texts, not a homosexual orientation or simply homosexual activity between consenting adults. These two passages say nothing at all about those matters. There are three other possible references in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament to male homosexualityand absolutely none (!) to female homosexuality. Each of these references suffers a bit from translation into English, since no one word exists in the Hebrew language (or the Greek language of the New Testament, for that matter) for our English concept, homosexuality, a


term that, as noted above, first came into use in the nineteenth century.
Leviticus 18:22


Leviticus 18:22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman [ ;weeth-zakar lo tishkkab mishkkebey ishshah]; it is an abomination [ toebah hiu]. (New Revised Standard Version, 1989). ;

Leviticus 18:22 Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman [ ; weeth-zakar lo tishkkab mishkkebey ishshah]; it is an abhorrence [ ; toebah hiu]. (Tanakh, New Jewish Publication Society Translation, 1985).

(Septuagint Greek Old Testament text)



Leviticus 18:22 And you shall not lie with a man as with a woman [ ; meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten gunaikos], for it is an abomination [ ; bdelygma gar estin]. (The Apostles Bible, 2004, revision of L. C. L. Brentons translation of the Septuagint Greek text)

In Leviticus 18:22 the description of an apparent same-gender sexual act is translated into the heterosexual terminology of the time and somewhat euphemistically. It is addressed only to males (as the entire Torah wassince females were not often seen as objects of Gods attention, being mere possessions of their fathers or of their husbands). No explanation is given as to just why this action is such an abomination or abhorrence. (Incidentally, the various Hebrew terms translated as abomination simply mean, ritually
unclean). And, strangely, female same-gender sexual activity is not mentioned

at all here, nor anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible.



Leviticus 20:13


Leviticus 20:13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman [ ; we ish asher yishkkab eth-zakar mishkkebey ishshah] both of them have committed an abomination [ toebah asu]; they ; shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. (New Revised Standard Version). Leviticus 20:13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman [ ; we ish asher yishkkab eth-zakar mishkkebey ishshah], the two of them have done an abhorrent thing [ toebah asu]; they shall ; be put to deaththeir bloodguilt is upon them. (Tanakh. The New Jewish Publication Society Translation, 1985).

(Septuagint Greek Old Testament text) Leviticus 20:13 And whoever shall lie with a male as with a woman [ ; hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gunaikos], they have both committed an abomination [ ; bdelygma epoiesan]; let them die the death, they are guilty. (The Apostles Bible, 2004, revision of L. C. L. Brentons translation of the Septuagint Greek)

Leviticus 20:13

Leviticus 20:13 expands chapter 18s prohibition by applying the death penalty for the act condemned in 18:22. In this same list the death penalty is prescribed for incest, adultery, lack of virginity in a woman on her wedding night, and for anyone who curses his father or mother! In both of the Leviticus passages the prohibition of an apparent male homosexual act (if that is what it is) simply appears in the middle of a list of other sexual acts that the priestly writers of Leviticus considered ritually


unclean. The list includes forbidden degrees of relationship (incest), and having

sexual relations during a womans monthly period of menstruation (Leviticus 18:19), a practice that people in modern society do not generally consider sinful. The act of lying with a male as with a woman [

; we ish asher yishkkab eth-zakar mishkkebey ishshah] is not

singled out as being any more abhorrent than those other condemned practices. It is interesting how selective modern people can be in the enforcement of scriptural mandates, when all of those activities are treated on the same level, as they are in the Biblical passages that have been quoted. And of course, in our modern society, while some states may have laws against homosexual acts, or against sexual abuse, or against marriage within certain forbidden degrees of relationship, none of them prescribes, or would prescribe the death penalty for such crimes. In light of the Genesis and Judges passages already discussed, one might need to consider whether the two passages in Leviticus may be referring to male rape, as in the story about Sodom. Leviticus 20:13 does indicate that both partners should be put to death. Ordinarily this might imply mutual consent. But Leviticus 20:16 says that even in the case of sexual intercourse between a human and an animal, both the human and the animal shall be put to deatha clear situation in which the animal had no opportunity to consent!



