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In the New Testament (NT) there are at least three passages that may refer to homosexual activity: Romans 1:26–27, 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, and 1 Timothy 1:9–10. A fourth passage, Jude 1:7, is often interpreted as referring to homosexuality. None of the four gospels mentions the subject directly, and there is nothing about homosexuality in the Book of Acts, in Hebrews, in Revelation, or in the letters attributed to James, Peter, and John. Jesus may be restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples when he cites Genesis during a discussion of marriage (Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:6-9).
The presumed references to 'homosexuality' itself in the New Testament hinge on the interpretation of three specific Greek words, arsenokoitēs (ἀρσενοκοίτης), malakos (μαλακός), and porneia. While it is not disputed that the two Greek words concern sexual relations between men (and possibly between women), some academics interpret the relevant passages as a prohibition against pederasty or prostitution rather than homosexuality per se, while other scholars have presented counter arguments. The historical context of the passages has also been a subject of debate.
|“||For this reason [idolatry] God gave them up to passions of dishonor; for even their females exchanged the natural use for that which is contrary to nature, and likewise also the males, having left the natural use of the female, were inflamed by their lust for one another, males with males, committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the recompense which was fitting for their error.||”|
This has been described by Hilborn as "the most important biblical reference for the homosexuality debate". It is also the only known specific reference in the Bible to female homosexuality, though some maintain that this prohibition applies only to male homosexuals. Hilborn (op cit) argues that in the wider passage (Romans 1:18-32) Paul writes that the "global scope of salvation history has been made manifest not only in ‘the gospel of God's Son’ (cf. v.9), but also in the very ‘creation of the world’ (v.20)." In common with many traditional commentators, Hilborn (op cit) goes on to argue that condemnation of homosexual activity is derived from the "broad contours" of Paul's argument, in addition to the selective reading of individual words or phrases.
Some scholars speculate that the text does not condemn homosexual acts by homosexuals, rather "homosexual acts committed by heterosexual persons", or heterosexuals who "abandoned" or "exchanged" heterosexuality for homosexuality. Boswell argues that the conceptual modality (natural laws) which would provide the basis for the blanket condemnation of homosexuality did not exist prior to the Enlightenment era.[clarification needed] In contrast, Joe Dallas (who opposes what he sees as the "gay agenda") contends that the apostle Paul is condemning changing "the natural use into that which is against nature", and to suggest that Paul is referring to "heterosexuals indulging in homosexual behavior requires unreasonable mental gymnastics".
Dr. Mona West (of the Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Bisexual Religious Archives Network) argues that Paul is condemning specific types of homosexual activity (such as temple prostitution or pederasty) rather than a broader interpretation. West argues that Paul is speaking to a Gentile audience in terms that they would understand to show that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
A more conservative biblical interpretation contends "the most authentic reading of Rom 1:26-7 is that which sees it prohibiting homosexual activity in the most general of terms, rather than in respect of more culturally and historically specific forms of such activity". That "nature" in Rm 1:26 refers to acting contrary to design and man's normality is seen as evidenced by its use in Romans 11:21,24. Hays argues that Romans 1:26,27 is part of a general condemnation of humans, in which males and females, have rejected their creational (as in Genesis) distinctions, with homoeroticism being intrinsically wrong.
Early church commentary on these verses does little to support the modern interpretation that Paul here intends to condemn all homosexuality, as such. For example, contemporary English translations imply that Rom 1:26b condemns lesbian sex, while 1:27 condemns sex between men. However, several early church writers clearly state that Rom 1:26b is a condemnation of men having unnatural sex with women. Brooten cites both Anastasios and Augustine as explicitly rejecting the 'lesbian hypothesis' (p. 337). Hanks asserts that "not until John Chrysostom (ca 400 C.E.) does anyone (mis)interpret Romans 1:26 as referring to relations between two women" (p. 90). Townsley notes that other early writers, possibly including Chrysostom, reject the 'lesbian' hypothesis, specifically, Ambrosiaster, Didymus the Blind and Clement of Alexandria. Townsley goes on to specify the context of Rom 1:26-27 as the continuation of Paul's condemnation of the worship of pagan gods from earlier in the chapter, linking the 'homosexuality' implied in Rom 1:27 to the practice of temple prostitution with castrated priests of Cybele, practices condemned more explicitly in the Old Testament (1 Kings 15:12, 2 Kings 23:7), the same religious group that violently attacked Paul in Ephesus, driving him from the city (Acts 19). The implication is that the goddess religions, the castrated priests and temple prostitution had a wide impact in ancient Mediterranean culture (similar to the devadasi system in India today) so would immediately evoke an image for the 1st century audience of non-Yahwistic religious idolatry, practices not familiar to the modern reader, which makes it easy to misinterpret these verses.
