The Bible and homosexuality is a contentious subject that influences how homosexuality and homosexual sex are regarded in societies where Christianity has made a strong impact. The Bible is generally considered by believers to be inspired by God or to record God's relationship with humanity or a particular nation. Some Christians view the Bible as fallible, perhaps being in part divinely inspired, but suffering from the shortcomings resulting from being written, censored, translated, and revised by humans who wrote down the prior oral traditions. Conservative Christianity sees the original texts of the Bible as inerrant, or at least infallible, regardless of the many versions due to differing translations, interpretations, additions and omissions; as the literal word of God. Some Christians, along with many non-Christians, see the Bible as mythology, purely symbolic or didactic folklore, which contains irrelevant and obsolete morality. The Eastern Orthodox Church regards the Bible as the deposit of the Apostolic Tradition, handed down from the Apostles who had personally known Jesus Christ.
The understanding of many Biblical interpreters is summarised by David Hilborn (2002, p.1) who argues: "It must be granted that direct references to homosexual activity in the Bible are relatively few. However, these more explicit texts belong to a much broader Biblical discourse on creation, love, holiness and human relationships - a discourse which goes to the heart of God's purpose for humankind". Additionally, within Christian groups such as Catholicism these passages have traditionally been interpreted in light of other accepted revealed sources, such as the revelations to the mystic-saints, which often do contain more explicit and detailed descriptions clarifying the matter (e.g., St. Hildegard von Bingen's visions in Scivias). Protestant denominations generally do not make use of such sources.
The interpretation of these passages and their place within the religion's wider understanding of God's purpose for humankind therefore has important implications for homosexuality and Judaism, homosexuality and Christianity, and homosexuality and Islam. However, there are those who argue that reason, tradition and experience are also important elements in the interpretation of the biblical texts (see, for example, Richard Hooker). Some also dispute whether or not these passages refer to other forms of sexual behavior between members of the same sex (pagan rites, casual sex, pederasty, and same-sex rape, for example), or to all types of homosexuality as a general category like heterosexuality.
The Hebrew Bible (part of the Old Testament, according to many Christians, but generally considered by Protestants to be identical with the Old Testament) is widely regarded by both Jews and Christians as having been written directly or inspired by God. "Mainstream Christianity has always recognised the authority of many of the ethical commands of the Old Testament". For example Article 7 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England says that Christians are still bound by the moral commandments, although not the ceremonial, ritual or civil laws.
The first two chapters of the first book of the Bible, Genesis describe God's creation of the world and his creation of man and woman. In the King James version that for many centuries was the most common translation of the Bible in English, Genesis 1:27-28 states:
Genesis 2 says:
Genesis 19: Sodom and Gomorrah
Genesis chapters 18 and 19 are concerned with the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by God. In the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the Hebrew of Genesis 19:4-8 is rendered as:
Ezekiel 16:49-50 (TNIV) reads: In the New Testament, Jude 1:7 (NASB) says:
The NASB's "relations" has been translated in other versions as "know", the same term used to refer to sexual encounters elsewhere in the Bible. Thus a common interpretation is that Lot offered his virgin daughters to the crowd, as a means to appease the crowd and protect his visitors from sexual abuse.
Hilborn (2002, p.3) and Compton (2003) propose that, while the sins of Sodom may include sexual sins, the ambiguity of the text means that it cannot be used to condemn homosexual relationships outright. There is a close parallel to the Sodom and Gomorrah story in Judges 19 (Issues in human sexuality, para 2.12). This same report (ibid.) also argues that the other references in both the Old and New Testament are general and that while Sodom became "a stock image for extreme sinfulness" it was not "a symbol for one particular sin".
The mainstream opinion among biblical interpreters maintains that, taken in the context of the events of Genesis 19:4-8, there is clear indication that homosexuality is at least one specific sin responsible for the destruction of Sodom (Homosexuality: The Christian Perspective, Q. 3; White-Neill 2002; Bahnsen 1978).
