Bible & Homosexuality
Six Clobber Passages
The Bible has long been used to condemn homosexuality. There are six passages of Scripture generally used by conservative Christians in their condemnation of homosexuality.
· Genesis 19:1-13
· Leviticus 18:22
· Leviticus 20:13
· Romans 1:26-27
· I Corinthians 6:9-11
· I Timothy 1:8-11
Today, many Biblical scholars agree that a close study of the facts related to these passages of Scripture has nothing to do with same-sex orientation or same-sex love. In fact, these passages of Scripture address issues of rape, inhospitality, idolatry, cult prostitution, violent sex acts used for humiliation of the enemy, and pederasty. None of which are about love.
These Scriptures have no relevance for same-sex love or romantic attraction as we understand it today.
To the left are helpful links which provide an expansive library of information to help in further study
Genesis 19:1-13 – The Story of Sodom and Gomorrah
In order to gain a true picture of this story, we must first understand the culture and the context in which this account took place. This is the story of a city that was known for its grave inhospitality, arrogance, and wickedness. In fact, these cities were already doomed to destruction because of their wickedness even before this account in Genesis 19 happened. The wickedness of the people of Sodom begins back in Genesis 13:13. Their doom was sealed in Genesis 18:23-33.
The account of Genesis 19:1-13 is a story about grave inhospitality which includes the intention of gang rape as a means of humiliation.
In the Hebrew culture, hospitality was a central part of life. It was customary to extend aid to travelers, and strangers were to be treated properly by providing food, shelter, and protection for them. In this account, three angels arrive in Sodom. Lot greets them, invites them into his home, provides for them and becomes their protector.
Soon, all the men of Sodom surround Lot’s house and demand to see the visitors, “so that we can have sex with them.” (vs7). The intention was rape. In this culture, it was common practice to humiliate the enemy by subjecting them to anal intercourse. The people of Sodom were inhospitable people who viewed visitors as the enemy. In order to protect the visitors, Lot offers his daughters to the men instead.
There are three things to be considered in this story. First, we must understand the law of hospitality. As I stated before, hospitality was a huge part of Hebrew life. Remember, there were no hotel/motel accommodations and travelers depended on the kindness and generosity of the people to provide for them.
Secondly, we must ask the question, if Sodom was destroyed because of homosexuality, does that mean that all the men in Sodom was homosexual? Genesis 19:4 reads “…all the men from every part of the city of Sodom – both young and old – surrounded the house” (emphasis mine).
Thirdly, Lot offered his daughters. Because he offered is daughters in place of the angels, it is valid to assume that the men of the city were heterosexual and their complete intention was violence in the way of homosexual rape against the visitors.
This was just one aspect of the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah. In fact, the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were many. They are spoken of throughout Scripture. Exodus 16:49-50 speaks of their lack of care for the poor. Isaiah 3:9 addresses their issue of pride, Jeremiah 23:14 talks of their adultery and lying, and even Jesus speaks of their sin of inhospitality in Luke 10:10.
Their doom was sealed long before this account in Genesis 19. This is not a story about sexual orientation or same-sex romantic attraction, or same-sex love. In fact, this account is a story about grave inhospitality and humiliation of an enemy. The impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was imminent long before.
“Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Lev. 18:22)
“If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.” (Lev. 20:13)
Taken at face value these two verses of Scripture seem condemning of homosexuality as a whole. But let’s take a closer look at what the Bible is talking about in the entire context of these passages of Scripture.
First, it’s important to know and understand who the audience is and the culture that existed at the time of the events taking place here.
After the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were camped at Mt. Sinai on their way to the land of Caanan. The Israelites were God’s chosen people and their spiritual holiness was key in remaining in God’s presence. They were a nomadic people and, until this time, had no outside influence. But now, they were facing the influences of the sophisticated Caananite city life.
Caananite life was deeply interwoven with idol worship. The Canaanite gods were sexual gods and therefore, sexual rites were a large part of their worship. These sexual rites included various types of sexual intercourse in the temples, including orgies amongst family members and sex with temple prostitutes, both male and female. These sexual rites involved same-sex intercourse.
In the face of this idolatrous influence, it became vitally important to support and maintain the Hebrew religion and holiness unto God, and to keep the Israelites from adopting these Baal worship practices. So, a code of laws and regulations were written, which became known as the Levitical Laws or the Holiness Code.
