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The Bible and homosexuality

Detailed introduction, Part 1

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Quotations by theologians and others showing diverse beliefs:

bullet

"I want God's gay and lesbian children to know of God's unconditional love and acceptance of them as well. We cannot find any condemnation in scripture for committed monogamous same-sex relationships." Rev. Charles Coppinger, Chaplain of the Arizona Legislature in a letter to legislators, sent 2000-NOV-7, announcing that he is gay. 1

bullet"The Genesis passage is very clear, that the sin of Sodom that brought on the destruction of the city was indeed linked to homosexuality." A. Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary2 Time.com called him the "reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S".
bullet"The half-dozen biblical references to homosexuality do not reflect what we understand today about loving relationships. This is an identity, not a sin." The Rev. Dan Johnson of Good Samaritan United Methodist Church in Edina, MN.
bullet"The witness of the Bible is univocal about same sex sexual activity. It is always rejected as sinful. There is no distinction made between homosexual behavior that is part of the consensual acts of adults and other forms of such behavior." Ben Witherington III, evangelical biblical scholar. 3
bullet"Homosexuality and sodomy are not ethical sins. No one is being hurt, no one is being cheated, nobody's rights are being infringed upon. Homosexuality is a religious sin, analogous to other Biblical prohibitions, like not eating the carcass of a dead animal, or not sleeping with a woman during her menstrual cycle." American Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach 4
bullet"I am always amazed at how the Bible, that portrays my Lord embracing the outcasts, touching the lepers, welcoming the Samaritans, not judging the woman taken in the act of adultery, and inviting 'all of ye,' not 'some of ye,' to 'come unto me,' can, in the hands of a few distorted people be turned into a book of hatred, violence and judgment." J.S. Spong, an author and retired bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA. 5
bullet"In reality, there are no biblical literalists, only selective literalists. By abolishing slavery and ordaining women, millions of Protestants have gone far beyond biblical literalism. It's time we did the same for homophobia." William Sloane Coffin, former chaplain of Yale University and, peace activist, and leading liberal clergyperson.  6

Range of views towards homosexuality:

There are at least six well defined viewpoints on the nature of homosexuality, and on how heterosexual should respond towards homosexuals and bisexuals.

In this section, we explain the two most extreme viewpoints on what the Bible says about homosexuality:

bulletThat of most religious fundamentalists, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc.
bulletThat of most religious progressives, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, human sexuality researchers and therapists.

Many Americans express views somewhere between these extremes.

The Bible's six "clobber" passages:

Two of the six texts, one in Hebrew and one in Greek, clearly condemn certain specific homosexual acts:

bulletMen attempting to engage in bestiality -- sexual acts with another species (Jude 1:7), and
bulletHeterosexuals who engage in homosexual acts which are against their essential nature (Romans 1:26-27). 

Interpretations of four additional "clobber" texts differ among Christians:

bulletReligious progressives have often interpreted these passages as condemning men who sexually abuse boys, men who engage in homosexual ritual sex in Pagan temples, men attempting anal rape, etc. They view the Bible as being silent on sexual behavior within a consensual, monogamous committed homosexual relationship. 

For example, they might identify the sin of the men of Sodom as explained in Genesis 19 as attempting to rape strangers as an act of humiliation. Alternatively, they might quote other biblical passages mentioning Sodom to show that the main sin of that city was their uncharitable behavior towards strangers, and their uncaring conduct towards the poor, the widows, and needy.

bulletReligious conservatives often interpret all of the Biblical passages that touch on same-sex activity as condemning homosexuality in all its forms.

For example, they generally identify the sin of the men of Sodom to be homosexual behavior. Homosexuality is seen as one of many manifestations of mankind's sinful nature which are a direct result of Adam and Eve's activities in the Garden of Eden. The story in Genesis 19 is interpreted by conservative Christians as describing the one result of the fall of humanity.

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Basic approaches to analyzing the Bible:

The Bible refers to specific homosexual behaviors in a few passages. None of the references are positive.

In order to understand the intent of these passages, one must make fundamental decisions -- whether to:

  1. Accept the teachings of one's faith group. If you do so, and
    bulletIf you follow a conservative denomination's teaching then you will probably be taught that homosexual behavior is chosen, changeable abnormal, unnatural, and condemned by God. It is something that a person does. You will probably be taught that all six of the "clobber" passages condemn all same-sex behaviors, from anal rape, to one-night sexual encounters, to long-term, loving committed relationships.
    bulletIf you follow a progressive faith group's teaching, you may well accept homosexuality as an alternative, normal, natural unchangeable sexual orientation for a minority of humans, which is accepted by God. It is something that a person is. You will probably be taught that the six "clobber" passages condemn specific same-sex sexual acts that are unrelated to loving, committed same-sex relationships.
  2. Personally study passages from your favorite English version of the Bible to reach your own conclusions. Unfortunately, this is filtered by the theological beliefs and homophobia (if any) of the translators. If so, then you will find many passages in the Bible which condemn certain forms of homosexual behavior as well as homosexual behavior in general.
  3. Personally study the Bible's original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek writings and attempt to understand precisely what the writers taught. If so, then you may find that these same passages condemn specific homosexual activities (rape, prostitution, child sexual abuse, ritual sex in temples, etc.) But the Bible appears to be silent about same-sex, committed, loving relationships.

