a look at the cultic background to homosexuality, and
Why I chose this subject, and the way in which I began the work.
Please don’t skip this section. It needs to be understood before the main dissertation chapters.
I have always been radical in my approach to Christianity. I have questioned all the orthodox teachings of the various traditions of the church, and rejected a fair few of them along my journey of faith.
My mentor in my ordination training course was an extremely wise priest, who left the Catholic church, and is now happily married, with children, and is a priest in the Church of England. He had come to know me well, and suggested that I might like to tackle the hot potato in the human sexuality debate – then as now, the subject of homosexuality.
I liked the suggestion, and began my research. First, I prayed. I wanted to know whether or not God does, as some suggest, ‘hate homosexuals’. My God is a loving all accepting God who could never be the harsh monster suggested by those Christians. God did give me an answer. It was a very clear answer, and it has been first and foremost in my heart in many issues. Heterosexual relationships, friendships, communities such as Maranatha, and so on. God said very clearly to me ‘What I look for in my people is commitment. At the time, I thought that this was no answer at all. But as I began to interview and form friendships with gay and lesbian couples, I began to realise just how apt the word from God was and is.
It was from that starting point that I began to write the dissertation that follows. Just one example of the total lack of any understanding I would offer before you begin.
I was at a conference of Christians to discuss the subject of homosexuality in the context of the United Reformed Church. At the end of the conference, which had included a gay man and a lovely lesbian who is an ordained URC minister to take part in all of the discussions. The last session was a communion service. It was to be celebrated by the lesbian minister. One member of the congregation sat there clearly filled with rage. When it came to the communion part of the service, he noisily and angrily stormed out. I think he had intended to make a point. The only point he made, was that all of us could see what a nasty character this man is.
©The Revd Barry Drake M.A.
A Two-Edged Sword?
“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12)
Lesbian and Gay relationships are something which are being widely discussed by Christians at the present time. Whenever discussion of this issue takes place, it is certain that there will be angry debate, and that arguments will become sharply
polarised, with little attention being given by either side to the argument from the other.
Generally speaking, one argument will say that same-sex acts between men or women are forbidden by the Bible. Passages from Leviticus will be quoted, and supported by sentences from Paul’s letter to the Romans, and his first letter to the Corinthians, and also the first letter to Timothy. This argument will end by saying that the word of God shows clearly that God hates homosexual acts, and therefore they are inherently sinful.
The opposite argument will frequently agree that Leviticus, and the Pauline corpus do condemn same-sex acts, but will go on to say that there are a number of things which
are condemned by Leviticus, and by the Pauline letters which are no longer felt to be binding to Christians. As examples, the food laws, the laws about interest on loans, and the Pauline statements about the rôle of women in church and about men with long hair will invariably be quoted. Many Christians are concerned that when arguments such as these are taken to their ultimate conclusion, the Bible will lose its authority altogether.
From a personal point of view, my interest in this subject was aroused by a letter in a newspaper from a clergyman whose condemnation of homosexuality was angry in its
tone, and showed no love or compassion whatsoever. His argument was based on Genesis 19:1-12 – the story of the men of Sodom and the two strangers. At
the time, I had been studying this passage, and failed to see how violent gang rape could be seen in the same light as loving homosexual expression. My immediate response was that the writer was doing more violence to the text by his words than the men of Sodom had proposed to do to the angels!
Since that time, I have been very wary of such attempts to place a meaning on a piece of scripture that had never been there in the first place.
More recently, I have formed a friendship with a man who is homosexual, and who has a deep relationship with a partner with whom he has shared the past twenty years of
his life. Both men are committed, active Christians. The love that these two men have for one another is easily apparent, and I look at my friend and his partner in the
light of the words that Jesus said when he was asked “which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus answered, `Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and the most important
commandment. The second most important commandment is like it: `Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ The whole Law of Moses and the teachings
of the prophets depend on these two commandments.” ¶[i]
In this discussion, the question that I ask is, `to what extent is it possible to take a high view of the authority of the Bible ¶[ii], and still be able to take literally the law of love with regard to same-sex relationship?’ In order to treat the question fairly, it is necessary to try to seek out the reason for the Levitical prohibition found
in Lev 18:22. To say simply that God hates this, or that, is hardly a fair answer. God surely has a reason for anything that we are asked to accept as `His Word’.
Clearly the worst infringement of the authority of scripture would be to take passages out of context. Responsible use of Bible will recognise that `context’ has to include the situation which the passages were originally meant to address, together with any information which is able to be drawn from archaeological and other scientific sources that helps us to determine the accuracy of our understanding and our translation. It is differences in understanding of scriptural context that are the main source of the widely differing views currently held towards homosexuality. ¶[iii].
Since the early part of this century, archaeological research ¶[iv] has shown a strong connection between the Hebrew law, and the pagan cults of the period into which it was given. I believe that the Hebrew Bible texts usually cited in connection with homosexuality are correctly understood as prohibitions of pagan cultic sexual activity, and therefore do not oppose homosexuality in the sense of a loving relationship between two people. Additionally, some of the words used in the texts in question, in both the Hebrew and the Greek Bibles, have meanings which are either unclear, or which have very definite cultic connotations. In this connection, it is worth noting the changes in translation that have taken place in recent years as background knowledge has increased. An example of the effect of research on translation would be the way in which the Hebrew word `qadesh’ is rendered.
