A dear friend of mine recently wrote me asking my take on a hot topic “issue.” The following email is used with permission and edited for content.
I saw the link you posted on Pastor Nadia addressing a seminar about the ‘issue’ of homosexuality. I watched their video response. I really do have a soft place for Pastor Nadia. If I were LGBT, I think she’d be such a gift. Like some kind of protector. I admire that.
I’d like to be that same way for marginalized LGBT folks...I have what I believe to be a God-given love for gay and lesbian individuals. I imagine them not going to the prom. I imagine them not marrying. I imagine them adoring someone of the same sex, and being around that person, yet not taking it to the next level. All of this is so sad for me to imagine.
What I struggle with is how their lifestyle is OK in the context of Christianity. Put another way, when I read 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1, there’s a list of sins and sinful lifestyles. None of us are told to excuse the sin of lying. Or kidnapping. Or idolatry. Or adultery. But we are told to not only tolerate homosexuality, [we’re told] to condone it, “celebrate” it (whatever that means), and I guess act like that particular activity isn’t in the same list with heterosexual sexual sin, as well as non-sexual sin…
My point is, I simply do not know what kind of knowledge or insight is necessary for me to erase the word “homosexual” in those two passages…I know that you know far more about this than I do. Jack, my heart actually wants to find a way to make it OK! But I can’t figure out how it is — not from Scripture.
What insights can you offer me?…I openly tell you that I’m very willing to be corrected or better informed on this one. I actually want to be wrong about it because I want homosexuality to be OK. I want a friend I know to go to the prom this year with his boyfriend. I don’t give a rip about it in my natural mind. But I need my Scripturally-informed mind to have a makeover if such condoning is to happen.
First of all, thank you for you email and your honesty. I know it can be a difficult thing when one questions long held beliefs. But I think you’re stepping out in the right direction, that is, with Love. That, I believe, should be were we always start.
Before I address the passages in question, though, I want to turn this discussion to the talk of slavery. You’ve probably heard this juxtaposition before but it’s a very good comparison and one that’s pertinent to the discussion.
As I’m sure you’re aware, there are plenty of passages that support slavery. But there aren’t any that condemn it.
Let me repeat that:
There’s not a single verse in the Bible that expressly condemn slavery. Not one.
So, how in the world did the church ever get to the point where we condemned slavery? What was the basis for it?
Christ and the Love of G‑d.
That’s it! And that’s quite a lot.
The entire view of the church shifted because of the Love of G‑d in Christ. We can no longer stomach to look at other people as less than human. People of color are human beings. They’re people. They’re our brothers and sisters. Even our enemies are human beings who love their families and want to live in security, raise their families in peace, to love G‑d and neighbor. Our blood would boil if someone started spouting off a doctrine condoning slavery! It’s wrong because people are image bearers of G‑d whom G‑d loves and should be treated with the same respect we would want our loved ones to be treated.
Now, let’s look at the LGBT community.
Let’s look at the people who are LGBT. First and foremost — they’re people. People who pay their taxes. Own businesses. Go to school. Teach our children. Work on our cars. Take care of our loved ones. Are our loved ones. To think that, as a society, these people should not be permitted to love someone else, marry that person, have a family, have peace and security because their partner is the same sex is appalling. To go even further (like some people do) and bully and persecute these people — and this would include not giving them the same privileges as other people — just because their different is a hate crime. I can’t imagine having to hide my feelings about someone else because society thinks it’s “icky.” The problem is that we tend to see others not as people but as their sexual orientation.
Also people who are LGBT are people for whom Christ died. They are no less human beings that bear the image of G‑d than you or I are. In fact, I would go so far to say I’ve known some of them that represent Christ a lot better than I do!
So, from the beginning, before we go any further, people who are LGBT are people. On that issue alone they should have every right that anyone else has. Period. Also, they’re people that Christ loves and redeemed. Whether others like it or not, they’re included in that ransom, and, therefore, are “the church,” the mystical “body of Christ.”
Now, let’s look at those passages.
1 Corinthians 6.9-11 (NLT): Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of G‑d? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of G‑d. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with G‑d by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our G‑d.
