Reconcile handout #5
The Biblical passages that are sometimes used to condemn homosexuality

The primary passage in the OT used in this way is Genesis 19. This is the familiar story about the punishment upon Sodom and Gomorrah. But it actually has nothing to do with consensual sexual relationships, homosexual or heterosexual. And God’s outrage precedes the visit of God, (“the men”, or the angels) to Sodom. Remember that they have just left Abraham where they were welcomed, refreshed, their feet washed, and fed. That is how strangers in the desert are always to be greeted.

18:20-22 Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grace their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me, and if not, I will know.
So the men went from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord.

Verses 23-33 recount Abraham bargaining with God for the people in those cities. Repeatedly he challenges God to repent of his determination to destroy them, by saying, “Would you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” And he whittles away at God’s resistance: “Suppose there are fifty righteous…”, all the way to “Suppose there are ten…” and every time God repents.

V 33 “And the Lord went on his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.”

The story continues immediately at Chapter 19, when the “two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground/ He said, “Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night and wash your feet; then you can rise early and be on your way.“ They said, “No, we will spend the night in the square.” But he urged then strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made then a feast, and baked unleavened read, and they ate.”

This is exactly the same response Abraham had given, It is “desert hospitality.”

V.4 “But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house, and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.” Lot went out of the door to the men, and shut the door behind him and said, “I beg you, m brothersm do not act do wickedly. Look I have two daughters who hav not known a man; let me bring them out to youo and do to thenm as you please; only do nothing to the men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” But they replied, “Stand back!”
And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you then with them.”
Then they pressed hard against the man, Lot, and came near the door to break it down.
But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. They struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door.”

The next part of the story consists in the angels/men/God warning Lot to gather up everyone who “belongs to you” because the Lord was going to destroy the city – It includes the part about Lot’s wife who turned around to look as they were fleeing the next morning – and the total destruction of the cities – and the story of the two daughter who each slept with their drunken father so that they would bear children –

The sins of Sodom are inhospitality, threat and attempted rape. Their intention is to humiliate the men.
To protect his guests, to whom he owes a sacred obligation since they have put their lives in his hands by entering his house, Lot offers the mob his virgin daughters. That’s horrific too, but it makes the point.

Ezekiel 16:49 reads, “This was the sin of your sister, Sodom; she did not support the poor and needy.”

The same scenario is repeated in Judges 19, where a Levite and his concubine seek shelter in Gibeah, but no one welcomes them. Finally, a man from another tribe, like Lot a foreigner in the city, sees the strangers in the open square and invites them to lodge with him.

So now the locals seek to “know” the Levite (Judges 19:22)

The host protects the visitor by offering them his virgin daughter and the Levite‘s concubine – (Sexual abuse of men, even today, is considered worse than abuse of women, because it humiliates them: it makes a man into a woman, an inferior.)
Eventually the host throws out the concubine, who is abused until morning – until she died.
And the Levite was disgusted –

Judges continues with the story of how the Levite cut up her body into pieces and sent it to all the tribes, asking “Has such a thing ever happened since the day that the Israelites came out from Egypt?” And the next chapters are all about revenge on Gibeah…

Nothing in either of these stories has anything to do with homosexuality – or heterosexuality, either. They are about rape. And rape is the opposite of the safety expected when offering hospitality.

Leviticus 18:22; 20:13
Leviticus 18:22 translated literally says, “and with a male not will you lie in the lyings (bedding) of a woman; it is an abomination”
Leviticus 20:13 says the same thing, but adds the penalty of death.

We don’t know what the “lyings of a woman” are, and the term appears nowhere else in scripture. We are simply speculating to assume this means male sexual (anal) intercourse. But we can guess that this is its intended meaning.

Liberal arguments say this forbids men to engage in sexual intercourse with men because that is what Canaanite men were doing, or, possibly some prohibition on “temple prostitution” but these are both unlikely. There is no evidence of either.
Some assume it is a prohibition on rape of men in the context of war. But nothing suggests that.
Another view is that this is forbidden because male sex cannot lead to procreation. Again, no. The Bible never forbids sex with post-menopausal women, for example.
We simply have no clear idea what was going through the mind of the author.

But Dr Amy Jill Levine, a Hebrew scholar of the NT says, “I think Lev. 18 and 20 are concerned with categories, organization and separation. Genesis starts with the organizing: separating night and day, the waters above from the waters below, the Sabbath and the work week. It goes on to separate Israel from the nations. For much of the Bble such separation is the way to organize life and avoid chaos.
Thus in the biblical view, men do what the culture considers appropriate, and the same for women. Today we call these concerns, “gender roles,” culturally constructed patterns of behavior. For a male to lie with a man, puts one of those males in a women’s role, which would be category confusion.

However, Leviticus says nothing about lesbians. For Leviticus, no penis, no ejaculation of semen, no problem. Thus we see how the biblical text hs a different defnition of sexuality than we do.

Second, Levitical passages are geographically limited to the land of Israel. This point does no good for my gay friends in Tel Aviv, but it should be good news for those in New York or Nashville.

This, these commandments are addressed to Israel, not to the gentile nations. Since Christians today are generally Gentiles, the ;laws given specifically to Israel are irrelevant. Christians need no more attend to Leviticus 18 and 20 than they need to attend to Leviticus 11:10 which prohibits the consumption of shellfish.”