But it is more likely that these passages are simply a condemnation of typical Canaanite worship of Baal by means of ritual prostitution. The section of Leviticus beginning with chapter 18 specifically indicates that the actions being condemned are practices that the Egyptians and the Canaanites practice, and the implication is that Yahwehs people must not imitate those practices:
Leviticus 18:1-5

2 1 3 4 5
Leviticus 18:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: I am Yahweh your God. 3 You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not follow their statutes. 4 My ordinances you shall observe and My statutes you shall keep, following them: I am Yahweh your God. 5 You shall keep My statutes and My ordinances; by doing so one shall live: I am Yahweh. (New Revised Standard Version, 1989, adapted). Leviticus 18:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: I Yahweh am your God. 3 You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you; nor shall you follow their laws. 4 My rules alone shall you observe, and faithfully follow My laws: I Yahweh am your God. 5 You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which a person shall live: I am Yahweh. (Tanakh. The New Jewish Publication Society Translation, 1985, adapted).

2 3

Leviticus 18:1


4 5
Leviticus 18: 1 And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, 2 Speak to the children of Israel, and you shall say to them, I [am] Yahweh your God. 3 You shall not do according to the devices of Egypt, in which you dwelt: and according to the devices of the land of Canaan, into which I bring you, you shall not do; and you shall not walk in their ordinances. 4 You shall observe My judgments, and shall keep My ordinances, and shall walk in them: I [am] Yahweh your God. 5 So you shall keep all My ordinances, and all My judgments, and do them; which if a person shall do, he shall live in them: I [am] Yahweh your God. The Apostles Bible, 2004, revision of L. C. L. Brentons translation of the Septuagint Greek, adapted)

Other than this, we are given absolutely no reason in these ancient texts just why the act of a male lying with a male as with a woman [

; we ish asher yishkkab eth-zakar

mishkkebey ishshah] is condemned. And same-gender sexual activity between

females is never mentioned at all in these texts. In the absence of a concrete reason clearly stated, we are left to speculate. Perhaps the prohibition does have something to do with forcible male rape of an un-consenting partner. More likely, it does relate to acts of prostitution in the temple of an alien religion, implying apostasy against Yayweh. Prophets like Hosea and Jeremiah indicate that this continued into



Israels history centuries after the time of Moses. The prophets directly equated following those Canaanite practices with the sin of adultery. Many interpreters suggest that an additional reason for the condemnation of this practice may be found in a passage like Genesis, chapter 38. The subject of that chapter is the ancient Israelite practice of Levirate marriage (cf. Deuteronomy 25:5-10 and Ruth 4:1-12). That was the practice, in which, if a man died childless, it was considered the duty of a brother-in-law or other next of kin to marry and to engage in sexual relations with the mans widow to perpetuate the brothers name and inheritance. This practice of levirate marriage is another practice found in the Old Testament Torah, which, though commanded by God, is no longer practiced, even by modern Fundamentalist Christians, even though they believe in an infallible or inerrant Bible. But the point of the story in Genesis 38 is that Judahs son Onan did not complete his duty toward his brothers widow, because, he spilled his semen on the ground rather than impregnate her (Genesis 38:9). The story tells us that, for his sin, Yahweh put Onan to death. We again may speculate that, since the male semen bears the potential life of a Jewish males future descendants, to waste it was sinful because it would negate Gods promise of descendants for Abraham (Genesis 12:2, 7; 13:15-16; 15:5; 17:4-9; etc.) as well as Gods command to the first couple to
be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28).



