The Bible & Homosexuality
In biblical times, same-gender sexual interactions could take many forms. Some were:
- Kings of conquered tribes were sometimes raped by the invading army as the ultimate symbol of defeat and humiliation.
- Some non-Jewish tribes in the area had male prostitutes in their temples that engaged in same-sex activities; this horrified the ancient Israelites.
- It is reasonable to assume that many loving gay and lesbian relationships existed, but these would normally have been conducted in secret.
Only the third type would have any similarity to today’s gay and lesbian consensual, committed, loving relationships.
Most Bible translations contain many passages that clearly and unmistakably condemn homosexuality. However, when one examines the original Hebrew and Greek writings, the picture is quite different. Those activities which the writers of the Bible condemn are either ambiguous or are unrelated to consensual homosexuality within a committed relationship. They mostly relate to homosexual rape, homosexual prostitution in the temple.
Many versions of the Bible exist in the English language. Each reflects the world view, beliefs and mind sets of its translators. Their personal biases distort their work. There is an additional complexity facing translators: today’s society is very different from that of Biblical times. It is sometimes difficult to find a current English word that matches a Hebrew or Greek term.
Many words have been translated from the original Hebrew and Greek texts as “homosexual”, “sodomite”, “homosexuality”. However, most (perhaps all) of the references bear no similarity to today’s lesbian and gay partnerships. By carefully reading the original texts and considering the societies in which they were written, one comes to surprising conclusions:
- The Bible has a lot to say about temple prostitution.
- It talks about being kind to strangers in a way that has been incorrectly interpreted as referring to homosexual acts
- It says almost nothing about homosexual feelings;
- It says nothing about sexual orientation. The writers of the Bible assumed that everyone was heterosexual (or “straight”); the concept of sexual orientation was not developed until the late 19th century.
Specific Verses from the Hebrew Scriptures
- Genesis 19 describes how two angels visited Sodom and were welcomed into Lot’s house. The angels were sent to warn Lot that God was displeased with wickedness of the city’s residents and had decided to destroy the city. The men of the city gathered around the house and demanded that Lot send the visitors to the mob so that they might know the angels. [The Hebrew verb yada (to know) is ambiguous. It appears 943 times in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). In only about a dozen of these cases does it refers to sexual activity; it is not clear whether the mob wanted to rape the angels or to meet with them, and perhaps attack them physically. From the context, it is obvious that their mood was not friendly]. Lot refused, but offered his two virgin daughters to be heterosexually raped if that would appease the mob. The offer was declined. The angels urged Lot and his family to flee and to not look back. Unfortunately, Lot’s wife looked the wrong way, so God killed her because of her curiosity.
God was apparently not critical of Lot for offering his two daughters to be raped. However, God was angry at the other inhabitants of the town. He destroyed Sodom with fire and brimstone (sulfur). He presumably killed all of the men in the mob, their wives and other adults, as well as children, infants, newborns, etc. It is unclear from these few verses whether God demolished the city because the citizens habitually:
- Were uncharitable and abusive to strangers
- Wanted to rape people
- Engaged in homosexual acts
- One has to look elsewhere in the Bible for references to Sodom in order to determine which interpretation is correct.
The Church has traditionally accepted the third explanation. In fact, the term sodomy which means anal intercourse was derived from the name of the city, Sodom. But the first explanation is clearly the valid one. This is obvious if we refer to:
- Matthew 10:14-15 and Luke 10:7-16: Jesus implied that the sin of the people of Sodom was to be inhospitable to strangers.
- Ezekeiel 16:48-50: God states clearly that he destroyed Sodom’s sins because of their pride, their excess of food while the poor and needy suffered, and their worship of many idols; sexual activity is not even mentioned.
- Jude, Verse 7: Jude disagreed with Jesus and Exekeiel; he wrote that Sodom’s sins were sexual in nature. Various biblical translations describe the sin as fornication, going after strange flesh, sexual immorality, perverted sensuality, homosexuality, lust of every kind, immoral acts and unnatural lust; you can take your pick.
- We are faced with the inescapable and rather ironic conclusion that the condemned activities in Sodom had nothing to do with sodomy.
