Should “Homosexual” Be In The Bible?

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.

Frank’s comment on the previous article:

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 language.

In fact, let’s leave the specific wording out 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.

I think 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 thing we choose to put above Him is 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?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.'”

John 8:9-11

2 thoughts on “Should “Homosexual” Be In The Bible?”

  1. Wow. Thanks you for going the extra mile in responding to my comment Mr. Solberg. I didn’t receive a notification in my e-mails, so I thought you didn’t respond back. Like before, I’d like to address what you said.

    You stated:

    “… 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.”

    Now this argument would work if these Israeli women were not specifically mentioned in other sexual prohibitions also listed in Leviticus, like incest, but they are. Even detailing specific prohibitions given only to these women and not to Israeli males. There is no ancient Jewish writing who saw Lev. 18:22 as inclusive of women. The very wording makes it impossible to include women. No one is downplaying Paul with women, but also it’s gross exegesis to say Paul used the absence of lesbianism in the OT to now condemn them in Romans, the only real place you can say lesbians are being talked about.

    You prove my point with saying the word “homosexual” was not in the earliest versions of Bible translations. My question is why is it now? The first time it was put in a translation was in 1946 in the NASV that today most consider the most “accurate” of Bible translations (disturbingly, maybe BECAUSE the word homosexual is in this translation is why this is the preferred translation). It’s translator and editor was a man named Bruce Metzger who’s personal dislike of homosexuality was pretty ugly. You have to understand that Bible translators were imperfect and very human men prone to mistakes like we all are who were very much a product of their time, they never claimed to be inspired by the Holy Spirit.

    Though your argument of “contextualization” is absolutely true, I really don’t see what relevance it has here. This is not a changing of wording to make clearer something that is already stated, this is widening a prohibition of anal sex in Leviticus to include all homosexuality and widening the prohibition of cult homosexuality in Romans doing the same. A prohibition from absence with lesbianism.

    This is where you think I conflate homosexuality with a “do as you want” sexual ethic when nothing can be further from the truth. Like you, I believe the Bible in the inspired and infallible Word of God, including it’s dictation on sexual morality. I don’t know where you get from me in anything I’ve written that I believe in “boundless sexuality” that you spend most of your article talking about.

    You give more importance to the marriage institution than Jesus or Paul ever did. Jesus only bothered talking about it because it was brought up to Him and even then He makes exceptions for some who were born “eunuchs.” Paul said it is better not to marry and he says there in no more “Man And Woman” in Galatians. There is no marriage in Heaven. Sexuality is given to us by God, what we do with that sexuality is up to us. Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, can either be abused with pornography and promiscuity or it can be a union be dedicated to God with the same allowances and restrictions as a heterosexual union. I find it offensive that you would put homosexuality on the level of bestiality, pedophilia, and rape.

    I’ve already given the wording in Leviticus that in turn explains 1 Cor. and 1 Timothy with why the word “homosexual” shouldn’t be placed in those instances and Romans being in the context of Gentile idolatry unless you think all gays worship “birds and creeping things” in their homosexuality. I can gladly go more in depth, but let Romans unfold itself IN CONTEXT.

    You would be hard pressed to show most Christians don’t see homosexuality as a “greater sin’ when they obsess about it like no other topic. It’s interesting you quote Francis Chan when he said he would be open to changing his mind on homosexuality if a case can be made from the Bible, what most Christians won’t do.

    I’ll sum it up.

    Sodom had nothing to do with homosexuals other than to have a side note about rape that broke the ancient code of hospitality. Leviticus was only for the bloodline of Jacob while they were among the Canaanites. Paul says it over and over again that Leviticus are dead laws to us who are under a new covenant. Romans is about idolatry with Paul mirroring Deuteronomy 4:16-18. You don’t have to go outside of the Bible narrative to understand what “effeminate” (Malakoi) means in 1 Cor 6:9 when Jesus uses the same word to indict the character of the rich for their extravagance with clothing in Matt 11:8. And even if the word (Arsenokoitai) translated in 1 Cor 6: 9,10 and 1 Tim 1: 9,10 as “homosexuals” is a compound word from Leviticus, Leviticus is only talking about one, specific, sexual act (according to the writings of the ancient Israelites who existed in those laws) and puts it in the context of the idolatrous homosexuality of the Canaanites in verse 21 with ignoring female homosexuality altogether.

