Homosexuality in the Bible

H has suggested that I share the little summary I wrote over the Bible’s take on homosexuality. Why not? There is an excellent, neutral overview of the topic online; a biased summary from my cranky perspective follows.

New Testament:

There is nothing conclusive in the gospels or Acts. Paul, in Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6.9-11, alludes to homosexuality being immoral, though there is more of a stress of watching out for general sexual immorality in these places than any specific acts. It is unclear if he is referring to committed, adulterous, or single relationships in Romans, and in 1 Corinthians he could be as easily referring to male prostitutes or masturbating; the translations vary and the NRSV waffles. He is not using the common Greek term, paderast, for male homosexuals, but arsenokoitai, which seems to be a portmanteau that Paul made up after reading Leviticus in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT.

Similar to the Corinthians passage is 1 Timothy 1:9-10, but as that epistle is a 2nd century Pauline forgery, it can be tossed. Also, Jude 1:7 talks about Sodom and Gomorrah but the translation is vague on whether it refers to homosexuality; in any case, Jude is also a 2nd century forgery.

Old Testament:

Genesis 19 is about inhospitality to visitors (in that rape is not very hospitable), not homosexuality. The modern term sodomy is a back-formation from the name of the city Sodom, not the other way around. See Matt 10:14-15 on Jesus’ take on Sodom and Gomorrah, which sets up mere non-raping inhospitality as worse. Also see Judges 19.22, where a similar story is retold but it ends with a heterosexual rape.

Various other bits of Genesis could be used to attack homosexuality but they’re fallacious arguments from silence; only heterosexual relationships, i.e. Adam and Eve, are referred to.

Leviticus 18:22 gets translated so many different ways that it’s difficult to say much about it, save that it is definitely prohibiting some form of male-male intercourse. What form, though, is open to debate. Leviticus 20.13 is more to the point, adding death as punishment. Given the same author wrote both, I’d say the Priestly author (of the well-established JEDP theory) of Leviticus thought those that performed homosexual acts should be killed outright. These seem to be the passages that Paul based his statements in Romans and 1 Corinthians on.

In Deuteronomy 23:17 and a few passages in 1 and 2 Kings there are proscriptions against ‘male cult prostitutes’ that used to be translated as ’sodomites’ in the KJV and other editions. Whether these pagan prostitutes in temples were servicing males or females is unknown.

Conclusion:

The Priestly author of Leviticus appears to be the main source of anti-homosexual thought in the Bible, along with such charming directives as casting into exile any couples who have sex during the woman’s period, permission to take non-Israelites as slaves, a ban on haircuts and tattoos, and killing adulterers and kids who insult their parents outright. And they talk of family values today.

Despite Paul never being much for strictly following Mosaic code, he seems to like those lines in Leviticus and recasts the attitude for Christianity – now the kingdom of God is denied instead. The 2nd century forgers followed his example. Paul must have been frustrated. After converting Gentiles without requiring they follow Jewish custom, he found some of his congregations a little more free-spirited than he would personally like.

Jesus is never attributed a position on the matter either way; it’s just not an issue, and if he had been presented with the topic, there are plenty of passages in the gospels where he is depicted, using great rhetorical skill, as wriggling out of strictly following Mosaic law – eating on the Sabbath, for example. And given the more libertine Roman and Greek mores of the times, such an omission is understandable.

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