Examining the Biblical View of Homosexuality

February 2, 2009 § 2 Comments

This is the result of my own study of the popular arguments on whether the Bible condemns or allows a homosexual lifestyle, born out of a discussion with a friend in 2008 on her own struggles with the topic. (The “Arsenokoitais” section has been recently updated). There are many who seem to acknowledge that the Bible condemns the practice, but do not care what it says on the grounds that the Bible is prejudiced, outdated, irrelevant today, or other reasons. This article does not address that (although there are plenty that do). This is a response to the current upsurge of arguments that the Bible lacks a position against homosexuality made by those who consider themselves Christians and who hold scripture in high regard as an authority in how we should live.

CONDEMNATION: COUNTER TO LOVE?

One significant argument is the position that Christians who condemn homosexuality are not loving as Jesus loved. The story of Jesus forgiving the adulterous woman in John 8:1-11 has been used to spotlight Jesus’ command to forgive people instead of judging them [1]. Jesus told the crowd, eager to stone the woman for sexual sin, that they were all just as guilty of sin, therefore unqualified to judge. While these principals are true, there is an important part of the message that is conveniently excluded from the argument. The complete message of Jesus in this passage and in the gospel message was that forgiveness requires the person’s repentance of sin and their decision to leave it behind on the cross. It is a balance of justice and mercy. After her accusers had left them alone, verse 11 states, “…And Jesus said unto her, ‘Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more’ “ (KJV) or “leave your life of sin.” (NIV). Jesus condemns the sin but loves the sinner. Grace is worthy of our attention, but Christians can’t ignore sin for it. It’s sin, after all, that creates the need for grace.

Other arguments simply throw ad hominem accusations back on those that use scripture to condemn homosexuality by calling them prejudiced, bigoted, judgmental, homophobic or hateful. This is a straw man or red herring tactic. Admittedly, many people, even Christians, have responded incorrectly toward homosexuals and have earned these labels. They have not responded as Jesus would have. They have turned their hatred on the person that God created rather than the sin. I would like to apologize for these people, who only fuel pro-gay arguments by undermining their own integrity. However, it does not necessarily follow that those who claim the Bible condemns homosexuality must be hateful homophobes or prejudiced bigots. This distracts from the argument over whether homosexuality is Biblically justified. Whether we are living a homosexual lifestyle or speaking out against the practice of homosexuality, the Bible, if true, is a standard outside of man that we are all obligated to live by.

Following are specific challenges made over Biblical passages that have historically been used to show that homosexuality is sin.

THE MEANING OF “ABOMINATION”

“You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.” (Lev. 18:22 NASB)

“If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.” (Lev. 20:13 NASB)

“None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute. You shall not bring the hire of a harlot or the wages of a dog into the house of the Lord your God for any votive offering, for both of these are an abomination to the Lord your God.” (Deut. 23:17-18 NASB)

Some argue less severe meanings of “abomination”. The claim is that “it does not mean something inherently evil, but something taboo, something ritually unclean.” [2]

Some say that original Hebrew terms from where we get “homosexuals” and “sodomites” referred to temple prostitutes (“toevah” means a ritual violation, rather than the Hebrew word for outright sin, “zimah”), who engaged in ritualistic sex, not same-sex relations between consenting adults outside of common pagan practices of the time. [2].

There are three distinct Hebrews words are found in scripture for abomination. The word most used for this idea by the Hebrews and indicating the highest degree of abomination is to`ebhah, meaning primarily that which offends the religious sense of a people. Another word rendered abomination in the King James Version is sheqets or shiqquts. It expresses generally a somewhat less degree of horror or religious aversion than [to`ebhah], but sometimes seems to stand about on a level with it in meaning. The other word used to express a somewhat kindred idea of abhorrence and translated abomination in the King James Version is piggul; but it is used in the Hebrew Bible only of sacrificial flesh that has become stale, putrid, tainted. [3] [4]

Some argue that Levitical Law, or Holiness Code, was meant only for Israel at the time it was written. “Challenge: There are lots of commands in Leviticus that we don’t follow today, like the rule that you can’t eat shellfish, or combine two kinds of thread. Answer: Not all Levitical law is the same. There were rules that were moral rules–such as prohibitions against things that were wrong and sinful–and then there were ritualistic commands that the people of Israel were meant to obey as a sign that they belonged to God. The difference is clear when you study all of Leviticus closely, and you understand the context and the structure of the writing. For an example, in the same passage of Leviticus 18 we find commands against bestiality, incest and adultery. The passage (Lev. 18:24-25) also says: “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.” [5]

THE MEANING OF “SODOMY”

“There were also male cult prostitutes in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord dispossessed before the sons of Israel.” (1 Kings 14:24 NASB)

“He also put away the male cult prostitutes from the land and removed all the idols which his fathers had made.” (1 Kings 15:12 NASB)

A common definition for sodomy is “Carnal copulation in a manner against nature; buggery.” [6] It is also described as being synonymous with buggery and referring to “unnatural” sex acts, including copulation, either between two persons of the same sex or between a person and an animal (the latter act is known as “bestiality”). Most countries outlaw bestiality, but homosexual activity is gradually being decriminalized. [7] The sin of sodomy was an offense against nature frequently connected with idolatrous practices. [8]

Some say that Sodom’s demise came because they were not hospitable, not because they were homosexuals. This implication has led to the assertion that all later uses of the word “sodomy” should not be translated as homosexuality. Therefore, the truth behind Genesis 19 is key to defining this term.