If taken in context with the verses before it, it may also be interpreted that the homosexual behavior described is a punishment for the greater sins committed by the people. "For this reason (idolatry) God gave them up to passions of dishonor" implies that God caused the people to carry out homosexual acts because of the sins they committed.
Wycliffe Bible (1382): "Whether ye know not, that wicked men shall not wield the kingdom of God? Do not ye err; neither lechers, neither men that serve maumets [neither men serving to idols], neither adulterers, neither lechers against kind, neither they that do lechery with men"
King James Version (1611): "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind"
Amplified Version (1987): "Do you not know that the unrighteous and the wrongdoers will not inherit or have any share in the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived (misled): neither the impure and immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor those who participate in homosexuality"
Wycliffe Bible (1382): "..and witting this thing, that the law is not set to a just man, but to unjust men and not subject, to wicked men and to sinners, to cursed men and defouled, to slayers of father, and slayers of mother, to manslayers [witting this thing, that the law is not put to a just man, but to an unjust and not subject, to unpious men and sinners, to cursed men and defouled, to slayers of fathers, and slayers of mothers, to menslayers] and lechers, to them that do lechery with men, lying-mongers and forsworn, and if any other thing is contrary to the wholesome teaching."
King James Version (1611): "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"
Amplified Version (1987): Knowing and understanding this: that the Law is not enacted for the righteous (the upright and just, who are in right standing with God), but for the lawless and unruly, for the ungodly and sinful, for the irreverent and profane, for those who strike and beat and [even] murder fathers and strike and beat and [even] murder mothers, for manslayers,[For] impure and immoral persons, those who abuse themselves with men, kidnapers, liars, perjurers--and whatever else is opposed to wholesome teaching and sound doctrine
Since the nineteenth century many scholars have suggested that First Timothy, along with Second Timothy and Titus, are not original to Paul, but rather an unknown Christian writing some time in the late-first-to-mid-2nd century. Most scholars now affirm this view.
King James Version: Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, 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.
New International Version: In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.
English Standard Version: Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Simon J. Kistemaker notes that "strange flesh" (KJV) is often interpreted as the desire on the part of the Sodomites to have sexual relations with angels. Kistemaker, however, argues that it means they were "interested in sexual relations with men."
The final book of the Bible, Book of Revelation, in Rev 22:15 contains a likely reference to homosexuals in the final sin catalog of the ungodly. The Good News Translation uses the word 'perverts' and other paraphrases such as J.B. Phillips and The Living Bible respectively use 'depraved' or 'those who have strayed away from God'. The "Complete Jewish Bible" uses the word 'homosexuals' while the KJV, the Revised Standard, Arabic, and Holman Broadman simply use 'dogs' to refer to souls completely outside the Holy City and Book of Life. David H. Stern translates 'Outside are the homosexuals, those involved with the occult and with drugs, the sexually immoral, murders, idol-worshippers, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.' The use of the Hebrew word, kelev, (dogs) is a reference to the slumbering watchmen of Israel who by their greed and sloth have become dogs or false teachers as in Isaiah 56 or earlier in Isaiah 4:9 where Sodom is mentioned in a catalog of sins. The Greek (Kyron) has other meanings outside the Jewish references to the unclean or the fallen teachers which might include the demonic or half human creatures on the margins of the known world or magic.
