Be sure to read part 1 of this series to see where I have come from. For the record my thesis is that the Bible does not condemn either homosexual acts or homosexual people. It also does not condemn heterosexual, transsexual, or pansexual people or acts, but one thing at a time.
One of the major points of Christian theology is that Christians can read the sacred text of the Bible, in whatever language they happen to speak and read, and they can accurately make sense of it. The Christian faith does not hold to the idea of impenetrable mysteries surrounding its sacred book, so I am in very good company by my attempts to read and interpret it.
One of the major points of Christianity is the idea that the Bible contains moral, spiritual, and theological guidelines for living the Christian life. Thus in order to live the good Christian life one should read the Bible, properly interpret it, and then apply its principles to how one chooses to live.
Now although the Bible was originally written in Ancient Hebrew and Ancient Greek it has since been translated over and over again into English and many other languages. Part of what makes Biblical interpretation tricky is that the various translations do not all agree with each other. Of course neither do the various factions of Christianity all agree with each other about it how to properly interpret this or that word, or how to translate so as to maintain the original (read theologically correct) meaning of the text.
Despite this there is some consensus as to how to interpret most of the basic terms, although unique terminology will sometimes play into the problems I will present in this series. For the sake of clarity I will always tell you which translation I am quoting by putting the little abbreviation in parentheses following the quote.
So in the case of my current project there has been a fair amount of interpretation of the Bible which claims that homosexuality is an immoral act, a sin, and as such should always be abstained from and condemned.
My interpretation is going to challenge this by looking at the major passages which Christians use to prove their point. So with that, let’s begin with the most classic case.
- The Sin of Sodom and Gomorrah
So of course the most famous Biblical passage which gives us our understanding of the Christian view on homosexuality is this passage in the Old Testament from which certain sexual acts get their social reputation. The sin of sodomy is often taken to be that of homosexual relations, but is that really the case? (No it is not).
The story comes down to us in Genesis 19: 1-22. It’s a long passage, but the issue is this. What is the sin of the mob, and the sin of the city of Sodom and Gomorrah?
By all obvious accounts the sin of the mob is rape, and rape of guests, which in the ancient world is quite the crime since hospitality was so important.
It can’t be homosexuality, since if Lot thought that the mob was interested only in having sex with men he never would have offered his daughters, it would not have made any sense. Also the mob does not ask Lot if his 2 guests are interested, this is not a request, they do not even necessarily find these men attractive. This situation is exactly what it looks like, an angry mob who thinks that a foreigner, Lot, is conspiring with 2 strange men who threaten the security of the city.
There is an eerily similar story to this account of Genesis, in Judges 19:16-30. That story has a very different ending, with the crowd actually carrying out their rape on a concubine who is being offered in place of the guests. This one is not as famous because the moral lesson is even more obviously about rape, and involves the degradation of female bodies by male bodies. Also the whole tale involves absolute moral evil on the parts of all parties, it is a rather disturbing account.
Of course one of the ways to determine the meaning of a passage in the Bible is to look and see if any other passages tell us what that one was all about. In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah we have Ezekiel 16: 49-50:
” Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good” (KJV)
That passage makes it clear that the sin of Sodomy is in fact being uncharitable, and miserly. Their sin was that they did not take care of the poor and needy, even though they had an abundance of wealth. In our society this is known as the sin of the 1%.
Conclusion to 1?: The sin of sodomy is being miserly, or else it is rape, not homosexual love.
- The Old Testament Law
After Sodom and Gomorrah it may be best to proceed in the order of the Biblical texts so we will now turn our attention to the Old Testament moral law.
In the Old Testament God issues a specific set of moral commands to the Israelites. These laws are recorded in the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The only specific mentions of homosexuality are contained in the book of Leviticus.
Leviticus 18:22 says: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”(NIV)
Leviticus 20:13 says “If a man has sexual relations with another man as a man does with a woman, these two men have done a hateful sin. They must be put to death. They have brought it on themselves.” (NCV)
So what can be said against such clear and obvious condemnations of homosexuality? We start by explaining that in fact most Christians simply reject the above verses as no longer relevant.
Our first response to these verses is to show that one of the major teachings of Christianity is Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament laws. This essentially means that Christians are no longer spiritually or morally obligated to follow these laws or abide by them. Part of this is spiritual and has to do with how the Jesus of the New Testament claims to be the fulfillment of the law. This teaching also comes from Paul and the other New Testament writers who understand that Christians are no longer bound by the old Hebrew laws.
Another part of this is practical, since if Christians did have to follow all of the Old Testament laws then they would need animal sacrifices, and they would need to murder any one of their congregation they caught committing certain sins, such as those mentioned in Leviticus 20. One way of trying to resolve that would be to say that some of the old testament law still applies and some does not. Yet the chosen laws will always seem arbitrary, self-serving, and justified only by one’s politics or theological agenda rather than some true interpretation of the text.
Yet if that is not enough then you may also want to consider the social and cultural context in which homosexuality is both understood and forbidden.
One of the common practices during ancient warfare in the middle east was the rape of captured enemies. Bible passages which give evidence of this are Lamentations 5:11, Numbers 31:1-18, and Deuteronomy 21:10-14. In the last 2 examples we actually have the account of the rules that the conquering Israelites were supposed to follow in dealing with their captured enemies.
Numbers 31 makes it quite clear that the only use that the Israelites have for their enemies is to father children on the captured women. Further they could only be sure that these children were Israelite children if the young women were virgins. This ensures the purity of the Israelites as well as the continued supremacy of their society.
My point in this little tangent is that war rape has never historically been limited to the women. Any society which has participated in war rape has participated in the humiliation, degradation, and destruction of the bodies of the defeated enemy. In some cases this means the victorious male soldiers would engage in raping captured male soldiers. Yet the Israelites were supposed to be above that kind of war rape since it did nothing productive for their own society.
Hence the laws which forbid homosexual relations are forbidding them in the only context in which the Israelites would have encountered such relationships, at least for themselves, in the context of war rape. It should not be difficult for Christians to condemn war rape of any kind, but again this is clearly not limited to, nor intended to be limited to, homosexual love. As such this is not a direct prohibition of that kind of love, but only of any kinds of war rape which are non-productive.
Of course there is one more context in which the ancient Israelites would have encountered homosexual acts, but that is our next category.
Conclusion to 2?: The old testament law is either obsolete thanks to Jesus, or else it is expressly forbidding war rape which cannot produce children, though all modern Christians should easily oppose war rape of any kind.