The Big Eight

Larry Toothman , 10 June 1994

There are eight passages in the Bible which have commonly been cited in direct condemnation of homosexual activity. Other passages are related to or comment upon them. It should be noted that the sexist bias of biblical writers is apparent in the fact that only one of these passages perhaps refers to homosexuality among women. In understanding the basic, universal application of a passage, we may justly acknowledge our fuller understanding of the value of every human being under God and extrapolate from the original sexist application to the basic universal principle before drawing a contemporary specific application.

Deuteronomy 23:17-18

Much of the traditional understanding of this passage as a condemnation of homosexual activity is based upon a mistranslation in the Authorized Version of the Hebrew word QADHESH. While the female form, qedheshah, was somewhat correctly translated "whore" the translators chose to render the male form with the word "sodomite" (itself based upon another misinterpretation), rather that with an equivalent translation of male temple servant or prostitute.

The cultures which surrounded the Israelites included fertility cults. It was believed that by engaging in intercourse in the temple the worshipers would encourage the gods also to engage in intercourse and thereby keep the earth fertile. Some interpreters point out, then, that while the male prostitutes mentioned here may have been engaged in homosexual activity, the focus of condemnation was the pagan practice of temple prostitution which the Israelites were in danger of adopting. The condemnation applied equally to both female and male cult prostitutes, regardless of sexual partners.

Other interpreters maintain that there was logically no place for homosexual activity in a fertility rite and that, based on the evidence, the male prostitutes where probably engaged in heterosexual intercourse. Whichever argument seems to be the most persuasive, the fact remains that the object of condemnation in this pass age is prostitution and ritual prostitution, at that, whether heterosexual or homosexual.

Genesis 19:4-11; Judges 19:22

(Related passages-Jude 6-7 and II Peter 2:4,6-8)

The Genesis passage is that occurrence in the story of the destruction of Sodom which is traditionally interpreted to show that God's reason for that destruction of Sodom was the depravity of the people of the city, particularly expressed here in homosexual behavior. The Judges passage contains similarities to the Genesis account so striking that form critics presume elements in the Judges account were directly borrowed to enhance the story.

One major point of controversy in the interpretation of the passage centers on translation of the word YADHA which literally means "to know." Most sympathetic interpreters base their understanding upon the work study of D. S. Bailey. The word occurs, outside of these two passages, 943 times in the Old Testament and in only ten of these occurrences does it denote intercourse. The word occurs in five additional instances combined with the word MISHKABH to mean simply the act of lying. By comparison, the word SHAKHABH which is the root of MISHKABH occurs fifty times to mean "lie" sexually. Moreover, in its other uses, YADHA always means heterosexual intercourse, while SHAKHABH is used of both homosexual and bestial intercourse, as well as heterosexual. This last point convinces some interpreters that if the writers had intended the meaning of homosexual intercourse to be understood, they would have used SHAKHABH rather than YADHA. By inference, they seriously question the traditional interpretation of YADHA as sexual.

However, other interpreters insist that contextual indications do support the sexual interpretation. They maintain that if the men were demanding the presence of the visitors to " get acquainted" with them, and perhaps to assault them other than sexually, then Lot's offer of his virgin daughters made no sense. These interpreters are convinced that this offer constitutes a substitute outlet for the sexual activity indicated by the word YADHA. The same argument is applied to the word's occurrence in the Judges passage. Dr. Bailey postulates that Lot's offer of his daughters was simply the most tempting bribe he could offer on the moment to distract the men from their purpose.

Once more, however, whichever argument about the word YADHA that ones finds persuasive, the core of the issue in these two stories is not that the proposed activity was or was not to be homosexual, but that it was to be abusive. The intent to kill is especially apparent in the Judges account. What seems to have been worse, in light of the Old Testament cultural view, it was to be abuse of visitors, proving the very wickedness of which God had already convicted Sodom. The account in Judges emphasizes another value of the Israelite culture, the absolute dignity of the male sex which was to be violated by the action of the men.

