Being Christian and Gay – Part 4: Specific Bible Passages

Posted: September 26, 2017 in Being Christian and Gay
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thHZLCH2C4Some people point to six key passages that they believe provide indisputable admonitions against homosexuality. We have considered how we relate to, understand, and interpret Scripture. That is to say, How We Read the Bible and I have shared with you My Relationship with Scripture. What about these six passages.?

It is daunting to include a discussion of all six Bible passages that refer to same-sex behavior in one blog post. Books have been written about what I intend to cover. Therefore, what follows will leave many questions on the table. I get that. My intent is to make a statement of belief based on my interpretation of Scripture. I do not intend to resolve all questions attached to the subject. I grant you your interpretation, should it be different than mine, with all the grace I can muster. I appreciate your granting me the same deference.

The first full English version of the New Testament was translated in Early Modern English in 1526. The translators, who created the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible in 1946, were the first to use the word “homosexual” when translating Greek words associated with same-sex behavior into English. In seeking understanding between languages and cultures, translation follows interpretation (meaning), which is informed by context (culture). This will be made clearer in a moment.

What is clear regarding these passages of Scripture—three in Hebrew Scripture and three in Christian Scripture—which some consider antithetical to same-sex sexual behavior, is that they view male to male sex negatively. Therefore, we need to ask this question: Do these verses condemn all forms of what today we call homosexuality? To answer that question, we need to know the context of each passage and what the passage meant in that context. Only then can we apply the meaning of the passage to current questions of morality and sexual ethics. The following very brief statements about these texts take into account the cultural context of the time each was written.

Genesis 18-19—The story of Sodom and Gomorrah depicts men intending to humiliate male guests in the town by raping them. Their actions were not based on loving desire. No biblical text clearly connects same-sex behavior to the men of Sodom. Scriptural passages that reference the sin of the men of Sodom speak of an uncaring attitude and inhospitality, which was much more than a faux pas in Jewish society of that time; these references do not speak of loving, committed same-sex behavior. It was inhospitality and treating men as though they were women—who were considered a lower status than men in that day—that was the problem. The men of Sodom were treating other men as women. No man of the day wanted to be humiliated by being treated as though he were a woman. The men of Sodom were not interested in the strangers for homosexual sex but for humiliation.

Leviticus 18 and 20—The sexual behavior referred to in these passages is not pleasing to God. The context is the Law God gave to Moses after the Jews left the Egyptian pagan culture and before they entered another pagan culture in Canaan. The intent of these laws was to establish clear boundaries and prohibitions intended to keep the Jews separate from and not soiled by the surrounding cultures. Today we disregard many of these laws. We believe that our righteousness before God does not depend on keeping the Law. Our position before God depends on our faith in Jesus, the Christ. The prohibitions in Leviticus were about separation from the pagan culture in which a man taking the sexual role of a woman was degrading because of the lower status of women. That was a practice of pagan people. The Hebrews were different, separate from pagans. Also of interest is that there is no prohibition against women having sex with women in these two Leviticus passages.

Romans 1:26-27—The author of Romans is dealing with the universality of sin in the world, and that we can’t find righteousness before God by our own efforts. Therefore, we need a relationship with God through Jesus.

The challenge the author faced was to communicate these ideas to two distinctly different cultures—Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. The author told the Jews they would find righteousness not through the Law, but through faith in Jesus.

To the Gentile, who followed stoicism—a prevailing philosophy of the day that said they had to be in complete harmony with nature—the author said they had to keep a moral convergence of individual self-control, compliance with social-sexual norms, and reserving sex for procreation. The writer of Romans shows men and women abandoning self-control, being driven by lust, and engaging in sexually impure acts. This behavior was shameful because it was lustful, was outside of the male-dominant social and sexual norms, and was not procreative. These are proscriptions of stoicism. This argument is directed toward the Greek audience.

Moreover, when a male abandoned his self-control and was driven by lust, he was acting like a female. What was so bad in Romans 1:26-27 was that men and women had challenged society’s sexual male-dominance roles and had participated in non-procreative sex. This does not depict an immoral scene in our culture. For the writer’s audience, to follow in this way would lead them to a life of personal and social shame.

1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy—The interpretation of these texts hinge on the meaning of two Greek words: arsenokoitai (αρσενοκοιται) and malakoi (μαλακοι). There is inconsistency in today’s English Bibles among the various translations of these two obscure words.

The cultural context in which the word arsenokoitai originated would understand it to mean either pederasty or man to man exploitative sex with money involved. In both of these scenarios, one would have power over the other. It is interesting to note that it did not refer to women in any context.

Malakoi, which is paired with arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 appears more often in ancient texts than does arsenokoitai. Between 1525 and 1951, malakoi was translated weaklings, effeminate, those who make women of themselves.

A few decades ago a radical shift in translating this word followed cultural stereotyping of gay people as seen in these translations of the word malakoi: those who participate in homosexuality, sexual perverts, and male prostitutes. The meaning of malakoi as portraying character traits up until about 1950 shifted to identifying specific kinds of people performing sexual acts since that time. The best translation of malakoi is “effeminate.” (Translation follows meaning [interpretation], which is informed by culture [context]). The word malakoi did not exclusively refer to gay men. Today, according to, “effeminate” means “having traits, tastes, habits, etc., that are traditionally considered feminine, as softness or delicacy.” It doesn’t carry a negative view of women.

Summary: Each of these texts speak to negative sexual behavior, behavior not normative among LGBT people today. Here’s what Scripture is telling me in a few succinct statements:

  • Humankind was created out of relationship and for relationship.
  • Same-sex sexual activity as characterized in Scripture is detrimental to one or both parties—rape, fear of exclusion, inhospitality, idolatrous worship; it is not seen as enriching both parties through the loving, caring, grace filled relationships among most same-sex couples today.
  • There are no biblical proscriptions against loving, committed same-sex relationships.
  • There are biblical stories about love between people of the same sex (although nowhere is it explicitly stated that any sexual behavior is involved in these relationships).
  • The deepest form of love and commitment is found in sexual intimacy. Prescribing celibacy for gay Christians would preclude them from one of God’s purposes in creation, i.e. “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner” (Genesis 2:18). Although celibacy is a biblical option, it is a calling and is not normative.

I have met gay and lesbian Christians—some of whom are vary close friends of mine—who wonderfully exemplify the presence of Christ among us. Some of these friends and acquaintances are in long-term relationships, several are married. They profess a strong faith in Christ. They have a wonderful testimony and witness I cannot question. I am proud to be numbered among them.

In the introduction to this series of posts I wrote that these posts on Being Gay and Christian are “not intended to be exhaustive and certainly don’t cover he entire scope of what it means to be gay, or what it means to be Christian. Rather, it is my hope that my experience will shed some light on living a Christian life as a gay man.” The next post will deal with my sexual ethic as a Christian.

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