Of course, one must carefully consider the scripture portions that deal with homosexuality. It may be interesting to take into account the fact that there are six Bible verses (three OT and three NT) and two Old Testament stories traditionally associated with homosexuality.
Set this against the more than 600 Bible verses that talk about greed, one can imagine that the number of words / hours spent on these issues are largely disproportionate to how much weight the biblical witnesses (authors) have given to this particular question. In English we call these Bible verses “the clobber verses”, because it is these scripture verses that are often used to silence, or in retorting people with a LGBTQ orientation. However, upon closer examination one can rightly question whether these verses really deal with homosexuality in the same way that we view (perceive) homosexuality today.
It may be helpful to pose the question before one turns to the Bible. Can the text of the Bible speak of a reality that must have been alien to the contemporary culture at the time of writing and ultimately foreign to the biblical authors themselves? Historically, there appears to be no evidence that they had any knowledge of sexual orientation as a congenital condition or that they had knowledge of giving over to intimate loving homosexual relationships.
In the Old Testament we find a few stories that have traditionally been cited in the gay debate. The most famous of these stories is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah:
“Genesis 19:4-9 (NIV) 4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” 6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” 9 “Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.”
They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. What should be obvious after only a superficial reading of this text is that it is not about gay men, but rather, all of the city’s men who gather outside Lot’s door (it seems unlikely that all the inhabitants of Sodom, both young and old would be gay). It is also clear that this is not a comment on giving themselves over to loving relationships, but rather, it speaks of sexual abuse; rape and assault. What is even more interesting is that if we search through the rest of the Bible, if the text referenced homosexuality, we’d find more references to Sodom’s sin defined as homosexuality or sexual sins. Instead, one finds that most biblical texts that refer to Sodom and Gomorrah, list the city’s sin as xenophobia, inhospitality, idolatry, greed and oppression of the poor. (eg, Jeremiah 23:14, Luke 10:12).
Svartvik believes that the story of Sodom is a story that encourages hospitality rather than one that warns of the dangers of homosexuality. (Svartvik 2006). (Prof. Jesper Svartvik is Krister Stendahl Professor of Theology of Religions at Lund University and at the Swedish Theological Institute in Jerusalem. He is also a member of the Peer Review Board of Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations)
Further, Svartvik believes that the story has parallels with the legend of Procrustes (Προκρούστης or “the stretcher who hammers out the metal”) which is about a man who changed his house guests’ height in order that they fit the beds in their guest rooms. A ‘come as you are and become like us’ philosophy. Perhaps it is the churches who have committed sodomy more so than LGBTQ persons. Nonetheless, it is the city of Sodom’s name that has become synonymous with homosexuality. In Judges (chapters 19-22), we find one of the Old Testament’s most macabre tales, but again, even here we cannot conclude that this is about a deep, and heartfelt homosexual relationships, but once again, rape and assault.
Judges 19:22-26 (NIV) 22 While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.” 23 The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this outrageous thing. 24 Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.” 25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. 26 At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight.
The next stop is Deuteronomy in which the following verse was presented as a text that condemns homosexual behavior, however, the translation of the Bible in 2000 states that this is all about male and female temple prostitution. Deuteronomy 23:17-18 (NIV) 17 No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute. 18 You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute[a] into the house of the LORD your God to pay any vow, because the LORD your God detests them both.
The reason that this text is used is that the word sodomite is used in the text. (The double reference to male and female shrine prostitutes (Deut. 23:17-18) tends to reinforce a reference to sodomy) There are two important observations to make here: first of all, one could read this to mean that the law of Moses and Paul speak of heterosexual men and women engaged in homosexual acts and from this perspective recognize this as disgusting and unnatural.
In the text from Romans one can choose to read it as: Heterosexual men abandoned their natural intercourse with women, and began unnatural homosexual relationships with other men. One can of course also read this text as Paul saying that homosexuality is unnatural, but then we assume that Paul had knowledge (awareness) of something that was not documented until 1896 in the Journal of the History of Ideas.