The story's morality, as a whole, has been called into question, not just specifically the debate concerning whether or not it condemns homosexuality. Lot's daughters are offered by their father to an angry mob to be gang raped, Lot's wife is turned into a pillar of salt for looking behind her and both daughters have sex with their father, each becoming pregnant and delivering healthy children. Critics argue that a story that includes condoned incest, a father offering his daughters for gang rape, the destruction of cities, and the killing of a mother for looking behind her cannot be used to justify condemning homosexuals. These critics argue that those who attempt to justify condemnation of homosexuality with this story willfully and unfairly ignore the incest and rape. This idea, however, assumes that simply because an event is recorded, it is condoned, and that a choice between two evils requires endorsing the lesser evil as good in and of itself. The inclusion of the "don't turn around" idea from classical antiquity has been used to argue that the story is folklore, rather than the literal recording of events.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah had never been interpreted as relating to one single, particular sin before two law novellizations by Byzantine emperor Justinian the Great in the 500s CE. It was Justinian who in his novels no. 77 (dating 538) and no. 141 (dating 559) amended to his Corpus iuris civilis was the first to declare that Sodom's sin had been specifically same-sex activities and desire for them in order to create homosexual scapegoats for recent earthquakes and other disasters of his time, but most of all to enact anti-homosexual laws that he used upon personal as well as political opponents in case he could not prove them guilty of anything else. Justinian's were not the first Roman laws prohibiting homosexual behavior (earlier such measures had been included in the Lex Scantinia dating from the year 149 BCE and the Lex Julia dating from 17 BCE, both constituting death penalty for homosexual behavior, while we have allegations that even before Lex Scantinia, such laws existed but direct evidence was lost), however while sticking to death penalty Justinian's legal novels heralded a change in Roman legal paradigm as in that he introduced a concept of not only mundane but also divine punishment for homosexual behavior. Individuals might ignore and escape mundane laws, however they could not do the same with divine laws if Justinian declared his novels to be such.
Justinian's interpretation of the story of Sodom would be forgotten today (as it had been along with his law novellizations regarding homosexual behavior immediately after his death) had it not been made use of in fake Charlemagnian capitularies, fabricated by a Frankish monk using the pseudonym Benedictus Levita ("Benedict the Levite") around 850 CE, as part of the Pseudo-Isidore where Benedictus utilized Justinian's interpretation as a justification for ecclesiastical supremacy over mundane institutions, thereby demanding burning at the stake for carnal sins in the name of Charlemagne himself (burning had been part of the standard penalty for homosexual behavior particularly common in Germanic antiquity, note that Benedictus most probably was Frankish), especially homosexuality, for the first time in ecclesiastical history in order to protect all Christianity from divine punishments such as natural disasters for carnal sins committed by individuals, but also for heresy, superstition and heathenry. According to Benedictus, this was why all mundane institutions had to be subjected to ecclesiastical power in order to prevent moral as well as religious laxity causing divine wrath.
These chapters of Leviticus form part of the Holiness code. Leviticus 18:22 says: and Leviticus 20:13 states:
It is widely argued that the things condemned in these chapters are "deemed wrong not simply because pagan Canaanites indulged in them, but because God has pronounced them wrong as such." (Hilborn 2002, p.4; cf. Issues in human sexuality, para. 2.11; Amsel). This was also the interpretation taken in the rabbinic interpretations in the Mishnah and Talmud, which also extended this to include female homosexual relations, although there are no explicit references in the Hebrew Bible to this.
Various counter-arguments have been suggested: Johns (2004) claims that these texts were purity codes to keep Israel separate from the Canaanites and that as Jesus rejected the whole purity code as they are no longer relevant. West (2005, p.2) argues that "These verses in no way prohibit, nor do they even speak, to loving, caring sexual relationships between people of the same gender", speculating that these laws were to prevent sexual abuse. However, many Christian theologians hold that the New Testament classifies ceremonial and dietary laws as typological in nature and fulfilled in Christ (Galatians 4:10; Colossians 2:16; Hebrews. 9:10), and thus abrogated as to their religious observance "according to the letter," while the moral law is supposedly upheld. These Christian theologians maintain that this abrogation does not extend to homosexuality, which remains one of the few sins thoroughly condemned as an "abomination."
A difficulty in interpreting Leviticus is that Hebrew, Greek and other relevant languages may have been ambiguously or incorrectly rendered into English. Thus the word translated as "detestable" (often also translated as "abomination"), has a different meaning in Biblical Hebrew than in English. (See: Abomination (Bible) ). In Biblical terms, "abomination" simply signifies that which is forbidden or unclean. Likewise the phrase translated as "do not have sexual relations" ("lo tishkav") in these passages literally means "do not lie down with". In other passages (e.g., Genesis 19:34; Exodus 22:16; 22:19 and many others) to "know" or "lie [down] with" is a euphemism for sexual intercourse (whether heterosexual or homosexual).
This book concerns the love between Naomi and her widowed daughter-in-law, Ruth. Naomi's husband and her two sons die and Naomi tells her daughters-in-law to return to their homes:
In this context the word obviously has no sexual connotation, while at the end of the book Ruth marries Boaz, with Naomi's encouragement (Ruth 3:1-4). BA Robinson (2005) therefore concludes that "Although this same-sex friendship appears to have been very close, there is no proof that it was a sexually active relationship."
