An Honest Reading of the Bible

I’ve been getting some really good article fodder recently. Today it came in the form of some absolute statements from someone who obviously believes they cannot possibly be wrong about this subject.

First statement: There is no denying the disgusting aspects of homosexual sex.

Okay. Why don’t you ask a gay person if they deny it? If they do, then your statement is untrue…unless you were trying to say that people who agree with me cannot deny how disgusting it is. That’s the only way your statement could make any sense, but then it’s sort of stating the obvious.

In fact, why don’t you ask a gay person what they think of heterosexual sex. Chances are, they’ll find the idea of engaging in it almost as gross as you consider same-sex activity. Maybe not quite since you seem to have really extreme revulsion for it, but as a thought exercise you might consider getting into the mind of someone who is attracted to the same gender the exact same way you are attracted to the opposite gender, and who thinks heterosexual sex is as gross as you think homosexual sex is.

Here’s the reason this person thinks it can’t be denied: There is no possible way to read the Bible honestly and come to the conclusion that homosexuality is not a sin. It is impossible.

But of course you disagree with the people who say the exact same thing about mixed-race marriage, or women having the right to vote.

A friend of mine responded: I know people who have read it extensively, translated the original language, read the context, and then come up with something different than you did. So clearly it is possible.

What is the comeback? It’s wonderfully inane: I don’t believe you because that is impossible.

Let’s quickly prove that it is possible to read the Bible honestly and come to the conclusion that homosexuality is not a sin. First, behold the comprehensive list of possible negative references to “homosexuality” in the Bible.

  • Genesis 19:4-5 – …The men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please.”
  • Leviticus 18:22 – You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
  • Leviticus 20:13 – If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death.
  • Romans 1:24-27 – Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…for this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men…
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – 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.
  • 1 Timothy 1:8-10 – 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…

Only six references? Yes, only six negative references to what seems to be homosexuality in the entire Bible. We’re talking about barely 300 words out of 770,000+. There are many, many times more references to the sin of neglecting the poor, and yet a lot of conservative Christians (not all, so please don’t think I’m stereotyping) are so keen on banning gay marriage, while opposing legal action to help the poor. Shows you where their priorities are—apparently we should only have the freedom to do what they want us to do.

To begin with the honest reading of the Bible, the first thing we can conclude is that not a single one of these verses speaks against same-sex relationships, marriage, or inherently being gay. The only thing that you can honestly argue is prohibited by the Bible here is same-gender sexual intercourse.

So there should be no objection to a same-sex couple, or same-sex marriage. You could possibly object to the couple having sex, in the same way you would object to an unmarried heterosexual couple having sex. You could object to same-sex lust in the same way you object to opposite-sex lust (and I do, personally.)

But if same-sex relationships and marriage are fine, is there anything in these verses that would condemn the sexual acts if they’re done in the same context as lawful heterosexual sex (i.e. within marriage)?

In Genesis, we see the entire male population of Sodom threatening to gang-rape a couple humanoid angels. That’s the generally accepted interpretation of the phrase that we may know them.

What I find odd is that the “hero” of the story, Lot—the man who God sent the angels to save because he supposedly isn’t evil like the rest of the city—says “don’t act so wickedly”…and then offers his daughters to be raped instead.

Turns out offering your daughters to be raped is less wicked than threatening to gang-rape a couple men. This is a good example of how women were seen as property back then.

The story goes on and Sodom is destroyed for being wicked, while Lot is saved, and not destroyed. If the destruction of Sodom means homosexuality in any form is bad, then the non-destruction of Lot means pimping out your daughters should be fine.

Of course, we know from Ezekiel 16:49-50 that the sin of Sodom was that they had “pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me.”

What modern nation is arrogant, has excessive food and widespread obesity, a lot more wealth than most of the world, and a major problem with helping homeless and poor people? Yeah, America is a lot like Sodom, and it’s not because of gay people.

Of course we can dismiss this story outright as condemnation of all gay sex for the same reason we can dismiss the story of Amnon and Tamar as a condemnation of all heterosexual sex. (For those readers who may not know the story, Amnon was Tamar’s brother—probably half-brother because his father, King David, had a lot of wives. Amnon fell in love with Tamar, raped her, and then threw her out.)