On the other hand, one could draw the conclusion that there is a deeper perspective, based on contemporary gender perspective. Svartvik believes that at the time these texts were written, there was only one (recognized) sex: the male. One was either a man or a partial one (woman). Sexual acts defined in this way who was the man. Anyone who penetrates the male and the person being penetrated is female or a type subordinate. Thus, it is unnatural for a man to submit to another man sexually (Svartvik, 2006: 293f) This means that it is not the sex act that is unnatural, but rather that a man submits to another man (as a woman in accordance with prevailing social structure should be doing). If one chooses to read from this perspective, then one must consider all the arguments used in the debate relative to women’s rights.
The second observation is that Moses terms just this an abominable sin (the Hebrew word is tuevah mainly connected with impurity and idolatry). Furthermore, one finds the following two verses in the New Testament where the Greek word used is arsenokoites which literally means men who have sex. It is not entirely clear (as is the case with all the compound words) that it means men who sleep with men, but assume that this is so because it seems to be an allusion to the text in Leviticus that appears to be the same in the Greek Septuagint: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NIV) Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 1 Timothy 1:10(NIV)…for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality [arsenokoites], for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine
Whatever the words’ historic importance (to keep the text short, the problem of compound words are omitted) the text is clear enough for us to understand that what is described here is not an intimate, loving, and committed relationship between two people of the same the sex.
Furthermore, we have the three Bible verses that obviously refer to homosexuality; two from Moses, and one from Paul’s letter to the Romans.
“Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” (Lev 18:22)
“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”(Lev 20:13)
“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.‘” (Rom 1:26–27)
There are two important observations to make here: first, one could read this to mean that Moses and Paul speak of heterosexual men and women engaged in homosexual acts and from this perspective maintain that this is disgusting and unnatural. In the text from Romans one can choose to read (just) that: Heterosexual men abandoned their natural intercourse with women, and started unnatural homosexual relationships with other men. Of course one can also read this text as Paul saying that homosexuality is unnatural, but then we must incorrectly assume that Paul was aware of something that is was not documented until the 1896 History of Ideas.
On the other hand, one could conclude that there is a deeper perspective, based on contemporary gender perspective. Svartvik believe that at the time these texts were written, there was only one sex: the male. One was either a man or a partial man (woman). The sexual act defined who was the man. Anyone who penetrates is a male and the person being penetrated is a subordinate. Thus, it is unnatural for a man to submit to another man sexually (Svartvik, 2006: 293f)
This means that it is not the sex act that is unnatural, but rather, if a man submits to another man (as a woman in the prevailing social structure should be doing). If you choose to read from this perspective, one must consider all the arguments used in the debate on women’s rights.
The second observation is that the laws of Moses terms just this sin as abominable (the Hebrew word is tuevah mainly in linked with impurity and idolatry). In our contemporary church this is often taught as a declaration that homosexuality is a especially reprehensible sin. It may be worthwhile then to add the example; A woman who wears trousers (5 Ex. 22.5) or a man who eats pork (Isaiah 66.7) is also disgusting (tuevah) before the Lord.
According to theologian Jesper Svartvik “the act described in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 an ‘abomination’, in the same way as any celebration serving crayfish and or an eel feast. (Svartvik, 2006:298)
There is, of course, much more to say on the subject of a biblical view of homosexuality, it is however, clear from a biblical perspective that:
1. It is a not an equally important issue compared to oppression, greed and idolatry.
2. The most often referenced in the text of the Bible is violent behavior, promiscuous behavior, or pederasty (Older men who exploit young boys), with which the Bible distances itself.
3. The prevailing sexual views was not about biology, but gender (Svartvik 2006:294) and was meant to support the social structure.
4. There is no historical or biblical evidence that the Bible’s authors had an concept that there were people with different innate sexual orientation (although theologian NT Wright argues for such a knowledge-based references to Homer, there are also those who believe that people born gay were classified as eunucks), but without a condemning with one voice they acting against their sexual nature. Therefore it seems important to agree with KG Hammar, who writes:
The Bible condemns the promiscuous homosexual relationships the same way that the Bible condemns the promiscuous heterosexual relationships. The Bible also condemns in all situations, sexual violence, oppression and acts motivated by hate, anger and fear.
This is by no means convincing evidence in order to abandon his conviction that the Bible condemns homosexuality. However, it should provide enough information for the believing/acknowledged Christian to take the issue seriously and seek God’s guidance on how one should or should not behave towards LGBTQ people and that the attitude of the church should be in question.
Translation: Dr. Sven Ljungholm