In Matthew 19:3, Jesus is asked about the permissibility of divorce "for any cause."
|“||He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female” [Genesis 1:27], and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” [Genesis 2:24]? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’||”|
(Matthew 19:4-6, NRSV translation; Mark 10:6-9 is a parallel text)
Rob Gagnon, an associate professor of New Testament studies, argues that Jesus' back-to-back references to Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 show that he "presupposed a two-sex requirement for marriage." In interpreting Genesis, Jesus connects the creation of the two sexes together with them being joined in one flesh by God in marriage. Leroy Huizenga, a theology professor, argues that Jesus' reference to Genesis is meant to be understood in its context, including the command in Genesis 1:28 to "Be fruitful and multiply." Thus for Huizenga, Jesus is affirming that marriage is a union meant to be fruitful, ideally to result in children. Huizenga also mentions the importance of interpreting Jesus in the context of the Jewish tradition he lived in, including its prohibition of homosexual practice. Jesus' teaching about marriage here does modify the position held by his Jewish contemporaries, but in drawing on the creation accounts it is more radical and less permissive.
The Greek word arsenokoitēs appears in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (TNIV), Paul says:
|“||Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.||”|
The word translated as "practicing homosexuals" has been alternately rendered as "abusers of themselves with mankind" (King James Version, 21st Century King James Version), "sodomites" (Young's Literal Translation), or "homosexuals" (New American Standard Bible), or "men who practice homosexuality" (English Standard Version) or "those who abuse themselves with men" (Amplified Bible) or "for those who have a twisted view of sex" (New International Readers Version) or "for sexual perverts" (Good News Translation) or "for abusers of themselves with men" (American Standard Version). The original term is unknown before Paul. ἀρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoitēs), thought to mean "one who has sexual intercourse with a male" (Greek ἄῤῥην / ἄρσην [arrhēn / arsēn] "male"; κοίτης [koitēs] "bed", rather than the normal terms from the Greek culture. Within the Bible, it only occurs in this passage and in a similar list in 1 Timothy 1:9-10.
|“||"If a man lies with a man (arsenos koiten) 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." Leviticus 20:13||”|
In contrast, Boswell (1980) argues that this is a term specifically created by Paul, and that given its unusual nature, the fact that Paul did not use one of the more common pagan Greek terms, and given its direct reference to the Levitical laws, it is a matter of debate whether Paul was referring generally to any person having homosexual sex, or whether (as discussed below) it referred only to anal sex of any form (cf. Elliott 2004). Other translations of the word, based on examinations of the context of its subsequent uses, include Martin's (1996), who argued it meant "homosexual slave trader" and Boswell's (1980) who argued it referred to "homosexual rape" or homosexual prostitutes. Scroggs perceives it as referring to exploitative pederasty.
The term arsenokoitai was rarely used in Church writings (Elliott 1994), with Townsley (2003) counting a total of 73 references. Most are ambiguous in nature, although St. John Chrysostom, in the 4th century, seems to use the term arsenokoitai to refer to pederasty common in the Greco-Roman culture of the time and Patriarch John IV of Constantinople in the 6th century used it to refer to anal sex: "some men even commit the sin of arsenokoitai with their wives" (Townsley 2003). Moreover, Hippolytus of Rome in his Refutation of all Heresies describes a Gnostic teaching, according to which an evil angel Naas committed adultery with Eve and arsenokoitēs with Adam. The context suggests the translation of arsenokoitēs as pederasty, although it might have a different meaning.
Some scholars argue against the restriction of the word to pederasty. For example, Scobie states that "there is no evidence that the term was restricted to pederasty; beyond doubt, the NT here repeats the Leviticus condemnation of all same-sex relations". Similarly, Campbell writes, "it must be pointed out, first, that arsenokoitēs is a broad term that cannot be confined to specific instances of homosexual activity such as male prostitution or pederasty. This is in keeping with the term's Old Testament background where lying with a 'male' (a very general term) is proscribed, relating to every kind of male-male intercourse." Campbell (quoting from Wenham) goes on to say that, "in fact, the Old Testament bans every type of homosexual intercourse, not just male prostitution or intercourse with youths."
