Theology Paper - Homosexuality is Not a Sin
Here is the long awaited paper I said I'd post. ENJOY. I did well on it! (=
“What if someone asked you, 'Is there a chance you could be wrong about the way you’ve interpreted the biblical texts sometimes used to condemn homosexual orientation?'” asks Reverend Mel White (7). Many Christians use six main passages in the Bible to condemn gays and lesbians. However, these Christians are misinterpreting the Bible. The Bible has been taken out of its original context to make it appear as though homosexuality is a sin. In reality, these passages in the Bible do not refer to homosexual relationships – loving, monogamous and faithful – as they are understood now. To illustrate this, these six main passages will be discussed in-depth with correct interpretations. When interpreting the Bible, one should ask, “What is the best way to do this?”. This will be explored first before delving into the six passages used to condemn homosexuals. After exploring hermeneutics and correct interpretations of the six passages, some additional issues will be briefly explored that relate to homosexuality in the Bible.
Hermeneutics is the act of interpreting the Bible. There are several elements to consider and several steps that should be taken. According to Jack Rogers, Professor of Theology Emeritus at San Francisco Theological Seminary, there are seven guidelines for interpretation of the Bible. The first guideline is to “recognize that Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, is the center of Scripture” (Rogers 55). The Covenant and the Messiah are themes throughout the Old Testament (Rogers 55); this Messiah is understood by Christians to be Jesus. The main theme of the New Testament is the works, life and death of Jesus Christ. Rogers explains that “when interpreting Scripture, keeping Christ in the center aids in evaluating the significance of the problems and controversies that always persist in the vigorous, historical life of the Church” (55). Keeping Christ in the center of interpretation avoids taking Scriptures out of context to justify prejudices, which has occurred in the past – specifically racism and oppression of women (19). The second guideline is to focus on the plain text of Scripture and grammatical and historical context, rather than on allegories or subjective fantasy. Rogers says that “this guideline warns against reading into Scripture what we want it to say” (57). Focusing on allegories or subjective fantasy brings bias to the reading of the Scripture. The “plain text” needs to be understood in context: the literary, cultural, social and historical circumstances of Scripture. The third guideline of hermeneutics is depending on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Rogers explains that under this guidance, the Church has been led to accept formerly oppressed people into full service of the Church (60). Guideline four is to follow the doctrinal consensus of the Church – the rules of faith. Guideline five insists that all interpretations follow the rule of love – the commandment to love God and our neighbor. Luke 10.27 states that “He [Jesus] answered: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself'” (New International Version); this is the rule of love. The sixth guideline is to earnestly study the Bible in order to establish the influence of historical and cultural context on the message. This includes ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts for authenticity. The final guideline is to interpret particular passages of the Bible in light of the whole Bible. This brings the first guideline back into focus – keeping the unifying theme of Jesus in mind, because He is the focus of the Bible. These seven guidelines will serve as a general basis for examining the passages used to condemn homosexuality.
The first passage that is commonly misinterpreted is the creation story – Genesis 1-2. The common interpretation of the Bible that uses this passage to condemn homosexual relationships does so on the basis that it only mentions heterosexual relationships, that of Adam and Eve. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh”, says Genesis 2.24. In explaining this misinterpretation, White focuses mainly on Genesis 2.21-25. As White explains, just “because the text says that it is 'natural' that a man and a woman come together to create a new life” does not mean that the text assumes that “gay or lesbian couples are 'unnatural'” because they can not have biological children (10). White goes on to explain that Genesis 2.21-25 also does not mention other types of relationships that do not lead to children. These relationships include single people and heterosexual couples who either cannot have children, choose not to have children or are too old to have children. Several people in the Bible were single, not following this “natural” order. Paul, Jesus and Jeremiah were all celibate, yet were respected people (Bellis 95). In the modern Church, these relationships are affirmed rather than condemned as “unnatural”. Dr. Ralph Blair explains that condemnation of homosexuals based on Genesis 1-2 is unfounded because of what Paul says in Galatians 3.28. Paul states that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.28). Essentially, according to Blair, there is no theological significance to the heterosexual pair of male and female.