In light of this possibility, we may take this speculation further and suggest that one reason for the condemnation of a male lying with a male as
with a woman [

; we ish asher

yishkkab eth-zakar mishkkebey ishshah] in the Book of Leviticus. In that

kind of activity, once again, the male semen was being wasted. It would then follow that, since females do not produce semen, there was no reason in such a context for a condemnation of female same-gender sexual activity, and thus the Leviticus passages make no mention of it.
Deuteronomy 23:17-18 English [18-19 Hebrew]

18 19
Deuteronomy 23:17 None of the daughters of Israel shall be a temple prostitute [ ; qedeshah] none of the sons of Israel shall be a temple prostitute [ ; qedesh]. 18 You shall not bring the fee of a prostitute [ ; zonah] or the wages of a male prostitute [ ; keleb; literally, a dog] into the House of the Yahweh your God in payment for any vow, for both of these are abhorrent [ ; toabat] to Yahweh your God. (New Revised Standard Version, 1989, adapted). Deuteronomy 23:18 No Israelite woman shall be a cult prostitute [ ; qedeshah], nor shall any Israelite man be a cult prostitute [ ; qedesh]. 19 You shall not bring the fee of a whore [ ; zonah] or the pay of a dog [i. e., a male prostitute;

; keleb; literally, a dog] into the House of Yahweh your God in fulfillment of any vow, for both are abhorrent [ ; toabat] to

Yahweh your God. [Vv. 18-19, following the verse numbering of the Hebrew Bible, in Tanakh, the New Jewish Publication Society Translation, 1985, adapted).



19 (Septuagint Greek Old Testament text)

Deuteronomy 23:18 Deuteronomy 23:17 There shall not be a harlot [, porne] of the daughters of Israel, and there shall not be a fornicator [, porneuon] of the sons of Israel; there shall not be an idolatress [, telesphoros] of the daughters of Israel, and there shall not be an initiated person [, teliskomenos] of the sons of Israel. 18 You shall not bring the hire of a harlot [. pornes], nor the price of a dog [, kunos, i. e., a male prostitute] into the House of Yahweh your God, for any vow, because even both are an abomination [; bdelygma] to the Lord your God. (The Apostles Bible, 2004, revision of L. C. L. Brentons translation of the Septuagint Greek, adapted)

In Deuteronomy 23:17 both the males and the females of Israel are prohibited from serving as cult prostitutes for pagan religions, but it is not clear whether their services were heterosexual or homosexual. The worship of Baal in the Canaanite culture involved regular visits to various religious centers by the worshippers. In the visits the worshippers were expected to engage in ritual prostitution to guarantee the fertility of their crops during the coming year. To be exact, this particular text prohibits prostitution, especially for the purpose of worship in a heathen religion. Although some traditional interpreters have assumed that this text refers to same-gender sexual acts, this is unlikely. Presumably only heterosexual



intercourse would serve the purpose of the fertility religion of Baal to mimic the planting of seeds in the ground as a stimulus to the storm god of Canaan to impregnate mother earth, the goddess Anath, or Ashera in the Canaanite religion, to bring rain to grow crops. The sin condemned in this text is not so much a sexual one at all. The real sin lies in the fact that, by engaging in the practices of Canaanite fertility worship, the worshipper has chosen to serve Baal rather than Yahweh as the true God. To worship and serve any deity but Yahweh is to violate the basic commandment for Gods people, found in Deuteronomy 6:4. That is itthat is all that the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament states with any possible reference to condemnation of same-gender sexual acts. But note again what these texts condemn: prostitution in service of pagan religions (whether heterosexual or homosexual); rape of males by males (regardless of the sexual orientation of the attackers); and the rather obscure action described as lying with a male as with a woman, [