Common mistranslations in English versions of the Bible:

There are two Hebrew words which are often associated with homosexual passages and which are often mistranslated in English versions of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament):

bullet"qadesh" means a male prostitute who engaged in ritual sex in a Pagan temple. This was a common profession both in ancient Israel and in the surrounding countries. The word is often mistranslated simply as "sodomite" or "homosexual." (e.g. the King James Version of the Bible, Deuteronomy 23:17). The companion word quedeshaw means female temple prostitute. It is frequently mistranslated simply as "whore" or "prostitute." A qadesh and quedeshaw were not simply prostitutes. They had a specific role to play in the temple. They represented a God and Goddess, and engaged in sexual intercourse in that capacity with members of the temple.
bullet"to'ebah" means a condemned, foreign, Pagan, religious, cult practice, but often simply translated as "abomination." Eating food which contains both meat and dairy products is "to'ebah" A Jew having a meal with an Egyptian was "to'ebah." A Jew wearing a polyester-cotton garment, or having a tattoo is "to'ebah" today.

In order to understand what the Bible has to say on heterosexual activity, we could consult the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts, dividing all of the references to heterosexual sex into different categories:

bulletrape;
bulletsexual abuse of children;
bulletritual sex in Pagan temples;
bulletprostitution;
bulletsexual orgies;
bulletnon-exploitive, consensual, monogamous sex in a loving relationship, etc.

The final category above is the only one that would help us understand what the Bible teaches about heterosexual activity in a loving committed relationship. After all, a verse which describes how an army kidnapped some female virgins for use as sex slaves does not tell us anything about the role of sex in marriage today. A verse that discusses temple prostitution during the worship of Pagan gods does not instruct us about feelings of romantic love between a man and a woman.

Similarly, in order to comprehend what the Bible says about gay and lesbian relationships, we must pass over the references to homosexual rape, male sexual abuse of boys, and homosexual prostitution, same-sex orgies by heterosexuals, Pagan sexual rituals in temples, etc. We would be left with only those references relating to consensual sexual activities within homosexual partnerships. There may not be any of these. The Bible may be as silent on loving, committed same-sex partnerships as it is about planes, trains and automobiles.

There are biblical descriptions of three close and intimate relationships between members of the same gender. But there are no unambiguous passages that show that they were sexually active.

The Bible often condemns heterosexual and homosexual exploitive, manipulative sex, and prostitution, but may be totally silent on consensual homosexual relationships.

One is left with many Biblical passages which condemn fornication - sex outside of marriage. If one were to accept these passages as inspired by God, then one can conclude that the Bible considers homosexual sex within a committed relationship as equivalent to a man and woman living together common-law without having being married.

The word "homosexual" in English translations of the Bible:

Outside of the conservative wings of religions, the word "homosexual" generally refers to sexual orientation. People have one of three orientations:

bulletMost are heterosexual: they are sexually attracted only to members of the opposite sex.
bulletA minority are homosexual: they are sexually attracted only to members of the same sex.
bulletA smaller minority are bisexual: they are attracted to both men and women, but not necessarily to the same degree.

The term "homosexual" dates from the late 19th century, when human sexuality first began to be studied as a science.

There is no term that means homosexual orientation in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts of the Bible.  The authors of the Bible did not understand sexual orientation and thus did not write about it. Thus, when you see one of these words in an English translation of the Bible, it is important to dig deeper and find what the original Hebrew or Greek text really means.

This topic is continued in Part 2

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Legislature chaplain comes out as gay; position eliminated," People for the American Way, at: http://www.pfaw.org/
  2. Fred Tasker, "What does the Bible say about homosexuality? Church people of differing beliefs debate the words -- and their meaning then and now," Philadelphia Inquirer, 1997-JUL-13. Online at: http://members.aol.com/
  3. Ben Witherington III, "Was Sodom into Sodomy? What the Bible says about sodomy, homosexuality and sin," The Word's Worth, Beliefnet.com, at: http://www.beliefnet.com/
  4. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, "Homosexuality Is A Religious Sin, Not An Ethical One Fighting gay sex--or even homosexual unions--only distracts from making straight marriage better," Beliefnet.com, at: http://www.beliefnet.com/
  5. J.S. Spong, "Dallas, Texas: A new vision," A new Christianity for a new world, 2006-OCT-18. Bishop Spong described an event at a gay pride parade where "... a group of Bible-wielding counter demonstrators ... with voices screaming and faces contorted by anger promised us the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah."
  6. William Sloane Coffin, "Commentary: It's clear that homophobia was reason for ad's rejection," United Church News, 2004-DEC-15, at: http://news.ucc.org/

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 Home page > Christianity > Bible passages > Bible homosexuality > here

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Copyright © 1996 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2009-JAN-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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