The second passage commonly used to condemn gays and lesbians is the story of Sodom – Genesis 19.1-14. In the story of Sodom, God sends three men, thought by most Biblical commentators to be angels, to Abraham in Mamre. After being welcomed hospitably by Sarah and Abraham, God reveals that he will investigate Sodom and Gomorrah who are very wicked. After arriving at Sodom, the angels are invited by Lot to stay with him. Several men from Sodom tell Lot to “Bring them [the angels] out to us so that we can have sex with them” (Genesis 19.5). Lot offers his daughters because “they [the angels] have come under the protection of my roof” (Genesis 19.8). They refuse and attempt to break down the door. The angels stop the men from coming in and tell Lot and his family to get out because God is going to destroy the city because of its wickedness. Alice Ogden Bellis, professor of Old Testament language and literature at Howard University School of Divinity, explains that the story of Sodom deals with attempted homosexual rape (96). Rogers quotes Dale B. Martin, professor of religion at Duke University, who explains that it was humiliating for men to be raped because “to be penetrated was to be inferior because women were inferior” (70). There was a cultural emphasis on gender, not sexuality that applies to this passage. As Dr. Blair explains, the men of Sodom's attempted rape of the men (angels) “is about humiliation and violence, not same-sex affection”. So, this passage about violent rape cannot be used to condemn same-sex relations that are mutual, monogamous and loving – those of today. Furthermore, the sin of Sodom is never explained to be homosexual acts when it is referred to later in the Bible. The sins of Sodom described in the Old Testament include greed, injustice, inhospitality, excess wealth, indifference to the poor, and general wickedness (Rogers 71). Jesus' reference to the sin of Sodom in Luke 10.12 and Matthew 10.15 is part of his judgment on cities that refuse hospitality to his disciples.
The next passage that is used to condemn homosexuals comes from the holiness code – Leviticus 18.22 – “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination” (New American Standard Bible) – and 20.13 – “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads” (NIV). First off, the holiness code, which includes Leviticus and Deuteronomy contains many sexual laws that Christians do not follow today – a prohibition against a married couple having intercourse when the woman is on her menstrual period (Leviticus 18.19), a commandment for execution by stoning of a woman found to be a non-virgin on her wedding day (Deuteronomy 22.13-21) and a commandment for stoning to death of adulterers (Deuteronomy 22.22), among others (White 8). The holiness code also has other prohibitions Christians do not find necessary to follow today – “round haircuts, tattoos, working on the Sabbath, wearing garments of mixed fabrics, eating pork or shellfish, getting your fortune told, and even playing with the skin of a pig” (White 13). A holiness code is a “list of behaviors that people of faith find offensive in a certain place and time” (White 13). The prohibition against same-sex male intercourse is culturally based. It is based on Israel's need to populate their country (White 14). Same-sex intercourse did not result in children, which Israel needed to populate their country (White 14). This is why it was an abomination to them. An abomination (Hebrew: tô'ēbâ) is “anything that is unacceptable in Israelite culture” (Seow 14). “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” says Matthew 5.17. The law against same-sex intercourse was a culturally conditioned law that, much like the other laws in the holiness code that are not followed today, Christians need not follow.