The Holiness code included rules and regulations for worship along with prohibitions regarding the religious, communal, and personal lives of the Israelites. These rules provided instruction on how the priests were to dress and spiritually prepare for worship along with rules directing the Israelites in physical cleanness and spiritual purity.
Spiritual holiness was symbolized by physical perfection. Physical perfection meant without bodily defects. Examples of defects included sores, burns, and even baldness. It also included a woman’s hemorrhaging after giving birth, a man ejaculating, or a woman having sex while on her period. All of these activities were considered defects or unclean and broke one’s spiritual wholeness. Consequently, they were considered impure and were oftentimes ordered outside the camp area and banned from the tabernacle. The regulations in the code, however, prescribed how to remedy these defects to become spiritually whole once again.
Some of the prohibitions of the code included food laws, mixing of kinds, and other unclean acts. Some of the food laws prohibited the Israelites from eating pork, shellfish, or rare meat. The mixing of kinds prohibited them form planting two different kinds of seeds in the same field. They were not to wear clothing made of two different kinds of fabric. Other laws restricted the men from cutting their hair at the sides or shaving their beards. These were all considered unclean acts, which broke the purity of the Israelites.
In addition to these prohibitions, there were the moral laws. These laws addressed activities, primarily sexual activities, associated with idol worship. These laws included incest, adultery, orgies, and same-sex acts.
Here is where we find the prohibition against the same-sex act, calling it an abomination.
“Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Lev. 18:22)
It is first of all, important to understand that these were prohibitions against acts that were performed as a part of sexual rituals in the practice of worship to Canaanite gods. The word “abomination” is translated from the Hebrew word “toevah”, meaning that which God found displeasing because it was unclean, disloyal, or unjust and is associated with idolatry. These acts were displeasing to God because they were associated with idolatry. They had nothing to do with relational love or committed loving relationships between two people – they were solely for the purpose of idol worship. The wrongness of the same-sex act was in its use in worship of idol gods.
Leviticus 20 states the punishments for these acts.
“If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.” (Lev. 20:13)
Leviticus 20:13 states the punishment associated with the act, which was death. It’s interesting to note that this verse is lumped together in a series of prohibitions that are punishable by death. For example, death was also the punishment for cursing one’s parents (v. 9), and for those caught in adultery. (v.10).
What these particular verses of Scripture speak about are regulations that were put in place to keep the Israelites from engaging in Baal worship. The activities listed in these particular verses were done as part of sexual rites and cult prostitution for idol temple worship.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the relevance of these laws in today’s culture. First and foremost, we are no longer required to offer animal sacrifices to atone for sin and obtain spiritual purity. God has given us Jesus who was the final sacrifice and through the work of the cross we have been redeemed which gives us right-standing with God. Because of Jesus we are forgiven and have the right to be called children of God.
People today eat pork and shellfish and rare meat. There is no need for the food laws of this time any longer. We plant different kinds of seeds in our fields. And we wear clothing made of cotton and polyester mix. Some of the food laws had to do with the food spoiling because of no refrigeration. Some of the cleanness laws dealt with lack of hygiene and sanitation. Today, we have refrigeration and running water. We don’t put people to death for disobeying their parents or adultery as was the law in Lev. 20:13.
The Holiness code was necessary for the people of ancient Israel to keep the Israelites from straying under the influences of the Canaanites and to help them remain loyal and true unto God. The book of Leviticus refers to a set of laws and regulations for worship of God. It was a code used to set God’s people apart and keep them from idolatry, uncleanness, and imperfection. The same-sex acts in this law are referring to cult prostitution and idolatrous worship. These laws no longer apply in today’s environment.
The writers of Leviticus did not know or understand homosexuality as a sexual orientation. They were concerned with keeping their people from idolatry, impurity, and uncleanness. These verses of Scripture are part of a code of rules and regulations to do just that – keep the people pure and clean and away from idolatrous Canaanite influence.
The Holiness Code and the Levitical laws were a necessary piece of ancient Israelite culture to guard their tradition, providing for good hygiene and sanitation, and keeping them pure and holy unto God. Today, we have been given the ultimate gift in Jesus Christ, in which a new covenant has been created. This new covenant has done away with the Levitical law and we have become children of God and heirs to the throne.
Homosexuality, as we know it today, is a sexual orientation that involves romantic attraction and love between two people of the same sex. It is not about sex for the purpose of idol worship or temple prostitution. It is about love – love between two people.
