Tuesday, July 08, 2008

What does the Bible say: Homosexuality (pt 5)

Please read part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

Today's selections have more to do with a particular word than a single passage. So, here are the occurrences of that word in the New Testament.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. 1 Timothy 1:8-11 (ESV)
Now, one of the main issues at hand is the translation of this word, which in Greek is arsenokoitai. It most literally means "the man-bed thing," and by all appearances is a word that Paul made up. It appears nowhere in Greek literature before this period. As you might suspect, made up words are difficult to translate. However, we must understand that just because the word is made up doesn't mean the concept is. In fact, it means the idea was so important to Paul that he communicated it in the best way he knew how.

So what is the best way to translate arsenokoitai? In the ESV it appears as "men who practice homosexuality." The NIV translates it as "homosexual offenders," NASB says "homosexuals," and the King James says "abusers of themselves with mankind." So, there is at least a somewhat consistent interpretation among the more literal versions of the Bible.

What translators are quick to point out is that this word must appear within its cultural context. In 1st century Rome, homosexuality was becoming more common and acceptable. In many cases it occurred within a mentoring (or sometimes slave) relationship between an adult man and a young (early teen) boy.

Paul is not ignorant of this situation and actually include a different word in 1 Corinthians 6:9, malakoi. Unfortunately for our purposes, the ESV combines these two words in its translation. However, malakoi specifically refers to this kind of relationship, often translated as "catamite" or "male prostitute." That leaves arsenokoitai to a somewhat different meaning.

I am of the opinion that this word most specifically refers to male homosexuals, primarily because that is the gender that was more prone to this behavior in 1st century Rome. When it comes to application though, you must decide whether this should today apply to only male homosexuals, all homosexuals, or no one at all. I would think that the second one makes the best logical sense.

Understanding the cultural context of these passages is not enough though. These passages do not appear in a literary vacuum, and some of the more significant sections of scripture come right after them. We can only understand the condemnation Paul gives in the above passages in light of his following statements.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul concludes, "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

Likewise, the next paragraph from the 1 Timothy passage is:
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Paul makes it clear that even he was a sinner, blasphemer, persecutor (of Christians). Likewise we are all in sin. But Jesus, seeing our plight, "came into the world to save sinners." Let us also remember Paul's words in Romans 6:1-2, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?" Though we are sinners, we cannot use that as an excuse to sin more. Instead, let us show our gratitude to God by obeying his commands as best we can, relying fully on him for our strength. This is what 1 Corinthians 6:11 means when it says we are "sanctified." God has cleansed us and continues to do so.

I would like to quickly address one more statement made Biblically in regard to this issue. You may have noticed that the only passages that deal directly with homosexuality come from the Law and Paul's letters. Jesus himself never says anything specifically on the issue. However, to use this as an argument against the Bible's condemnation of this practice just doesn't hold. This assumes that Jesus was primarily a moral teacher, and while he did make several references to morality, this is not the primary thrust of his teaching. Paul however spent much of his writing responding to various issues that had arisen in the church, and homosexuality was just one of many. The various writers of the Bible spent much time responding to issues in their particular cultures. Homosexuality was a primary issue in entering Canaan (in the Law) and in 1st century Asia Minor (the letters to the Corinthians and Timothy). Likewise, it is an issue arising again today, so it is the responsibility of the church to seek where the bible does talk about this issue. We cannot construe silence to be permission.

What I believe we have seen is a consistent attitude throughout the applicable passages of Scripture regarding homosexuality.
1) Creation did not allow for its existence, and it seems to defy the very nature of intimate relationships.
2) Sodom and Gomorrah were punished for homosexual rape among many other issues of immorality.
3) The Law of Moses specifically dealt with male homosexual acts and forbade their practice.
4) Paul in his letter to Rome listed homosexuality (both male and female) among the unnatural acts that replace God's plan with our own.
5) Paul's letters to Corinth and to Timothy list various male homosexual relationships as one of many sins that hinder our access to God's kingdom.

6) Every single passage condemning homosexuality sits in the context of God's grace. While he will punish all sin, he will save and justify those who seek him. Let us not forget that all have sinned, but Jesus' sacrifice is enough for whoever believes in him.


  1. Anonymous10:11 AM

    Thank you. That was wonderfully written! I am a Christian and have a strong faith in God, and my brother is gay.
    I have been having to respond to hateful comments about god sending "gays" to hell to burn forever. And this blog is just what I need, thank you!

  2. Glad I could be of encouragement!


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