The next passage of the Bible commonly used against homosexuals is from the New Testament. It is from Paul's letter to Rome in which he discusses Pagan idolatry. According to Blair, in Romans 1, Paul is ridiculing those pagans who know God but worship idols instead. White explains that on his journey to Rome, Paul sees many temples built to honor pagan gods and goddesses of sex, fertility and passion, such as Aphrodite and Diana (15). In Romans 1, Paul refers to many odd sexual behaviors that the priests and priestesses of the pagan worship are involved in to honor these fertility gods – “castrating themselves, carrying on drunken sexual orgies, and even having sex with young temple prostitutes (male and female)” (White 15). These behaviors are disturbing to him because he recognizes that sexuality is a gift from God – these pagans are abandoning God and worshiping the false Gods of sex and passion. “Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another” says Romans 1.26-27. As this passage is part of Paul's rant against pagan worship, it must be viewed in the context of idol worship. Paul states that there is an exchange of “natural” for “unnatural” lusts. According to Dan O. Via, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Duke University Divinity School, Paul, along with most of the ancient world, believed that there was only one sexual nature – heterosexuality (15). Via states that “What he [Paul] is condemning as contrary to nature is homosexual acts by people with a heterosexual nature” (15). In Romans 1.26-27, they are heterosexual people exchanging their “natural” heterosexual lusts for “unnatural” homosexual lusts – that is the homosexual relations are chosen. Via explains that in modern times it is understood by many that there is more that one sexual orientation (16). He further explains that “sexual orientation means a proclivity or predisposition that is given and not deliberately chosen or subject to the will of the individual” (Via 16). Thus, in a homosexual orientation, there is a proclivity towards homosexual acts – they are natural to the individual (Via 15). White, quoting Rev. Louis Smedes, explains that “it would be unnatural for most homosexuals to have heterosexual sex” (16). In light of these revelations about orientation, it can be concluded that Paul is condemning homosexuality as he understood it – an unnatural act by heterosexuals attributed to idolatry, not a natural act by those of a homosexual orientation.
The last two passages – Corinthians 6.9 and Timothy 1.10 – involve two Greek words: malakoi and arsenokoitai. They can be discussed jointly because the circumstances revolving around them are very similar. To put these words in to context, Rogers tells us that “both words appear in lists of vices that seem to reflect general concerns of Hellenistic Jews about the deplorable state of Greek society” (73). Many scholars argue that both of the words refer to male homosexual behaviors. However, Rogers explains that the exact meaning of these words is unclear because they appear in lists with no context. Further, the word arsenokoitai is so rarely used that Paul used it for the first time in either Greek or Jewish literature (74). Rogers explains that arsenokoitai is thought by most scholars to be a combination of two words: arsen (male) and koitai (bed) (74). In this case, it would create a new term for men who have sex with men (Rogers 74). However, Rogers argues that “the only reliable way to define a word is to analyze its use in as many different contexts as possible” (74). In both secular and Christian Greek writings, arsenokoitai refers to “some kind of economic exploitation, probably by sexual means: rape or sex by economic coercion, prostitution, pimping, or something of the sort” (Rogers 74). Bellis explains that arsenokoitai is followed by a word that means slave-traders, a group that exploited people (110). Bellis further explains that “vices in the lists were often grouped according to their similarity to other vices in the list” (110). This fact, coupled with the usage of arsenokoitai in secular and Christian Greek writings explained earlier, suggests that the word refers to sexual exploiters. Malakoi is easier to understand as it was a common word, literally meaning “soft” (Rogers 74). In Greco-Roman culture, it often connoted effeminacy (Rogers 74). According to Blair, ancient texts indicate that malakoi were “effeminate call-boys”. Robin Scroggs, Professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary, explains that “effeminate call-boys” were “free (i.e., nonslave) youths, or adults, who sold themselves to individuals for purposes of providing sexual gratification” (40). In other words, they were male prostitutes. In this context, neither malakoi nor arsenokoitai are words that would relate to monogamous, faithful homosexual relationships that occur now.
The other passage argued to refer to homosexual activity is the friendship between David and Jonathan. Ben Irwin from the Family Research Council states that “some homosexual Christian activists cite… the love shared between David and Jonathan as that of intimate friends... Verses allegedly detail the homosexual nature of this relationship” (20). However, most theologians that argue that homosexuality is not a sin either do not mention David and Jonathan or explicitly state that there was no homosexual relationship between these two friends. Blair states plainly that “David and Jonathan weren't gay”; Bellis states “nothing in the text... explicitly suggests that the characters had sexual relations with one another” (108). Therefore, this claim by Irwin is not to be taken seriously. However, this lack of examples of homosexual relationships in the Bible does not show that they are morally wrong. Rather, it emphasizes the cultural differences between now and then.