(Dr Levine does not mention this – but the debate between Paul and Peter re what is asked of non-Jews becoming Christians is that obedience to the Law is not required – not even circumcision. And that Gentiles are “grafted in” against nature, to Israel, without the Law)

Romans 1:26-27
Paul had never even visited Rome when he wrote this. He explains that despite not having the grace of Torah, they should have recognized that there is one God through the wonders of creation or through the promptings of their own conscience. But the Gentiles instead “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” (Rom 1:25)

For this reason, Paul says, God handed them over to “dishonorable passions,” so that “females exchanged natural use for contrary to nature, and likewise even the males, giving up natural use of females, were inflamed with passion for each other, males with males engaged in shameless acts.” (Romans 1:26-27)

The primary problem with this text is that Paul is arguing from nature, not revelation. And what he means by “nature” is what we today think of as “culture.“ He doesn’t even argue from the Law, since it doesn’t apply to Gentiles anyway.
In fact, nature doesn’t prove that same sex relationships are unnatural. Same sex relationships are present in more than 1,000 animal species, including sheep, lions, and penguins.

(Remember Paul refers to “contrary to nature” (para physin) in another context to reveal a miracle: Roman 11:24 describes how Gentiles “have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree.“)

The Romans 1 passage continues, about those who had worshiped the creation instead of the Creator: “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish faithless, heartless, ruthless.
They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die – yet they not only do them but even applaud other who practice them.”
This turns out to be true of all kinds of people, after all.

Now notice – Gentiles who did not acknowledge God did these things – all of them – not just those engaging in “unnatural acts.”

Notice again: The POINT of this whole passage written to Jewish Christians in Rome is in the beginning of chapter 2: “Therefore, you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another, you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things…“
Reading the whole rest of the chapter is instructive. He is going after the Jewish self-confidence.
Paul doesn’t mention sex again, but says: “While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You that forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you rob temples? You that boast in the Law, do you break the Law? For as it is written, the name of God is blasphemed because of you.”
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
“Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, pornoi, idolators, adulterers, malakoi, arsenokotai, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers, – none of those will inherit the kingdom of God.”

We do not know exactly what those Greek terms mean, or why they were included.
Pornoi – has something to do with improper sexual behavior – but we do not know exactly what that means for Paul. What is proper changes with time and circumstances. IS sex apart form marriage included? Is speaking with a woman (as in Jesus and the Samaritan woman ) forbidden? Is flirting? A kiss? We do not know what Paul had in mind.
Malakoi – translations include “male prostitutes”, “effeminate,” “homosexuals” –
But malakos in Greek simply means, “soft” – It can mean men who spend to much time in self-indulgence and not enough time in disciplined physical training. There is no context here and no reason to assume it has anything to do with sex.
Arsenokotai is a new word – a made up word combining arson (male) and koite (bed) which may mean “homosexuals” – but it could also mean pimps or procurers of women or men who put others “in men’s beds” for sexual gratification.

Paul invented the word. We have no clear idea what he even meant by it. NONE of these words are properly translated in any way that condemns voluntary, adult, consenting sexual relationships.

1 Timothy 1:10
We have another vice list – whether written by Paul or in Paul’s name. The list includes pornois, and arsenokoitais but adds a new one: andrapodistais. This comes from andros – male and pous – foot – which in Greek literature refers to kidnappers, or slave-dealers.

Taken together they seem to imply coerced, commercial transactions – where boys or men are captured or enslaved for sex. Read this back into 1 Corinthians.

Jude 6-7
“Like Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, which with the same customs, acted in a sexually immoral way, setting an example by suffering in a punishment of eternal fire.”

Genesis 19 is about the attempted rape of strangers who are actually angels. Jude reverses the motif, because it refers to angels who are engaging in appropriate sexual conduct with women. For Jude, the issue is divine-human sex, sex with angels, which is contrary to the nature of angels. The text has nothing to do with homosexuality.

Finally: Those who argue that the Bible speaks against same-sex sexual , are, in some case, correct. They must not be condemned as bigots or haters without other evidence to support that. They are doing the best they can with the theological perspective they have.

It sometimes helps to point out that the Bible also supports the legitimacy of slavery and the second-class status of women – even within the very passages they quote (Leviticus, Judges).

In the 21sr century those passages have been repudiated as immoral in our culture and century.
We do not generally assume that enslaving other humans for any reason and regardless of their treatment is moral, even if it was common in Israel and in Rome. We rightly condemn the American enslavement of Africans.
And most of us do not believe that under threat of homosexual rape, it is appropriate to throw out a woman or girl to satisfy the would-be rapist.

We cannot rely on isolated Biblical passages without interpreting them, including reflecting on both science and also personal testimony and experience.

We know perfectly well that gay persons are no more likely to fit into any of the sin-categories that Paul raises in Romans than heterosexual ones. And Paul knew it too, which is why he included all Gentiles and all Jews in his argument.

We do not live in either ancient Israel or in the Roman empire – Even after we discern as well as w can what these passages may have meant to them, we still have to assess the degree to which behavior of all kinds – including accepting enslavement, the treatment of women, the treatment of foreigners, or the condemnation of gay sex apply to us in our own day.

We cannot make the Bible an eager partner in EITHER condemning consenting lgbtq relationships OR in fully embracing them. That isn’t fair to the text as we have it.

1)We do not know and cannot know what was in the mind of the authors and redactors of those passages. We do not know and cannot know what the first hearers understood. And we do not even know for sure what the text refers to.

2)What we DO know is that Jesus hadn’t the slightest interest in these questions or issues. And we know also that Paul raised them only in making another point.

3)We know that there is every scientific evidence for fully acknowledging gay and lesbian persons as “real” and not as malformed or distorted heterosexual human beings, to be cherished in their own selves, rather than being “fixed”, forced or coerced to change who they are.

4) And we know perfectly well by testimony and broad experience that in fact there ARE faithful, loving, holy, gay and lesbian Jews and Christians, just as there are female rabbis and Christian clergy – It is impossible to say there “can’t be.”

It is up to us to accept those realities. Denying them simply causes pain to others and diminishes our own capacity to enjoy God’s creation in all its richness.



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