“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.”
Let’s first take a look at the culture, the audience and the purpose in which Paul wrote the book of Romans. Rome was a large cosmopolitan trade center, a wealthy city with much political power. The Roman emperors were powerful monarchs who saw themselves as gods and demanded worship from the people there. Temple prostitution and idol worship to the various gods and goddesses was widespread.
Christianity had recently been introduced in Rome and Paul was writing to the Christian church there to share the Gospel of Jesus and to present to them God’s overall plan of redemption, which was offered for both Jews and Gentiles alike.
So, as we look at the entire passage beginning with verse 16, it’s important to note the sequence in which Paul writes. First, we see that Paul reminds the Christian believers of God’s power and grace for the salvation of everyone who believes. It is after this reminder that he goes on to speak about those who have gone against God.
In verses 21-23, Paul speaks about those in Rome who did not acknowledge or glorify God, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified [God] or gave thanks to [God], but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” So, Paul is talking about those in Rome who knew who God was, but they did not acknowledge God as the one and only Almighty God. Instead, they chose to worship idols.
The following verses then give the consequence for this lack of acknowledgement; “Therefore, God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator….” (vs. 24-25, emphasis mine). It was because of their lack of acknowledging God that God gave them over. They failed to believe in God, the Creator of all, and chose to worship idols.
And finally, “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”. (vs. 26-27, emphasis mine).
This entire text speaks of those in the Roman culture who did not acknowledge God as the Creator, who worshiped and served idols, and who engaged in temple prostitution.
Now, those who use this Scripture to condemn homosexuality, cite particularly the verse pertaining to natural and unnatural relations. So, let’s explore this a bit.
The Greek word used in this text for natural is ‘physin’ meaning nature, and it refers to someone’s nature. It implies what is characteristic, consistent, or ordinary for someone. The word ‘unnatural’ is translated from the Greek, ‘para physin’, meaning contrary to nature, implying that which is unusual, unexpected, or different from the normal order.
So, when Paul speaks of ‘unnatural relations’ in verse 26, he is talking about acts being performed that were not ordinary or characteristic of those engaging in them. These were sexual acts that were not consistent with their nature, but were being used as a means of idol worship. Essentially, Paul is condemning heterosexual people who were performing homosexual acts. These acts were ‘para physin’ for them, contrary to their nature, and they were being done for purposes of idol worship.
Noted historian John Boswell writes, “…the persons Paul condemns are manifestly not homosexual: what he derogates are homosexual acts committed by heterosexual persons. The whole point of Romans 1, in fact, is to stigmatize persons who have rejected their calling, gotten off the true path they were once on. He goes on to say, “Paul did not discuss gay persons but only homosexual acts committed by heterosexual persons.”
Boswell infers that homosexuals performing heterosexual acts in this light would be equally condemned. Going against what is natural for the person is where the sin lies.
Romans 1:26-27 is speaking about men and women in a terribly corrupt society who rejected God and engaged in sexual rituals for the purpose of idol worship. It refers to heterosexual people who were engaging in homosexual acts.
When we look at the overall message of the book of Romans, it is clear that it is a message of God’s love for all people. It is a message of justification by faith and right standing with God which is found in Jesus Christ for all who believe. (3:22).
“For God so loved the world that God gave us Jesus, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). The “whosoever” includes LGBTQ. Belief in Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross gives right-standing with God. Accepting Jesus into your heart gives right-standing with God.
Further, God looks at the heart and the intentions of the heart. (I Sam. 16:7). God knows that the love between two people comes from the heart. God is love. Same-sex relationships are about love.
I Corinthians 6:9-10
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 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (NIV)
I Timothy 1:8-11
We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (NIV)
There are two Greek words in these passages of Scripture which form the basis which fundamentalist Christians use in their condemnation of homosexuality. Those two words are malakoi and arsenokoites. Both words are found in the Corinthian passage and only one, arsenokoites, is used in the Timothy passage. In order to better understand the context of these words and their true meaning we must first recognize the culture and the audience which Paul is addressing.
Let’s first take a look at the city of Corinth and the Corinthian culture. Corinth was a seaport town. It was known as a city of pleasure where immorality was widespread. Sex was glorified with brothels, both male and female, all around the city. Pagan temples, shrines, and altars to the various gods were prevalent. Idolatrous worship was regularly performed and sexual activity was routinely a part of these worship practices.