What about Leviticus? I admit these verses are fuzzier, although there’s a simple reason to ignore them as condemnations on all gay sex. Just a couple verses earlier, a similar condemnation is given for having sex with a woman during her period. Most Christians these days consider that just one more antiquated rule for health reasons…much like the laws against eating unclean animals.

The unclean animals present another strong piece of evidence for these verses being invalid for condemning homosexual sex. Often people will argue that since it’s called an abomination, that means it’s really bad, and God has never revoked any laws against things called abominations.

The word in Hebrew is toebah, and it is found in Deuteronomy 14:3…where it refers to unclean animals.

Of course, there are other reasons to believe these verses are likely not referring to consensual sex. Many other people have explained the matter of ritual prostitution, and how men in ancient times often used sexuality as power. Consider that the Leviticus passages specify lying with a man as with a woman. There must be a reason for adding that phrase. Perhaps since women were seen as property, to be dominated, this is a prohibition against men using sex to control other men. Also, the two words used for men in those verses are not the same. One is generally used of a man in power (such as the patriarch of a clan), and the other is mostly used for boys and young men.

Which leads nicely into a discussion of the New Testament passages, since it was a common practice in that time (mainly in Roman and Greek culture) to buy young male slaves for sexual purposes.

Let’s leave Romans 1 for last and look at the other two passages from Paul. In these cases, men who practice homosexuality is actually a single word in the original language. Paul may have coined it himself, since we have zero known uses of the word in any writings from before him. It combines the Greek words for man and bed, from the Greek translation of the Leviticus verses mentioned above, giving a literal meaning of “man-bedders”.

Of course, the literal meaning of a compound word is very often not its actual meaning. Since Paul provides no context to help define the word, we must look outside of the Bible. Again, this is an area of study that many other people have done, and here is a very detailed examination of the word itself considering most of the other 73 known uses of it.

To sum up the extensive research and writings of many other people…the word most likely refers to a male sexually exploiting another male, either economically (buying a male sex slave or a prostitute), or forcibly (rape). Several uses of the word in writings of the early church obviously use it to refer to pagan ritual sex, orgies, and other contexts where heterosexual sex would be considered just as bad. It has throughout history been translated as the equivalent of “pedophiles” and “pimps” and other things that have nothing to do with consensual gay relationships. I don’t think it was translated as “homosexuality” until relatively recently.

This leaves us with only the passage in Romans 1 as a possible condemnation of consensual same-sex activity. And it’s easy to dismiss because it actually says that “men did shameful things with men”, not that men having sex with men is always shameful.

It’s quite simple to understand if you replace one of the men with a woman. Suppose it said “men did shameful things with women.” Would that mean that all heterosexual sex is wrong?

Of course not.

We can therefore conclude that it is entirely possible to conduct an honest reading of the Bible and believe that homosexuality is not a sin—neither being gay nor having consensual gay sex within the same context as lawful heterosexual sex (for most Christians, that means within marriage).

If I missed anything in the Bible that might be taken as a negative view of any sort of homosexuality, please let me know and I will research it and add it to this article. My next post will cover the passages that might be interpreted as being in favor of gay relationships and marriage as we see them today.

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9 responses to “An Honest Reading of the Bible

  1. Good article, and good answers.

    Actually, it would be more consistent with linguistic features that you mention if you translate “arsenokoites” in Paul as “male-bedders” and not “man-bedders,” since as you say, the age of the “other male” may well be younger than the age of the male whom Paul condemns with this word.

    Keep on writing!

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  2. You’ve got a lot of valid points there. Although I think you could have an honest reading of the bible and believe that homesexuality is wrong as well. There are good arguments on either side, but of course, only one side is right. Can you really conclude with certainty that you are right? I can’t. Hehe, I guess I’m the one who remains in doubt…stuck in the middle. Maybe it is better to be convinced of something that may not be true than to be forever in doubt.

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    • Yes, in my second article about “An Honest Reading”, I clarified that these interpretations are not necessarily being presented as “the right way” or “the only way”. It is a valid interpretation, and the main goal with this article is to show that people who believe differently shouldn’t be accused of twisting scripture, or being deceived, or being “anti-God”.

