Saturday, August 09, 2008

Homosexuality and the New Testament

INTRODUCTION

Homosexuality has become one of the “hot topics” of modern politics. For a politician in the 21st century, their stance on homosexuality in general, and gay marriage in particular, defines who they are as much as the stance on segregation defined politicians in the 1950’s and 60’s.

In many Christian churches, homosexual acts are considered sinful. For these kinds of Christians, even arguments about the nature of homosexuality – choice or predisposition – are irrelevant. Whether a person is born homosexual or chooses homosexuality, it is not the orientation that is sinful, but the act. Thus, homosexuals can be accepted into these sorts of congregations if they renounce their sexual urges and do not engage in homosexual unions. Practicing homosexuals, however, live in a perpetual state of sin, and can therefore not take part in the kingdom of God (which is a fancy way of saying they cannot be “saved”).

Christians who believe in the sinfulness of homosexuality base their beliefs on the teachings of the Bible. But does the Bible – and the New Testament specifically – really teach against homosexuality, as we understand it today?

Many Christians may not realize just how infrequently the topic of homosexuality is discussed in the New Testament. In fact, the word “homosexual” is only mentioned once in the New International Version (twice if you are reading some other English versions). In addition to this, there is a passage in the book of Romans that discusses homosexual acts. In the Gospels, Jesus never mentions homosexuality. It is anyone’s guess what his opinion might have been, but it clearly was not a subject that was a vital enough part of his teaching career for it to have seeped into the collective consciousness of those who wrote his story down in the generations after his death. As such, the Christian concept of the sinful nature of homosexuality comes from no more than three spots in the New Testament, together with several teachings in the Old Testament.

OLD TESTAMENT TEACHINGS

There can be no doubt that the Old Testament explicitly teaches about the sinfulness of homosexuality. However, it also teaches that homosexuals should be put to death, women and children can be traded like cattle, fires of any type must be authorized by God, women must be ritually purified after menstruation or childbirth (the cleansing period is longer if the child is a girl), and men must bathe after any emission of semen and enter an unclean period until sundown.

Most anytime that a skeptic or non-Christian brings up the shocking rules and rituals of the Old Testament, Christians will defend themselves by reminding the skeptic that the Old Testament represents the old covenant. When Jesus came to the earth, he did away with the old covenant laws and brought about a new covenant.

Since one cannot reject, without being hypocritical, the inconvenient parts of the Old Testament (ritual uncleanness after an emission of semen, for instance) yet simultaneously accept Old Testament teachings against things like homosexuality; and since traditional Christianity believes Jesus did away with Old Testament laws, the crux of this essay will focus on the teachings of homosexuality in the New Testament, as that is the covenant of concern to Christians.

NEW TESTAMENT TEACHINGS

As mentioned above, the New Testament has only two, possibly three, explicit spots that discuss homosexuality. These spots are the first chapter of Romans, the first chapter of 1 Timothy, and the sixth chapter of 1 Corinthians. All of these books are traditionally attributed to Paul.

In the passage in 1 Corinthians, Paul states: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders…” (1 Corinthians 6:9, NIV).

In Romans, Paul gets a little more explicit. He states: “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” (Romans 1:26-27, NIV).

Depending on translation, the passage in 1 Timothy reads: “The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality…” (1 Timothy 1:10, NLT).

And there you have the entirety of the New Testament’s explicit teachings on homosexuality.

The more generalized “sexual immorality” is much more prevalent in the New Testament, along with teachings against adultery. Jesus speaks about both adultery and sexual immorality; the early Church leaders, as depicted in Acts, discussed sexual immorality and even sent a letter to the Gentiles warning against it (Acts 15:29); in the 13 letters traditionally attributed to Paul, there are about 10 different discussions of sexual immorality or sexual sin, including incest; finally, a number of other New Testament books – most notably Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation – variously discuss topics of sexual immorality, adultery, and “perversion.”

