The Bible’s attitude toward sexuality can be traced back to the creation of the very first man and woman in the Garden of Eden, according to C.O. Grinstead, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Oxford.
“Try as we might, we cannot make any other behaviors — premarital intercourse, adultery, prostitution, male and female homosexuality — conform to what God has decreed from the beginning,” he said.
Yet, according to some Bible scholars, defining the Bible’s stand on homosexuality must take into account historical and social context, as well as interpretation and translation.
The idea of committed same-sex relationships was nonexistent in biblical times. There is no word in biblical Greek or Hebrew that is equivalent to the English word “homosexual,” which was coined only about 100 years ago and first appeared in the Bible in the 1946 Revised Standard Version.
“The Bible has no sexual ethic” explained Walter Wink, author of Homosexuality and the Bible. “Instead, it exhibits a variety of sexual mores, some of which have changed over the 1,000-year span of biblical history.
“Many of the practices the Bible prohibits, we allow — and many of the practices we prohibit, the Bible allows,” he said.
“The Bible only knows a love ethic, which is constantly being brought to bear on whatever sexual mores are dominant in any given country, culture or period.”
GENESIS: Sodom and Gomorrah
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is the most famous biblical passage that references homosexuality — so much so that the term “sodomite,” originally referring to a resident of Sodom, is now a legal term for criminal sexual deviance.
According to Genesis 19:1-11, two angels dressed as men came to Sodom at night. Lot offered them a warm meal and his home to sleep in. A large group of townsmen surrounded Lot’s home and demanded, “Bring them out to us that we may know them.”
Frightened by the mob, Lot begged for them to leave his guests alone, offering instead his two virgin daughters.
The townsmen tried to break down the door. They were blinded, but that did not dissuade them.
The next day, God rained fire and brimstone on the city, killing everyone, save for Lot and his family.
Some take the story to mean the men of Sodom wanted to have sex with the strangers. “Remember,” Grinstead said, “it was because of the wicked sin of homosexuality that God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.”
Others argue that the word to “know” means the men of Sodom wanted to learn who these strangers were and what their purpose was for coming to Sodom. The strangers were perceived as a threat, and God’s wrath was triggered because of the men’s treatment of Lot’s guests.
Hospitality was an important obligation in Jewish traditions.Jesus linked Sodom not with sexual crimes, but rather inhospitality.
When Jesus commanded his disciples to preach to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, he said: “And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment.” (Matthew 10:14-15)
So what is the sin of Sodom — insulting the travelers, inhospitality to the needy, sexual abuse?
When rape became part of the story, it was clearly sexual abuse, both in Lot’s time and our own, according to Daniel Helminiak, author of What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality.
“The whole story and its culture make clear that the author was not concerned about sex in itself, and it was irrelevant if the sex was hetero- or homosexual,” he wrote. “In place of his male guests, without a second thought, Lot offered his daughters.
“The point of the story is not sexual ethics. … The point is abuse and assault, in whatever form they take. To use this text to condemn homosexuality is to misuse this text.”
Barrett Duke, vice president for Public Policy and Research with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, calls biblical analysis such as this an attempt at “promoting the normalization of homosexuality.”
In his 2002 essay, “The Church Under Fire: Pro-homosexual Use of the Bible in the Church and its Institution,” Duke systematically debunked many of the popular theories that scholars and pastors employ to suggest that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality.
“The church is under a concerted effort to change its attitude toward homosexuality,” Duke wrote. “The most disturbing aspect of this assault on the church is the progress made by pro-homosexuals in convincing many that the Bible is not as opposed to homosexuality as people think.”
The word seems to leave no room for misinterpretation.
“Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with woman kind; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22).
“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus 20:13).
There are more than 600 laws in the Old Testament. Many of them are listed in Leviticus and are collectively known as the Holiness Code. They were given in part to distinguish the Israelites from pagan cultures.
Of these 600-plus laws, modern-day Christians regard only a few as binding. These include The Ten Commandments, as well as laws prohibiting adultery, bestiality and sex between close relations.