    1. Thanks, Frank.

      First of all, if you felt I was accusing you personally of promoting “boundless sexuality,” please accept my apology. That’s not what I was insinuating at all. I didn’t know your personal position on sexuality and wouldn’t presume to put words in your mouth.

      Frank: “You prove my point with saying the word ‘homosexual’ was not in the earliest versions of Bible translations. My question is why is it now?”

      Rob: Because that is the English word that some translators feel best describes the meaning of the passages where it is used. This is the contextualization I spoke about. The original Greek word ἀρσενοκοῖται (arsenokoitai) is made up of the words arsén (male or men) and koité (marriage bed, sexual intercourse). The modern English word that best describes that meaning is “homosexual.” (The prefix homo meaning same.)

      Frank: “Bible translators were imperfect and very human men prone to mistakes like we all are who were very much a product of their time, they never claimed to be inspired by the Holy Spirit.”

      Rob: I won’t argue with that. This is why I regularly consult so many different translations, and why I tried to point our conversation to the teaching behind the passages, rather than the specific words used.

      Frank: “I’ve already given the wording in Leviticus that in turn explains 1 Cor. and 1 Timothy with why the word “homosexual” shouldn’t be placed in those instances.”

      Rob: I’m okay with the English word homosexual not being used in those passages. So are the translators of the KJV, NIV, NSRV, RSV and other versions.

      Frank: “Sexuality is given to us by God, what we do with that sexuality is up to us.”

      Rob: That’s true to a degree; God certainly gave us the freedom to do whatever we want. However, He also gave us boundaries, so not everything we are free to do is right. “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (Gal 5:13) Some of the things we humans choose to do with our sexuality are sinful. I believe you and I agree on that point since we’re both opposed to bestiality, pedophilia, and rape.

      Frank: “I find it offensive that you would put homosexuality on the level of bestiality, pedophilia, and rape.”

      Rob: I understand you find it offensive, but please understand that my intention was not to offend you. Leviticus 18:22 says, “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” This prohibition against male homosexuality in verse 22 appears amid a long list of other sexual prohibitions in that same chapter which includes, at a minimum, incest and bestiality. Those types of sexual sins are put on the same level in Scripture. (Along with adultery and friends with benefits.)

      I agree with you that many in the modern church (sadly and regrettably) have a tendency to obsess about homosexuality. But like I said, it is not “greater” than any other sexual sin. Although the Bible does single out sexual sin in general, saying: “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body” (1 Cor 6:18).

      I happen to agree with you about the laws of Leviticus not applying to Christians today. (In fact, I wrote a book about the Law of Moses.) Those laws were for Israel. Like Francis Chan, I would be open to changing my mind on homosexuality if a case can be made from the Bible. Scripture is my authority, not culture and certainly not my own feelings on a given subject.

      That said, we modern Christians under the New Covenant have to consider passages such as Romans 1:18-32. While it certainly does touch on idolatry, as you mentioned, it also directly discusses sexual sin in vs. 24-28. The passage in 1 Cor 6:9 does as well. (Which by the way, uses both the words malakoi (soft, effeminate) and arsenokoitai (sodomite, homosexual).) So we still have to wrestle with what Paul means when he says, “Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” There is also 1 Tim 1:8-11, which lists homosexuality (or, if you prefer, arsenokoitais) as a sin among other sins.

      Frank: “Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, can either be abused with pornography and promiscuity or it can be a union be dedicated to God with the same allowances and restrictions as a heterosexual union.”

      Rob: Given the NT passages we’ve discussed, I have to respectfully disagree with you. However, if you can point to any passages in Scripture that support your statement, I will gladly consider them. As I said, I personally know and love gay couples who are fabulous, loving people so, on a personal level, I would be relieved to find some grey area in Scripture on the topic.

      Interestingly, your statement above does not seem to reflect the position of the more vocal side of the LGBT community who celebrate promiscuity, pornography, and pride parades. Perhaps, like Christians who mistreat gay people, the “promiscuous and proud” wing of the LGBT movement is to be admonished as wrong and out of touch.

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