; we ish asher yishkkab eth-zakar mishkkebey

ishshah], a reference that says nothing about female homosexual activity at

all. At best we can say that none of the passages in the Old Testament are anything like as clear-cut in their meaning as we would like them to be. The



best we can do is interpret them in light of what we know about the cultural assumptions of people living in that particular time and place, and not assume that they are necessarily speaking about situations in our twenty-first century culture that were unknown in the time of Moses. The Old Testament culture apparently knew nothing of committed and monogamous sexual relationships between persons of the same sex. Thus, these Old Testament passages may have nothing to say about that issue, and even, perhaps, nothing to say about contemporary homosexual relationships at all. Thus, the person who attempts to be dogmatic in interpretation at this point must finally make such judgments on some other basis than the content of these Old Testament passages. That is so because these passages that uninformed interpreters traditionally have cited cannot be said with any degree of certainty to mean what he thinks they mean. Before leaving the Old Testament we should consider one more factor. Just what is the Christian view of the relevance of the Old Testament legal ordinances? Obviously, different Christian denominations and their interpreters disagree. Mainline Protestant Christianity has usually given priority to the New Testament, and has not held that the Jewish Law in its totality is applicable to Christian practice. If Christians (especially Fundamentalist Christians, who certainly hold that the Bible is infallible and inerrant) did accept the Torah (Law)


in its totality, then all Christians would worship on Saturday, as do Jews and Seventh Day Adventists, and certain other Christian groups. There is no way to avoid the clear teaching of the Old Testament that the day of rest is the seventh day, not the first, and there is no direct Old or New Testament commandment for Christians or others to make that change. Again, if modern Christians did hold that the Jewish Torah in its totality were to be observed, Christians would not be eating pork or shrimp or oysters, which are among many forbidden foods in Jewish Law. It is obvious that, for a majority of Christians, the legal prescriptions in the Old Testament do not all have the same value. Christians usually refer to the words of Paul in Romans 6:15 that We are not under the Torah, but
under grace, when defending their failure to observe the Jewish Sabbath or

the Jewish dietary laws. But then, with a wonderful inconsistency, many also come to some specific legal precept that they choose (on cultural or other grounds) to believe is still valid. And at that point they quote Jesus, . 18 , , .
Matthew 5:17 Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I have come to abolish [; katalusai] the Torah or the prophetic writings; I have come not to abolish [; katalusai] but to fulfill [; plerosai]. 18 For truly I tell you, until Heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass


from the Torah until all is accomplished [; genetai]. (New Revised Standard Version, 1989, adapted)

In his letters to the Romans and the Galatians Paul reminded his readers that they could not have it both ways. Either a person must observe all of the Torah in all of its details or else he must be free from the legal prescriptions in the Bible and live under Gods grace instead. Some in Christianity have not heard him on this point. II. The New Testament But what is the evidence to be found in the New Testament concerning homosexuality? Again, the few relevant passages may be interpreted more than one way. They do not necessarily say what the untrained interpreter thinks they say. In the first place, Jesus Himself said nothing about homosexual orientation or homosexual acts. He does say that Gods original provision and intention for families is that of a man married to a woman for life. Yet even in the time of Jesus, as in Old Testament times, it was lawful for a good Jew to have more than one wife, although that practice was not as common in the New Testament period as it was in the Old Testament period. Indeed, the practice continued in Judaism for several centuries after the New Testament period. Furthermore, the practice of Levirate marriage was still common in Jesus time (cf. Mark 12:18-27, paralleled in Matthew 22:22-33 and in Luke 20:27-40). One might reasonably ask whether the Old or the New Testaments



provide any evidence for a commandment to abandon the practice of polygamy, or did it happen simply as a matter of convenience or of changing cultural environment, like so many other changes that later occurred. The practice of polygamy in Third World cultures has often given rise to an ethical dilemma for Christian missionaries. When a person in such a culture becomes a Christian, should he then divorce all but one of his wives, in the process leaving those wives destitute in a male dominated non-Christian society? And how does a Christian counselor perform marriage counseling in such a culture? But that is not our subject at hand. Furthermore, Jesus also was well aware, as was Paul, that divorces do occur, and that divorce falls short of Gods intention. Indeed, one might speculate that He might also have felt that a same-sex monogamous relationship falls short of Gods intention, but He certainly never said so. To argue from silence either to condemn or to condone may be possible but the interpreter must always beware of making any important judgment whose only basis is silence. The only references in the New Testament that may speak of homosexual acts (but not the modern concept of homosexual orientation) are in the writings attributed to Paul. Two of these references, in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6, are certainly by Paul. The other reference is only possibly by Paul, but, perhaps more likely, by an admirer of Paul, writing as he thought Paul would have written, in 1 Timothy 1. (My own guess is that 1


and 2 Timothy and Titus were written by Timothy himself, based on fragments of letters he himself had received from Paul, but which the author now addressed to a later situation).
1 Timothy 1:8-11 1:8 , , 9 ,

