By Sandra Turnbull
1) Where within the religious texts does the idea of homosexuality appear and when were they introduced into the texts?
There are several passages of scripture which have been coined in the last 40 years or so as the “clobber passages.” These scriptures have historically been used to condemn homosexuals. They are Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:24-26, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10.
The word “homosexual” is in the English bible in many instances at this time. The fact is, that word was coined by a Hungarian physician named Karoly Maria Benkert in 1869. The word homosexual gradually came to be the term used by scholars in the medical and social sciences to refer to people of same-sex orientation. Therefore, some form of the term homosexual in the biblical text is only a Twentieth Century inclusion. The term was never used by English Bible translators until 1946 when the Greek words arsenokoitai and malakoi were translated into English as homosexuals.
Many have argued that the Sodom and Gomorrah story in Genesis 19 was the beginning of God’s wrath against homosexuals because of the destruction of these cities. However, in Luke 10:10-12 we see Jesus speaking of Sodom and Gomorrah in terms of the sin of inhospitality. Also, the Judges 19 story of a concubine being raped and killed by a similar mob in Benjamin is never described as a crime against heterosexuals. Yet, some well meaning Christians have tried to use the Genesis 19 story as proof of God’s judgment of homosexuals for some reason. Similarly, other places in the Hebrew text where Sodom and Gomorrah is mentioned such as Ezekiel 16:49-50 does not mention homosexuality. In the Greek text such as in Jude 6-7 where mention of “strange flesh” is provided, it is a condemnation of the fallen angels who had sexual relations with human women according to Genesis 6:1-4 and not anything to do with homosexuals. In 2 Peter 2:4-8 we have mention of the same event. Therefore, we should probably take the words of Jesus to heart and understand that Genesis 19 has nothing to do with human sexuality and certainly not homosexuality.
How did the Jewish people read Genesis 19?
The story was initially never seen as a condemnation of homosexuality by the Hebrew people. In fact, the Talmudic references to homosexuality never refer to Genesis 19. It wasn’t until hundreds of years later that damaging interpretations began to surface in Jewish writings like the Pseudepigrapha, which never became part of the Hebrew canon, and the Apocrypha, that is only recognized by the Roman
Catholic and Greek Orthodox Church. These Jewish writings were created from approximately 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. ending around the time of the New Testament period. In much of these writings, when the sexual activities of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah are addressed, the Jewish writers seem to condemn excesses that are both heterosexual and homosexual in nature.
2) What were the reasons behind the terms for homosexuality being introduced?
There are two Greek words in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 which Biblical scholars have had great difficulty in understanding. The first Greek word is “arsenokoitai” which is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and in 1 Timothy 1:10. This word is translated in the New International Version of the Bible as “homosexual offender” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and as “pervert” in 1 Timothy 1:10. As you can see by these two translations of the same word, Biblical scholars have struggled to understand the meaning of “arsenokoitai.”
The second Greek word is “malakoi” which is only used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9. This word is translated in 1 Corinthians 6:9 as “male prostitute” in the New International Version of the Bible while this same word is translated as “fine” or “soft” wherever else it is found in the New Testament.
The Greek word arsenokoitai is believed to be coined by the apostle Paul. This Greek word is not used elsewhere in the Bible and it is also not found in any other literature prior to being used in Paul’s writings. Arsenokoitai is two Greek words put together. The word arsen means man or male and the word koite means bed. Although arsenokoitai has baffled Biblical scholars who have translated it in various ways, it is now believed by many scholars to be related to the Levitical passages. I agree with this.
The Greek translation of the Old Testament is called the Septuagint. It would have been well known to the whole Jewish community and to the apostle Paul who preached in Greek during his missionary journeys. During the third and second centuries B.C., the entire Hebrew Bible was translated into the Greek language. Therefore, it is no surprise that the apostle Paul coined the term arsenokoitai as a derivative of the Septuagint’s Greek translation of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. The Septuagint translates Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as follows:
Leviticus 18:22 “kai meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten gynaikos”
Leviticus 20:13 “kai hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gynaikos…”
Both of the above phrases are Greek translation of the phrase “male who lies with a male as with a woman.” As you can see, the two Greek words arsen and koite are closely placed together especially in the Leviticus 20:13 verse. Therefore, it seems that the etymology of the word arsenokoitai is rooted in the pagan idolatrous practices referred to in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.
