Just what does the Bible say about homosexuality?
First, it’s important to understand that the Bible as a whole does not “say” anything, although many people discuss the Bible as if it spoke with only one voice. The Bible has never reflected agreement. The biblical texts were written over a period of 1,000 years, and many of those texts voice differing opinions.
Further, many sections were expressly written as alternatives to existing texts; then when the Bible was compiled into the version we know today, these contradictory texts ended up side by side.
Finally, the Bible has always meant different things to different people.
With that background in mind, let’s look at a few verses dealing with same-sex behavior.
A Critical Reading
First is the story of Sodom. Perhaps more than any one story in the Bible, Sodom has come to be associated with the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality. In Genesis, two male angels come to the town of Sodom. Lot, a righteous man, offers them shelter and food. At nightfall the men of the city gather at Lot’s door and demand he turn the two strangers over to them so they may “know them.” Lot begs them to not act so wickedly and even offers the angry mob his virgin daughters instead. The crowd will not be dissuaded and at that moment the two angels strike all the townsmen blind.
Lot was an outsider to Sodom, and the townspeople were suspicious of him. Many scholars agree this story is not about the sexual desire of the men of Sodom but rather male hierarchy and the rape of outsiders. The act of rape is about power, not sex. In biblical society, to dominate someone was to treat them like a woman. The men of Sodom wanted to humiliate these outsiders by treating them like women.
Many people today have used this passage as illustration of God’s condemnation of same-sex couples. But this story is not about consenting sexual relations between adults.
Perhaps it is time to stop looking at what the Bible says or doesn’t say to determine our spiritual beliefs and personal behavior. The Bible, while inspired, was written by a variety of people, and its verses reflect the attitudes and prejudices that were part of their culture and life.
Two texts—1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy—address male same-sex interaction. The ancient Greek words in those passages are obscure and not used in modern Greek. Also, because the words are included among a list of various types of wrongdoing, scholars are not able to determine their meaning from the context of the sentence. Therefore translations through the years have reflected the translators’ personal beliefs about same-sex relations.
The words in Greek are malakoi and arsenokoitai. In the New Revised Standard Version of 1 Corinthians, those words are translated as “male prostitutes” and “sodomites,” and are included in a list with idolaters, adulterers, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers, and others who will not “inherit the kingdom of God.” The 1952 Revised Standard Version of the Bible translates the two words together as homosexuals, while the 1977 version translates them together as sexual perverts. The truth is that Bible translators do not really know the meaning of those two words but make choices based on their own beliefs and prejudices.
Love the Sinner?
Still others argue that the Bible says nothing about homosexuality because it is really quite new as a concept. Human sexuality has only been studied for a little over a hundred years, and an understanding of a separate class of individuals known as homosexuals, who are characterized by their sexual orientation, may have been something unknown to the biblical world.
Yet others argue that Leviticus 20:13 is clear in its condemnation of male same-sex activity. Leviticus, however, does not make the same blanket condemnation of women’s same-sex behavior; in fact, the text never mentions it.
In our modern discourse, people often say, “Hate the sin, and love the sinner.” This evokes the question: What is the sin? Leviticus clearly calls male-to-male sex an abomination but makes no mention of other forms of sexuality that we equate with sexual relations and sexual orientation in our modern world.
Values Keep Changing
The Bible has been used by people of faith to uphold their beliefs or denounce those of others since the texts were first written. In the recent past, Christians—congregants and clergy—used the Bible to argue against the intrinsic humanity of people of color to defend slavery. Few people would dare make these arguments today. And well into the 20th century the role and treatment of women as property was biblically justified and debated in many denominations. Many who oppose women clergy cite the Bible as the source of their position.
Perhaps it is time to stop looking at what the Bible says or doesn’t say to determine our spiritual beliefs and personal behavior. The Bible, while inspired, was written by a variety of people, and its verses reflect the attitudes and prejudices that were part of their culture and life. Just as we look back now and think, “How could anyone use the Bible to defend slavery?” will we look back a few years from now and question how we ever could have used the Bible to condemn our gay brothers and sisters.
When it comes to the issues surrounding homosexuality, it is time that we stop poring over Bible stories for direction and instead follow the wisdom of our own divine nature.
This article was adapted from Unity Magazine®.