Visions of Daniel

What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality


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Chapter Nine
Summary and Conclusion

The literal approach to the Bible claims not to interpret the Bible but merely to take it for what it obviously says. The words of the Bible in modern translation are taken to mean what they mean to the reader today. On this basis the Bible is said to condemn homosexuality in a number of places.

But a historical-critical approach reads the Bible in its original historical and cultural context. This approach takes the Bible to mean, as best as can be determined, what its human authors intended to say in their own time and in their own way. Understood on its own terms, the Bible was not addressing our current questions about sexual ethics. The Bible does not condemn gay sex as we understand it today.

The sin of Sodom was inhospitality, not homosexuality. Jude condemns sex with angels, not sex between two men. Not a single Bible text indisputably refers to lesbian sex. The King James Bible's reference to "sodomites" in Deuteronomy and in 1 and 2 Kings is a mistranslation. From the Bible's positive teaching about heterosexuality, there follows no valid conclusion whatsoever about homosexuality. Biblical figures like Jonathan and David, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel may well have been involved in homogenital relationships. And Jesus himself said nothing at all about homosexuality, not even when face to face with a man in a gay relationship.

Only five texts in the Bible express an opinion about male-male sex: surely Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 and Romans 1:27 and perhaps 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 . All these texts are concerned with something other than homogenital activity itself, and these five texts boil down to only three different issues.

First, Leviticus forbids homogenitality as a violation of the ancient Jewish aversion to the "mixing of kinds," a confusion of the idealized roles of penetrating males and penetrated females. The concern about male-male sex is impurity, an offense against the Jewish religion, not violation of the inherent nature of sex. Second, the Letter to the Romans presupposes the teaching of the Jewish Law in Leviticus, and Romans mentions male-male sex as an instance of impurity. However, Romans mentions it precisely to make the point that purity issues have no importance in Christ. Finally, in the obscure term arsenokoitai , if taken to refer to male same-sex acts, 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy would condemn abuses associated with homogenital activity in the First Century: exploitation and lust.

So the Bible takes no direct stand on the morality of homogenital acts as such nor on the morality of gay and lesbian relationships as we conceive them today. Indeed, the Bible's longest treatment of the matter, in Romans, suggests that in themselves homogenital acts have no ethical significance whatsoever. However, understood in the context of the decadent first-century Roman Empire , 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy might suggest this lesson: abusive forms of male-male sex-and of male-female sex-must be avoided.

While the Bible makes no blanket condemnation of homogenital acts and even less of homosexuality, this does not mean that for lesbians and gay men anything goes. If they rely on the Bible for guidance and inspiration, lesbians and gay men will certainly feel bound by the core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition: be prayerful, reverence God, respect others, be loving and kind, be forgiving and merciful, be honest and be just. Work for harmony and peace. Stand up for the truth. Give of yourself for all that is good, and avoid all that you know to be evil. To do that is to follow God's way. To do that is to love God with your whole heart and soul. To do that is to be a true disciple of Jesus.

Living by the Bible, gay and lesbian people will submit to those severe moral requirements-and those requirements apply also to sex and to intimate relationships.

That is all that can honestly be said about biblical teaching on homosexuality. If people would still seek to know outright if gay or lesbian sex in itself is good or evil, if homogenital acts per se are right or wrong, they will have to look somewhere else for an answer. For the fact of the matter is simple enough. The Bible never addresses that question. More than that, the Bible seems deliberately unconcerned about it.