, , , , , 10 , 11 , .
1:8 Now we know that the Torah (,; ho nomos, the Law) is good, if one uses it legitimately. 9 This means understanding that the Torah is laid down, not for the innocent, but for the lawless (; anomois) and disobedient (; anupotaktois), for the godless (; asebesi) and sinful (; hamartolois), for the unholy (; anosiois) and profane (; bebelois), for those who kill their father or mother ( ; patroloais kai metroloais), for murderers (; androphonois), 10 fornicators [; pornois], sodomites (sic.!) [; arsenokoitais, literally, male-bedders], slave traders (; andrapodistais), liars (; pseustais), perjurers (Greek: ; epiorkois), and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching ( ; hugiainouse didaskalia antikeitai) 11 that conforms to the glorious Gospel [ ; to euanggelion tes doxes] of the blessed God, which He entrusted to me. (New Revised Standard Version, adapted).



1 Corinthians 6:9-11

; 10 , , , . 11 , , .
6:9 6:9 Do you not know that wrongdoers [ ; adikoi] will not inherit the Kingdom of God [ ; theou basileian]? Do not be deceived. Fornicators [; pornoi], idolaters [; eidololatrai], adulterers [; moichoi], male prostitutes (sic.!) [; malakoi, literally, soft persons], sodomites (sic.!) [; arsenokoitai, literally, male-bedders], 10 thieves [; kleptai], the greedy [; pleonektai], drunkards [; methusoi], revilers [; loidoroi], robbers [; harpages] none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God [ ; basileian theou]. 11 And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (New Revised Standard Version, adapted).

In these two passages certain words that may or may not refer to what we know today as homosexuality are used. The Greek word pornos (plural, pornoi) means prostitute, and can refer to persons either males or females, presumably heterosexual, but possibly also homosexual. Paul himself seems to have been the first writer who ever used the Greek word arsenokoites (plural,



arsenokoitai). This word is almost too ambiguous to translate. The application of the term sodomite was not made until the eleventh century CE by Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury. It did not appear in an English translation until the Revised Standard Version New Testament of 1946! In light of our examination of Genesis 19, the term sodomites that the RSV and NRSV use, is appropriate only in reference to male rape, and not to homosexuality as such. Thus, translators of English and other versions who use a term like sodomites here probably have read into the Greek texts of the New Testament something that is not actually there. The word arsenokoites itself is derived from the word arsene, male, and from the word koite, bed, especially, the marriage bed, from which the modern technical word for sexual intercourse, coitus, derives. A literal translation would be something like male bedders. The term may perhaps mean something similar to the phrase in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, lying with a male as with a woman, [

; we ish asher yishkkab eth-zakar

mishkkebey ishshah] and in that case must be understood in light of the

interpretation of the meaning of those texts. But as we have noted above, it is uncertain whether those texts necessarily have anything to do with consenting same-gender sexual activity.