Since words and phrases like “sexual immorality” and “perversion” are so vague, it is up to the reader to determine exactly what an individual writer might have had in mind in any individual passage. Folks who take issue with homosexuality would no doubt read homosexual acts into “sexual immorality” and/or “perversion.” But doing so, of course, is adding words to the text that are not there. We simply cannot know exactly what the various writers of the New Testament might have specifically had in mind when they talked about sexual immorality. Presumably, any sex act not between a man and a woman in marriage would have been sexually immoral to the New Testament writers. But does sexual immorality or perversion seep into marriage, as well? Are there limits to what a married couple can do in the privacy of their own bedroom? Where is the line drawn?

Well, I trust you see my point. Words and phrases like “sexually immoral” and “perversion” are simply too vague to imply precisely what was meant by the 1st century Jewish writers of the New Testament. These terms might have included homosexuality, they might have included certain sex acts within marriage, they might have included simple adultery – we just cannot know for certain. Thus, any assertions based on these teachings would be interpretive at best and agenda-driven at worst.

For this reason, I think it is most important to focus on the texts that tell us, explicitly, that homosexuality is wrong. Those are the only texts we can legitimately rely on as evidence of the sinfulness, in God’s eyes, of homosexual acts.

1 CORINTHIANS

1 Corinthians 6:9 (NIV) warns against male prostitutes and homosexual offenders. These people, the text tells us, cannot inherit the kingdom of God.

But are these phrases – “male prostitutes” and “homosexual offenders” – accurate translations of the original Greek words used in the text?

First, let’s look out how other English versions translate the words in question.

New American Standard: “effeminate” and “homosexuals.”

King James Version: “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind.”

English Standard Version: the first word is skipped all together, and the passage simply says, “men who practice homosexuality.”

American Standard Version: “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with men.”

Wycliffe New Testament (one of the earliest English translations): “lechers against kind” and “they that do lechery with men.”

New Revised Standard Version: “male prostitutes” and “sodomites.” (Sodomy is defined by most dictionaries as anal sex between two men, anal sex between a man and a woman, or human sex with animals – it does not include non-penetrating sex acts, between members of the same gender or otherwise.)

Thus, if we go by the various English translations, we may come to believe that simply being an effeminate man (whether gay or straight) is enough to keep one out of the kingdom of God. For most people – even many conservative Christians – this would be a tough pill to swallow. Little wonder that most translations either skip this part all together, or change it to “male prostitute.” Furthermore, we may assume that only anal sex is actually sinful – meaning that gay relationships where no penetration is taking place are permissible. Thus, two lesbians, or two gay men, living together but not having penetrating anal sex, would not be sinning, and would still be able to inherit the kingdom of God.

But are any of these phrases accurate translations of the actual Greek words used in the text?

“MALE PROSTITUTES”

One of the first questions that arises when looking at the original Greek is why Paul would have referred to both male prostitutes and homosexuals. Doesn’t male prostitution fall under the banner of homosexuality? Can a man be a male prostitute and not be homosexual? Not unless he is a male prostitute for women only. But if that were the case, he would be more like a gigolo, not a male prostitute. “Male prostitute” implies a man prostituting himself to other men. Nature has made it rather difficult for a man to be a true prostitute for multiple women.

For this reason, the translations that use “effeminate” may be more accurate. Whereas one cannot be a male prostitute and not also be homosexual, one can be effeminate and not be homosexual. Furthermore, difficult as it may be to accept for the modern Christian, the Greek wording suggests that Paul, in fact, may have been referring to effeminate men. The change to “male prostitute” was done to soften this teaching.

The Greek word used in the passage is “malakos.” This word means something like “limp” or “soft” or “feathery.” In fact, it is a very common word in ancient Greek texts (secular as well as Biblical), and its meaning is very clear. It might refer to soft, satiny clothes, or a gentle breeze, for instance. It does not have any relationship whatsoever to the phrase “male prostitute” or “one who gets penetrated.”

Malakos is used three other times in the New Testament, though never again by Paul. Both Matthew and Luke include the word, with Matthew repeating it twice in the same sentence, and each time it is translated as “soft” and is referencing a garment.

One can see how “soft,” “limp,” and “feathery” could be used to mean “effeminate,” but it most certainly did not refer to a male prostitute. In fact, there is another perfectly good ancient Greek word that Paul could have used: kinaedos, which refers to a man who is penetrated by another man. Paul would have used this word if that is, in fact, what he meant.