A clear expression of the biblical understanding of the sin of Sodom is found in Ezekiel 16:49-50. The sin of Sodom is plainly delineated and is not specified as sexual at all. In considering the sin of inhospitality, it is useful to compare Jesus' teaching found in Luke 10:10-13. Dr. Bailey explores many ancient writings which shed light on the interpretation of the story of Sodom and he show that it was not until the Second Century B.C. that an interpretation of homosexual behavior began to emerge as the explanation for Sodom's destruction. This new interpretation was fully realized in the writings of Philo and Josephus, Jewish historians, in the first Century A.D. It must be noted that this interpretation did not occur in writings of the Jewish religious scholars, but of historians and other non religious writers. The later New Testament writers and the early church based their anti-homosexual interpretation not upon rabbinical biblical interpretation, but upon acceptance of the writings of Philo. By looking directly at the passages themselves, on may observe that, whether the proposed activity was to be homosexual or not, the sin lay in the abuse rather than the choice of partner.

Leviticus 18:22, 20:13

These verses occur in the portion of Leviticus which is known as the "Holiness Code."

These laws were specifically addressed to the Israelite people who were surrounded my pagan and polytheistic people and whose uniqueness in worship was constantly in danger of contamination. The observance of this code was mandated to keep them separate, to maintain their cultic purity. The word TOEBHAH which occurs in these passages is translated " abomination " and refers throughout the Old Testament specifically to practices which were considered to be characteristic of pagan idolatry .It is a religious designation and refers to any idolatrous practice, not only to sexual practices.

Paul says that Christians are free from the dead hand of the law. Most certainly few Christians adhere to much of the Holiness Code in any case, especially the laws of animal sacrifice, ritual purification and diet. As a Holiness Code, then, these passages no longer carry the force of law. In accord with the basic guidelines of the course, it becomes necessary to move from the meaning for the original readers.

The basic principle which seems to underlie the whole of this code is that of maintaining a sense of holiness, of being set apart to God. One may see these always as an example of the necessity for conforming to God's standards before conforming to the standards which surround one. It may be useful to remind oneself constantly that God demands one's first loyalty, just as these laws reminded the Israelites, and that the intrusion of other values and lessor becomes idolatry.

A more specific application has been suggested, however, in reference to these two passages, an application which indicates that their focus was not so much on homosexual activity as on its cultural implications at the time. Once more, it is important to emphasize the Israelite value of absolute dignity of the male sex. While women were valued in another way, it was as secondary, as chattel. Men were absolutely valuable, in primary image of God.

A common practice in societies surrounding the Israelites was to sodomize conquered enemies as a way of emphasizing and completing their humiliation. The conquered became property, to be used and abused at will. To sodomize a man, then, came to have the meaning of using that man as property in the same way that a women was property. This sort of use violated the basic dignity which a man was believed to have. Therefore, one may see a new aspect in the condemnation of lying with a man as with a woman. In the eyes of the Israelite culture, this was to treat a man as property in the way one would treat a woman. It was an idolatrous practice which robbed a man created in the image of God of his dignity of manhood.

We may draw from the limited cultural imperative a universal dictum based upon the absolute dignity of every human being created in God's image. That dictum seems to be that no one is to use another person as property, to violate their dignity as a human being. This been not be interpreted sexually, since sodomy is not seen in every culture as a means of humiliation or abuse.

Nevertheless, it is probably justifiable to understand these two passages, in their original context and for their original readers, as condemning homosexual activity in the culture and for their reasons.

I Corinthians 6:9; I Timothy 1:10

Both of these verses occur in the context of lists, one by the Apostle Paul, of people who are not, by their actions part of God's realm and the other, by the unknown author of the episties to Timothy, of people who are law breakers. The references which traditionally are supposed to refer to homosexual activity consist of two Greek words. Modem scholars can only surmise the precise meanings of these words, for there is little objective evidence relating to their use and meaning in the forms in which they are found here.

