The Bible and homosexuality
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Passages in the Old Testament book Leviticus that prohibit "lying with mankind as with womankind" and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah have traditionally been interpreted by Christian churches as condemning and prohibiting homosexual acts, along with several Pauline passages. Today, there is more debate than in previous centuries as to whether such passages should still be seen in that light. Most Christian churches continue to maintain the long-standing understanding of these passages, while other interpreters maintain that they either have been misunderstood and do not condemn homosexuality, or that the historical context needs to be taken into account.
|This article relies too much on references to primary sources. (January 2015)|
Leviticus 18 and 20
- "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." Chapter 18 verse 22
- "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them." Chapter 20 verse 13
The two verses have historically been interpreted by Jews and Christians as clear blanket prohibitions against homosexual acts. More recent interpretations focus on its context as part of the Holiness Code, a code of purity meant to distinguish the behavior of Israelites from the Canaanites.
Sodom and Gomorrah
The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis does not explicitly identify homosexuality as the sin for which they were destroyed. Most interpreters find the story of Sodom and a similar one in Judges 19 to condemn the violent rape of guests, rather than homosexuality, but the passage has historically been interpreted within Judaism and Christianity as a punishment for homosexuality due to the interpretation that the men of Sodom wished to rape the angels who retrieved Lot.
While the Jewish prophets spoke only of lack of charity as the sin of Sodom, the exclusively sexual interpretation became so prevalent among Christian communities that the name "Sodom" became the basis of the word sodomy, still a legal synonym for homosexual and non-procreative sexual acts, particularly anal or oral sex.
Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.
The Talmudic tradition of between c. 370 and 500 also interprets the sin of Sodom as lack of charity, with the attempted rape of the angels being a manifestation of the city's violation of the social order of hospitality; as does Jesus in the New Testament, for instance in Matthew 10:14–15 when he tells his disciples that the punishment for houses or towns that will not welcome them will be worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Later traditions on Sodom's sin, such as Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, considered it to be an illicit form of heterosexual intercourse. In Jude 1:7 the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah are stated to have been "giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh", which may refer to homosexuality or to the lust of mortals after angels. Jewish writers Philo (d. AD 50) and Josephus (37 – c. 100) were the first to assert unambiguously that homosexuality was among the sins of Sodom. By the end of the 1st century Jews commonly identified the sin of Sodom with homosexual practices.
David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi
The account of the friendship between David and Jonathan in the Books of Samuel has been interpreted by traditional and mainstream Christians as a relationship only of affectionate regard, but has been interpreted by some authors as of a sexual nature.
One relevant Bible passage in this respect is 1 Samuel 18:1:
- And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. (KJV)
Another relevant passage is 2 Samuel 1:26, where David says:
- I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. (KJV)
|“||For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.||”|
This passage has been debated by some 20th and 21st-century interpreters as to its relevance today and as to what it actually prohibits: while Christians of several denominations have historically maintained that this verse is a complete prohibition of all forms of homosexual activity, some 20th and 21st-century authors contend the passage is not a blanket condemnation of homosexual acts, suggesting, among other interpretations, that the passage condemned heterosexuals who experimented with homosexual activity or that Paul's condemnation was relative to his own culture, in which homosexuality was not understood as an orientation and in which being penetrated was seen as shameful. These interpretations are in a minority.
|“||Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.||”|
The Greek word arsenokoitai (ἀρσενοκοῖται) in verse 9 has challenged scholars for centuries, and has been variously rendered as "abusers of themselves with mankind" (KJV), "sodomites" (YLT), or "men who have sex with men" (NIV). Greek ἄῤῥην / ἄρσην [arrhēn / arsēn] means "male", and κοίτην [koitēn] "bed", with a sexual connotation. Paul's use of the word in 1 Corinthians is the earliest example of the term; its only other use is in a similar list of wrongdoers given (possibly by the same author) in 1 Timothy 1:8–11: In the letter to the Corinthians, amid the list of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God, Paul uses two Greek words: malakoi and arsenokoitai. Malakoi is a common Greek word meaning, of things subject to touch, "soft" (used in Matthew 11:8 and Luke 7:25 to describe a garment); of things not subject to touch, "gentle"; and, of persons or modes of life, a number of meanings that include "pathic". Nowhere else in scripture is it used to describe a person. Bishop Gene Robinson says the early church seemed to have understood it as a person with a "soft" or weak morality; later, it would come to denote (and be translated as) those who engage in masturbation, or "those who abuse themselves"; all we actually, factually, know about the word is that it means soft.