- Leviticus 18:22 states: “Thou shall not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination.” The term abomination (to’ebah) is a religious term, usually reserved for use against idolatry. If the writer (s) of Leviticus was referring to a moral violation, he would have used the Hebrew word “zimah”. The verse seems to refer to temple prostitution, which was a common practice in the rest of the Middle East at that time. Qadesh referred to male religious prostitutes. (See the discussion of Deuteronomy below).
- Leviticus 20:13 similarly states: “If a man also lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they should surely be put to death….”. This is similar to Leviticus 18:22; it refers to temple homosexual prostitution.
Verse 20:13 is a part of the Holiness Code which is described in Leviticus 17:1 to 26:46. The code lists 614 ethical and ritual laws which were to be followed by the ancient Israelites. They appear to be a grouping of several older collections of laws. A consensus exists amongst Christian theologians that 612 out of the 614 components of the Holiness Code are no longer applicable to today’s Christians. These permit:
- slavery (25:44)
- They require:
- a child to be killed if he/she curses their parent (20:9)
- all persons guilty of adultery to be killed (20:10)
- the daughter of a priest who engages in prostitution to be killed (21:9)
- a priest to marry a virgin (21:13)
- ritual killing of animals, using cattle, sheep and goats (22:19)
- observation of 7 feasts: Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of First fruits, Feast of Pentecost, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles (23)
- a person who takes the Lord’s name in vain is to be killed (24:16)
- They prohibit:
- heterosexual intercourse when a woman has her period (18:19)
- harvesting the corners of a field (19:9)
- eating fruit from a young tree (19:23)
- wearing clothes that are made from a textile blend (19:19)
- cross-breeding livestock (19:19)
- sowing a field with mixed seed (19:19)
- shaving or getting a hair cut (19:27)
- tattoos (19:28)
- even a mildly disabled person from becoming a priest (21:18)
- charging of interest on a loan (25:37)
- A minority of Christian churches (e.g. Seventh Day Adventists) teach that worship is to occur on Saturday (19:30) However, essentially all conservative Christian leaders teach that only one Holiness Law dealing with homosexuality is still valid today. Christians are free to wear tattoos, eat shrimp pork or rare meat, wear polyester-cotton blends, seed their lawns with a grass mixture, and get their hair cut. But homosexuality is somehow taboo. We have been unable to find any logical explanation that would justify retaining this one law against homosexuality while abandoning all of the rest. We find their stance to be less than ethical.
- Deuteronomy 23:17 states (in the King James Version) “There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel . This is a translation error by the authors of the KJV. The word qadesh in the original text was mistranslated as sodomite. Quadesh means “holy one” and is here used to refer to a man who engages in ritual prostitution in the temple. Other Bible translations use accurate terms such as shrine prostitute, temple prostitute, prostitute and cult prostitute. The entire verse seems to condemn prostitution, both heterosexual and homosexual.
- Judges 19 describes an event much like that at Sodom. This time, an unnamed Levite visited the town of Gibeah with his slaves and concubine. He met an old farmer and was made welcome. A gang of men appeared and demanded that the old man send out the Levite that they might homosexually rape or assault him. (It is again not clear what the precise meaning of the verb to know was). The old man argued that they should not abuse the visitor. He offered to give them both the Levite’s concubine and his own virgin daughter to be heterosexually raped. The mob accepted the former, raped her all night and finally killed her. The Levite sliced up her body into 12 pieces and sent one to each of the tribes of Israel. This triggered a war between the inhabitants of Gibeah and the Israelites during which tens of thousands died. There was no condemnation against the Levite for sacrificing his concubine, or for committing an indignity to a body. Judges 20:5 emphasizes that the aim of the mob was to kill the stranger – the ultimate act of inhospitality. It appears that these passages condemn abusive treatment of visitors. If they actually refer to homosexual activity, then they condemn homosexual rape; they have nothing at all to say about consensual homosexual relationships.
- I Kings 14:24 and 15:12 again refer to temple prostitution. The original word qadesh is mistranslated as sodomite (homosexual) in the King James Version, but as male prostitute, male cult prostitutes, and male shrine prostitutes in more accurate versions. As mentioned before, there is little evidence that homosexuality was involved. Again, the text has nothing to say about consensual homosexual relationships.