The context in which Paul uses the word is clearly one that references a behavior. Obviously Paul is not talking about soft clothes or gentle breezes. In that sense, it is clear that Paul was using the word the same way that many other ancient Greek writers used the word when talking about behaviors – it referred to a “weakling” or a “pretty boy,” or someone who was vacillating and shallow. It was, in fact, a word that represented common ancient perceptions of women. Dale B. Martin, a professor of Religious Studies at Yale University and an expert on ancient sexuality, states that malakos means: “something perceived as ‘soft’: laziness, degeneracy, decadence, lack of courage, or, to sum up all these vices in one ancient category, the feminine.”

As such, Paul is clearly suggesting that effeminate men – that is, men who take on the weak, vacillating traits of women – cannot inherit the kingdom of God. The fact that modern translations have intentionally changed this word to “male prostitute,” or left it out all together, is evidence of changing perceptions in society. Older English translations almost universally use the word “effeminate” or something similar. But, as I pointed out above, for modern people, the idea that effeminate men are doomed to hell, like any other wicked sinner, is a tough pill to swallow even for many conservative Christians. For that reason, translations of the last 50 years or so have almost universally changed “effeminate” into “male prostitute,” or left it out all together. What they are doing, then, is making the original text a bit more palatable to modern sensibilities. This is evidenced in 20th century translations such as the New International Version, the New Revised Standard Version, and even the New King James Version.

Again, Dale B. Martin: “There is no historical reason to take malakos as a specific reference to the penetrated man in homosexual intercourse. It is even less defensible to narrow that reference down further to mean ‘male prostitute.’ The meaning of the word is clear…malakos means ‘effeminate.’”

Martin goes on to say:

“Today, effeminacy may be perceived as a quaint or distasteful personal mannerism, but the prissy church musician or stereotyped interior designer is not, merely on the basis of a limp wrist, to be considered fuel for hell. For most English-speaking Christians in the twentieth century, effeminacy may be unattractive, but it is not a sin. Their Bibles could not be allowed to condemn so vociferously something that was a mere embarrassment. So the obvious translation of malakos as ‘effeminate’ was jettisoned.”

“HOMOSEXUAL OFFENDERS”

The second word at issue in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is generally translated in English versions as “homosexual” or something very similar. In Greek, it is “arsenkoites.” However, unlike our first word – malakos – which has a clear and almost universally understood ancient meaning, “arsenkoites” is perplexing. In fact, it is never used in any surviving ancient Greek manuscripts prior to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. This is significant, because there are literally thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of examples of ancient Greek writings available to modern historians. The fact that the word never appears until Paul’s letters suggests very strongly that Paul, himself, coined the word.

For this reason, the word has caused a lot of headaches for translators over the years. The earliest English translation – the Wycliffe – translates arsenkoites into a phrase: “they that do lechery with men.” Later translations, such as the Tyndale and the King James, more or less stick with this convoluted form (“abusers of themselves with mankind”). These translations stood more or less unchecked until the 20th century, when modern psychological ideas of sexual orientation began to take root. Thus, newer English editions began to use “homosexuals” and “homosexual offenders” and “practicing homosexuals” (the latter being used, clearly, to differentiate between those who simply have a homosexual orientation, and those who have the orientation, and also act on it).

The problem with this is twofold: first, there is much speculation about what arsenkoites actually means (more on that later), and second, changing “abusers of themselves with mankind” into “homosexual” is adding something to the English text that was not originally present. The word “homosexual” implies a specifically understood sexual orientation – men attracted to men, and women attracted to women. But that is not what the early English translations imply. Someone who commits sexual sin with another person (that is, someone who “abuses” themselves with “mankind”), is not necessarily a homosexual, or even committing homosexual acts.

But were those early English versions accurate in how they translated the Pauline-invented word “arsenkoites”?