So, does Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 provide a condemnation of homosexuality? I believe not. The study on these two identical passages with the exception that Leviticus 20:13 provides a penalty for the “abomination” points to something altogether different. For example, chapter 18 of Leviticus is addressed to Hebrew males and it describes every type of sexual encounter that is prohibited. When you get to verse 21 there is mention of the pagan god Molech. Also, in verses 1-5 God is instructing Moses to tell the people to not live like the Egyptians where they have been and like the Canaanites where they are going. The key to understanding these verses is to understand the pagan religious rites of the Egyptians and the Canaanites. These people were involved in the worship of Baal, Molech, and many goddesses. The worship practices of these fertility cult religions demanded the offering of seed or semen to the god or goddess in order to receive the blessing of the god or goddess. In other words, these religions were sexual in nature. The priest or prostitute at the pagan temple would receive the “seed” in the form often of sexual intercourse. These male priests and male prostitutes were set apart for the pagan god or pagan goddess and they were often castrated males and most of them dressed as female. Thus, the prohibition for Hebrew males in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 to have sexual encounters with a “male as with a woman” is God’s way of saying, do not go and offer your seed to these priests and prostitutes. God made plain that these two verses out of all of the others was so awful because it was considered idolatry. Thus, the word “abomination” or “detestable” which in the Hebrew is “To`ebah” or an idol or an idolatrous practice.
I see therefore that arsenokoitai is referring to a male worshiper in a pagan religious cult. Paul used this word in order to tell the Greek speaking Gentiles that if they were participating in these idolatrous practices, then they were not living according to sound doctrine nor would they inherit the kingdom of God. Paul’s usage of arsenokoitai, which refers to male worshipers lying with a male as with a woman, is understood in light of the sexual practices associated with the cult of Aphrodite. Apparently, Aphrodite was another name for Cybele, the Syrian goddess. This deity was both male and female and so was depicted with a bearded face and full breasts. The cult taught that worshipers must hide their sex. Therefore, males came in female clothing and females in the clothes of males. It appeased the goddess if worshipers physically effaced their sex and it seems that hermaphrodites congregated in Aphrodite’s temple in large numbers. It did not matter whether the goddess was known as Aphrodite, Cybele, Astarte or Ishtar, because all of her worshipers engaged in errotic beatings, sadomasochism, same-sex orgies and for the males, castration. These practices were commonplace in all of the temples dedicated to this goddess along the sea coasts where the apostle Paul traveled as a missionary.
Later on, the word arsenokotai seems to have taken on other meanings. Remember, it was the apostle Paul who coined this word. Yet, during the next two to three hundred years its usage in various non-biblical writings indicate that it evolved into a description for people who exploited others for sexual purposes. It seems that arsenokoitai evolved in usage from a description of the male worshiper who paid for sex with prostitutes in the temple to those who paid for sex with prostitutes outside of the cultic worship experience.
Therefore, it seems that the term arsenokotai that the apostle Paul used in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 eventually came to describe the individual who would sexually exploit another, whether male or female. Author, Robin Scroggs, in her book entitled the New Testament And Homosexuality also indicates that in 1 Timothy 1:10, Paul has placed arsenokoitai purposefully right in the middle between the Greek word “pornos” sometimes translated as adulterer and the Greek word “andropodistes” meaning slave trader or kidnapper. She suggests that perhaps Paul is referring to male prostitutes in pornos, and then males who lie with prostitutes in arsenokoites, and finally in dealers who procure the prostitutes in andropodistes. It is all very possible. Therefore, it is clear that each of the vice lists provided by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 mention people who are exploiting others or doing wrong to others.
Suffice it to say, the Greek word arsenokoitai should not be linked to homosexuality as it currently is in the New International Version of the Bible where arsenokoitai is translated as homosexual offender.