The third Greek word, the noun, malakos (plural, malakoi) which occurs only in the 1 Corinthians passage, may be only an adjective, modifying arsenokoites, rather than a separate noun category, but in any case that term may suggest the meaning of both terms in the passage in question. The adjective form of Malakos, translated literally, means soft as in Matthew 11:8. In the passage in 1 Corinthians it may suggest the idea of effeminate, and could refer to male prostitutes who were cross-dressers (i. e., transvestites). Before we attempt to apply these texts to our late twentieth century culture, it may be helpful once more to look at the culture of the New Testament writers own time, the Mediterranean Roman/Greek environment in the first century, into which the Christian missionary enterprise entered, and in light of which, Paul and the author of 1 Timothy were writing. In that culture there was in fact a very common form of same-sex activity that is described in the literature of that period. It consisted of man-boy relationships in which wealthy men often took pre-pubescent boys for sexual lovers. These men, often married men, provided an education and training for these boys, who were often slaves (note the mention in the 1 Timothy passage of slave traders), and in turn required of them passive sexual relations. Then there were also male prostitutes in that society, many of whom dressed as women with powder and makeup and perfume, and who stood


along the streets of places like Rome and Corinth selling themselves as did the female prostitutes. Again, while consenting homosexual relations between committed life partners, as it exists in twentieth century society, may have been present, it does not appear to have been the predominant form of homosexual practice. And the idea of permanent monogamous same-gender relationships also does not seem to have been prominent in that culture. Thus, in the passages that have been cited, the moral corruption of male prostitution and the subjection of young boys to adult men (probably nonconsenting) are most likely what Paul had in mind. While this is not certain, again, one cannot prove with dogmatic certainty that these passages are addressing the phenomenon of homosexuality as it is experienced and practiced in twentieth-century culture. Pauls own culture offered much more common and more likely practices that could have led to the responses given in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians. But whatever the nature of the practices mentioned, they are not singled out for special attention as being especially heinous when compared with other sins. In fact, they are simply part of lists of sinful activities or of sinful persons that are placed on the same level. Unfortunately, many modern interpreters have chosen to be more selective. Liars and perjurers and revilers and greedy persons and drunkards, and in many cases even
robbers are not nearly so severely condemned in our society as are



homosexual persons. It is amazing how selective we Bible-believers can be in singling out specific sins for the worlds condemnation! As for the matter of condemnation, we must ask what Paul means when he speaks of wrongdoers not inheriting the Kingdom of God [ ; theou basileian]. Biblical scholars have written entire books that seek to define or explain Jesus use of this term, and the general use that first century CE authors make of it. And, of course, those interpreters often disagree with one another on key points. But amid the disagreements there is also a general consensus on many points. We may assume that first century CE Jews, hearing Jesus use the term, had a general idea that the Kingdom of God meant a restoration of the Jewish monarchy under a descendant of King David, a Messiah, who would conquer all of their oppressors. But Jesus apparently modified the traditional views. For Him the Kingdom concept seems to derive from the often repeated refrain in the Psalms, The LORD [Yahweh] is King! or, The LORD rules! (e. g., Psalms 93:1; 97:1; 99:1). For Jesus, it appears that the Kingdom is not a geographical or political entity at all, and neither is it confined either to this Present Age or to the Age to Come in an afterlife. But it is a present entity, dawning with the coming of Jesus, existing within the hearts of human beings, and present in the midst of all of people, eventually to be consummated in the Age to Come. And he summed up the content in the Lords Prayer this way: the


Kingdom is that situation in which Gods will is as perfectly done on earth,

among human beings, as it is in the Heavenly realm in which God already rules. Thus, Kingdom pf God does not refer simply to the afterlife as the Christians reward for being saved.
Romans 1:19-32 1:19

. 20 , , , 21 , . 22 23 . 25 , , . , , 27 ,




. , , , 29 , , 30 , , , 31 32 , .
1:19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world His eternal power and Divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things He has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking [ ; emataiothesan en tois dialogismois], and their senseless minds were darkened [ ; eskotisthe he asunetos auton kardia]. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools [; emoranthesan]; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up [ ; paredoken autous] in the lusts of their hearts [ ; epithumiais ton kardion] to impurity [; akatharsian], to the degrading of their bodies [ ; atimazesthai ta somata] among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, Who is blessed forever! Amen. 24 26 For this reason God gave them up [ ; paredoken autous] to degrading passions [ ; pathe atimias]. Their women exchanged natural 28