Arsenkoites comes from two root words – arsen and koites, meaning “man” and “bed.” By combining the meaning of these two words, most translators assume the word has some reference to homosexuals, particularly in relation to the previous word – malakos – which means, as we have seen, “effeminate.” However, there is a basic fallacy involved in this. As Dale B. Martin points out, the word “understand” does not mean “to stand under.” Martin goes on to point out that this is even truer for words that denote a social rank or standing: “None of us, for example, takes the word ‘chairman’ to have any necessary reference to a chair, even if it originally did.” For Martin, then, defining arsenkoites by the meaning of its root words is a “na├»ve and indefensible” method. Even if the word can be accurately translated by its roots, there is no way to demonstrate that this method is reliable.

This problem becomes even more pronounced when one considers the root words in question – “man” and “bed.” There is no more reason to suppose that “manbed” means a man lying in bed with another man than there is to suppose it means any person, man or woman, lying in a man’s bed. In fact, there were perfectly adequate words in the ancient Greek lexicon to refer to either of these situations – moicheia (adultery) and porneia (male or female prostitution). Furthermore, the Greek word paiderasste meant, quite literally, men having sex with men. There is no reason to suppose that Paul would not have used this word if, in fact, male-on-male sex is what he had meant. The fact that he instead coined his own word is evidence that he meant something quite different than male homosexuality.

But what could he have meant? There have been many ideas thrown about, including references to pimping, masturbating, and ritual pagan sex. The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1967, for instance, translates the word as “masturbator.” Non-canonical Christian texts of the 2nd and 3rd centuries borrow Paul’s word and employ it in the sense of a pimp, or someone who exploits sex economically. Furthermore, many of these texts also list sexual sins, and fail to ever use the word in that context.

What it boils down to is that no one can know with certainly what Paul meant when he used the word arsenkoites. The problem, then, arises when some folks do make the assertion that the word “obviously” means homosexuals. Once again, Dale B. Martin: “The more important question, I think, is why some scholars are certain it refers to simple male-male sex in the face of evidence to the contrary. Perhaps ideology has been more important than philology.”

On a final note, there is one other spot in the New Testament where the word arsenkoites appears. This is the aforementioned verse in 1 Timothy. This letter, though traditionally attributed to Paul, is believed by many scholars to have been written much later than Paul’s life, by someone who simply invoked Paul’s name for authoritative purposes. Curiously, many modern English translations do not translate the word the same way in this passage. Recall, for instance, that the NIV translates the word as “homosexual offenders” in the 1 Corinthians passage. However, in the passage in 1 Timothy, it translates the same word as “perverts.” The King James switches from “abusers of themselves with mankind” in 1 Corinthians to “them that defile themselves with mankind” in the passage in 1 Timothy. The Revised Standard Version translates the word as “sexual perverts” in 1 Corinthians, but “sodomites” in 1 Timothy. These changes in translations simply provide evidence of that fact that no one can be certain what the word meant.

Furthermore, the passage in 1 Timothy combines arsenkoites with the Greek word pornos. This word refers to prostitution, either male or female, and is often translated as “fornicators.” In this passage, the writer of 1 Timothy gives a long list of sins, and these two words are the only two that are of a sexual nature. Used together, one after the other, and going with the knowledge that pornos meant prostitution of either male or female kind, it makes a lot better sense to suppose that arsenkoites in that context meant a pimp – or one who makes money off the fornicating prostitutes – than to assume it meant “homosexual.”

Putting all of these pieces of evidence together, I believe a reasonable assertion can be made that 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, which have frequently been pointed to by conservative Christians as evidence of the Bible’s teachings against homosexuality, may not actually be talking about homosexuality in the modern sense at all. It seems at the very least possible, if not perhaps probable, that Paul was referring to a 1st century version of a pimp when he talked about arsenkoites. This also makes sense in the context of Paul coining his own word – there is no known word for “pimp” in the ancient Greek lexicon; there were words for homosexuals and prostitutes, however.

Additionally, I believe it can be asserted with confidence that the word translated most commonly as “male prostitute” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 actually meant “effeminate” or something similar. This is a case where earlier English translations – though normally not as accurate as modern translations – appear to have actually gotten it right. Either way, there can be no question that malakos was not referring to a “male prostitute.”