Others have pointed out that the meaning of arsenokoitēs is identified by its derivation from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, where the component words "with a man (arsenos) do not copulate coitus (koites) as with a woman" refer to homosexual conduct. For example, according to Hays, although the word arsenokoitēs appears nowhere in Greek literature prior to Paul's use of it, it is evidently a rendering into Greek of the standard rabbinic term for "one who lies with a male [as with a woman]" (Lev. 18:22; 20:13). Moreover, despite recent challenges to this interpretation, the meaning is confirmed by the evidence of Sybilline Oracles 2.73. Paul here repeats the standard Jewish condemnation of homosexual conduct. Malick (op cit) writes, "it is significant that of all the terms available in the Greek language, Paul chose a compound from the Septuagint that in the broadest sense described men lying with men as they would lie with women." According to Scobie, "it clearly echoes the Greek of Lev 18:22 and 20:13 in the LXX (arsen = "male," and koite = "bed"), so that arsenokoitēs literally means "one who goes to bed with a male".
David Wright argues that the compound word refers to those who sleep with males, and denotes “‘male homosexual activity’ without qualification.” Haas, reviewing the various arguments on both sides, concluded that "an examination of the biblical passages from linguistic, historical and ethical-theological perspectives fails to support the revisionist ethic and reinforces the traditional Christian teaching that homosexual practice is morally wrong." Via also agrees arsenokoitēs refers to homosexual activity. James B. De Young presents similar arguments.
This word is translated as "male prostitutes" (TNIV), "effeminate" (NASB), or "catamites" (TJB; in the footnotes of the NKJV), in 1 Corinthians 6:9.
The Greek word μαλακός; malakos carries a root meaning of soft, luxurious or dainty, but here, G. Fee argues, it is used in a much darker way, possibly referring to the more passive partner in a homosexual relationship. According to Scroggs (op cit), the word malakos in Paul’s list refers specifically to this category of person, the effeminate call-boy. Others, for example Olson, based on previous and subsequent uses of the term, interprets malakos to mean an effeminate but not necessarily homosexual man. Olson argues that the μαλακοί in Paul’s time, "almost always referred in a negative, pejorative way to a widely despised group of people who functioned as effeminate 'call boys'." Some theologians have argued that, when read in historical context, the Jewish Platonist philosopher Philo of Alexandria used the term in reference to temple prostitution.
Lexical evidence from Greek texts indicates the word was used to refer to the passive partner in a male homosexual act. For example, Malick (op cit) writes that a significant expression of this usage is found in a letter[note 2] from Demophon, a wealthy Egyptian, to Ptolemaeus, a police official, concerning needed provisions for a coming festival. According to Ukleja, "a strong possible translation of both malakos (and arsenokoitēs) is the morally loose (effeminate) who allow themselves to be used homosexually and the person who is a practicing homosexual." Ukleja cites a number of classical Greek sources in support his assertion.[note 3]
The meaning of the word is not confined to male prostitutes. According to Malick (op cit), when malakos is employed in reference to sexual relationships of men with men, it is not a technical term for male call-boys in a pederastic setting. The term may mean effeminate with respect to boys or men who take the role of a woman in homosexual relationships. Nor is the meaning of the word confined to sexually exploited males.[note 4]
In Matthew 15: 19-20 (KJV) Jesus says:
|“||For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.||”|
In Mark 7: 20-23 (KJV) it says:
|“||And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, sexual impurities, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.||”|
Whether these lists include homosexuality depends on the translation of porneia (sexual impurity). Translations of these passages generally translate porneia as fornication rather than sexual impurity (see Leviticus). Some[who?] interpret the translation of porneia more broadly, to encompass sexual immorality in general, though there is disagreement over whether such an interpretation is supported by the writings of the Church Fathers.
Porneia appears a number of times in Paul's letters, always with arsenokoitais. Yale University professor John Boswell argues that 'arsenokoitai' in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 refers specifically to male prostitution; various conservative scholars have presented countering arguments.
