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Homosexuality in the Christian Scriptures

Passages from the Christian
Scriptures (New Testament)

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About this essay:

There is a general agreement among the over 1,500 Christian denominations and sects in North American about what the Bible says. But there is a wide diversity of belief about what Bible passages meant when they were written. There is also disagreement on which passages were only intended for ancient Hebrews and early Christians during biblical times, and which are still valid today.

bulletThis essay gives a brief description of the "clobber" passages in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) that have been used to attack homosexuals and homosexuality.
bulletSee a companion essay for the clobber passages in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)

bulletFor a much more detailed description of the clobber passages, see our section titled: "What the Bible says about homosexuality."

bullet In this essay, we briefly describe very conservative and very liberal interpretations of these passages. It is important to realize that there are many other belief systems about homosexuality that are intermediate between these two liberal viewpoints.

Romans 1: Changing the natural use into that which is against nature....

Romans 1:26-27: "For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet." (King James Version)

Paul directed this book to Christians in Rome -- a city known for its sexual debauchery. Earlier verses in Romans 1 describe how some former Christians, presumably all heterosexuals, had reverted to Paganism. They once more worshiped idols, and engaged in ritual sex orgies. God caused them to engage in same-sex sexual behavior. This is the only passage in the Bible that directly refers to women having sex with other women.

In the first sentence of this passage:

bulletIn the original Greek, the phrase translated "vile affections" does not refer to passion or lust. it appears to refer to the "frenzied state of mind that many ancient mystery cults induced in worshipers by means of wine, drugs and music." 1

bulletThe "women did change" (or "exchanged" or "abandoned") their normal sexual activity, which had been with a man or men. They engaged in sexual activities with members of the same sex, in violation of their heterosexual orientation.

bulletIn the original Greek, the phrase "para physin" is often translated as "against nature" or "unnatural" or "immoral." It actually means "Deviating from the ordinary order either in a good or a bad sense, as something that goes beyond the ordinary realm of experience." 2

Interpretations:

bulletA common religiously conservative interpretation:
bulletThe late Bennett Sims, the former Episcopal Church, USA bishop of Atlanta, GA was a supporter of equal rights for gays and lesbians. During a talk that supported same-sex marriage, he expressed well the interpretation of this passage that is held by many conservative Christians. He said: "For most of us who seriously honor Scripture these verses still stand as the capital New Testament text that unequivocally prohibits homosexual behavior. More prohibitively, this text has been taken to mean that even a same-sex inclination is reprehensible, so that a type of humanity known as 'homosexual' has steadily become the object of contempt and discrimination." 3

bulletA. Mohler said: "The passage makes it clear that homosexuality is ultimately a rebellion of human nature against the divine creator. It deals with the heart of homosexuality, the passion of man for man or woman for woman." 4

bulletA common religiously liberal interpretation: It is important to realize exactly to whom this passage refers. It involved some former Christians who had converted back to Paganism and started worshiping idols in the form of humans, animals, and birds. They engaged in wild sexual orgies -- activity which was common in Pagan worship at the time. Although their sexual orientation was presumably heterosexual, under the influence of emotion, alcohol, frenzied activity, they engaged in same-sex behavior: women had sex with other women; men with other men. In doing so, they violated their own nature, which was heterosexual. They were in turn punished, probably with an STD which was very common at the time. They were being punished because their behavior was opposite to their fundamental nature. The passage is a condemnation of men and women with a heterosexual orientation engaging in same-sex behavior outside loving committed relationships. It does not refer to persons with a homosexual orientation. It does not refer to persons with any of the three sexual orientations who were engaging in sex within a committed relationship.

By extension, this passage could be interpreted as forbidding opposite-sex sexual behavior by persons with a homosexual orientation, because it would be against their basic nature to have sex with a person of the opposite sex.

1 Corinthians 6: Behaviors that will prevent a person from attaining Heaven:

1 Corithians 6:9-10: "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate [makakoi], nor abusers of themselves with mankind [arsenokoitai] Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." (King James Version) [Emphasis ours]

The New International Version translates the second highlighted group as "homosexual offenders." In Today's English Version, it is "homosexual perverts." There is an enormous range of interpretations that biblical commentators have made of the word "arsenokoitai."

bulletA common religiously conservative interpretation: From a forum on homosexuality and the Bible in the Philadelphia Inquirer: 4

bulletA. Mohler: "I believe it explicitly relates to homosexuality. It has been understood that way in the Christian Church from the earliest era."

bulletT. Crater: "It [malakoi] can have a meaning that's not carnal. But the way it's used -- it's embedded in the same context with adultery -- it's pretty clear what the meaning is...A hallmark of Evangelicals is that we take a literal, normal, face-value interpretation of the Bible. Some people attempt to keep some form of Christianity and hold on to homosexuality, too. It leads to strange interpretations of the Bible."

bulletA common religiously liberal interpretation:

bullet The Greek word "makakoi" does not actually mean effeminate. It can refer to a range of behaviors: people with loose morals, cowards, lazy men, etc.

bulletThe exact meaning of "arsenokoitai" has been lost. In one ancient manuscript, the Hebrew "quadesh" (temple prostitute) is translated into Greek as "arsenokoitai." Others suggest that it refers to gigolos; still others suggest it means masturbators or men who sexually abuse boys.