The account of the intimate relationship between David and Jonathan was recorded favourably in the Books of Samuel (1 Samuel 18; 20; 2 Samuel 1) and there is an ongoing debate whether this relationship was platonic, romantic but chaste, or sexual.
The two most significant passages are (TNIV): And 2 Samuel 1:26 (TNIV):
Biblical scholars have widely and traditionally interpreted this as a very close but non-sexual relationship (cf. Issues in human sexuality, para. 2.17). However, a minority have argued that it was a sexual relationship whilst acknowledging that "in neither case does the text mention a sexual aspect to the relationship" (Greenberg 1988, p.113). The possible euphemisms in the text and actions such as Jonathan disrobing (1 Samuel 18:4: "stripped himself of the robe that was upon him" KJV), perhaps in front of David (something not explicitly stated in the text and that is thought would be highly unusual at the time, outside of bathing), and kissing - a customary greeting between men (cf. , , , etc.) - are grounds on which these scholars have declared: "If modern readers do not see 'sexual relationship' in this story, it is because they cannot accept the plain implications of the story itself" (Johns 2004; cf. Crompton 2002). A useful exercise for heterosexual readers of the story is for them to replace the names of one of the male characters with a female name, and to see what impression they get. This will give a sense of how the story comes across to a homosexual reader. However, upholding the traditional position is that the stripping of Jonathan has a clear Biblical precedent, that of the stripping of Aaron of his garments to put them upon Eleazar his son (Numbers 20:26) in transference of the office of the former upon the latter. In like manner, Jonathan would be symbolically and prophetically transferring the kingship of himself (as the normal heir) to David, which would come to pass. Those who assert the opposing interpretation agree that a sexual relationship is not made explicit, and for many scholars the relationship is a "classical Biblical example" (Hilborn 2002, p.2) of close non-sexual friendship, such as the friendship eloquently described by Gregory of Nazianzus in Oration 43, 19-20 as existing between him and Basil of Caesarea, when they were students in Athens.
In two parallel events in the Books of Kings, Elijah (1 Kings 17:1-24) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:8-37), respectively, bring a young boy back to life by stretching his arms or body over the boy. In 1 Kings, Elijah lays the dead boy on his bed and then:
This passage is interpreted by most scholars as the formation of a political alliance (cf. Burns 2002, p.14), but Koch argues, rather, that this is a romantic homosexual "pick-up".
Koch's interpretations of these passages have been criticised by a number of scholars (cf. Burns 2002, p.13f) as including "sheer fantasy" and of being "a construction [which] is imposed on the text that is highly individualistic, not to say self-centered." Writing of the collection of essays of which Koch's is one, Burns (2002, p.14) writes: "this collection does not effectively present a credible application of queer theory, but one that is narrow and exclusive. In most cases there is no serious struggle with the text and few reasonable justifications for the claims that are made."
The New Testament tells of Jesus Christ and the first Christians and so is only recognised as inspired by God by Christians, not Jews. The attitude of most Christians to the Bible is based on 2 Timothy 3:16 (TNIV):
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is reported as saying:
An argument against this rendering points out that if "racha" means "effeminacy" (denoting homosexuals) then it would confirm that homosexuals (effeminate) are excluded from the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Moreover, the argument that Matthew 5:22 completely forbids contemptuous titles cannot be justified in the light of the clearly denigrating language that both the Lord and Paul used in reproving evil men ("fools and blind," "generation of vipers", "liars, evil beasts"). The warranted interpretation therefore is that Jesus forbade the unwarranted or unholy use of such titles.
In Matthew 15: 19-20 (KJV) Jesus is reported as saying: In Mark 7: 20-23 (KJV) it says:
Whether these lists include homosexuality depends on the translation of porneia (sexual impurity). Translations of these passages generally translate porneia as fornication. As Jesus does not specifically include homosexuality, it has been argued that he did not condemn it. However, it has been pointed out that this is an argument from silence which has also been criticized on the grounds that the rabbis of the 1st century generally included homosexuality within their condemnations of sexual immorality (Satlow 1995), although Jesus did not necessarily agree with the conclusions of the Jewish authorities of the time (i.e. his views on divorce). As "fornications" is plural, it may cover all unmarried sexual unions and/or repeated offenses of fornication.
Porneia appears a number of times in Paul's letters, always with 'arsenokoitais'. In, "Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality", John Boswell argued that the word 'arsenokoitais' in 1 Corinthians 6:19 and 1 Timothy 1:10 refers to male prostitution specifically.