This event is referred to in both Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10 and tells of Jesus healing a centurion's servant. Luke 7:2 (TNIV) says: "There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die." The term translated from the Greek as "servant" in this verse is doulos. Elsewhere in the two accounts, the term used for the ill person is pais, a term that can be translated in a number of different ways including "child" (e.g., Matthew 2:16; Lk 2:43, 8:51-54 where it refers to a girl), "son" (John 4:51) or "servant" (Lk 15:26, Acts 4:25); elsewhere it is unclear whether "son" or "servant" is meant (Acts 3:13, 3:26, 4:27, 4:30).
Horner and Daniel A. Helminiak both suggest a homosexual theme to this text. Helminiak argues that this is implied by the broader context of the narrative suggesting an unusual level of concern about the servant, whereas Horner suggests that use of the term "valued highly" implies a sexual relationship. Horner goes on to argue that, as Jesus commended the centurion for his faith (Matthew 8:10; Luke 7:9), it shows that Jesus approved of their relationship, otherwise he would have condemned him. However, a contrasting viewpoint is that the term “highly valued” (Greek ἔντιμος, entimos) simply suggests a genuine care for the person or, more archaically, that the centurion was fond of this slave, and that the term entimos has no hint of sexual content in any of its various appearances in the Bible.
Other biblical scholars dismiss any suggestions of a homosexual theme as deliberately distorted interpretations of the text. Marston argues that Jesus would not have condoned any homosexual relationship, in line with the weight of other scriptural evidence, while Chapman (2005) suggests that even if the relationship had been homosexual, his lack of condemnation does not necessarily equate to his approval of them.
In Matthew 19:12, Jesus discusses eunuchs who were born as such, eunuchs who were made so by others, and eunuchs who choose to live as such for the kingdom of heaven. This passage has often been interpreted as having to do with homosexuality. Clement of Alexandria, for instance, wrote in his commentary on it that "some men, from their birth, have a natural sense of repulsion from a woman; and those who are naturally so constituted do well not to marry".
The Ethiopian eunuch, an early gentile convert encountered in Acts 8, has been described as an early gay Christian, based on the fact that the word "eunuch" in the Bible was not always used literally, as in Matthew 19:12.
In the Epistle to the Romans 1:26-27 (ESV), Paul writes, "For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature". Most interpreters assume that, due to the analogy with same-sex lust between males, Paul is referring to female same-sex behavior. This assumption is not conclusive, and it remains difficult to discern exactly what Paul meant by women exchanging natural intercourse for unnatural.
Many commentators have argued that the references to homosexuality in the NT, or the Bible in general, have to be understood in their proper historical context. Indeed, most interpreters come to the text with a preconceived notion of what the Bible has to say about normative sexual behaviors, influencing subsequent interpretations. For example, William Walker says that the very notion of “homosexuality” (or even “heterosexuality,” “bisexuality” and “sexual orientation”) is essentially a modern concept that would simply have been unintelligible to the New Testament writers. The word “homosexuality” and the concept of sexual orientation as being separate from one's perceived masculinity or femininity (i.e. gender identity) did not take shape until the 19th century. Moreover, although some ancient Romans (i.e. doctors, astrologers, etc.) discussed congenital inclinations to unconventional sexual activities such as homosexuality, this classification fails to correspond to a modern psychological, biological and genetic distinction between homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual orientations. However, according to Gagnon, the concept of homosexual orientation was not wholly unknown in the Greco-Roman milieu. Moreover, he asserts that there is absolutely no evidence that modern orientation theory would have had any impact on Paul changing his strong negative valuation of homosexual practice.
A statement by the Bishops of the Church of England (Issues in Human Sexuality) in 1991 illustrates a categorization and understanding of homosexuality, claiming that in ancient times "society recognized the existence of those, predominantly male, who appeared to be attracted entirely to members of their own sex." (Issues in Human Sexuality para 2.16, lines 8-9) which almost parallels that of modern ideation. The same study is careful to point out that "the modern concept of orientation has been developed against a background of genetic and psychological theory which was not available to the ancient world."