Lastly, three additional issues should be addressed – the words of Jesus Christ on the subject, doctrines' thoughts on the matter, and changes over time on policies in the Church – in accordance with the given guidelines. First, Jesus had nothing to say about homosexual behaviors or homosexuality in general (White 4). As Rogers states, “none of these texts [those used against homosexuals] are about Jesus, nor do they include any of his words” (69). Traditional Church doctrines do not mention homosexuality either (Rogers 61). Finally, throughout history, there have been several changes in Church policies. In the past of the Church, there were several instances where people were oppressed based on a misinterpretation of the Bible – slavery and oppression of women being two of them (Rogers). These policies were only reconsidered in light of new interpretations of the Bible (Rogers). White explains that, while the Bible is “infallible” and “without error”, Christians' understanding of every Biblical text may not be (7). He further says that “Christians must be open to new truth from Scripture” (White 6). He cites examples from the Bible where people were open to new truths (White 6). Paul changed his mind about several Hebrew texts after his conversion and Peter gained new understandings of the Jewish law (White 6). Martin Luther, a prominent Church figure, changed predominant thoughts on sexuality in the Church, leading to positive changes in how marriage was viewed in the Church (Scharen 133). These examples of changes in Church policy serve as an example of how God is constantly revealing new truth under the Holy Spirit's guidance.
In conclusion, a proper consideration of the context of the various passages used to condemn homosexuals shows that they do not refer to homosexuality as it is understood now. They have been misinterpreted to show that the monogamous, faithful relationships that many homosexuals have are sin. As evidenced by Paul, Peter and Martin Luther, the Holy Spirit is constantly revealing new truths. Christians must be willing to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying about issues that come up in the Church and be willing to listen.
Bellis, Alice O. "New Approaches To Ancient Texts." Science, Scripture, and Homosexuality. Cleveland: Pilgrim, 2002. 93-122. Print.
Blair, Ralph. "The Bible Is An Empty Closet." Evangelicals Concerned Inc. Web. 05 Apr. 2010. <http://www.ecinc.org/Scriptures/clbrpg.htm>.
Irwin, Ben. The Bible and Homosexuality: Confronting the Challenge to Scriptural Authority. Ed. Robert H. Knight. Washington, DC: Family Research Council, 1997. Print.
Rogers, Jack. Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006. Print.
Scharen, Christian B. Married in the Sight of God: Theology, Ethics, and Church Debates Over Homosexuality. Lanham: University of America, 2000. Print.
Scroggs, Robin. The New Testament and Homosexuality: Contextual Background for Contemporary Debate. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983. Print.
Seow, Choon-Leong. "A Heterotextual Perspective." Homosexuality and Christian Community. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996. 14-27. Print.
Via, Dan O. "The Bible, the Church and Homosexuality." Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003. 1-39. Print.
White, Mel. What the Bible Says – and Doesn't Say – About Homosexuality. Lynchburg: SoulForce.org, 2010. Print.
Yeah, it's long. :lol:
In the bible, there are 364 verses that address heterosexual behavior, but only 6 verses that address homosexual behavior. Clearly, God was much more concerned about the heterosexuals.
Good paper, BruceChris
Very well done paper!
Your paper is very well done. I enjoyed it very much! But, this is a very complex issue, and at the end I really enjoyed the following insight, that I've modified as it works both ways:
What if someone asked you, 'Is there a chance you could be wrong about the way you’ve interpreted the biblical texts sometimes used to prove homosexuality is not a sin?'
Which brings us to your other very excellent insight "Christians must be willing to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying about issues that come up in the Church and be willing to listen." Is either 'side' really confident enough to say they hear the Holy Spirit, and thus answer the first question you asked with a 'No'.
It seems the debate is pointless, as these arguments work for both 'sides'. I guess all I can do is genuinely throw myself at the foot of the cross, and ask Jesus to help me realize and work on my sins. Then the hard part, I need to listen for his answer.
One Presence and One Power underlies the Universe, ever creating, ever existing in perfect splendor. This Power is love, vibrating in such glory and such bliss as It gives of Itself, always complete. This One is aware of Itself as me right now. I identify with this awareness. I am that I Am. And so are you. And so it is.
way to go!!
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