Remember that there was no term for “homosexuality” or “gay” in the Biblical world, in Greek, Hebrew, or Latin. “Homosexual” was not coined anywhere until the late 19th century. Nor were same-sex relations for women EVER mentioned in the Bible because of the low status of women at the time. And how do we deal with slavery and anti-Semitism in the Bible today? And with 1 Timothy 2:11-12: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”
Genesis 19: 1-29 Sodom and Gomorrah
This is a story of hospitality and rape, and the violent abuse of Lot’s daughters by Lot, not homosexuality. Ezekiel 16: 48-49 says: “This is the sin of Sodom; she and her suburbs had pride, excel of food, and prosperous easy, but did not help or encourage the poor and needy. They were arrogant and this was abominable in God’s eyes.” It was only in the Middle Ages that Christian scholars associated homosexuality with this passage. Gang rape of men by men was an act of war violence when these passages were written. Whenever Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, it’s about hospitality and concern for the stranger and the outcast, not homosexuality, except perhaps in Jude 7, but even there, it’s still about gang rape, not about homosexuality.
Leviticus 18: 22; 20:13 “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman.”
This passage is taken from among many ceremonial rules at the Tabernacle, rules for priests, sometimes called “The Priest’s Manual.” It’s one of many rules in the purity codes for priests as they reestablished the Jewish community around the Temple after the Babylonian Exile. We don’t follow any of these codes any longer (pro-slavery, against divorce, prohibitions against women speaking in church, taboo’s around menstruation). Jesus himself, in Mark 7, rejected Levitical purity codes and said that it’s not what is on the outside that defiles, it is what is on the inside. Jewish law, Jesus believes, (as does Paul in Romans 1), is NOT relevant for Christians. Christ is the basis of the New Covenant, and the codes in Leviticus are always irrelevant for Christians.
In addition, the word “abomination” does not imply anything about “good” or “evil.” Abomination is about distinguishing “foreign” vs. “Hebrew tradition” and is culturally specific, something that sets the Hebrews apart from other peoples, and displeasing to God. Spilling “seed” outside of the “incubator” that women were considered, with no understanding of ovulation or eggs, would jeopardize the Hebrew people struggling to find a foothold in the ancient world, just as masturbation did.
Romans 1: 26-27 The most controversial of all of the Clobber Texts
26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.
This passage is about Paul describing the descent of the Gentiles into idolatry (bird and reptile worship). The Gentiles have given up on God, Paul believes, so because of their idolatry, “God gave them up to shameful lusts….” In other words, the Gentiles started with the Truth, and then they rejected it. Same-sex relations were known to be excessively lustful in Biblical times.
“Natural” vs. “unnatural” refers to social custom, is culturally specific, and is taken from Hebrew. Here in this passage, “exchange” is the key concept: heterosexuals abandon heterosexuality and therefore are punished by homosexuality, just as homosexuals would be punished with heterosexuality in the same way.
The passages from Romans are about Paul trying to explain that the Gospel is about salvation, open to all. Sin is the suppression of truth that will lead to salvation. Pagans are pagans because they worship idols, and God gave them up to passion and lust. Passion and idolatry are linked. Passion was the real problem for Paul, who was an ascetic. (The monastic tradition arose from Paul’s ascetism.)
1 Timothy 1:9-10
1 Corinthians 6: 9-11; 16:14
In these passages, Paul is warning against those who will not inherit the Kingdom of God. They are Paul’s list of wrongdoings (his “vice list”). The wide variation in translation deepens the dilemma for Bible readers. Malakos (boy) is often mistranslated at “effeminate,” or “passive” in the sexual act. Sex in Biblical times was about men dominating women and was very male-centric. Arsenokoitai (older male) is wrongly translated as “abuser of mankind.” Arsenokoites probably meant “economic sexual exploitation,” or the Greek tradition of “pederasty,” in which older men had sex with younger boys. Pederasty had long since lost any positive role in Greek life at the time Paul was writing. From other texts, we know that Romans often criticized Greek pederasty. Scholars now believe these passages are about Paul warning early Christians to abandon pederasty along with other vices on his lists. The emphasis here is on “wrong” relationships, not healthy ones. For Paul, the basic Christian ethic was not a set of rules, but a way of being and living.
2 Corinthians 5:17-20
God’s model of reconciliation across a chasm, with an enemy, or in spite of a controversy.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
The authors of the Bible are authorities on matters of faith and God, but they should not be considered the final authorities on sexual orientation any more than they are the final authorities on space travel, gravity, or the Internet.
We all can agree that the greatest of God’s commandments is to love God with all your heart and soul, and to love your neighbor as you love yourself.
The Clobber Texts (updated 12.13.13) By Bruce Kellison