The Christian church in Corinth was immature and largely influenced by the loose Corinthian culture. It was in light of this corrupt culture that Paul wrote to the Corinthian church. He wrote primarily to instruct them in areas of weakness, which was due to the outside influences, and to address the divisions that were caused by those engaging in the immorality of the culture; idolatry, prostitution, adultery, and fertility worship among others.
In I Corinthians 6:9, Paul speaks specifically about those who will not inherit the Dominion of God. He refers to those who are engaging in gratuitous activities associated with the looseness and immorality within the culture and he lists those of whom he speaks about. Among those to whom he refers are malakoi and arsenokoites. These two Greek words are the basis of condemnation of homosexuality. The problem, however, lies in their translation.
As we take a closer look at these two words it’s significant to note that their translations have been highly debated and scholars have found it difficult to correctly interpret them. In fact, their translations vary among the various versions of the Bible. For example, three of the most common versions of the Bible translate as follows:
New International Version – male prostitutes
King James Version – effeminate
Revised Standard Version – homosexuals (1952) and sexual perverts (1971)
New International Version – homosexual offenders or perverts
King James Version – abusers of themselves with mankind
Revised Standard Version – sodomites
Given the variations in translations it’s reasonable to assume that the translators could not adequately determine what St. Paul’s original intent was in using these particular words. Was he referring to male prostitutes, or effeminate people, or sexual perverts (which could refer to a host of things involving heterosexual or homosexual activities). With this in mind, let’s examine them a bit further.
The first of the two words, malakoi, is a common Greek term whose literal meaning is ‘soft’, as in fine clothing. This same Greek word is used in Matthew 11:7-8 and Luke 7:25, both referring to fine clothing.
In a moral context, it can mean “licentious,” “loose,” or “wanting in self-control,”. (Boswell, pg. 106) It can also mean effeminate, in reference to ‘soft like women’. In ancient time being seen as soft like a woman was a negative trait in men. It referred to those men who liked to dress nice and primp themselves to be more attractive to women. It also referred to those who were loose or malevolent.
In other Greek writings when used in a moral context, malakoi meant ‘morally weak’. So, it is logical and reasonable to say that Paul could have been referring to those who were morally weak when he used this word in I Corinthians 6:9.
Noted historian John Boswell says, “At a broad level, [malakoi] might be translated as either “unrestrained” or “wanton,” but to assume that either of these concepts necessarily applies to gay people is wholly gratuitous. The word is never used in Greek to designate gay people as a group or even in reference to homosexual acts generically, and it often occurs in writings contemporary with the Pauline epistles in reference to heterosexual persons or activity.”
Of malakoi, Daniel Helminiak concludes that “malakos simply does not refer to same-sex activity. I Corinthians 6:9 uses malakos to make a general condemnation of moral looseness and undisciplined (and perhaps also lewd, lustful and lascivious) behavior. The New Jerusalem Bible presents this accurate meaning by translating malakos as “the self-indulgent.”
The logical conclusion is that malakoi simply does not refer to homosexuality, but to behavior that is loose, lewd, wanton, unrestrained, and irresponsible.
Arsenokoites is the second word Paul used in I Corinthians 6:9. It’s interesting to note that this word appears only twice in all of Scripture. Here, and in I Timothy 1:10. So its meaning is ambiguous at best.
The word was formed from two Greek words – arseno meaning male or men, and koites meaning bed or bedroom, referring to ‘lying with’ or ‘having sex with’ someone. In particular, it refers to the active partner in sexual intercourse, the one who penetrates. Thus, the literal English translation would be “man penetrator”. (Helminiak, pg. 109)
There is no way of knowing exactly what the word, “man penetrator” means because it is not clear where the emphasis is – whether “man” in this translation denotes the gender, that is, a man who penetrates, or the object, a man being penetrated. Thus, the question becomes, does arsenokoites imply a man who has sex with others, (man who penetrates), in which case it refers to either male or female, or does it denote someone who penetrates men (a man who has sex with men)? Putting it in better perspective, let’s look at the English expression, ‘lady killer’. Taken at face value it’s meaning is unclear. Does “lady” refer to the gender, that is a lady who kills, or the object, one who kills ladies? In actuality, this expression is oftentimes used to describe one who knows how to charm women.
It is difficult to know specifically whom Paul was referring to when he used this word. What is known is that various scholars differ on its interpretation.