      Perhaps only one interpretation is right, but the big question is if we can figure out which one is right. And honestly, the answer is no. There’s no way to be absolutely sure that what we think is right is in fact the absolute truth. There are absolute truths, yes, and sometimes we do believe some of them. But without knowing everything it is impossible to know which things are absolute truths and which are not. So all we can do is reach our own personal conclusions about what seems most likely to be true.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s a great quote. 😀 And thanks for taking the time to answer in such detail.

    Your assumptions are correct. Though I don’t think of myself as “being straight,” there’s no doubt in my mind that I find guys and only guys attractive in a certain way.

    I think part of the reason I find the whole “being gay” thing so confusing is that I don’t define myself just by what I want to do, as in, who I’m attracted to, so it kind of puzzles me that people who are attracted to someone of the same sex actually do define themselves by that. I mean, why that? Is there a special word for someone who’s attracted to eating chocolate, or going fishing, or feeding the homeless, or robbing a bank, or the hundreds of other good, bad, or neutral things that people find themselves just naturally attracted to?

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    • It’s not exactly a way of “defining yourself”, but rather a major characteristic of yourself. We give ourselves labels based on the aspects that affect our lives the most. People who play the piano describe themselves as pianists, although they are not defined, as people, by their ability to play the piano.

      Honestly, who you desire to spend your life with is a far more important thing than what sort of dessert food you like. It comes from who you are, not just what you want. For years as a teenager I really wanted to not have any sexual attraction, but wanting something doesn’t make it come true. The attraction happened anyway.

      When you’re different, part of a small minority, it affects every part of your life. In a way, it’s a bit like being autistic. I claim the label of autism not because I am nothing beyond autism, but because I am autistic, and it affects everything else.

      But all that aside, there’s nothing wrong with labels of identification that aren’t based on any inherent trait. I claim the label of pianist not because I was born a pianist, but because I became one, and it is important to me.

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      • I see what you mean about food preferences being different from sexual attraction. And it does make sense to label ourselves to some degree based on the things that affect us the most. It’s just–for myself, I wouldn’t want to label myself based on a desire that I don’t even want to have. Nobody can completely control what he or she wants, but I think the important thing is deciding what to do with that want, that desire, and determining whether it’s right to act on it. And the response is something each person is in complete control of in his or her own life, which I think is encouraging.

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  4. Um, can I ask a really stupid question? How are you defining “homosexual” and “being gay”? Because I’ve always thought a homosexual is someone who chooses to have sex with someone of the same gender. And I never really understood what “being gay” even means. Is it something a person is, something a person wants to be, something a person feels, something a person feels like doing–really, what is it?

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    • “There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.”

      I’m glad you asked. First, homosexual means the same thing as gay, but it’s mostly used in a negative sense, so LGBT people prefer different terms.

      I’m going to assume you are a woman because your comment says “Mary Smith” there, and straight because of the wording of your question. If you’re not straight and you’re trying to learn about this for yourself, I apologize for the assumption.

      I don’t know how old you are, or if you’ve had sex yet, but think of what it was like to see a handsome man, and be attracted to him, before you’d ever been in a relationship. How would you define that? A natural attraction to the man? See, straight people have that natural attraction. You have the desire to be physically close to someone of the opposite gender, you think about how beautiful they are, maybe you even want to kiss them (heathen!). But if you’re straight you never think that way about your own gender. You never get that wonderful, frightening, trembling love for another woman, that desire to be very together with her, so close that you almost become one.

      Now flip it around. Imagine that the way you feel about men is the way you feel about women, and vice versa. That is the life of a gay person. They have no desire to be that intimate with people of the opposite gender. In fact a lot of them who have tried heterosexual sex found it gross and unenjoyable. They simply feel about their opposite-gender friends the same way you might feel about your sister.

      Some of us get that sort of romantic attraction to people of either gender. We are the bisexuals.

      Someone who chooses to have sex with a person of the same gender is not necessarily gay…they could be bisexual, or even straight. A large percentage of American men have had same-gender sexual encounters, but only a very small percentage are actually gay.

      In short, being gay or straight is not defined by who you actually have sex with, just like being tall is not defined by hitting your head in doorways.

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