Genesis 19 describes a mob of men desiring to have sex with two male strangers in Lot’s house. God later destroys Sodom for their sins. Some argue that sodomy or homosexuality are not in this list of Sodom’s sins in Ezekiel 16:49-50:  “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.” Some also contend that rape is not the same as consentual sex. However “committed abomination” could easily include these acts as described in Gen. 19, and God doesn’t specify the motivation for same sex relations, but condemns the act altogether.

THE MEANING OF “ARSENOKOITAIS”

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-10 NASB)

“…realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching,” (1 Tim. 1:9-10 NASB)

Some dispute the word translated as “homosexuals” (NASB) or “men who have sex with other men” (NIV) or “abusers of themselves with mankind” (KJV) from the Greek word Arsenokoitais Paul used, translated literally “man-layer” (“lay” as in to have sex with). The word is translated thus because when split in two, arseno means “man” and koitais means “bed” with a sexual connotation. It’s actually the origin of the word coitis. There is dispute over whether this could also refer to “male prostitutes” since it is unclear whether “man-layer” means “men who lay” or “layers of men.” [9] [10] [11] The word arsenokoitais is not found in ancient writings before Paul, who some suspect may have coined the phrase.

Did Paul coin the term to express something that doesn’t come readily with the available language? It’s true that a compound word does not always equal the sum of its parts, for example, a butterfly is not a fly made of butter and honeymoon has nothing to do with either honey or the moon. However we can be almost certain of what Paul was describing with arsenokoitais if we look at the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament Paul would have had access to. In the Leviticus 20:13 prohibition of men-to-men sex, the words arseno and koitais appear side by side, forming the exact word that Paul used.[12]

Additionally, Paul continues  in verse 11 of 1 Corinthians 6: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” He makes it clear that the conditions listed in verses 9 and 10 belong to the “unrighteous” and that they can be overcome through Christ.[12]

THE MEANING OF “NATURAL”

“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, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” (Romans 1:26-27 NASB)

The pro-gay argument here is that this passage condemns same-sex relations only for the HETEROsexual, because same-sex relations would be “unnatural” for them. Same-sex relations are “natural” for homosexuals and are therefore permitted. [13]

This stance makes the assumption that a homosexual is naturally born homosexual, which has not been scientifically proven and is refuted by scripture (More on this topic below under “Eunuchs…”). Regardless, the argument also falls to the context of Romans 1. It is stated in verse 27 that men “burned in their lust,” indicating a very strong and basic desire. This is hardly conducive to how a heterosexual would feel if he were pursuing the same sex when it felt unnatural to him. Clearly their lust and the “indecent acts” that followed are condemned. In verse 26, women are said to have committed the same type of sin. [14]

THE MEANING OF “STRANGE FLESH”

“And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 1:6-7)

Some argue that “strange flesh” here refers to the idea that the men in Lot’s home were angels, not of familiar mortal flesh. However, there is no indication that the men of Sodom and Gomorrah knew that the men were angels (Gen. 19), but rather they thought they were flesh and bones. The “strange flesh” probably refers to the unnatural desires they had for their flesh, which Jude calls “gross immorality.”

JESUS DIDN’T PREACH AGAINST HOMOSEXUALITY

Some say that because there is no mention of Jesus condemning homosexuality that He didn’t preach against it. [15] This argument is unfounded for three reasons.

First, Jesus DID preach against it, because as God, He is the author of ALL scripture. It is the WORD of God—as opposed to “WORDS”—as the Bible is one unified message. If a sin is condemned in one part, it carries the same authority throughout as if Jesus spoke it. Jesus used Old Testament scripture in His teachings and stood behind the Word of God as His own words.

Secondly, the four gospels contain only a fraction of what Jesus said and did in his full-time 3 year ministry. John 21:25 says, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.” Chances are He spoke on the topic at some point.

Thirdly, Jesus IS recorded as describing the correct and intended relationship between men and women in Matthew 19:1-6 when answering a question about divorce. He quotes Genesis 1:27 and 2:24: ” ‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.’ “ (Parallel passage also in Mark 10:6-8). Clearly this does not allow for same-sex marriage or homosexual relations.

