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The Bible and homosexuality

Detailed introduction, Part 2

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This topic is a continuation from Part 1

Same-sex activity in biblical times:

In Biblical times, same-gender sexual interactions could take many forms. Some were:

bulletKings of conquered tribes were sometimes anally anally raped by the invading army as the ultimate symbol of defeat and humiliation. Such rape was also a way of humiliating visitors and strangers. These were acts of power and domination. [They had nothing in common with consensual sex by gays and lesbians today.]

bulletSome religious groups both in and around ancient Israel had male prostitutes in their temples who ritually engaged in same-sex activities. These practices were frequently condemned in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). [Temple prostitution is no longer found in most areas of the world.]

bulletIn biblical times, sex was regarded as an activity engaged in by a dominant person and a submissive person. For a man to play the role of a submissive partner would be a reversal of roles, and unacceptable. [Most adults engaged in sexual activity today consider each other as equals.]

bulletIt was common within the Roman Empire for male adults to keep boy prostitutes for the purpose of sexual activity. The boys were often slaves. [In modern times, this is considered extreme child abuse, a criminal offense.]

bulletIt is reasonable to assume that many loving gay and lesbian relationships existed in Biblical times. Rabbi Gershon Caudill wrote:

"Like all indigenous peoples, the Jews were not overly concerned about male homosexuality, where two men lived together in a monogamous, sexual relationship. As a rule, it did not get any notice....The Talmud does not record a single instance of a person being brought before the Sanhedrin on the charge of homosexual activity." 1

It was only a millennium after the Torah was written that the Talmud makes its first reference to homosexuality as a perversion. This occurred during the time when the Hebrews were being influenced by Greek culture -- which accepted homosexual behavior.

Only the last type would have any similarity to today's gay and lesbian consensual, committed, loving relationships.

There were other differences between the culture of the ancient Hebrews and modern day society:

bulletThere was a general belief that life on earth was all that there was. A person who led a good life would be rewarded by God with a long life and many children. A person could live on after death only through their children.

bulletHaving no belief in an afterlife, men were put under tremendous pressure to marry and procreate. An example of this is seen in Genesis 38, where a widow was expected to have at least one child fathered by her former husband's brother in order to continue her husband's line. Thus both adult bachelorhood and being in a loving same-sex relationship would not have been an acceptable situation.

bulletAncient Israel was under continual attack from other countries. A large and competent army was a high priority, and could only be maintained with a high birth rate. Since same-sex couples had a low birth rate, such families would be considered unacceptable.

bullet Ancient peoples generally had a false belief about procreation. They believed that male sperm worked like plant seeds. That is, sperm contained living humans who only needed to be "planted" in a woman's womb to start pregnancy. They had no concept at all of women contributing an ovum to the fertilization process. The only function of a woman was to provide a nurturing environment for the tiny human so that it would grow into a newborn -- something like earth allowed seeds to grow.

People's beliefs regarding the Bible:

People differ greatly in their view of the Bible:

bulletGenerally speaking, fundamentalists and other evangelical Christians believe that:
bullet The Bible, as originally written, is God's word. The more conservative wing of evangelicals believe that the Bible is inerrant (infallible; free of errors) and that God prevented the authors from making even a single mistake.

bulletEvery verse is useful in their understanding of God's intentions.

bulletOne should initially attempt to interpret each passage according to its literal meaning.

bullet Although copying errors were likely that changed some text between the autograph copy -- the original copy handwritten by the author -- and more modern manuscripts, none of the errors have caused theological errors.
bulletMany translations are reliable, particularly the New International Version (NIV) and King James Version (KJV).

When conservative Christians read biblical passages in English that clearly and unmistakably condemn homosexuality, they are inclined to trust the translators and conclude that God hates homosexuality. Unfortunately, many groups of translators have been heavily biased against certain groups, including Witches, gays and lesbians; many have tended to warp their translations accordingly.

At this web site, we try to avoid criticizing the beliefs of religious groups. However, we feel free to criticize their religiously motivated activities if they exhibit hatred against an identifiable group or when they have a negative impact on the civil rights of others.

