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The Homosexuality & Scripture "Cheat Sheet"

What you need to know in a nutshell…

Below I have assembled a brief summary of the passages of Scripture that are traditionally viewed as dealing with homosexuality. While it is my goal to write full articles for each one of them, many people have expressed interest in a short version that they can refer to now. Writing the full articles takes a lot of time – especially with all of the other things going on in life. So the short story is as follows:

Sodom and Gomorrah

Genesis 19; Jude 7

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah deals with the destruction of a group of ancient city-states because of their great sin before God. Before the they were destroyed, angels traveled to Sodom to extract Lot and his family – the only people in town who recognized and worshiped God.

This story is traditionally linked with homosexuality because the men of Sodom, noting the arrival of strangers in their city, wanted to “know” the visitors who came to Lot. Undeniably the story carries a subtext of the threat of gang rape against God’s representatives. However, to understand the story, it must also be noted that the Sodomites were pagans[1] – i.e., they did not recognize or share in a relationship with God.

The Bible gives many reasons for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Homosexuality is not among them. However, even Jesus alluded to their rejection of divine emissaries as he condemned Capernaum for its own unbelief about his ministry (Matthew 11:23).

Further, the sin of rape cannot be generalized to condemn all sexual behavior. Rape in any context is considered sin, for it violates the free will of another human being and inflicts mistreatment on the victim. In the account of Sodom, the intent to rape is attributed to pagans who do not know God. Scripture gives at least two other instances that deserve mention in corroborating this model.

First, we find a parallel passage in Judges 19 in which a mob descends on a house with the intent of harming a traveling stranger. The assailants are referred to as “sons of Belial.” The original word belial in the Hebrew Scriptures translates as "good for nothing" or "wicked." Though the people in question are from the tribe of Benjamin, the author of the account through this disclaimer removes the attackers from the chosen people of Israel and establishes them as pagans who have forsaken God’s law as handed down to them trough Moses. They are no longer considered a part of the covenant people.

Second, the account of King Saul’s suicide (1 Samuel 31:4, 1 Chronicles 10:4) describes his fear of abuse (rape) at the hands of the Philistines (pagans) when he had fallen in battle. Aside from Scripture, there are ample historical accounts of ancient warfare to confirm that defeated foes were often sexually assaulted as a ritual of humiliation.

The reference of Jude 7 to “going after strange flesh” is a reference to Jewish myth that the women of Sodom had sexual relations with angels, producing a race of giants (Nephilim). These Nephilim are first mentioned in Genesis 6:4 to set the stage for the existence of giants in Canaan in Numbers 13:33 when the children of Israel must fight to possess the land from its pagan inhabitants.

The Levitical Code

Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13

Two verses forbid a man to lie with mankind as with womankind, calling the act an "abomination." Abomination is a translation of the Hebrew toevah, which is used to describe idolatrous practices or, in some passages, idols themselves.

The Levitical prohibitions against anal sex are part of the Holiness Code. In context, the entire passage of Leviticus 18-27 describes acts that the Hebrews were to dissociate from as an outward sign of their spiritual separation from the pagan inhabitants of Canaan. (The link between Canaan and the Nephilim [see above account of Sodom] should not be overlooked.)

In order to understand the context of the Holiness Code, it is essential to examine its framing. In Leviticus 18:3 and Leviticus 18:27-28, the Law reminds the Hebrews that the prohibited acts were part of the practices of the Canaanites. Without this context, it becomes easy to misconstrue the intent of the passage. The homogenital contacts described in these passages are condemned in the context of idolatrous pagan practices. Analogous heterogenital acts in the context of ritual idolatry are also forbidden in these passages. Again, these acts cannot be generalized to condemn all sexual behavior.

Sodomites

Deuteronomy 23:17; 1 Kings 14:24; 1 Kings 15:12; 1 Kings 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7

The word sodomite is a mistranslation of the Hebrew word qadesh, which literally means “holy one.” It is a title given to the cult priests and (male) prostitutes of the Canaanites. (The corresponding female priestess/prostitute is qadesha.) Several modern translations, including the NIV, have addressed this translation inaccuracy.

Paul’s Discussion of Same-sex Lust and Homogenital Behavior

Romans 1

The first of Paul’s commentaries on pagan (gentile) homogenital practices, this passage carries special weight among New Testament Christians. While many feel that Christians are free from the regulations of the Jewish ceremonial law (e.g., Leviticus), they feel that New Testament prohibitions carry more weight.