EUNUCHS WERE HOMOSEXUALS BORN GAY

“But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.” (Matthew 19:11-12 NASB)

In the same chapter of Matthew where Jesus affirms exclusive heterosexual unions, controversy exists over the meaning of the word eunuchs. Some contend that it refers to homosexuals, who even Jesus says “were born that way” and are exceptions to His teachings on heterosexual marriage. However, homosexuality is implied neither in Jesus’ words nor the common definitions for the word eunuch.[16]

In the strictest sense, the origin of the word eunuch in the Old Testament is caric and means “to be castrated.”  Men who were castrated, usually voluntarily, were often placed in charge of women’s chambers, and they would not be tempted sexually by the women under their care. They were ideal guards of harems and servants quarters. For this reason the word caric is also translated chamberlain in scripture, referring to those given charge of a woman’s bedchambers (see Esther 2:3).  Similarly, in the New Testament, the Greek word eunuch is “eunouchizo” meaning literally to “hold bed” (as a “bed keeper”). The definition Jesus uses is broader, and the original meaning of eunuch is only one of three categories He talks about.

Another category of eunuch includes those who “were born that way”: Men who from birth lacked the ability to procreate due to a physical or physiological defect, or naturally had a decreased sexual desire. Neither the Bible nor genetic research [17] suggest that anyone is “born gay.” A person may be born with natural predisposition to something, but genetic traits must be subject to both experience and our free will before they become behaviors, so Jesus was not referring a man born homosexual.

Eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” make up the third category—men who may have been physically potent but voluntarily lead a celibate life in order to serve the Lord without distraction.

Some contend that early “Catholic Church leaders began using their new influence over Roman imperial law to redefine natural eunuchs as males [they had formerly been widely considered genderless] and prosecute them… as criminal perpetrators of sodomy against their own bodies.” [18] Whether or not this is true, it does nothing to support the idea that Jesus was referring to homosexuals in Matthew 19:11-12, and He certainly does not condone homosexual behavior here. Jesus was in fact stating that because of their circumstances these eunuchs are exceptions to those He encourages to get married, and they should not feel obligated to do so.

SUMMARY

The arguments in favor of homosexuality in light of Scripture seem to be mainly attacks on isolated parts, not foundational truths. While it is important to know the meanings of words, what these arguments are largely based on is finding loopholes in what has been long established as Biblical teaching. The strategy appears to be to exploit the “weakest link” in each of the passages in question by seeking out the most obscure or misunderstood word or phrase and suggesting it means something else, something in line with a certain agenda. When we look at the Word of God as just that, God’s unified WORD, and read it as it was intended to be read, the passages addressing this topic and other topics affirm one another. On the other hand, when we look at the opposing arguments and hear “what this means to me” in reference to interpreting scripture [12], let’s be clear that this is no way to determine objective truth. Rather it seems an attempt to Biblically justify a lifestyle the interpreter has already chosen. It also seems unlikely that a genuine “discovery” of the real meaning of millenia-old scriptures directly coincides with the increased push for the acceptance homosexuality and gay marriage in modern culture. The Bible, however varied we are in our view of its correctness, is almost unanimously “politically incorrect,” and often the comfort of our own ideals is more appealing than truth. Proverbs 21:2 confirms this: “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, But the Lord weighs the hearts.” The Bible predicts attempts to compromise God’s word: “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools… Who changed the truth of God into a lie” (Rom. 1:22, 25a). American essayist Flannery O’Connor rightly observed that “the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

The arguments made do bring questions to mind and have instilled doubt in many, making this a topic worthy of study. After carefully examining both the arguments of liberal culture and the position of Scripture on the subject, it is my conclusion, affirmed belief and conviction that the Bible condemns the practice of homosexuality.

1. http://www.smilepolitely.com/opinion/2008/03/what-does-the-bible-really-say.php

2. http://www.lionking.org/~kovu/bible/section05.html.

3. http://www.bible-history.com/isbe/A/ABOMINATION/.

4. http://www.answers.com/topic/abomination

5. http://exodusyouth.net/2008/09/09/what-does-the-bible-really-say-part-1/

6. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

7. http://www.trumanlaw.com/docs/dictionary/s.html

8. Rawlinson, History of Phoenicia

9. http://www.geocities.com/pharsea/PaulineLists.html

10. http://gaychurch.org/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/729296945/m/6831028723

11. http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bibh2.htm

12. http://www.blogos.org/compellingtruth/homosexuality-in-the-bible.php

13. http://www.gaychurch.org/…

14.  http://www.desiringgod.org/…

15. http://www.gaychurch.org/…

16. http://dictionary.reference.com/dic?q=eunuch&search=search

17. http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/elsi/behavior.shtml#4

18. http://www.well.com/user/aquarius/#Home%202

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