This event is referred to in both Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10 and tells of Jesus healing a centurion's servant. Luke 7:2 (TNIV) says:
The term translated from the Greek as "servant" is pais. This can be translated in a number of different ways including "child" (eg., Matthew 2:16; Lk 2:43, 8:51-54 where it refers to a girl), "son" (John 4:51), "servant" (Lk 15:26, Acts 4:25), or be unclear whether "son" or "servant" is meant (Acts 3:13, 3:26, 4:27, 4:30) (Marston 2003).
There are several instances in ancient Greek literature of the term also having been used to denote a homosexual partner. For example, it is claimed that the connotation arises in the written work of individuals such as Thucydides (460-400 BC), Eupolis (446-411 BC), Aeschines (390-314 BC), Plato, Plutarch and Callimanchus (305-240 BC). However, every other instance of the term's use within biblical scripture has been rendered true to the precision of the Greek lexicon, excluding any sexual connotation, thus marking the alternative interpretation to be somewhat of an inconsistency. It is also unclear to what degree and in what precise manner such connotations were linguistically acknowledged in the ancient (pre-BC) world. Such observations are much more relevant, bearing in mind the interim period of several hundred years and the ensuing significant cultural changes prior to the creation of the scriptural texts.
Nevertheless, using such speculation as basis, Horner (1978) and Helminiak (2000) suggest an homosexual theme to this text. Helminiak argues that this is implied by the broader context of the narrative suggesting an unusual level of concern about the servant, whereas Horner suggests that use of the term "valued highly" implies a sexual relationship. Horner goes onto argue that, as Jesus commended the centurion for his faith (Matthew 8:10; Luke 7:9), it shows that Jesus approved of their relationship, otherwise he would have condemned him.
Biblical scholars largely dismiss such opinions as deliberately distorted interpretations of the text clarifies the absence of any sexual connotation (NET Bible 2005, Luke 7). Marston argues that Jesus would clearly not have condoned any homosexual relationship, in line with the weight of other scriptural evidence; while Chapman (2005) suggests that even if the relationship had been homosexual, his lack of condemnation does not necessarily equate to his approval of them.
In the Gospel of John, there are four verses (John 13:23; 19:26; 21:7; 21:20) which refer to the "disciple whom Jesus loved", generally interpreted to be John himself.
Several scholars have used these verses to argue that Jesus and John had a homosexual relationship, recently most notably by Jennings (2003). Jennings argues that these verses and the intimacy displayed between Jesus and John, especially at the Last Supper where John is described (John 13:23) as "reclining next to him" (TNIV) or "leaning on Jesus' bosom" (KJV), implies that they were in a homosexual relationship.
However, this interpretation is rejected by most Biblical scholars, who believe that the disciple "whom Jesus loved" refers to a deep friendship and non-sexual intimacy between Christ and his favorite apostle. For example, Vasey (pp.121-124) uses the "deepest intimacy" of the friendship of Jesus and John to affirm homosexual relationships, but rejects the idea that Jesus and John themselves were in a homosexual relationship. It is also dismissed by Gagnon (2001) in his large-scale study The Bible and Homosexual Practice, not least as the word translated "loved" is the Greek word agape (used, for example, in John 3:16; "for God so loved the world"), rather than the Greek word referring to sexual love, eros.
Responding directly to Jennings' claims, Gagnon argued that Jennings misunderstood ancient culture, as people would recline while eating, so the man "leaning on Jesus' bosom" was simply "reclining next to" Jesus, with no homoerotic implication. Gagnon argued: "the idea that Jesus was a homosexual or engaged in homosexual acts is complete nonsense" that no "serious biblical scholar" had ever proposed (Ostling 2003).
In the Epistle to the Romans 1:26-27 (TNIV), Paul writes
This has been described as "the most important biblical reference for the homosexuality debate" (Hilborn 2002, p.5). It is also the only apparent reference in the Bible to female homosexuality, though some maintain that this prohibition applies only to male homosexuals. Hilborn (2002, p.6) argues that in the wider passage (Romans 1:18-32) Paul writes that the "global scope of salvation history has been made manifest not only in 'the gospel of God's Son' (cf. v.9), but also in the very 'creation of the world' (v.20)." In common with many traditional commentators, Hilborn (2002, p.7) goes on to argue that condemnation of homosexual activity is derived from the "broad contours" of Paul's argument, in addition to the selective reading of individual words or phrases.
Some commentators (eg., Boswell 1980, p.109f; Vasey 1995, p.131f) speculate that the text does not condemn homosexual acts by homosexuals, rather "homosexual acts committed by heterosexual persons" (Boswell 1980, p.109), or heterosexuals who "abandoned" or "exchanged" heterosexuality for homosexuality (McNeil, 1993). Boswell argues that the conceptual modality (natural laws) which would provide the basis for the blanket condemnation of homosexuality did not exist prior to the Enlightenment era.