Since we do not know to which behaviors this passage refers, it would not be ethical to interpret as involving condemnation of homosexual behavior.

1 Timothy 1: "Arsenokiitai" are lawless, disobedient, ungodly...

1 Timothy 1:9-10: "Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine." (King James Version) (Emphasis ours).

The King James Version translates "arsenokoitai" as those persons -- presumably men -- "that defile themselves with mankind." The comments for 1 Corinthians 6 apply here as well.

Jude 1:7: Sodomites going after strange flesh:

Jude 1:7: "Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." (Emphasis ours)

The phrase rendered "going after strange flesh" has been translated as "perverted sensuality," "unnatural lust," "unnatural sex," "lust of men for other men." It appears to refer to the incident in Genesis 19 when men of Sodom apparently wanted to rape two angels who were in Lot's home. God responded with total destruction of the two cities.

bulletA common religiously conservative interpretation: This verse is referring back to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. The male mob in Sodom rejected the offer of two virgin women for sexual purposes and demanded to have sex with the male angels instead. This proves that they were all homosexuals. The passage clearly condemns homosexual behavior.

bulletA common religiously liberal interpretation: The verse is ambiguous. Two obvious interpretations are:
bulletThe intent of the mob was to rape the angels. Rape is a clear perversion of God-given sexuality, whether the crime is perpetrated on a person of the same sex or opposite sex.

bulletThe angels were created beings, but were not of the same species as humans. Raping them would involve bestiality. This would seem to match the statement that the men of Sodom went after "strange flesh:" the rapists and the rape victims were of different species.

Conclusions:

bulletA common conservative conclusion: God's word repeatedly condemns same-sex behavior, either between two men or two women. It delivers a consistent message from Genesis to Jude.

bulletA common liberal conclusion:

There is no passage in the Christian Scriptures that condemns same-sex committed relationships or same-sex marriage.

bulletRomans 1 condemns Christian apostates who apparently had a  heterosexual orientation and who engaged in what was for them unnatural sex: engaging in sex with members of the same sex. 

bullet1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 are ambiguous. They might possibly relate to homosexual behavior; but they might well refer to men who sexually abuse boys, or to male gigolos, or to male temple prostitutes. We just don't know. If these passages actually referred to persons with a homosexual orientation, they probably would not refer to loving, consensual same-sex behavior in a committed relationship. Paul was writing before the existence of a homosexual orientation was known. The only forms of homosexual behavior of which he was probably aware would have been males sexually abusing boys, and men engaging in same-sex orgies during Pagan worship.

bulletJude 1:7 appears to refers to the desire by the men of Sodom to engage in bestiality with another species -- angels. There is none of this going on in by either homosexuals or heterosexuals today.

With the almost complete absence of dialogue between religious conservatives and others on these topics, the massive gulf over homosexuality and the Bible -- and about the morality of same-sex sexual behavior -- will probably not be resolved in the foreseeable future. One promising exception to the lack of meaningful dialogue is a book by the North Como Presbyterian Church in Roseville, MN in 2005. 5

Companion essay:

bulletAnti-gay "clobber" passages in the Hebrew Scriptures

References used:

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

  1. R.S. Truluck, "The six Bible passages used to condemn homosexuals," at: http://www.truluck.com/
  2. Quoted in: Bruce Hane, "'Natural' and 'unnatural' " at: http://www.newvisionsproject.org/
  3. "How to be true to the Bible and say 'Yes' to same-sex unions,"  at: http://members.aol.com/DrSwiney/bennett.html 
  4. Fred Tasker, "What does the Bible say about homosexuality?", Philadelphia Inquirer, 1997-JUL-13. The article was based on an earlier survey of religions opinion of 6 theologians and religious leaders covering the range from conservative to liberal thought. Included were R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Seminary and Jill Nelson, pastor of the Sunshine Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church.
  5. "Ordination Standards:  Biblical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives," by the Ordination Standards Task Force of North Como Presbyterian Church. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.


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Copyright © 2006 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2006-NOV-27
Latest update: 2014-JUN-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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