The second Greek word “malakoi” is only used by Paul in one of the clobber passages. The New International Version of the Bible has translated malakoi in 1 Corinthians 6:9 as “male prostitute” whereas the King James Version uses “effeminate.” By the Twentieth Century some translators of the Bible began to link malakoi with arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9. It is thought that the term malakoi is a reference to an effeminate male prostitute or one who serves as the male receptive partner while arsenokoitai must refer to the males who would frequent the effeminate male prostitutes.
The actual word malakoi is found elsewhere in the New Testament and is used quite frequently in extra-biblical writings of the New Testament era. The basic meaning of malakos is soft or fine and in a moral sense it indicates moral weakness as in one who lacks self control. Author, John Boswell, in his book entitled, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality states that the term malakos is not associated with homosexual acts but rather has a long history of meaning masturbation.
Martti Nissinen in his book entitled Homoeroticism In The Biblical World states as well that malakos stresses femininity while adding that “a homosexual connotation may come from effeminacy, because the man who submits to the passive sexual role takes the position of a woman and represents moral values associated with women- mostly in a negative sense.” [i] This understanding seems to agree with Boswell who is adamant that malakos is not related to homosexual orientation since heterosexual males were called this term by ancient writers. [ii] Therefore, it seems that malakos was at times used to refer to males who were effeminate, whether heterosexual or homosexual. And, the term apparently was also used at times to mean males who took the passive sexual role, whether heterosexual or homosexual.
3) How are the original understandings of homosexuality in Christian different or the same in the modern world? What are some modern interpretations of the texts and how do people come to these conclusions?
I see that the “clobber passages” are all linked by the issue of idolatry. The very word “To`ebah” or “abomination” in the Hebrew text that has caused so much confusion and condemnation of homosexuals for many years is in fact a word that makes clear only that God hates idolatry. The idolatry that was taking place in the Old Testament with the nations surrounding the Hebrew nation was called fertility cult religions. These religions were very sexual in nature. God hated this misuse of worship. This same type of worship was also evident during the time of the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys. He encountered people in the churches who had this past and others who were still involved and enticed into this type of worship. Romans 1:24-27 is set in the context of the Apostle Paul’s polemic against idolatry and the practices involved in this type of worship which was common knowledge for the first century reader of the book of Romans.
Yet, to try to apply these ancient texts to modern day homosexuals is not good theology. Many gays and lesbians today are Christians and love Christ Jesus as their personal Saviour. Yet, they have been ostracized from the Church at large because of the misuse of these scriptural passages. Furthermore, the human sciences and social sciences also inform us that human sexuality is varied. There is a spectrum of sexuality and so the Church must embrace all of God’s creation.
Today many scholars believe that Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:11-12 are in fact comments about homosexuals. Eunuchs who were born from their mothers wombs as such are a description of homosexuals. Also, the story of Jonathan and David in 1 Samuel and the story of Ruth and Naomi in Ruth are same gender love stories where covenants are formed between persons of the same sex and love is shared.
4) How can someone find a balance between their faith and their sexuality?
I believe that first and foremost one must be educated on the scriptural passages and their correct applications. God is a God who has created human kind to be diverse. As David the psalmist said in Psalm 139, God has formed us in the womb of our mothers and we are wonderfully and fearfully made. We are knit together and
God saw and was involved in this process of human formation. Therefore, we can know that God embraces all of human sexuality and all of God’s people. To find this acceptance and love of God from the scriptures for evangelical Christians is a must.
I encourage GLBTI Christians to find an inclusive church to attend and participate in so that they can be a part of the Body of Christ and in a way that their own gifts are affirmed as well.
It is possible for a GLBTI Christian to find a balance between their faith and sexuality. To err on only emphasizing their sexuality and forget the spiritual component of their lives, is a tragedy and not God’s purpose at all.
Neither of these terms used in 1 Corinthians 6:9 or 1 Timothy 1:10 point to a person of same-sex orientation nor do they condemn homosexuality. In fact, arsenokoitai especially is related to heterosexual males who originally participated in sexual relations in fertility cults and later to males who exploited males and females sexually without the fertility cult aspect. The term malakos also cannot be used to condemn homosexuality since it refers to males who were effeminate in general and also to males who engaged in sex as the passive partner, whether heterosexual or homosexual.
More information about Rev. Turnbull can be found at www.GloryTab.org