Homosexuality and the Bible

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August 2007

            Lastmonth I wrote that gays and lesbians have the civil right to freedom. The response to my article was overwhelmingly favorable. One mom wrote about her gay son whom she loved and hoped he could find a loving relationship. A minister wrote that his church still doesn’t find room for gays and lesbians even though it proclaims openness to all.

            A woman wrote that her church supports gays and lesbians and appreciated the affirmation. A phone caller left a message that the article was horrible and reminded me that the Catholic Church condemns homosexuality. The Church also teaches us to respect all people as children of God.     

In Rob’s letter to the paper on July 27 he wondered why I did not give biblical references to support my claims about slavery and interracial marriage. Leviticus  25:44-45  says very clearly that a man can own a slave as property but slaves must be from other nations or from the aliens in their midst. . Saint Paul tempers the attitude towards slaves by urging Philemon to treat his slave Onesimus as a brother, not as property. Today Christians reject personal slavery of all kinds. For the prohibition against interracial marriage in Genesis 24:2-4 Abraham is instructed to get a wife for Isaac from among the Hebrews.  That’s not a command for us today.

In a letter to the paper on July 15 Paul quoted the New International Version of the Bible (1 Cor 6:9-10).   “Male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders” will enter the kingdom.  The New American Bible translates the Greek as “catamites and sodomites”. A footnote explains that a catamite was a “boy prostitute” and a sodomite was an adult man who engaged in prostitution with boys. The meaning is quite different than the meaning in the NIV.

            John Boswell wrote in his book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality  that the interpretation and translationof various words and verses in the Bible to refer to homosexuals is a recent historical phenomenon beginning only about two hundred years ago. Prior to that time the words in question were translated differently. Rev. Mel White wrote in a pamphlet called “What the Bible says and doesn’t say about Homosexuality” that sexual orientation wasn’t even known until the mid-nineteenth century.

            The famous story of Sodom (Genesis 19) as a denunciation of homosexuals and their activity is not supported even in other places in the Bible. pride is mentioned in Ecclesiastes  16:8 and Wisdom 19:13-14. pride, idleness, and neglecting the poor are mentioned in Ezekiel 16:48-49. Jesus implied the sin of Sodom was inhospitality in Matthew 10:14-16.

Leviticus 18:22 appears to be a clear prohibition against homosexual activity but it is part of a holiness code, not a moral code.

            Romans 1:26-27 is part of a llist of pagan temple practices that Saint Paul condemns. In 1 Timothy  1:10 the Greek word arsenokoitai is quite rare and probably means "male prostitute", according to Boswell. This was the meaning until well into the fourth century.

            I love the Bible. Far from discrediting the Bible in my writing, I am rather encouraging the examined use of it. The Bible has to be understood in context and in its historical development. It did not just appear from the hands of God.

            All translations of the Bible are interpretations of those ancient manuscripts. If one really is serious about knowing the word of God it would be well to learn Hebrew and Greek. Words in any language have various meanings depending on the context and time used.  The same is true of the Bible.

It is dangerous  to read the words of the Bible as literal truth.            Exodus  35:2 says those who violate the Sabbath rest should be put to death.  Remember the Sabbath is Saturday.  I doubt many of us would be alive if this command were carried out! Even Jesus gave commands that are untenable if taken literally.  Mark 9:43-49 records Jesus telling us to cut off our hand or arm or pluck out our eyes if they are occasions of sin. Clearly this is not to be taken literally.  It is hyperbole.

            I have studied the Bible for many years. I have prayerfully reflected on  the Bible all my life. I am not drawing these conclusions out of thin air. Nor do I hold my views as the final word. Let’s keep the dialog going.