|“||But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.||”|
Most scholars hold that Paul had two passages of the Book of Leviticus, 18:22 and 20:13, in mind when he used the word ἀρσενοκοῖται, which may be of his coinage. with most commentators and translators interpreting it as a reference to male same-sex intercourse. However, John Boswell states that it "did not connote homosexuality to Paul or his early readers", and that in later Christian literature the word is used, for instance, by Aristides of Athens (c. 138) clearly not for homosexuality and possibly for prostitution, Eusebius (d. c. 340) who evidently used it in reference to women, and in the writings of 6th-century Patriarch John IV of Constantinople, known as John the Faster. In a passage dealing with sexual misconduct, John speaks of arsenokoitia as active or passive and says that "many men even commit the sin of arsenokoitia with their wives". Although the constituent elements of the compound word refer to sleeping with men, he obviously does not use it to mean homosexual intercourse and appears to employ it for anal intercourse, not generic homosexual activity. Particulars of Boswell's arguments are rejected by several scholars in a way qualified as persuasive by David F. Greenberg, who declares usage of the term arsenokoites by writers such as Aristides of Athens and Eusebius, and in the Sibylline Oracles, to be "consistent with a homosexual meaning". A discussion document issued by the House of Bishops of the Church of England states that most scholars still hold that the word arsenokoites relates to homosexuality. Another work attributed to John the Faster, a series of canons that for various sins provided shorter though stricter penances in place of the previous longer penances, applies a penance of eighty days for "intercourse of men with one another" (canon 9), explained in the Pedalion as mutual masturbation - double the penalty for solitary masturbation (canon 8) - and three years with xerophagy or, in accordance with the older canon of Basil the Great, fifteen without (canon 18) for being "so mad as to copulate with another man" – ἀρρενομανήσαντα in the original – explained in the Pedalion as "guilty of arsenocoetia (i.e., sexual intercourse between males)" – ἀρσενοκοίτην in the original. According to the same work, ordination is not to be conferred on someone who as a boy has been the victim of anal intercourse, but this is not the case if the semen was ejaculated between his thighs (canon 19). These canons are included, with commentary, in the Pedalion, the most widely used collection of canons of the Greek Orthodox Church, an English translation of which was produced by Denver Cummings and published by the Orthodox Christian Educational Society in 1957 under the title, The Rudder.
Jesus' discussion of marriage
In Matthew 19:3, Jesus is asked if a man can divorce his wife. In that context,
|“||He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female” [Genesis 1:27], and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” [Genesis 2:24]? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’||”|
(Matthew 19:4-6, NRSV translation; Mark 10:6-9 is a parallel text)
Despite the context of the passage itself, Rob Gagnon, an associate professor of New Testament studies, argues that Jesus' back-to-back references to Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 show that he "presupposed a two-sex requirement for marriage".
Matthew 8; Luke 7
In Matthew 8:5–13 and Luke 7:1–10, Jesus heals a centurion's servant who is dying. According to James Neill, the Greek term "pais" used for the servant in Matthew's account almost always had a sexual connotation. In support of this view, he remarks that the word pais, along with the word "erasthai" (to love) is the root of the English word "pederasty". He sees in the fact that, in Luke's parallel account, the centurion's servant is described as "valued highly" by the centurion an indication of a homosexual relationship between the two, and says that the Greek word "doulos" (a slave) used of him in Luke's account suggests he may have been a sex slave. Daniel A. Helminiak writes that the word pais was sometimes given a sexual meaning. Donald Wold states that its normal meaning is "boy", "child" or "slave" and its application to a boy lover escapes notice in the standard lexica of Liddell and Scott and Bauer. The Greek-English Lexicon of Liddell and Scott registers three meanings of the word παῖς (pais): a child in relation to descent (son or daughter); a child in relation to age (boy or girl); a slave or servant (male or female). In her detailed study of the episode in Matthew and Luke, Wendy Cotter dismisses as very unlikely the idea that the use of the Greek word "pais" indicated a sexual relationship between the centurion and the young slave. Neill himself compares the meanings of Greek "pais" to those of French "garçon", which, though also used to mean "waiter", "most commonly means 'boy'".
Matthew's account has parallels in Luke 7:1–10 and John 4:46–53. There are major differences between John's account and those of the two synoptic writers, but such differences exist also between the two synoptic accounts, with next to nothing of the details in Luke 7:2–6 being present also in Matthew. The Commentary of Craig A. Evans states that the word pais used by Matthew may be that used in the hypothetical source known as Q used by both Matthew and Luke and, since it can mean either son or slave, it became doulos (slave) in Luke and huios (son) in John. Writers who admit John 4:46–53 as a parallel passage generally interpret Matthew's pais as "child" or "boy", while those who exclude it see it as meaning "servant" or "slave".
Theodore W. Jennings Jr. and Tat-Siong Benny Liew write that Roman historical data about patron-client relationships and about same-sex relations among soldiers support the view that the pais in Matthew's account is the centurion's "boy-love" and that the centurion did not want Jesus to enter his house for fear the boy would be enamoured of Jesus instead. D.B. Saddington writes that while he does not exclude the possibility, the evidence the two put forward supports "neither of these interpretations", with Stephen Voorwinde saying of their view that "the argument on which this understanding is based has already been soundly refuted in the scholarly literature" and Wendy Cotter saying that they fail to take account of Jewish condemnation of pederasty. Others interpret Matthew's pais merely as a boy servant, not a male lover, and read nothing sexual into Luke's "valued highly".
In Matthew 19:12, Jesus speaks of eunuchs who were born as such, eunuchs who were made so by others, and eunuchs who choose to live as such for the kingdom of heaven. Jesus' reference to eunuchs who were born as such has been interpreted as having to do with homosexual orientation; Clement of Alexandria, for instance, is citing in his book "Stromata" (chapter III,1,1) an earlier interpretation from Basilides on it that some men, from birth, are naturally averse to women and should not marry. "The first category - those eunuchs who have been so from birth - is the closest description we have in the Bible of what we understand today as homosexual."
The Ethiopian eunuch, an early gentile convert encountered in Acts 8, has been described as an early gay Christian, based on the fact that the word "eunuch" in the Bible was not always used literally, as in Matthew 19:12. Religious commentators generally suggest that the combination of "eunuch" together with the title "court official" indicates a literal eunuch—not a homosexual—who would have been excluded from the Temple by the restriction in Deuteronomy 23:1.
- Biblical law in Christianity
- Homosexuality and Christianity
- Homosexuality and Judaism
- Homosexuality in ancient Greece
- Religion and homosexuality
- Women in Christianity
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