Many of the other laws are ignored. For instance, the Holiness Code permits slavery (Leviticus 25:44), requires a child be killed if he/she curses a parent (20:9), requires the daughter of a priest who engages in prostitution be burned at the stake until dead (21:9), requires that the bride of a priest to be a virgin (21:13).
The code prohibits heterosexual intercourse when a woman is menstruating (18:19), prohibits wearing clothes made from a blend of textile materials, i.e. cotton and polyester (19:19); prohibits eating non-kosher foods such as shrimp (11:9-12).
People of faith are constantly changing their attitudes and mores to reconcile with an evolving society, said Paul Smith, author of The Bible and Homosexuality: Affirming All Sexual Orientations as Gifts from God.
“It’s true that heterosexual relationships are the only model of sexual intimacy assumed as an appropriate model consistently throughout the Bible,” said Smith, co-pastor of Broadway Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo.
“Slavery and patriarchy are also assumed as appropriate models throughout the Bible. Most Christians have rejected slavery and many have rejected the idea that men should be in charge of women,” Smith said.
“To claim that biblical culture only portrays one kind of sexual relationship is an argument from biblical culture, not biblical principles.”
While conceding that some Levitical laws have become irrelevant, Grinstead emphasized that the Bible condemns not only homosexuality but also promiscuity, adultery, bestiality and pedophilia.
“Why is the wording so emphatic? The Bible tells us that it’s because sexual deviancy distorts God’s original intention and corrupts the relationship between men, women and their Creator,” Grinstead said.
“When God looked as his arrangement in the Garden of Eden, he called it ‘good.’ There is nothing in Scripture that provides a basis for declaring this pronouncement on any other form of sexual expression. This is why the practice of homosexuality is morally equivalent to heterosexual promiscuity in the Bible,” Grinstead said.
“Nothing can change the fact that God abhors any form of sexual sin.”
ROMANS: ‘God gave them up’
When it comes to masturbation, premarital sex, pederasty or homosexuality — Jesus said nothing.
There is only one passage in the New Testament that discusses sexual matters at length. Written by Paul, it is also the only passage to explicitly allude to lesbians.
Romans 1:18-32 gives rise to the idea that homosexuality is “unclean.”
“…Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity to the degrading of their bodies among themselves because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.
“For this reason, God gave them up to degrading passions for their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.
“Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness …
“They know God’s decree, that those who do such things deserve to die — yet they not only do them but even applaud those who practice them.”
This passage is the “most important statement of homosexuality in the Bible,” according to Helminiak. It occurs in the New Testament, and unlike Leviticus can’t be dismissed as outdated.
Yet, he added, the passage isn’t as clear-cut as most would assume.
“Far from condemning same-sex acts, Paul is actually teaching that they are ethically neutral,” he said. “Like heterosexual acts, homosexual acts are neither right nor wrong in themselves. They can be used for good or for evil, but in themselves they are neither.
“There is nothing wrong with gay or lesbian sex simply because it is homosexual,”he concluded.
Instead, Helminiak argued, Paul wanted to teach that violations of social expectations according to Jewish law are not the same thing as sin.
It is a ploy to win the favor of the Jews in Rome, using their rivalry with the Gentiles, Helminiak said. Paul is “playing on Jewish self-righteousness” and their “claim to moral superiority.”
Paul talks about impurity as one result of idolatry. It’s the sin of idolatry that is being judged, rather than homosexuality, Helminiak said.
“Paul insisted on faith and love as the things that really matter in Christ,” he said. “But by misunderstanding Paul’s argument, people unwittingly rely on tastes and customs instead of the word of God.
“They argue about what’s dirty or clean, dispute who’s pure and impure, and pit heterosexual against homosexual. Thus, they divide and splinter the church over what does not matter in Christ.”
That’s quite a creative leap of exegesis, according to Grinstead. He insists that this and other Biblical passages clearly reveal that homosexuality is immoral and contrary to God’s plan for the human family.
“Since the Bible is our basis for life, then we must understand that homosexuality is a sin,” Grinstead said.
“Nobody was born a homosexual, anymore than they were born to be a drunkard, murderer or thief. These are all learned behaviors that are part of our fallen nature.”
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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