Paul’s comments in Romans 1 refer to the ritual practices of pagans associated with temple prostitution. This is clear from reading the passage in proper context, beginning with verse 19, where Paul carefully lays out his argument that unbelievers have rejected God and instead worship the creation (idolatry).

Verse 26 describes the prostitution of women in pagan temples. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a comment on lesbianism. (There are no passages in the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament that address homogenital acts between women.)

Verse 27 further describes the sexual acts of the pagan temple rituals. It is a direct condemnation of homogenital contact between males in the context of the idolatry established in the preceding verses and is consistent with the Levitical prohibitions of sexual acts as part of idolatry (see above). As with all previous passages, it cannot be generalized to condemn all sexual behavior.

Christians sometimes point to Paul’s use of the terms “natural use” and “against nature” in vv. 26-27 as appealing to immutable physical laws ordained by God. However, taken in the context of the entire book of Romans, Paul uses these terms – borrowed from contemporary Stoic philosophers – to describe two other “natural” states in which God has intervened and changed something (against nature) that appears self-evidently right: circumcision of the naturally uncircumcised penis (Romans 2:27) and inclusion of the Gentile peoples into the Chosen people of God (Romans 11:21-24).

The Effeminate or Male Prostitutes

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

The Greek word malakos, which literally means “soft,” is used four times in the New Testament. Three passages deal with softness as a characteristic of cloth. The fourth is found here and is incorrectly translated as “effeminate.” Since malakos only appears once outside of the first context, it is impossible to derive contextual meaning from other examples in the Scripture. However, the body of Greek literature does not support this novel interpretation of the word.

Many scholars interpret the pairing of malakoi (the plural form) and arsenokoitai as referring to pederasty – sex between an adult man and a (soft) boy or youth (see next section). More likely, malakoi refers to the common Greek usage as “soft, faint-hearted, cowardly, morally weak, or lacking in self-control.” This is consistent with the broader message of Scripture, which includes many passages dealing with these qualities.

Abusers of Themselves with Mankind or Homosexual Offenders

1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:9-10

The Greek word arsenokoitai (the plural form of arsenokoitês) is unusual because it appears to have been coined by Paul. It is used in only two places in Scripture and then disappears from the written record for hundreds of years until it reappears in religious writings of the early church fathers who used it only to quote Paul’s original usage.

The word appears to be formed by compounding two Greek words, arsên (male) and koitê (couch or bed) which appear next to each other in the Septuagint (an early Greek translation) of Leviticus 20:13. This is supported by looking at the other classes of sin that Paul speaks of in the same sentence, which are also expounded against in the Holiness Code. Taken in this context (see above commentary on Leviticus), the act referred to by arsenokoitai is temple prostitution, which remains consistent with the tone set by other Biblical passages regarding homogenital contact (Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Romans).

As stated above, some have tried to interpret arsenokoitês as an adult male who engages in sex with a boy or a youth. However, this interpretation is problematic from two perspectives:

First, the commonly accepted Greek word of the time for a man in a pederastic relationship is paiderastês, literally “lover of boys” (pais – child, erasis – love), or erastês ("lover"). Second, the perceived relationship between these two words in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is absent in 1 Timothy 1:10, where only arsenokoitai are mentioned.

On a final note, if Paul was addressing pederasty, he would have most likely used the word paiderastês, or the pairing erastês/eromenos  (lover/beloved), rather than coin a new word that would only be understood within the context of Hebrew Scripture.

Conclusion

Based on this model of interpretation, all but one Biblical injunction against homogenital acts can be viewed as condemnation of pagan sexual rites observed in idolatrous worship. This paradigm presents an internally consistent model that is hermeneutically sound.

The account of Sodom stands alone outside of the model of pagan temple ritual. However, the participants in the implied gang rape are clearly pagans – they do not enjoy a relationship with God. The judgment against the attackers in this account is internally consistent with other accounts of sexual assault as an act of humiliation in the Gibeah account and the story of Saul’s demise. (As a side note, this model also accommodates the story of Noah and Ham, which is frequently overlooked in the discussion of homogenital practices in the context of rape.)

In summary, all references to homogenital activity recorded in Scripture deal with only two expressions of sexuality: rape and ritual idolatry. Scripture clearly condemns both homogenital and heterogenital acts in both of these contexts. There is no mention of homogenital contact – either positive or negative – in the context of a loving, committed relationship. Further, there are no Biblical passages that address homogenital contact between women in any context.


[1] There is much controversy over the word pagan in our time. For purposes of this discussion and others that follow, pagan will refer to non-Abramic polytheists. It is not used to describe adherents to Neo-paganism or Wicca.

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