ROMANS

But what about the passage in Romans, which explicitly talks about men having sex with men, and women having sex with women? Even if we can assert that Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy were not talking about homosexuals, there can be no doubt that he was referring to homosexual sex in Romans. As we saw earlier, Paul refers to men and women giving up natural relations and becoming consumed with passion for members of their own sex.

Clearly, Paul is talking about homosexual sex. But do Paul’s words condemn homosexuality as we understand it today – a biological orientation causing a person to seek out partners from their own gender, and ignore, from a sexual standpoint, members of the opposite gender?

First, it is important to understand what homosexuality meant to the average Jew living in the Roman Empire in the 1st century. There was no concept of “sexual orientation.” That idea was not introduced to the world until the 19th century. For Jews, it was well-established by the 1st century that homosexuality was an abomination that only idol-worshipping pagans and enemies of God engaged in. Homosexuality was not defined by gay couples entering monogamous partnerships and living together; homosexuality was defined by “normal” people engaging in illicit sex with members of their own gender. There were no gay nightclubs and gay singles dating services. If people engaged in homosexuality, it was done extramaritally. Homosexuals were married people who had children, but who also had gay lovers on the side, “apprentices,” or engaged in ritual homosexual sex acts during religious services. Furthermore, homosexuality was a common “fetish” among the wealthy and powerful, with governors and senators and even emperors fulfilling fetishes through pedophilia and homosexuality. This defined homosexuality in 1st century Rome. There simply was no such thing as a gay couple living together monogamously like husband and wife. It just did not happen.

With that in mind, how should we approach Paul’s teachings in Romans? First, we must remember that Paul was writing to the Romans – that is, the Christian community in Rome. In Rome, the heart of the empire, Christians were under serious threat of influence by the pagan religions of Rome – particularly since most of these Christians were converts from paganism to start with. Paul was extremely concerned about this, and his concern is what ultimately led to the anti-homosexual teachings in question.

Let’s take a look at the passage in context.

In one of the first paragraphs of his letter, Paul states: “I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gifts to strengthen you…” He is concerned for their spiritual strength, no doubt in light of pagan influences. He implies that, perhaps, pagans in Rome were causing Christians to feel ashamed for abandoning the old gods. To counteract this, he states: “I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.”

At this point in his letter, Paul begins warning the Romans about the wrath of God against those who reject God (that is, the pagans). “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness…” From here, he points out that evidence for God is plain for all people to see. This evidence, Paul asserts, has been obvious since the beginning of time in nature. “Ever since the creation of the world, [God’s] eternal power and divine nature…have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” People who reject God, then, are doing so willfully and with full knowledge. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.” That is, pagans rejected God and began worshipping idols made in the image of humans and animals. This is a clear and obvious reference to pagan nature gods. The four-footed animals and reptiles were particularly offensive to Jews, because these animals were unclean.

As a result of this rejection of God, Paul tells us that “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves.” In other words, their rejection of God led them to commit degrading actions with their bodies.

At this point, Paul makes the statement that is in question in this essay: “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.”

After this, Paul asserts that: “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done.” And then comes a famous “tirade” against all pagans: “They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 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.”

This passage, of course, has helped give Paul a reputation for intolerance. Those who do not believe in God are the most debased, evil, twisted people imaginable! Paul’s purpose, however, in using this hyperbole is clear – don’t let yourselves be influenced by the enormous pagan culture around you!

In context, it becomes quite clear what Paul was talking about when he mentioned women together with women, and men together with men. In ancient Rome, ritual religious sex was very common. Inside pagan temples dedicated to gods and goddesses of love and beauty, ritual sex acts were carried out as a form of worshipping the deity in question. This existed not only in ancient Rome, but most every ancient culture. These worship services included a variety of ritual sex acts, both “heterosexual” and “homosexual” in nature. It was a way for ancient pagan worshippers to honor human sexuality religiously – they were honoring their gods with their bodies. In some cultures, including Rome, organized fertility cults even sprang up around certain deities, where the primary mode of worship was ritual sex. For these believers, they were not committing abominations; instead, they were celebrating and glorifying the human body.

