17 July 2020

The "Texts of Terror": What the Bible Actually Says About Being Gay

The following four passages have been quoted to justify hate and discrimination against the LGBTQ community more than any other passages of scripture. They are historically, some of the most mistranslated passages and consequently, their meaning has been twisted further from their original meaning ever since their first translation into English in the 17th Century. Part of the problem of translating these first two Hebrew passages from Leviticus is in their pronoun use. The pronouns used are gendered, but two are age specific ("man" and "woman") while two are not ("male" and "female"). Further, the King James Version renders one of these pronouns "mankind" which is actually a completely different word ("ha'adam") not used in any of these passages and which does not imply a specific gender.

First, let's define some terms. In Hebrew, the word "ish" means "man" and implies that the man is an adult. Similarly "ishah" is "woman" and implies adulthood. The similarity of the two words may have you recalling Genesis 2:21-24, and you would be right to do so. A man becomes "ish" when he becomes a husband, and a woman an "ishah" when she becomes a wife. The word "zachar" means "male" or "boy." It is not age-specific, but just like today, you do not call an adult man "boy." The word "neqebah" means "female" or "girl." Notice that the two words for "boy" and "girl" are not related like the words for "man" and "woman." This is because a "male" could be an unmarried man and a "female" an unmarried woman, regardless of their ages. If they were "known" to one another, they would be "man" and "woman," but they are unknown, so they are "male" and "female." There are no words in Hebrew for "husband" and "wife," just these four pronouns. The relationship between any two people must be inferred by context. That is part of the problem of translating these clobber passages from Leviticus.

Leviticus 18:22

Interlinear Hebrew, KJV, WEB, NIV

The King James Version translates this passage as "Thou shalt not lie with mankind (zachar), as with womankind (ishah): it is abomination (towebah)." Several other translations render "zachar" as "man," but this is not correct. It should be "boy" or at least "unmarried male." A further clue to this error comes from the type of "abomination" listed. A "towebah" is an abomination of foreign origin. The context of the passage gives some further clue to its meaning. This verse is in the middle of a list of prohibitions against sex with close relatives and neighbors, along with the sacrifice of one's children to the foreign god Molech.

This passage could be read as a prohibition against pedophilia, or pederasty, especially regarding one's relatives. However, it would be a stretch to read it as a prohibition against all gay sex, as it is specifically concerned with those who lay with women (ie. men) lying instead with boys.

Leviticus 20:13

Interlinear Hebrew, KJV, WEB, NIV

The King James Version translates this passage as " If a man (ish) also lie with mankind (zachar), as he lieth with a woman (ishah), both of them have committed an abomination (towebah): they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."

This passage may seem subtly different from the other, but these differences are very important. Lets start with the part about putting both to death and "their blood shall be upon them." This clearly implies that both are responsible for their actions. This is not like rape, where one party is guilty and the other is a victim. Here, both have done wrong. However, this is clearly a crime as it carries the death penalty. So who is the victim? People do not get the death penalty for victimless crimes or crimes against society. Unlike the previous passage, there are three people in this passage, man, male, and woman. So how do they relate to one another?

Remember that men (ish) lie with women (ishah). A "zachar" is a "male" or "boy" who does not lie with women. "Man" and "woman" could be read as "husband" and "wife," and now we have a clear victim. This extends the definition of adultery to husbands who cheat on their wives with other men. So why should it not apply to two gay men? Quite simply because gay men are "zachar" and straight men are "ish." Gay men cannot lie with each other "as with a woman" because they are not "ish," they are not "layers of women" in any sense.

Neither of these passages apply to gay men, lesbians, or others of the LGBTQ community. They apply to men who are married to women and are either pedophiles or adulterers. They do not apply to any two adults in a happily committed monogamous relationship.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11

Interlinear Greek (1 Cor 6), KJV, WEB, NIV

Interlinear Greek (1 Tim 1), KJV, WEB, NIV

In these two Greek passages, Paul list a bunch of naughty things people should feel ashamed of, then reminds that "Some of you were such, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God." The Greek word for "homosexuals" in this passage is "arsenokoitai" and the word sometimes translated as "effeminate" is "malakoi."

Malakoi means "soft" and refers to men who spend far too much time on their appearance and who lack courage. Arsenokoitai is somewhat harder to define. All evidence points to it being a word which Paul made up. The only link to its meaning seems to be in the Septuagint, where it is a conjuction of the words "man" and "to lie." It has been suggested that it is taken from Leviticus 20:13 and that its meaning should therefore be linked to that passage.

That said, there are only two possibilities for "arsenokoitai," either its meaning has been lost due to its only appearance in ancient literature being in these lists, or it alludes to the prohibition against husbands cheating on their wives with other men in Leviticus 20:13. In either case, it should not be translated as "homosexuals" but as either "bisexual adulterers" or "pederasts."

As for why "arsenokoitai" cannot be translated simply as "homosexuals" or "bisexuals" is that verse 11 makes it clear that it is an action which can be repented and forgiven, not a person's sexual identity, which cannot be changed. It would be like forgiving someone of their gender, or their height, it just wouldn't make sense. Nor would it make sense in the context of the rest of the list. However, since we are linking its meaning to Leviticus 20:13, the meaning of adulterers does make sense, as this is an action which can be repented. God can forgive us what we have done, but not what we are, because what we are is made in God's image. This is why God's "name" is "I AM," because what I am is of God.

Next week, we'll look at the last of the passages traditionally held as condemning the LGBTQ community: the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as its little-known parallel passage in Judges.

Until then,

Peace be with you.

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