Another viewpoint is that Paul is condemning specific types of homosexual activity (such as temple prostitution or pederasty) rather than a broader interpretation (West 2005, p.3). West argues that Paul is speaking to a Gentile audience in terms that they would understand to show that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
Another area of contention is the apparent reference to female homosexuality. Most interpreters assume that, due to the analogy with same-sex lust between males, that Paul is referring to female same-sex behavior. While definitely a strong possibility, this assumption is not conclusive, and it remains difficult to discern exactly what Paul meant by women exchanging natural intercourse for unnatural (Nissinen 1998, p. 108).
Both groups of opinion are dismissed by biblical interpreters who maintain that "the most authentic reading of Rom 1:26-7 is that which sees it prohibiting homosexual activity in the most general of terms, rather than in respect of more culturally and historically specific forms of such activity" (Hilborn 2002, p.9; also Howard, 1996, p.50). A statement by the General Synod of the Church of England (Issues in Human Sexuality) illustrates a categorisation and understanding of homosexuality, claiming that in ancient times "society recognized the existence of those, predominantly male, who appeared to be attracted entirely to members of their own sex." (Issues in Human Sexuality para 2.16, lines 8-9) which almost parallels that of modern ideation. But the same study is careful to point out that "the modern concept of orientation has been developed against a background of genetic and psychological theory which was not available to the ancient world."(Issues in Human Sexuality, para 2.16, lines 16-18) Although some ancient Romans (i.e. doctors, astrologers, etc.) discussed congenital inclinations to unconventional sexual activities such as homosexuality, this classification fails to correspond to a modern psychological, biological and genetic distinction between homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual orientations (Brooten 1998, p. 242). In addition, the concept of sexual orientation as being separate from one's perceived masculinity or femininity (i.e. gender identity) did not take shape until the 19th century (Halperin 1990, p. 9).
In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (TNIV), Paul says:
The word translated as "practicing homosexuals" has challenged scholars for centuries, and has been alternately rendered as "abusers of themselves with mankind" (KJV), "sodomites" (YLT), or "men who practice homosexuality". The original term is very unusual, (arsenokoites), thought to mean "one who has sexual intercourse with a male" (Greek [arrhen / arsen] "male"; [koiten] "sexual intercourse"), rather than the normal terms from the Greek culture. Within the Bible, it only occurs in this passage and in a similar list in 1 Timothy 1:9-10. Paul may have been drawing from the Greek (Septuagint) translation of Leviticus 18:22: (kai meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten gunaikos. bdelugma gar estin "And you shall not have sexual intercourse with a male as with a female. For it is unclean.") Boswell (1980) argues that this is a term specifically created by Paul. Given its unusual nature, the fact that Paul did not use one of the more common Greek terms, and given its direct reference to the Levitical laws, it is a matter of debate whether Paul was referring generally to any person having homosexual sex, or whether he was referring to a narrower range of practices (such as heterosexuals having homosexual sex), or whether (as discussed below) it referred only to anal sex of any form (cf. Elliott 2004). Other translations of the word include Martin's (1996), who argued it meant "homosexual slave trader" and Boswell (1980) who argued it referred to "homosexual rape".
The term arsenokoitai was rarely used in Church writings (Elliott 1994), with Townsley (2003) counting a total of 73 references. Most are ambiguous in nature, while St. John Chrysostom, in the 4th century, seems to use the term arsenokoitai to refer to pederasty common in the Greco-Roman culture of the time, while Patriarch John IV of Constantinople in the 6th century used it to refer to anal sex: "some men even commit the sin of arsenokoitai with their wives" (Townsley 2003).
Perhaps even more challenging is the word translated as "male prostitutes" (TNIV), "effeminate" (NASB), or "catamites" (in the footnotes of the NKJV). The Greek word – malakos carries a root meaning of soft, luxurious or dainty, but here it used in a much darker way, most likely referring to the more passive partner in a homosexual relationship. The two terms are sometimes rendered as "men who practice homosexuality" in the ESV, which notes that together they "refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts". One major problem with this interpretation lies in the fact that arsenokoitai appears on its own in Timothy, without malakos, demonstrating that the two words do not necessarily form a fixed word-pairing (Nissinen 1998, p. 114, 118). It is difficult for some to understand why Paul would condemn both the active and passive partners in male homosexual activity in 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 but then in 1 Timothy 1: 9-10 he would only condemn the active partner, if the ESV and other similar translations are indeed accurate in their assertions.
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