Before we address the word translated “homosexuality,” let’s look at the rest of that list. Is Paul saying that people who did these things will never inherit G‑d’s Kingdom? That is, if I have ever worshiped an idol or gotten drunk or had an affair, I won’t “inherit the Kingdom of G‑d?” Is that really what Paul’s saying?
I think we would both say something like, “Of course not.” Paul’s talking about a constant abusive lifestyle. Someone who continually and unrepentantly practices hurting themselves or others (notice the word “are” — “are thieves,” “are abusive”). And I would go so far to say that, even then, I don’t know if I’d say what think Paul’s saying here. I mean, he says that some of the Corinthians used to practice such behavior but were “cleansed” and “made holy.” So, this list isn’t a list of unpardonable sins!
But that brings up the idea of “homosexuality.”
One thing we must understand is that our understanding of homosexuality is not the same thing that Paul is talking about here. Homosexuality doesn’t just mean to have sex with someone of the same sex. We understand the term to mean much more than that. Homosexuality has been classified as a natural orientation on the spectrum of humanity (along with asexuality, bisexuality, and heterosexuality). Homosexuality is “‘an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions’ primarily or exclusively to people of the same sex.” It’s a natural development of humanity (and other non-human species). Just as we don’t really know how a person develops into a heterosexual person (nature or nurture or both or neither), so we don’t know how a person develops into a homosexual person. What I’m trying to say in all of this is that I didn’t “choose” to be straight anymore than my good friend “chose” to be gay. It’s just who we are.
Now, is this what Paul means when he uses the word ἀρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoitēs)? The word is actually a compound word. The word ἄρσην (arrén) means “a male” and κοίτη (koité) means “a bed.” So ἀρσενοκοίτης would mean “to bed a male” and has been defined as, “a male engaging in same-gender sexual activity, a sodomite, pederast.” By the way, if we want to be snarky, we can insist that ἀρσενοκοίτης can’t mean lesbian or some transgendered people or bisexual people.
So, again, does Paul mean to use ἀρσενοκοίτης in the same way as we understand the word “homosexual?” I don’t think so. He seems to mean someone stepping outside of his orientation. Someone going against his nature. That is, a heterosexual person “engaging in same-gender sexual activity, a sodomite, pederast.” Think of Nero or Caligula. That’s the type of person Paul is talking about here. This is even clearer in Paul’s letter to Timothy.
1 Timothy 1.8-11 (NLT): We know that the law is good when used correctly. For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders. The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching that comes from the glorious Good News entrusted to me by our blessed G‑d.
Paul uses the same word here translated “homosexuality” — ἀρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoitēs). As we can see from the list, he certainly doesn’t mean a person who has an “enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attraction” to a person of the same sex in a committed long term, monogamous relationship. He’s referring to people who are “lawless and rebellious.” The natural orientation of a person is to love and honor their parents, not “kill their father or mother or commit other murders.” A person who commits such crimes would be “lawless and rebellious.” Likewise, a homosexual person engaging in a homosexual relationship is not being “lawless and rebellious.” Again, Paul's obviously referring to people more like Caligula than your friend who wants to go to prom with his boyfriend.
I like how the Complete Jewish Bible* translates this passage:
1 Timothy 1.8-11 (CJB): We know that the Torah is good, provided one uses it in the way the Torah itself intends. We are aware that Torah is not for a person who is righteous, but for those who are heedless of Torah and rebellious, ungodly and sinful, wicked and worldly, for people who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral — both heterosexual and homosexual — slave dealers, liars, perjurers, and anyone who acts contrary to the sound teaching that accords with the Good News of the glorious and blessed God.
Here we see that the gist of the message is not on the sexuality of the individual but that they are behaving “immorally.”
Another very important point in this whole debate is the translation of the word ἀρσενοκοίτης itself. We must remember that the word “homosexual” wasn’t even in our vocabulary until the 19th century. So how did they translator’s translate ἀρσενοκοίτης before then? That’s a good question! Here are a few alternatives:
defile themselves with mankind
abusers of themselves with men
Lastly, here are some really good web sites that you might find helpful:
So, that’s my take on it. In a nutshell, to me, there seems to be a huge difference between what Paul meant and our understanding of human sexuality today. I hope that’s helpful.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
* Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) Copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern. All rights reserved.