Celebration of the human body, of course, was anathema to the ancient Jews, including Jewish Christians like Paul. Jews believed that the human body was frail and imperfect. Even drawing pictures, or building statues, of human bodies was against Jewish law. Jewish Christians believed that only Jesus could save this frail, imperfect body from eternal destruction.

It is little wonder, then, that Paul, and those like him, had a particularly harsh opinion of pagan sex cults, where the human body was glorified, celebrated, and indulged.

These sex cults, then, represent the target of Paul’s ire in the first chapter of Romans. Paul had no idea what was going on in the privacy of people’s homes. He is talking about public ritual sex acts in pagan temples. “Men committed shameless acts with men.”

The idea of a biological sexual “orientation” would have been as foreign to Paul as computed tomography. He was not condemning modern gay couples living monogamously; he was not suggesting that those who are gay are incapable of inheriting the kingdom of God. The people Paul is talking about in Romans were heterosexuals who “gave up” their natural inclination in order to commit ritual sex acts for the benefit of pagan gods. And that is the key to understanding Paul’s theology. Paul was not opposed to homosexuality simply because it was somehow inherently evil. Paul was opposed to homosexuality because it was pagan. As Paul’s “tirade” displays, anything that pagans did was, by definition, ungodly and evil.

Besides historical context, clues in the text also lead to the conclusion that Paul was specifically talking about pagan fertility cults. Paul states that these people “worshipped and served a creature [that is, a pagan god] rather than the Creator.” It is at this very point that Paul begins talking about homosexuality. Clearly, when understood in context, Paul was saying that these homosexual acts were done as part of the worship of a pagan god. Furthermore, as I have implied above, Paul says that “men committed shameless acts with men.” These could only have been public acts, as Paul certainly did not know what people were doing in the privacy of their homes in the city of Rome. Ritual temple sex was a public act, and everyone knew about it. Finally, Paul gives a very obvious clue when he says that the men who committed shameless acts “received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” This may seem unclear at first glance, but what Paul is saying is that the people who committed these “sins” got STD’s! They “received in their own persons” – that is, inside their own bodies – their “due penalty.” It is a known fact that sexually-transmitted diseases were common within ancient pagan fertility cults.

CONCLUSION

Homosexuality is a normal, and most likely biological, sexual orientation that affects a large portion of any given population at any given time. Furthermore, many studies indicate that human sexual orientation is not nearly as “black and white” as many modern people like to think. Sexual orientation is a scale, with some people on either end, and most people somewhere in between. That is not to say that most people are “bisexual,” but simply that many people, in the right situation, could consider homosexuality (or, for the homosexual, could consider heterosexuality). This is demonstrated within cultures that do not have the kind of anti-homosexual bias that much of the Western world has. It is no secret, for instance, that homosexuality was common and widespread in ancient Greece – a culture that did not frown upon homosexuality.

The New Testament has only one explicit teaching against homosexuality, and this teaching, as I have shown, is specifically geared toward ritual sex acts – that is, pagan fertility cult worship. The only other spots in the New Testament traditionally believed to contain teachings against homosexuality use ambiguous wording and context, and most likely are not talking about homosexuality at all. Whatever the writers’ intent in using those words, the intent is ambiguous enough that any assertions about homosexuality, based on those passages, are fraught with uncertainties, and are therefore unreliable – particularly on such an important topic as the future of someone’s eternal soul. In fact, the only thing we can take reliably from those passages is that effeminate men – whether straight or gay – are doomed to hell!

In the end, there simply is nothing explicit and reliable in the New Testament to support anti-homosexual bias, or the belief that homosexuals, by virtue of actions based on their very nature, are destined for destruction. Anyone who makes such an assertion is either ignorant of the very texts which they call holy and infallible, or is intellectually dishonest.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another excellent essay revealing the truth layer by layer. And there is nothing a fundamentalists hates more than the truth about their illegitimate beliefs and biases. Don't take my word for it. Ask Jesus what he learned about people when confronted with the truth! BRAVO!

superzzonic said...

Good essay Scott.

Sexual identity is deeply embedded in each of us and is complex.