intercourse for unnatural [ ; metellaxan ten phusiken Chresin eis ten para phusin], 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women Greek: [ ; aphentes ten phusiken Chresin tes theleias], were consumed with passion for one another [ ; exekauthesan en te orexei auton eis allelous]. Men committed shameless acts with men [ ; arsenes en arsesesin ten aschemosunen katergazomenoi] and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up [ ; paredoken autous] to a debased mind [ ; adokimon noun] and to things that should not be done [ ; poiein ta me kathekonta]. 29 They were filled with every kind of wickedness [ ; pepleromenous pase adikia], evil [; poneria], covetousness [; pleonexia], malice [; kakia]. Full of envy [ ; mestous opthonou], murder [; phonou], strife [; epidos], deceit; [; dolou], craftiness [; kakontheias], they are gossips [; pithuristas], 30 slanderers [; katalalous], God-haters [; theostugeis], insolent [; hubristas], haughty [; huperephanous], boastful [; alazonas], inventors of evil [ ; epheuretas kakon], rebellious toward parents [ ; goneusin apeitheis], 31 foolish [; asunetous], faithless [; asunthetous], heartless [; astorgous], ruthless [; aneleemonas]. 32 They know God's decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them. (New Revised Standard Version, adapted).

It is well to place this passage in its context in the Book of Romans to see just how it fits within the total thought of the letter. Romans 1:16 f. states the



theme of Romans. Here the Good News (Gospel) is described as the power of God for universal salvation. This theme is developed in the following chapters in both its positive and its negative implications. Positively, Paul insists that salvation is accessible to all persons who will accept it through faith in Christ. But negatively, it is clear that all persons have sinned and are in need of
salvation. This emphasis on human sinfulness is the negative pole of the theme

of Romans. There is no human means of salvation; it must be Divinely given. Note that, for Paul, the starting-point, however, is not that all have sinned, but that, because of Christ, all can be justified, or right-wised (Greek: ; dikaios) before God. No human sin, and no power of evil, is sufficient to separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39)! The tension between the possibility of universal salvation and the actuality of universal human sinfulness provides the dynamic for the development of Romans 1:16 8:39. In chapters 1 and 2 Paul seeks to show how the sin of every person and every race and culture is manifest in different ways. In Romans 1:18-32 Paul indicts the non-Jewish (Gentile) world. His point is that the wrath from God (Greek: ; orge theou;
condemnation, judgment, inevitable consequences of sin) does not await the end

of the world, but goes into action at each present moment in humanitys history, as God hands over the wicked Gentiles to the natural consequences of their actions. The degrading passions to which Paul refers in Romans 1:26-27


are seen, not so much as individual sins, but rather, as the consequences of a much larger sin. Despite the fact that they could know Gods will from the natural order of the world (Romans 1:19-20) they had turned their backs on that knowledge (Romans 1:21, 38) and have turned to idolatry (Romans 1:23, 25). Therefore, God gave them up [Greek: ;
paredoken autous] to the natural consequences of turning their backs on the

true God (Romans 1:24, 26, 38). Instead of curbing peoples evil interests, God abandoned them to their self-indulgence. Then in Romans 2:1 3:20 Paul shows that in spite of special revelation, Jews enjoy no advantage over Gentiles in moral status before God. They, like the Gentiles, attempt to put themselves in the place of God, for they usurp the place of God by judging their neighbors, as well as by not living up to the requirements of the Torah that they profess to revere (Romans 2:1, 3, 21-23). Then, with the entire human race now declared guilty before God (Romans 3:10-19, 23), Paul displays the solution for the total problem: salvation through Gods redemptive work that is revealed in Christ Jesus for all who put their trust in God through Christ (Romans 3:2131). In Romans 2:1-11 Paul clearly points out that Jews enjoy no real moral supremacy over Gentiles, and Jews cannot condemn the sins of Gentiles without condemning themselves. If only the so-called moral majority of our own time could hear Paul at this point!


