I recently received an insightful comment on my article, Is “Homosexual” New to The Bible? In responding to the reader, Frank, I ended up with more to say than can be comfortably contained in a reply to a blog comment, so I am putting my response in its own article. First, here is Frank’s comment on the previous article in full.
I too read the interview with [author Ed] Oxford. By the way, I appreciate the fair tone in [your] article and wanting to find what is true or false no matter what your own personal feelings are on this subject. I would like to make a few points.
Oxford was going to the earliest versions of the Bible because the blanket condemnation of homosexuality just wasn’t there that you find with later translations of the Bible. The Greek “malakoi” had a slew of meanings (the word was used in abundance outside of the Bible) that ranged from a heterosexual man weak in character to describing fine clothing (how Jesus used the term that to me was an indictment of the rich), yet modern translations now make the word out as an effeminate gay man who play the passive role in a homosexual relationship. What!? How did that happen? No new manuscripts were found to make the word read as such so why is it read that way now?
Leviticus reads: “An Israeli man of age shall not have anal sex with Zakhar (a male of some type of religious or age distinction, the two meanings of the word to the ancient Jews) in his wife’s beds.”
That’s a far cry from; “man shall not lay with a man as in woman.”
Oxford is spot on with saying the word “homosexual” shouldn’t be in any Bible translation because the word misleadingly denotes both male AND female homosexuality, the deceptive intent of the translators who put the word in. Since female homosexuality isn’t mentioned in Leviticus, it wouldn’t be carried over by Paul with “arsenokoite.” You’re now probably thinking; “What about Romans?” But I’ll give you what I already wrote on that:
“… No prior writing from a church Father in commentary ever saw lesbianism in the Romans 1 passage. No writing from the time Romans was written by Paul read lesbianism in Romans 1, that is until John Chrysostom in the 4th century all of a sudden saw lesbians in the passage. This one reading from this one early church father put lesbianism on the map for the first time and centuries later it became as good as Gospel. The Church with bated breath couldn’t wait to swallow it fast enough with wanting to close the homosexual loop.”
By the way, like Oxford, I am a gay Christian though I really don’t see a point in bringing up his sexuality when I could easily say heterosexual translators interpreted the Bible through the scope of their heterosexuality. I also don’t find it a coincidence that “homosexuals” was put in a translation at a time homosexuality was hated the most by society in general with seeing us as pedophiles, mentally sick, and “perverts.”
Anyways, If you have any more to say on this, I’m curious. Take care brother.
My Reply to Frank
Thanks for your insight, Frank. I appreciate your articulate and respectful response. You brought up some points I found really interesting.
You mentioned that “Oxford was going to the earliest versions of the Bible…” However, the point I make in the article is that he was not going to the earliest versions at all. Instead, he “was basing his theological conclusions on obscure, 500-year old translations of the Bible, rather than on the earliest manuscripts we have.” So in my article, I looked at the original source in the original language to see what it had to say.
You also mentioned something I had not thought of before, which is that “female homosexuality isn’t mentioned in Leviticus.” That’s true, of course. But don’t forget that Israel (and the ancient world at large) was a patriarchy. God’s commands were given to the men as head of the household, yet they were culturally understood to apply to the entire family, including the wife and children of both genders. Many things were not explicitly mentioned about women in the Torah but were still seen as applying to them. Moreover, the fact that Paul carried the idea of female homosexuality into the New Testament should not be taken lightly. Not only was Paul a Jewish scholar and trained expert in Jewish Law and the Tanakh, but he was also writing under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit. He did not write anything that God did not want him to write.
By the way, here’s an interesting side note: The word “homosexual” does not appear in the most popular translations of the Bible. It is not used at all in the King James Version, the NRSV (a favorite of biblical scholars) or the RSV. And it appears only once in the NIV, NKJV, and CSB translations.
This brings up the broader concept of contextualization. The meaning of Scripture does not change, of course, but the language we use to describe that meaning must change over time and across cultures. For example, if I said to you, “I trow not,” would you know what I meant? Or suppose I said, “I wot that through ignorance ye did it.” These are archaic phrases from the KJV Bible, which have little meaning to the modern reader. It is through contextualization that we update the language so that the meaning of a passage can be properly understood by readers in their own time and culture.
In fact, let’s leave out the specific wording for a moment. I’d be curious to hear what you make of the larger teaching behind the passages that oppose sexual immorality in general. Scripture sets clear boundaries around mankind’s sexual behavior. If you disagree with where the Bible establishes those boundaries, where would you propose they be drawn?
It seems to me that the unavoidable picture we get from Scripture as a whole is that sex was given to mankind by God (Gen 2:24) and is a blessing when exercised within the confines that He prescribed, namely, the marriage covenant. Both the Old and New Testaments (and Jesus, Himself) define marriage as being between a man a woman (Gen 2:24, Matt 19:5-6; Mark 10:6-9). So any sexual activity (hetero– or homo-) outside the marriage covenant is a misuse of God’s gift and, therefore, a sin. That includes things like adultery, friends with benefits, bestiality, casual hookups, incest, and, by definition, homosexual sex.
The question isn’t whether or not God condones homosexual behavior. That answer in Scripture is unambiguous (Lev 18:22, 20:13; Rom 1:26-28; 1 Cor 6:9-11; 1 Tim 1:8-11). The difficult question we have to wrestle with today is, “Why?” I’m sure you would agree there must be some boundaries drawn around human sexual behavior. From a biblical worldview, it’s not right for us to have sex with literally any creature we want any time we want. God certainly would not condone adultery, pedophilia, incest, bestiality, rape, etc. (Which, by the way, is why I am not a fan of the “love is love” line of thinking.)
So how do we decide where our sexual boundaries ought to be drawn? Our modern sensibilities certainly do not like where God chose to draw them. I know gay couples who are fabulous, loving people; why should I care that they are the same gender? I understand the tension because I live in it, too. That’s why in many ways, this issue is at the heart of our faith as Christians. It presents each of us with a fundamental question that is as old as the Garden: will we honor God’s boundaries or make our own? If we choose to “follow our heart” on LGBT issues, are we not elevating the modern, Western sexual ethos above God?
This is a fundamental issue that hinges on our ultimate view of God. Did He establish sexual boundaries because He is a cosmic policeman who doesn’t want us to have fun in the bedroom? Is He an old-fashioned prude that needs to get with the times? Or is He a loving Father who wants His children to know that there are some things we need to avoid in order to live life to the fullest, avoid pain and brokenness, and live in a covenant relationship with Him? The bottom line is this: are we willing to trust God even when we disagree with Him or don’t understand His reasoning? If not, then He is not really our God, is He? Instead, the things we choose to put above Him are our god.
One last important thing to note. As clear as Scripture is on the issue of homosexuality, it’s just as clear on how we are to treat our fellow human beings. As Christians, we are to treat every person (gay or straight) with love and respect (Phil 2:3-4). We are all made in God’s image (Gen 1:27), and we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23). So, yes, homosexual behavior is a sin. But it is not the “super sin” that the modern Church sometimes makes it out to be.
Jesus modeled a perfect balance of grace and truth for us on the issue of sexual immorality. When the Pharisees brought Him a woman caught in adultery, He showed her mercy rather than condemnation. He said to the Pharisees, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” But, at the same time, He did not condone the woman’s sexual sin:
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”John 8:9-11
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.'”
Note: My conversation with Frank continues in the replies below.