According to noted historian John Boswell, it was most likely that Paul was referring to a “male prostitute”. (pg. 107). Male prostitutes were common throughout the Hellenistic world in Paul’s time and they were available for sex with either male or female. This activity was reprehensible to Paul.
Daniel Helminiak, in his book “What the Bible Really says About Homosexuality,” suggests that Paul could have been referring to abusive sex or sexual practices. In first-century Rome moral decadence was rampant. Men sought out boys and other men for sex. This was in the face of abundant female prostitution and so it was seen as a novelty to have sex with boys or other men. Boys and girls were kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery. Men kept these slaves for their own gratification. Critics viewed this as abusive, exploitative, and lustful behavior. Consequently, when they condemned same-sex practices they were condemning the abusive nature of what was happening with these first century Roman practices.
Because of these corrupt situations in Rome, the same-sex activity that Paul would have encountered here would have been associated with idolatry, pederasty, or prostitution; idolatry in the way of sexual practices in worship to the various gods, pederasty as men seeking young boys for sexual play, and prostitution which included both male and female for the purpose of cult worship.
Moreover, there were a number of other Greek words that Paul could have used that more clearly describe homosexual relations. If he really meant homosexuality, then the question becomes, why didn’t Paul use any of these other words and why would he have chosen to use this particular word that is so ambiguous? (pg. 345-346).
The fact is that Paul was writing to provide instruction for the church and to encourage them to keep away from the corrupt activity which surrounded them. He lists vices to emphasize the behavior that is evil and corrupt. Prostitution or sexual abuse of any sort were of great concern for Paul, and it is most likely that this is what he was referring to when he wrote this passage of Scripture.
Now, let’s take a look at the use of arsenokoites in I Timothy. I Timothy was written by Paul to Timothy regarding the church in Ephesus. Ephesus was a major commercial center, and like Corinth, there was much corruption, lewd conduct, and pagan temple worship. The Christian church was growing, however, there were heresies in the church with false teachers of the law and false doctrines moving in. Paul’s main purpose in writing I Timothy was to refute these false teachings and to provide instruction in the development of the church.
In I Timothy 1:8-11, Paul begins by warning the church about the heretical teachers and their false teachings. He makes reference to the law and how the law was being used and abused by the lawbreakers. His whole point was to encourage the people to be good people. In trying to get his point across he reminds them who the lawbreakers are. He does this by listing their vices. Among these vices is the reference to “arsenokoites”. Now, scholars predominantly agree that this list of vices were not Paul’s own, but he borrowed them from a stock list from others who wrote of the corrupt practices of the culture at large.
While it is still unclear who this list of vices was referring to in reference to arsenokoites, even if the term did refer to male-to-male sex, it did not encompass homosexuality in general. In 1st century Rome and amidst the Roman Empire, male-to-male sex was associated with exploitation, sexual abuse and lewd conduct. If arsenokoites did in fact refer to male-to-male sex, it was in this context.
This type of behavior is never ok. Just as the Bible’s opposition to adultery, incest, or prostitution does not forbid male-to-female sex in general, the references found here in regards to male-to-male sex does not forbid homosexuality in general. It forbids the abuses and exploitation of the sexual activities.
Boswell states that St. Paul, whose commitment to Jewish law had taken up most of his life, never suggested that there was any historical or legal reason to oppose homosexual behavior; if he did in fact object to it, it was purely on the basis of functional, contemporary moral standards.
Helminiak adequately sums it up as he concludes, “Across the board in sexual matters, the Bible calls for mutual respect, caring and responsible sharing – in a loaded word, love. The violation of these, but not sex in general, is what the Bible condemns. The lesson in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 is that this principle applies equally to hetero- and homo- sexuality.” (Helminak pg. 115)
Boswell, John, (1980), Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press
Day, David, (1987), Things They Never Told You in Sunday School, Austin, Texas, Liberty Press
Helminiak, Daniel A, (Millennium Edition) (2000), What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, New Mexico, Alamo Square Press
Lowe, Bruce, W. (2001), A Letter to Louise, www.GodMadeMeGay.com
Rogers, Jack, (2009), Jesus, The Bible, and Homosexuality, Louisville, Kentucky, Westminister John Knox Press
Zondervan Handbook to the Bible, (Third Edition, 1999), Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan Publishing House
A wonderful way to fellowship with our members, family and friends. This year we included our church Service.