We have noticed a practice of a few fundamentalist and other evangelical Christian pastors which appear to be inconsistent, unethical and/or dishonest. We use the word "appear" because we are not certain that the pastors are consciously aware of their practices:

bulletSome pastors cite Genesis 19, a passage that condemns homosexual rape, as proof that God hates all homosexual behavior. Yet they would never quote a verse that condemns heterosexual rape and state that it applies to all heterosexual activity.

bulletWe have noticed some pastors switching between Bible translations in order to find the version that is most critical of homosexual behavior. When quoting Deuteronomy 23:17 some deviate from their usual usage of the New International Version (NIV). It accurately translates the original Hebrew condemnation of male and female prostitution in the temple (a common Pagan practice). They prefer the King James Version (KJV) which incorrectly translates the passage as condemning female prostitutes and male "sodomites."
 
bullet More liberal/progressive Christians tend to look upon the Bible as containing many translation errors, whose verses were not inspired by God, but were influenced by ancient pre-scientific cultures. Passages often relate to customs of a long-past era that are unethical when compared to today's secular and religious systems of morality. Examples are verses which accept and regulate slavery, require widows to marry their brother-in-law, requiring victims of rape to marry their rapist, or condone abusive child disciplinary practices which most parents have now abandoned. Passages which might be interpreted as condemning homosexuality might also be not applicable today.

Each Bible translation reflects the world view, beliefs and mind sets of its translators. Essentially all versions of the Bible are funded by religious organizations whose translators who all follow a specific theological belief system. Their personal biases distort their work. There is an additional complexity facing translators: today's society is very different from that of Biblical times. It is sometimes difficult to find a current English word that closely matches a Hebrew or Greek term.

Are Bible translators truly free of bias?

The answer is no. They have never been free to translate the Bible as their understanding of the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek dictated. One famous example was the translation of the King James Version of the Bible. The translators were pressured into attacking "witches" where:

bulletThe original Hebrew text in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) discussed women who used spoken curses to hurt or kill others.

bulletThe original Greek text in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) discussed people who murdered others through the use of poison.

In modern times, the pressures are from economic considerations, not by royal commands.

Take Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, for example. A word-by-word analysis of these two verses by the National Gay Pentecostal Alliance (NGPA), showed that the passages do not prohibit all same-sex behavior; they do not even prohibit all male same-sex activities. They merely control where male-male intercourse is allowed. It cannot be performed in a woman's bed, because that location is sacrosanct. Only the woman, and under certain circumstances a man, may occupy it. Otherwise, a serious defilement would result. 2

The New International Version (NIV) currently translates Leviticus 18:22 as:

"Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable."

The New Living Translation (NLT) widens the translation to also include lesbians:

"Do not practice homosexuality; it is a detestable sin.

Imagine what would happen to Bible sales if the interpretation by the National Gay Pentecostal Alliance (NGPA) was used. Translators might render this verse as:

"Two men must not engage in sexual activity on a woman's bed; it is ritually unclean.

By reading various translations of the Bible, generations of Christians have been conditioned to expect this verse to condemn all homosexual behavior -- or at least all male same-sex activity. They expect that it will be morally condemned as "an abomination" or at least as a "detestable" act. But this new translation does not prohibit male to male sexual behavior; it only limits where the act can be performed. And it does not say that this conduct, if done on a woman's bed, is to be morally condemned. It only says that it is ritually unclean, like coming too close to a dead body, or eating shellfish, or getting a tattoo. The readers would assume that the translation is defective and that the translators were distorting the original meaning of the passage in order to be politically correct and not offend gays and lesbians. The readers would be disinclined to buy the Bible. Thus, a truly accurate Bible would probably be a financial failure, and might never see the light of day.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Rabbi Gershon Caudill, "A Heterosexual Jewish Rebbe's View on the (Supposedly) Homosexual Texts in the Hebrew Bible," at: http://www.affirmation.org/
  2. ThNGPA has merged with Apostolic Intercessory Ministry; both groups are now known as Apostolic Restoration Mission. See: http://www.apostolicrestorationmission.4t.com/ 

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Copyright © 1996 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2011-JAN-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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