Specific Verses from the Christian Scriptures
- In Romans 1:26 and 27, Paul criticizes sexual activity which is against a person’s nature or disposition. This passage has been interpreted in many ways:
- most Biblical scholars believe that these verses condemn all gay and lesbian activity, whether casual or in committed relationships.
- some people believe that St. Paul is criticizing group orgiastic homosexual activities, but has nothing to say about monogamous homosexual activity within long-term partnerships.
- some believe that St. Paul is referring to homosexual temple prostitution, done in the worship of the Goddess Aphrodite, and that a careful study of Romans 1:23 reveals this connection.
- some scholars interpret the passage differently: in Greek society of the time, male homosexuality and bisexuality were regarded as a natural activity for some people. The “men with men” clause is a translation of the original Greek word for pederasty which was commonly practiced at the time by adult males with male youth. Thus Paul might have been criticizing child sexual abuse.
- Traditionally, people have carried their beliefs about sexual orientation to this verse and interpreted the passage accordingly. The verse appears to be somewhat vague, and perhaps should not be interpreted as a blanket prohibition of all same-sex activities.
- I Cor 6:9 Paul lists a many activities that will prevent people from inheriting the Kingdom of God. One has been variously translated as effeminate, homosexuals, or sexual perverts. The original Greek text reads malakoi arsenokoitai. The first word means soft; the meaning of the second word has been lost. It was once used to refer to a male temple prostitute (as in the verses from the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament described above). The early Church interpreted the phrase as referring to people of soft morals; i.e. unethical. From the time of Martin Luther, it was interpreted as referring to masturbation . More recently, it has been translated as referring to homosexuals . Each Translator seem to take whatever activity that their society particularly disapproves of and use it in this verse.
- 1 Tim 1:9-10 again refers to malakoi arsenokoitai which has been variously translated as homosexuals, sexual perverts etc. Again, the original meaning of the text as been lost.
- Jude 7 refers to the people of Sodom as “giving themselves over to fornication and going after strange flesh”. Strange flesh has been variously translated as perverted sensuality, unnatural lust, lust of men for other men, and perversion. Again, it is unclear what is being referred to here. Some biblical scholars interpret this as referring to an ancient Jewish legend that the women of Sodom engaged in sexual intercourse with angels.
- Homosexual activity in the temple by male prostitutes is clearly prohibited by the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament).
- Prostitution, both heterosexual and homosexual is generally condemned.
- St. Paul considered at least some male and female homosexual acts to be forbidden, but it is unclear precisely which acts are included. He may have been referring to temple prostitution, to people who are not innately gay, lesbian or bisexual engaging in homosexual acts, to child sexual abuse or group sexual orgies. One should note that Paul also condemned women preaching (1 Cor 14:34) or wearing gold or pearls (1 Tim 2:11). He also accepted and did not condemn the institution of slavery. Some Christians feel that his writings are not a useful guide for ethics and morals in the 20th Century.
- Jesus made many hundreds of statements regarding belief and behaviour. However He never mentioned homosexuality.
- There are two Biblical same-sex relationships (one between two women, the other two men) reported in the Bible in a positive light. They appear to have progressed well beyond friendship. They were likely homosexual affairs, although not necessarily sexually active relationships:
- Ruth 1:16, 2:10-11 between Ruth and Naomi
- 1 Samuel 18:1-4, 1 Samuel 20:41-42 and 2 Samuel 1:25-26 between David and Jonathan. (Some translations of the Bible distort the original Hebrew text, particularly of 1 Samuel 20)
- It is the subject of endless debate whether St. Paul’s prohibition of at least some homosexual acts was:
- for the people in the vicinity of the Mediterranean during the 1st Century CE, or
- for all people, forever.
- One can argue that the ancient Israelites were surrounded by warlike tribes. Their fertility was very important if the group was to survive. The early Christian church was also surrounded by enemies. Homosexuals tend to have few children; thus their presence would be met with opposition. At the end of the 20th Century, conditions are the exact opposite; we are threatened by our excessive fertility. Perhaps Paul’s criticism of homosexuality is no longer valid, like his various prohibitions against women’s behaviour.