However, there IS sexual sin (as you showed in the Bible), among the many sins that we as people commit, due to our imperfect nature.

I disagree with you if you say there is no need for Jesus Christ as Savior, and only as a teacher.

superzzonic said...

Sorry, Scott, I wrote an incorrect word in the message that can change the tone of my comment.

I should have written, "(as you showed in your post)," rather than, "(as you showed in the Bible)" regarding sexual immorality/adultery, which you commented on briefly but not for the purpose of this post.

Also, my difference with you regarding Jesus' significance to each of us isn't me calling you an apostate, but it sounded like that to me after I quickly posted the previous comment. Sorry about what might have sounded harsh.

We have interacted on Available Light regularly and graciously, and I hope to do so more often.

Scott said...

Thanks for reading and posting, superzzonic. No harm done with your first post. I agree that there is definitely such a thing as sexual sin or sexual immorality. Among these, I would include adultery and exploitation of people for sex.

Where we disagree in regards to Jesus is primarily on his divine status and the definition of "savior" and "lord." I would call Jesus "savior" and "lord," but not in the same context that you would probably use those terms.

However, as I continue to read and learn, I am open to understanding Jesus in a more traditional way, if in fact I can find reason to do so.

Sunny said...

Absolutely loved the dissection of your verses although it leads to a whole new array of questions.

While it amazes me that there are so many various versions of the Bible that can make you wonder how horribly misinterpreted the Bible can be, I can't help but feel slightly uncomfortable with your statement: "In fact, the only thing we can take reliably from those passages is that effeminate men – whether straight or gay – are doomed to hell!"

On one hand, we have what Dale B Martin has to offer: “Today, effeminacy may be perceived as a quaint or distasteful personal mannerism, but the prissy church musician or stereotyped interior designer is not, merely on the basis of a limp wrist, to be considered fuel for hell. For most English-speaking Christians in the twentieth century, effeminacy may be unattractive, but it is not a sin." Yet what you have to offer is that one may be doomed to hell for being effeminate. It's rather inconsistent, so what would you have to say about this?

Also, if effeminacy in men is indeed worthy for someone to be doomed to hell - how about tomboys as for the case of girls? In any case, what exactly is so wrong (?) about effeminacy?

Cheers

Scott said...

Thanks for reading and commenting, Sunny. Glad you got something out of what I wrote.

I think the point Martin was making, and certainly the point I was making, is that the Bible certainly seems to suggest that effeminacy in men is a sin punishable by hell, yet no self-respecting Christian would entertain such a belief for even one moment - which is why modern translations don't translate the word as "effeminate." They try to soften the distasteful perspectives of the Biblical writers by translating words differently.

The point is that much of what the Bible says is inconvenient and even, sometimes, downright contemptible, so Christians - and even Biblical translators - simply tone it down to make it more palatable. This is one of the reasons why anyone who claims to be a Biblical literalist is not only lying, but has no idea what they are even saying.

My own opinion is that effeminacy in men, as well as masculinity in women, is part of the normal distribution of human traits, and is neither "sinful" nor abnormal. Anyone who says such a thing, in my opinion, is a religious bigot.

The statement of mine you quoted, about the Bible saying effeminate men will go to hell, was simply a statement of linguistic fact - this is what the Bible says. I wasn't implying I agreed with it theologically! It's simply one of many places in the Bible where the perspective of the writer is not only wrong, but thoroughly contemptible.

Anonymous said...

Jesus lived in a society where homosexual acts were condemned. If Jesus' silence meant approval, it was approval of the Jewish teaching against the homosexual act. If Jesus considered homosexuals to be an oppressed minority, you think that He would have had something to say.

Scott said...

Thanks for leaving a comment, Anonymous. I certainly don't believe that Jesus's silence on the issue of homosexuality can be taken as an affirmation of homosexuality. As you point out, that would be completely ignoring the historical context in which Jesus lived.

The simple fact is, sex and sexual sin doesn't appear to have been of much concern to Jesus. He teaches briefly on divorce and lust, but in the big picture of his life and teachings, sex and relationships don't seem to have been all that important to him.