The first word is pronounced ma-Ia-kee (sorry , the Greek Iettering is not possible here), which comes from a root word ma-Ia-kos which literally means "soft" (as in clothing) or sometimes "effeminate." (It should be noted that in the Greek mind the word "effeminate" did not equal "homosexual", any more than what society today commonly considers "effeminate" can be construed to equal homosexuality). This word occurs only in the list in I Corinthians. In the form used, scholars feIt it may most accurately be translated "catamite." Once again, one may note that a reference to a form of prostitution has traditionally been construed as a reference to homosexuality in general. And it should also be noted that the word "catamite" does not necessarily connote a homosexual individual.

The second word, which appears in both passages, is even more difficult to translate in precisely the way the writers assumed their readers understood it. The word is (ar-sen-o-kee-teh). At best we surmise that this refers to the active partner in anal intercourse. It is highly probable, according to scholars, that this word also contains an implication of prostitution, and certainly implies use of the other person. However, the word "sodomite" is not a valid translation (even in the common usage of the word). This word [arsenokeeteh] applies both to homosexual and heterosexual anal intercourse.

It seems to refer to an act, then, which involves abuse or use of persons as objects.

There was no Greek word which was equivalent to the English word "homosexual." There were a number of Greek words for people who engaged in certain homosexual practices. Had the writers meant specifically to indicate homosexual activity, then, there were certainly more exact words they were likely to have used. In summary , neither of these words refers to all homosexual individuals.

Furthermore, neither of them refers to homosexuality apart from heterosexuality at all. They are both words which indicate use of one human being by another, even abuse. They occur in lists of such practices of use and abuse, and the teaching of Scriptural, as in Leviticus, is a reminder that Christians are to relate to persons in love and not regard persons as objects to be used.

Romans 1 :26-27

The first important issue which arises in the passage centers upon whether verse 26 addresses homosexuality among women. The Greek word (meh-teel-Iax-ahn) only specifies that the women to whom Paul refers "changed" their practices. It does not specify what the new practices were, nor whether they were heterosexual or homosexual. The reason for believing that the practices were homosexual come from the first word in verse 27. In Greek, the word (oh-mee-os), translated "likewise," has the effect of an equals sign. Since the practices to which Paul refers in verse 27 are,

indeed, homosexual, the word indicates that the practices in verse 26 were also homosexual. Verse 26, then, is the only reference in the Bible to homosexuality among women.

In characterizing these homosexual practices, Paul uses the Greek term (pa-ra-phee-seen), translated "against nature." This phrase must not be confused with the same phrase as used in traditional theology in condemnation of homosexuality. In theological terms, the contra natural (against nature) argument is based on human biology, not religious tradition. Anything which was contrary to Jewish religious tradition was, in Paul ' s writing, contra natural. This characterization corresponds to the meaning to TOEBHAH, abomination, in the Old Testament. The violation of Jewish tradition has the impact in Paul 's thought of idolatry , exactly the problem he is discussing.

Paul uses the word (a-phen-des) of the action of the men in verse 27. The word is translated "leave, give up, abandon." Some interpreters approaching this passage, then, have explained that since Paul was talking about people who leave heterosexual practices which are natural to them for homosexual practices which are not, people for whom homosexuality is already a basic life pattern are not leaving heterosexual practice and are not included in this condemnation.

There is ample evidence to support the fact that homosexual activity, like heterosexual activity, is of inherently neutral ethical value. Sexuality may be used by an individual to either good or evil purpose. Homosexual activity occurs quite as "naturally" as heterosexual activity in a context of caring and loving relationship. Both are equally subject to biblical values and guidelines. Some homosexual activity undoubtedly falls into that lustful and idolatrous characterization which Paul makes in these verses. So would some heterosexual behavior. Other homosexual activity certainly incorporates the knowledge of God's love, the affirmation of the other as God's child, the intent of expressing communication and love through sexuality. It is evident that Paul, in writing this passage, had no experience of or was unable to acknowledge the reality of loving homosexual activity.

Source: Larry Toothman, ISCAbbs, University of Iowa