Monday, November 11, 2019

Does the Bible condemn homosexuality?

This morning, somebody posted on a forum arguing that the Bible doesn't (or may not) condemn homosexuality. Here's a summary of his arguments:

1. The Old Testament is not applicable to Christians.
2. Homosexuality is an orientation, and people in Jesus' day had no concept of it, so they couldn't have forbidden it.
3. Nobody knows what Paul meant by "arsenokoites" in 1 Corinthians 6:9.
4. Romans 1 might be an interpolation.
5. Nobody in the NT but Paul said anything about it.

Here is how I responded.

There are a few things here I disagree about and some I'm not sure about.

First, you say the OT isn't relevant to Christians. I don't think that's true. It is true that some of the Mosaic laws are not applicable to Christians. But the OT is still full of moral principles that are applicable to Christians, and some of those moral principles are codified in the Mosaic law. For example, adultery is still a sin.

We can tell when the Mosaic law is talking about a moral principle that applies universally by looking at how God treats other nations. God never condemns other nations for violating the Sabbath, or for eating pork, or for wearing the wrong clothes or not planting their crops correctly. However, he does condemns other nations for violence and for their sexual practices.

So the real question is whether the condemnations of same sex relations in Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 are limited to the Mosaic covenant or whether they codify universal moral principles. Leviticus 18:22 says that "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination." This is one among many sexual prohibitions listed in chapter 18, and it explicitly forbids two males to have sex with each other. What we want to know is whether this prohibition was limited to the Mosaic law, which only applied to Jews living under the Mosaic covenant, or whether it captured a universal moral principle that applied outside of Israel.

The answer is found near the end of chapter 18. After listing all these various sexual prohibitions, it says in verses 24 and 25, "Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants." So clearly, God judged other nations for engaging in these sexual practices, including men having sex with men. That means the prohibition isn't limited to those under the Mosaic covenant. It's a universal moral crime, and that means it applies just as much to Christians as it does to Jews under the Mosaic covenant.

You say there's no mention of homosexuality in the Bible, that homosexuality is an orientation, and that people in Jesus' day had no concept of it. I don't know if all of this is correct. You may be right that homosexuality is never spoken of as an orientation in the Bible, but I don't see why the word, "homosexuality," must be restricted to an orientation. Why can't it also refer to behavior? Is this just a quibbling over semantics? As far as whether people in Jesus' day had any concept of homosexuality as an orientation, I doubt you're correct. We know that people in Jesus' day did form long term homosexual relationships1, and if homosexuality is just as inevitable a part of the human population then as it is now, we should expect that a certain portion of the population would be gay. It seems doubtful that nobody would notice.

Besides that, any behavior has an underlying desire. You see this theme throughout the Bible. For example, Jesus said, "The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart" (Luke 6:45). So in Jesus' view, your behavior arises out of what is in your heart, i.e. all of your desires and preferences. So if somebody were observed to engage in same sex relationships (especially if done exclusively), then the natural conclusion any Christian would draw was that the person had a preference for same sex relationships. That is essentially how you are defining homosexuality. Maybe they didn't have a word for the preference, but they certainly must've had a concept of the orientation.

You say that nobody knows what arsenokoites means because Paul invented the word. The word is also used in the Sibylline Oracles, which might predate Paul, but you're right at least that Paul was one of the first people to use the word. But I think you're mistaken to say that we have no idea what Paul meant by it. It's easy to see that it's a compound word between arsen (male) and koites (bed, or to lay, or have sex with). Both of these words are used in the two passages that condemn same sex male relations in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. These words are found right beside each other in the Septuagint translation of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. They're used right next to each other in 20:13.

18:22 καὶ μετά ἄρσενος οὐ κοιμηθήσῃ κοίτην γυναικείαν, βέλυγμα γάρ ἐστι.

20:13 καὶ ὃς ἂν κοιμηθῇ μετά ἄρσενος κοίτην γυναικός, βδέλυγμα ἐποίησαν ἀμφότεροι· θανάτῳ θανατούσθωσαν, ἔνοχοί εἰσιν.

Anybody familiar with these passages would've noticed right away that Paul was alluding to these passages, and it would've been clear what he was referring to. Even without these passages, it would've been clear. "Koites" is so commonly understood in Greek to mean "sex," that we even use it in English to refer to sex. So "male sex" is just as good a literal translation as "male bed," and it would refer to somebody who has sex with males.

Some scholars think the malekoi and arsenokoitai refer to the active and passive members of a same sex union between two males. The malekoi was the passive partner, and the arsenokoitai was the active partner. We just don't have an English word for malekoi, which is why you get so many differences in English translations.

You say that Romans 1:26-27 may have been an interpolation. I've never heard that. Is this speculation, or is there a textual variant involved? We have lots of old copies of Romans. Do any of them lack this passage? Romans is one of the undisputed letters of Paul, and it is typically the standard by which other letters attributed to Paul are judged to be authentic or inauthentic. So I would think you'd need a pretty good argument to dismiss this passage.

You say that nobody but Paul talked about same sex relationships. You might be right that they didn't talk about it explicitly the way Paul did, but there are at least three passages where Jesus talked about it implicitly. One passage is in Matthew 5 where Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. The law includes Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, so Jesus was implicitly affirming these prohibitions against same sex relationships.

In Matthew 19, Jesus is confronted by some Pharisees about Moses allowing divorce. Jesus made an argument that God's original intention for marriage was for it to be permanent. His argument was based on how God originally made Adam and Eve. He said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 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’?" Since Jesus grounded his argument in Adam and Eve being made male and female and becoming one flesh, this would not only rule out divorce, but it would also rule out same sex unions because God originally made them male and female to form a complimentary pair. That was God's original intention for marriage. So Jesus was implicitly condemning same sex unions in this passage, too.

There's a third passage, but I can't remember it.


1. Robert Gagnon lists a few examples in this book review.

No comments: