Answering the Gay Question: New Testament Style

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In the past few blogs, I’ve covered Old Testament verses that Christians often use to condemn homosexuality and I’ve covered Romans chapter one. Today I will deal with more verses in the New Testament.

The next hammer verse that Christians often use to say homosexuality is a sin is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.  9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (NIV)

There are several things in this verse that I find interesting.  First is that the word for prostitutes and the word for homosexual offenders are the same word (arsenokoites, ar-sen-ok-oy’-tace).  I opened up my Greek Bible to check this and there is only one word.   It’s not that Paul repeats the word, but we do.  It seems that the translator figured the one word meant the phrase neither “male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders”.  However, why would we translate one word into two meanings and add a “nor” in there?  That confuses the heck out of me.  Yes, I am aware that one Greek word can mean a simple sentence, but it should not have two meanings.

Secondly the translation of this word is tricky.  According to my Bible computer program it translates it as sodomite.  Paul would have known that the Hebrew word for Sodomite Qadesh, (feminine Qedheshah) finds its route word in Qadash.  Qadash is the Hebrew word for Holy.  So why is sodomite and holy connected?  Is this possibly a Temple prostitute?

Thirdly, this word is also literally translated “man-bed”.  It is a compound word.  What does “man-bed” mean?  Not to you, but to the people of the first century.  We could easily say that a man-bed means homosexuality, after all what else could a “man-bed” mean?  However compound words don’t necessarily mean the two separate meanings.  For instance, mandate; is that about a man’s date?  Manhole; is that a man’s hole, or a hole in a man?  Manhood; is that a man who wears a hooded shirt?  Or a man who lives in the hood?  Mankind; is that a nice guy?  I think you get the point.

Like Romans chapter one, no one really seems to know.  Professor Jennifer Knust, a professor of Religion at Boston University says that word is “notoriously hard to translate.”  If professors of religion with PhD’s have a hard time with it then we should be careful what we say it means.

Fourth problem or question for this word is that Paul also never uses common words of the day for homosexual.  He could have used any of the following and it would not be questioned.  However, he did not.

  1. arrenomanesmeaning mad after men or boy crazy
  2. dihetaristriai – a synonym referencing lesbian sexuality, meaning essentially the same thing as hetairistriai, tribad, tribades, from: Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism, Brooton, Bernadette, p. 23.
  3. erastes – a sometimes older man who loves a sometimes younger male
  4. eromenos – a sometimes younger male who loves an older male
  5. euryproktoi – men who dress as women, also a vulgar reference to anal penetration
  6. frictrix – Latin word referring to a lewd woman and sometimes used to refer to a lesbian. Tertullian, 160-220 AD, translated tribas (a masculine woman) as frictrix.
  7. hetairistriai – women who are attracted to other women, used by Plato’s character Aristophanes, in The Symposium. May also refer to hyper-masculine women, from Lucian’s Dialogue of the Courtesans, cited by Brooten, p. 52.
  8. kinaidos – a word for effeminate, κίναιδος or kínaidoi (cinaedus in its Latinized form), a man “whose most salient feature was a supposedly feminine love of being sexually penetrated by other men.” Winkler, John J., 1990, The Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece, New York: Routledge.Although some scholars, like Dr. Robert Gagnon, understand kinaidoi to mean the passive partner in a male couple, Davidson argues that kinaidoi refers to a man insatiable and unrestrained in his sexual appetites instead of merely effeminate or passive. Davidson, J. 1997. Courtesans & Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens, New York, p. 167-182.
  9. lakkoproktoi – a lewd and vulgar reference to anal penetration
  10. lesbiai – a synonym referencing lesbian sexuality, meaning essentially the same thing as dihetaristriai, hetairistriai, tribad, tribades, from: Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism, Brooton, Bernadette, p. 23.
  11. paiderasste – sexual behavior between males
  12. paiderastes or paiderastïs – παιδεραστής derived from the Greek word pais, παῖς a boy, meaning lover of boys
  13. paidomanes – a male mad for boys or boy crazy
  14. paidophthoros – a Greek word meaning corrupter of boys
  15. pathikos – the passive penetrated partner in a male couple
  16. tribades – an ancient Latin word indicating the active female partner of a lesbian pair, sometimes interpreted to mean a pseudo-male, referencing genital contact between women. Rashi defines it as “rubbing in a sexual manner.”
  17. tribas – the active partner in a lesbian relationship, who takes the male role

Instead, we translate arsenokoites, ar-sen-ok-oy’-tace here in Corinthians and later in 1 Timothy to be homosexuals when it was not at all a commonly used or definite word for that.  We must question why we translate it as a homosexual.  It might simply be a pervert, sexual abuser, prostitute, or something we have no clue about.

Like Romans 1, I am not willing call something a sin that is very unclear.  Nor am I willing to deny someone their rights or love based on a word that is unclear and neither should the church.  In fact, the more research that I do, the more I find that homosexuality is just as normal as heterosexuality and should be accepted in the same way.

My next blog I will take a look at the definition of “Biblical” marriage.

Some recommended reading:

Unprotected Texts          by Jennifer Wright Knust

http://www.gaychristian101.com/what-words-could-paul-have-used-if-he-intended-to-condemn-homosexuality.html

Living in Sin:  by Bishop Spong

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Answering the Gay Question 2

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Romans 1 Homosexuality

Last blog I discussed some issues with the Old Testament and homosexuality.  This time I will try to tackle Romans 1.  I would like to know what Jesus thought, but he said nothing about homosexuality and very little about marriage.  The only thing Jesus said on marriage was that there should be no divorce and that Moses allowed that because of hard heartedness.

Romans 1 is often a big thumper verse that people use to condemn homosexuality.  I actually find it quite unimportant in today’s society when it is taken into context with the surrounding verses.  In some ways, I think Paul was setting up the Roman readers when writing the first chapter of this letter.  He does list sins and then in verse 2:1 Paul tells them that they are doing the same things and to stop judging others. (Please read chapter 2 as Paul lists their problems.) As in the day of Paul, we like to hide our sins (gossip, laziness, hate, adultery etc.) and focus on someone else.  So first of all, we need to know that we should not be condemning of others sins. That is God’s job and you and I are not God.

Secondly, I did say that Paul listed sins and for some people verses 26 and 27 seem to indicate that homosexuality is a sin.  Romans 1: 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.

27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

The question is what is this unnatural that Paul is referring to?  This may be one of the most misunderstood passages in the Bible.  I find that no one really seems to know what exactly Paul is referring to.  Is he referring to Temple prostitutes as in the Old Testament?  Homosexuality as we see it today?  Procreation vs. sexual pleasure?  Is Paul simply a homophobe or was he gay and hating himself for it? I have read scholars’ ideas on all these subjects. So if Scholars can’t agree, how can we be sure of what it is?

From what I have read, there was not as much Temple prostitution going on as we might think, so although this is a possibility, I don’t think this is probably what Paul was talking about.  However if it is temple prostitution then it is moot for our time.  We don’t have temple prostitutes so it is not a problem. According to most of what I have read, homosexuality as we see it has nothing to do with what the society of Paul saw, so I really reject that idea as well.  I don’t think Paul was gay, nor do I think he was a homophobe.  He taught grace for everyone and equality for all.  He often spoke about there being No Jew or Gentile, no free person or slave etc.. I can’t see him hating or fearing anyone. That left me with procreation vs. sexual pleasure.

I have often had people tell me that God could not have created homosexuals because they can’t produce children.  Some denominations also have ideas that no birth control should be used and that sex is only for having children.  Though there is no specific verse for this idea there are many that could be taken along these lines.  Those ideas seem to have also been prevalent in Paul’s day.  This is what I believe people were doing that was so unnatural.  So in that case any form of homosexuality would be considered a sin, because you can’t procreate through it.  However we would also have to say that sex just for pleasure would be a sin.  So would the use of contraception (such as the pill or condoms), oral sex, and anal sex (homosexual or heterosexual).  You could also add anyone who is infertile or had an operation to “fix” themselves or people who decide not to have children for risk of passing on certain genes or because it could cause health problems for the wife.  You must also include any women above the age of menopause.  All people unable to have children having sex would be considered a sin.

So basically if you condemn homosexuality you must condemn all those others that I have mentioned and more.  However we don’t.  Actually, homosexuality seems to be the only one of many non-procreation sex acts that we do condemn.  So here is the question.  Why condemn only one act and not another?  Are we picking and choosing what to believe is a sin and what is not?

The verses also do not say that women had sex with each other.  I have found no place in the Bible that condemns that, unless you decide to read into it something that is not there.  So question two would be why would male homosexuality be a sin, but female homosexuality not?  Is it because the male writers were homophobes or is it that they were thinking something entirely different than what we read it as today?

Question three may be if so many scholars have so many different thoughts on what this could mean, how can we really be sure of its meaning.  And if we can’t be really sure how can we truly use this against so many people?  In other words, can we condemn people on verses that are unclear when their meaning may be unknown?  This is especially true when Paul (immediately after these verses) tells us not to judge.

The Final question would be what else does Paul and the New Testament say about homosexuality?  I guess that will have to wait until the next blog.  I try not to make these too long to read, so I’ll just leave you to contemplate what I have said so far.

For God So Hates Everyone That Is Different.

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Racism is beyond common sense and has no place in our society.
Steven Patrick Morrissey

This month is Black history month and it reminds me of so much prejudice that still goes on in America.  I remember a few years ago, my wife and I took in a biracial child into our home.  Very few people outside the kids at church took time to get to know him.  I’m guessing because he did look African American.  After all the church did reach out to other white kids that we took into our home.  So what made them not reach out to this child?  One board member even told our family that he “needed to be with his own kind.”  It is sad that this still goes on in the world and especially sad it goes on in the church.  The church is supposed to show God’s love to all mankind.

Shortly after Obama was elected president I ran into some prejudice against him.  A family member said, “We brought them over here and now they are taking over.”  What kind of talk is that?  Another relative has said several times that they wished Obama would be killed or commit suicide.  Both of them would both say they are Christian.  Again what kind of talk is that?!  I am not a huge fan of Obama.  I think he’s average at very best.  However, I was raised to love all mankind no matter what they are like, yet some family members reject that ideology.  When I read posts comparing President Obama to Hitler and comments like he’s trying to be a dictator, I wonder what in the world they are thinking.  There has certainly been something that has happened in their lives that has obscured their view of the world.  I know that these thoughts are not simply in my family.  There are many Obama haters and I wonder if it is because he’s not a WHITE conservative.

What is it about others that make us afraid of them?  Differences should be embraced but instead they are rejected and build divisions.  Right?

Coke released an advertisement during the Super Bowl with many different people and languages singing “America the Beautiful” and there was an uproar about that.    Seems to me this was nothing but prejudice.  The quotes I saw were very hateful toward immigrants and yet unless you are a Native American your ancestors were immigrants.  Seems to be fear that these immigrants will take something from us instead of adding to our already rich culture.  Also, I must ask why this is different than the old Coke commercials “I want to teach the world to sing?”

The Olympics are going on in Sochi, Russia.  There has been a long discussion on the problems Russia has had with its laws on homosexuality.  Yet the Olympics are supposed to be about bringing the world together.  How can this world be brought together when it treats one another with such contempt.  In America there is a fight over whether homosexuals should have the right to marry.  Recently there was a gay couple on “Good Luck Charlie” and death threats were sent to the 5 year old who plays the role of “Charlie”.   Closer to home I have had people say that they wished “all homosexuals would die.”  That from a children’s teacher at a church.  I wonder if they taught love or hate to those kids.  Too often very hateful things are said like this, and all too often in the name of God.  No people, God does not hate gays, but just maybe you do.

There is a store in our area that my wife and I call the “scary mart”.  Not because it is scary, but because a member of a church we no longer attend talked about how scared they were to get gas there.  What may have been scarier were all the people who nodded in agreement with them.  I was offended.  Those people are simply poorer than that church.  The same church where another leading member said of the poor “The poor choose to be poor.”  Obviously a division caused by prejudice.  I can say this because my work is less than a mile from that store and I am in contact with the people all the time.  They are not scary, they are nice people.  If they had money like the above people then I guess that would make them ok instead of scary.

Prejudice still runs deep in our society.  Whether it is another race, sex, class, language etc…   We have a long way to go.  If you want to truly leave this world a better place for the next generation than it is you and me that have to change.  To truly start treating each other like we want to be treated.  With love and respect, no matter what our differences are or how right we think we are.  You see, when a person thinks they are right, most likely they are like the people I mentioned above.  They all thought they had it right, they just couldn’t see it from another persons point of view and that is where prejudice begins and ends.  Within us.  Within you.

Confessions of a Pepsi Drinker

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It seems that there has been big controversies about the Super bowl add that Coke a Cola put out.  Here is the link in case you have not seen it.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8uSVUiniWQ&feature=share

I guess that since the Super Bowl wasn’t too super that we have to stir up something to talk about.  I watched the advertisement when it came on as I was sitting with friends but no one thought a lot of it.  It was simply a commercial selling Coke.  It wasn’t funny.  Those are the ones that we look for during the Super bowl.

However it did really spark an interest with people who tend to think that Americans should only speak English.  Often we think that America was settled by the people from the British Isles.  It was, but not simply by only them.  The Germans came, French, Spanish and so much more from Europe.  Then many came from Africa.  Mostly by force.  The U.S. only became Englishized (if that is a word) through treaties and wars. 

Here are a few things people said negatively.

 http://pulsefeedz.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/you-hate-america-if-you-hate-cokes-super-bowl-commercial/

From the beginning America has been a melting pot of different cultures and yet 200 plus years later we still can’t get along.   At different times in our history we have had problems with immigration.  Most of those problems came from people being scared that their lives would change because there were too many Irish, Asian or Mexicans coming to America. 

I find it ironic that this commercial would come out during Black history month.  This is supposed to be a time where we celebrate the diversity in America.   Yet it seems that we have not really come very far from the 1950’s.  Sure African Americans are somewhat more accepted, but we have just taken our racism from them and placed it on another group.  The problem is still there and needs to be fixed.  It will never be fixed though by hating those of different race, religion, language, sexual preference or toe nail paint. 

Some people will find hate no matter what.  The rest of us need to show the love and acceptance of others and stop dividing America.  We should not have Red and Blue States.  We should be Purple.  We should be one nation working together and not ripping apart. 

 America does not have a national language and there is no reason to have one.  I find it fun to learn another language, customs etc… of others.  I have lived in three states and all of them are different even though they are near each other.  That is how we learn.  If we want simply to stagnate and fall apart then we can try to make everyone just like us.  However I don’t want to be a clone.  I want to be free to explore and learn and change and grow.  That is what we should be like. 

So let us get off our high horse and find someone that is different and get to know them.  Buy them a Coke, have a good time.  It will change your life and probably theirs too.

Change Yourself Please

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Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
Leo Tolstoy

When I went off to college to begin my pastoral life I was ready to take on the world.  I remember even a few years after college saying that one day I would be preaching the ordination ceremonies.  I wanted nothing more than to win the world for Jesus and show people how ministry is supposed to be done. The churches that I served at changed that attitude, but made me a better person in many ways.  It made me want to stand up more against what I saw as hypocrisy in the church.

Even in college I was a little rebellious.  All the important people seemed to attend a church right next to the campus.  I went there some my first semester but found it lacking and many of the ministry students to be superficial.  Many seemed to only be going there because it was the in place to be, not because it was a place to do real ministry.  So this place was not for me.  I found myself at a church with very few of the college students, but at a place where I could really minister.  I was determined then not to be part of the “in crowd”.

My guess is that most people want to be in this kind of crowd.  Some people want to because it makes them popular, some because they won’t be noticed and some, because it’s easier than doing things yourself.  You don’t have to think for yourself.  Just agree with the crowd and go with the flow and there won’t be any trouble.  You’ll have a nice and easy Christian life.

I don’t think that is what Jesus was like.  He was an outsider who made waves.  Almost everyone who followed Jesus was not in the in group.  He did not make it easy for anyone to follow him.  His motto was “Follow me and die”.  Isn’t that really what “Take up your cross and follow me” means? According to tradition all of the disciples but John died because of their faith.  Why do we think that Christianity is supposed to be easy? No!  It’s supposed to be hard.  Hard to go against the crowd.  Hard to make a difference and yet a lot of Christians want to hole up in their nice cozy churches and sing their sweet hymns in their nice clothes, while bums on the street freeze and the next door neighbor goes hungry.

Christianity should shake up society, push them beyond their comfort zone into real love and acceptance no matter if you are an illegal alien or a homosexual (Samaritan) a government official (Give unto Caesar, tax collectors) women, men, rich or poor.  Jesus took time for each one of them and never put them down.  No he reached out to them.

Jesus said to pray for your enemies and those who persecute you.  Do you have enemies? Does anyone persecute you? If not maybe you should think of changing yourself.  All the great reformers (Christian or not) had enemies.  Jesus, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and even Mother Teresa had their enemies. Mostly from the institution they belonged to.  Jesus was a Jew and went to the temple like a good Jew but was rejected by its leaders because he showed them the true path to God instead of their traditional ways. The reformists were rejected by the church.  Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by an American; Gandhi was killed by members of his own party.

All Christians are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  That means that if there is someone in need that we reach them.  We don’t ask them to be like us, or for their green card.  We just help them, care for them, love them.  Do you want to see the world change?  Be Radical, be a heretic, be a world changer by changing yourself.  Don’t be afraid of change, be afraid of not changing.

Rethinking Sodom

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The idea of marriage has been a big issue in the past few years.  I have taken opportunities to study and read a lot about what the Bible truly says about marriage , sexuality and relationships.  Sometimes I find myself surprised by what it actually says and sometimes what it doesn’t say.  This is not about marriage but it is about Christians possibly interpreting passages incorrectly.  So read the following and see if we might be doing just that.

Some of what I have read has suggested that our idea of the meaning of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah may be incorrect.  That it has nothing to do with sex, but how we treat each other.  The story in Genesis chapter 19 is compared with the story in Judges chapter 19.  The story in judges, I have never heard a sermon or Bible study that made the sexuality an issue yet the two stories have a lot in common.  Let us first look at the similarities between the two stories.

Both stories have strangers going into a town in which no one seemed to help them.  Eventually, someone came and took them into their home.  It was considered normal, even expected, that when a stranger came into the town that the people would immediately take care of their needs, yet in both stories this does not happen.

After the men are taken into these homes people of the town come and demand that this stranger be sent out so that they can rape them.  This is of course where we get the idea that it is about homosexuality.  However, most psychologists and counselors today will tell us that rape is not about sex.  It is about power or control over the other individual.  So did they want sex or to control or hurt the stranger whom they were supposed to protect and take care of?

Following this in both stories the people of the town are offered women.  The daughters of Lot are offered in Genesis and the daughter of the man of the town and the stranger’s concubine in Judges.  Remember that throughout the Biblical times women were simply property so they were simply trying to buy their way out of the situation.  The people of the town did not want the property.  That would not help them control or have power over the strangers.  In Judges the men of the town did take the property and destroyed it.  In other words they killed the concubine.

After these events the strangers were able to leave and then judgment came on the cities.  Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and brimstone and Gibeah was destroyed in a war with the other tribes of Israel.

Then both Lot and those of Gibeah are given wives and children through unconventional means.  Lot has sex with his daughters and the men of Gibeah kidnap some women for their wives.  Again, women are property so there is no protection for them.  And in the future King Saul was from Gibeah.  (1 Samuel 10:26) Lot’s children became the nations of Moab and Ammon.  The book of Ruth tells us that Ruth is about a Moabite.  Ruth is the great grandmother of King David.  So, both of these stories ended up leading to future kings of Israel.

Those that believe that this story is about how we take care of our neighbors or strangers also refer to Ezekiel 16:49 “This was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were proud and had plenty of food and lived in great comfort, but she did not help the poor and needy.”  So Sodom and her daughters were proud and did things I hate in front of me. So I got rid of them when I saw what they did.”

No place in this verse does it list sexuality, but it does list not taking care of others.  They also discus Isaiah 1:16 and 17 “Wash yourselves and make yourselves clean. Stop doing the evil things I see you do. Stop doing wrong.   Learn to do good. Seek justice. Punish those who hurt others. Help the orphans. Stand up for the rights of widows.”  In verse 10 of this chapter God starts comparing Jerusalem with Sodom and ends with these words.  Again, nowhere is sexuality used but taking care of others is mentioned.

Isaiah 3:8 & 9 continues this idea. Especially since the people of the town did these acts in the open seemingly with no care about it.

“This will happen because Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen. The things they say and do are against the LORD; they turn against him.  The look on their faces shows they are guilty; like the people of Sodom, they are proud of their sin. They don’t care who sees it. How terrible it will be for them, because they have brought much trouble on themselves.”  Isaiah 3:8 & 9

The final part of the discussion is that just before the strangers enter into Sodom, Abraham is visited by three strangers, but Abraham takes care of them.  He makes them a meal and spends time with them.  This is what we are called to do in contrast to what happens in Sodom.  Also, the conversation between Abraham and Yaweh in chapter 18 discusses the righteousness of the cities.  It never mentions any specific sins.

So what do you think?  Is it possible that we have misinterpreted this story?  I do encourage you to read the stories over again and see what you think.

I must add that Sodom is talked about in nine verses in the New Testament   Only Jude 1:7 seems to discuss sexual sins but does not specifically say homosexuality.  Sodom is mentioned 38 times in the Old Testament.  I have read all those verses but very few have anything to do with sexuality.  Most of those that do mention sexuality seem to deal with spiritual adultery and none mention homosexuality.   However, I encourage you to be your own judge.  Read them and get back to me.  I’ll be waiting.