I think it's fair to say that Jesus, if he ever considered homosexuality at all, would have viewed it as sexual sin, the same as adultery, fornication, etc.

But I also think he would have welcomed the gay person to his table just as he welcomed other outcasts and other shunned people.



Scott said...

Another point I want to make involves the spirit of this post itself.

It was never my intention - and certainly is not my intention now - to make a Biblical argument for why homosexuality is normal and acceptable.

I think homosexuality is normal and acceptable because I am a reasonable person living in the 21st century, and I hold 21st century values. My opinion on this topic is not influenced by the Bible at all.

My point was to show that using the Bible to make an argument for why homosexuality is abnormal and sinful is a slippery slope and doesn't hold nearly as much water as many conservative Christians think it does.

So don't read this post thinking I am trying to make a Biblical argument to support homosexuality. I am making a Biblical argument to show why Biblical arguments AGAINST homosexuality are fraught with difficulties and uncertainties.

Anonymous said...

Greg Koukl rightly noted:

Paul was not unclear about what he meant by “natural.” Homosexuals do not abandon natural desires; they abandon natural functions: “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another…” (1:26-27)

The Greek word kreesis, translated “function” in this text, is used only these two times in the New Testament, but is found frequently in other literature of the time. According to the standard Greek language reference A Greek/English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature,[4] the word means “use, relations, function, especially of sexual intercourse.”

Paul is not talking about natural desires here, but natural functions. He is not talking about what one wants sexually, but how one is built to operate sexually. The body is built to function in a specific way. Men were not built to function sexually with men, but with women.

This conclusion becomes unmistakable when one notes what men abandon in verse 27, according to Paul. The modern argument depends on the text teaching that men abandoned their own natural desire for woman and burned toward one another. Men whose natural desire was for other men would then be exempted from Paul’s condemnation. Paul says nothing of the kind, though.

Paul says men forsake not their own natural desire (their constitutional make-up), but rather the “natural function of the woman..” They abandoned the female, who was built by God to be man’s sexual compliment.

The error has nothing to do with anything in the male’s own constitution that he’s denying. It is in the rejection of the proper sexual companion God has made for him–a woman: “The men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts….” (v. 27)

Natural desires go with natural functions. The passion that exchanges the natural function of sex between a man and a woman for the unnatural function of sex between a man and a man is what Paul calls a degrading passion.

Jesus clarified the natural, normal relationship: ”Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh [sexual intercourse].’?” (Matthew 19:4-5)

Homosexual desire is unnatural because it causes a man to abandon the natural sexual compliment God has ordained for him: a woman. That was Paul’s view. If it was Paul’s view recorded in the inspired text, then it is God’s view. And if it is God’s view, it should be ours if we call ourselves Christian.

Scott said...

Thanks for providing an opposing viewpoint, Anonymous. You've given what I can only call a "sophisticated fundamentalist" take on the issue. Indeed, Greg Koukl is the epitome of a sophisticated fundamentalist.

To address your post specifically...I can't find any mainstream English translation of the Bible that uses the phrase "natural desire" in this passage. So, as usual for fundamentalists, Koukl appears to be arguing against a strawman. It's a common strategy for fundamentalist Christian apologists, as it allows them to make a nuanced argument that sounds sophisticated, and therefore convincing, even though it doesn't actually address any real issue.

The word at issue here simply means "use." Men gave up their normal "use" of women and turned instead to men. If someone wants to use the word "function" instead, in order to make a theological argument to justify their own pet dislikes and prejudices, that's fine too.

None of this changes the fact that Paul was referring to ritual pagan temple sex.

The rest of Koukl's argument is just standard fundamentalist and evangelical fare that need not be debated here.

I'll close with something I said in a previous comment:

It was never my intention - and certainly is not my intention now - to make a Biblical argument for why homosexuality is normal and acceptable.

I think homosexuality is normal and acceptable because I am a reasonable person living in the 21st century, and I hold 21st century values. My opinion on this topic is not influenced by the Bible at all.

My point was to show that using the Bible to make an argument for why homosexuality is abnormal and sinful is a slippery slope and doesn't hold nearly as much water as many conservative Christians think it does.


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