Romans 1:26-28 is, in fact, the only passage in the Bible that might deal with same-gender sexual activity between females. Again, however, it is not clear whether any of these acts are between consenting adults, or between dominating and dominated partners, or between prostitutes and their customers. And it is not clear that this passage would have anything to say about a monogamous permanent same-gender relationship. Perhaps it does, but the evidence simply is not available that would allow an interpreter to be dogmatic in such an interpretation. It is certainly clear from all the passages cited, when interpreted in the context of the cultural situations being addressed, that prostitution (especially in connection with idolatry) is condemned, that rape is condemned, nonconsenting sexual relations are condemned, sexual abuse is condemned, pederastysexual exploitation of young childrenis condemned. It is less certain that life-long, monogamous same-gender relationships between consenting adults are being condemned. There appears to be no evidence for blessing life-long monogamous same-gender relationships and calling them marriages, but the evidence for condemning such relationships is not so certain either. Certainly, it is difficult to believe that God would not want to bless any relationship between individual persons that is a loving one, but this specific matter never comes under discussion. That is as far as the Biblical evidence goes.


Thus, it appears that, if one is to decide a Christian response to consenting homosexual activity, especially life-long monogamous samegender relationships, a persons response must be made on other, more general grounds, rather than on the basis of those Biblical texts that traditionally have been thought to refer specifically to homosexual acts. What are some of those other grounds? It is clear that Jesus was far more accepting of the real and the reputed shortcomings of the outcasts and sinners of his day than He was of those whose lives were spent defining the will of God for others. He ate and drank and socialized with the tax gatherers, the prostitutes, and the unwanted of society. He did not require them to be perfect for Him to love them, or to associate with Him, or to be accepted by Him. He was interested in those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, as much as in those who thought they had actually attained righteousness. When the outcasts experienced for themselves Jesus acceptance, they responded in gratitude by becoming responsible and moral persons, giving their lives over into the keeping and the Lordship of this loving and accepting God, Who had revealed Himself in His Son Jesus Christ. They concluded that to see Jesus was to see the Father, a Father Who welcomed His prodigal children with open arms as honored members of the family before they could even ask to be taken in as mere household servants. We Baptists traditionally have upheld two great principles. The first


principle is that of the soul-competency and priesthood of each individual believer, as each seeks the will of God for himself or herself. The second principle is the autonomy of each local congregation, as it seeks the will of God, and as it comes to conclusions about what seemed good to the Holy Spirit
and to us. A proper respect for those principles should allow other believers

and other congregations to come to such conclusions as those that have been suggested above, without compelling other Baptists or other Christians to agree with all of those conclusions. The point of this exercise in taking a close look at the traditional Biblical texts associated with homosexuality has not been for the purpose of either encouraging or discouraging modern homosexual practice. Nor has it been to make light of the legitimate moral concerns of Christians or of adherents of other faiths. Rather, it has been to show that sincere Christians (and other people of faith likewise) who seek the will of God can come to differing conclusions without being un-Biblical, un-Christian, or un-Baptist in their relationships with each other.
The author/compiler of this material, the Reverend Michael Jackson Watts, A.B., M.Div., Th.M., has been a Southern Baptist minister and college teacher of religion for over forty years. He began this study in 1991 following a vote of the congregation of which he is a member, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church of Raleigh, North Carolina, to authorize a Holy Union ceremony between two men. At that time he voted against authorizing such a ceremony, although his family members voted for it. After the vote, which led to that congregations exclusion from the Southern Baptist Convention, the NC Baptist Convention, and the Raleigh Baptist Association, he remained a member of that congregation as one of the loyal opposition. He also began this study of Holy Scripture in the original languages, and of published writings for and against homosexuality. And more


importantly, he became friends with, and learned from the painful stories of, many gay and lesbian persons. The evidences of Scripture and of the experiences of his friends convinced him that his original vote was wrong, and now he is proud to be a fully welcoming and affirming Baptist Christian.