In the AV, this word was translated `sodomite’ in most of its occurrences. Most modern translations now have `male temple prostitute’. (as, for example, in Deut 23:17) ¶[v]. This is emphatically not a tendency towards liberal thinking, but an attempt to render the Hebrew with greater accuracy.
I intend first of all to examine the practices ¶[vi] associated with fertility cult religion. In this, it would be helpful to gain some understanding of the whole ethos of paganism, and for that reason, I have avoided selecting only those parts of pagan religion thare directly linked to sexual issues, taking instead a broader view. In the light of this background, we can then take a further look at Hebrew scripture, and at the New
Testament in order to make appropriate comparisons.
“you shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 19:3)
“The invention of Idols was the beginning of fornication …… everywhere a welter of blood and murder, theft and fraud, corruption, treachery, riots, perjury, disturbance of decent people, forgetfulness of favours, pollution of souls, confusion of sex ¶[vii], disorder in marriage, adultery, debauchery. For the worship of unnamed idols is the beginning, cause, and end of every evil”. Wisdom 14:12 and 25-27. It is not surprising that Paul seems to make reference to this passage, which he would have known well from the Septuagint. There certainly seem to be echoes of it in Romans 1:22-31, and in 1 Corinthians, in the `catalogue of vice’ ¶[viii] that Paul offers.
There is ample evidence in the whole of the Bible, perhaps especially in the prophets, of the importance of Israel’s (and our) overwhelming need for rejection of pagan religion, and all its works.
Nowhere is there a more powerful picture of the war against pagan practices than in the battle between Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. It is made abundantly clear here, and throughout the Hebrew Bible that there can be no compromise; the
worship of other gods is not only forbidden, but must be completely and utterly wiped from the face of the earth by the power of God and His people.
In attempting to build a picture of pagan practices, it would be most helpful if we could examine the religious customs of Babylon, Canaan, and Egypt. A major problem here
is the widespread obliteration of pagan temples, artefacts and writings, by the Jews under the express command of God. However, there is enough surviving evidence to build up some idea of the nature of paganism, when archaeological discoveries are taken together with the vast amount of biblical evidence. Recent correlation between archaeological finds in the middle and near East together with finds in Cyprus, Malta ¶[ix], France and Britain suggest that although there were a number of variations in cultic practices through time, and geographical displacement, there is nonetheless a great deal in common between pagan cults throughout the length and breadth of the
Roman Empire at its largest, and during a period extending from before Abraham, through the whole of the biblical period, and to a degree, up to the present day ¶[x]. I have, therefore taken information from various sources, various sites, and a mix of periods during Hebrew history, to try and present some idea of the worship practices that we would commonly describe as `pagan’.
In the first instance, there was ancestor-worship. The heroic, often exaggerated, deeds of the dead were looked up to, and the memory of these hero-ancesters was so venerated that they were given the status, and the power, of gods. Their burial places became sacred sites, and places of ritual. This practice had its place right through the time of the Hebrew Bible, and the consulting of the dead, either by incubation (spending the night among the tombs, and waiting for a message, vision, or visitation) or by oracle, was a commonplace. This is the practice that is referenced in the narrative of the “Witch of Endor” (1 Sam 28). It seems that the dead so venerated were `earthbound’ to a particular place.
In addition to ancestor-worship, there is the veneration of the spirit `lords’ of a particular place. These are known by the Hebrew name `Be’alim’ – often transliterated `Baals’ – a word simply meaning `Lords’.
According to Oesterley and Robinson, (p57) Baals (Be’alim) “…. means Lords or owners, and Ba’alism in its origin, centred on the belief that every spot of fertile ground owed its fertility to the fact that a supernatural being dwelt there and made it what it was. The ground was therefore looked upon as the property of this supernatural
being, who was the owner of it, the lord or mistress, the Ba’al or Ba’alath according to whether the owner was a male or a female”. The book goes on to tell us that Ba’alism believed that (p61): “… the gods can, and should be assisted in their doings by man’s co-operation; and this is what lies at the base of, and is the meaning and purpose of, the widespread institution of sanctuary prostitutes, referred to in the old testament under the term Kedeshoth (Qadeshoth) ….. meaning `consecrated women’, which showed that in its origin ¶[xi] there was no thought of immorality”.
There may well be a parallel between the deified earthbound spirits of ancestor-worship, and the `Baals’. Every pagan settlement had its Baal, and there is some suggestion that deliberate human sacrifice was used to provide guardians of the
place (foundation sacrifice).
Fohrer tells of archaeological finds showing the corpses of children buried beneath cornerstones. These, he believes, bear out the factual nature of the sacrifice referred to in 1 Kings 16:34, and suggests that this is what is referred to in Joshua 6:26 also. In addition, rituals and incantations have been discovered ¶[xii] which seem to have the intention of `binding’ spirits of the dead to a particular place, evidently with the same purpose in mind.
Perhaps the worship of the dead led to their deification as Baals; Philo of Byblos (q.v.) for one, seems to believe that the Baals themselves were spirits of long dead ancestors; but whether or not this were the case, the worship of the Baals included the concept that battles over ownership of land reflected battles between the Baals for supremacy in the spirit world.
Thus, there grew violence, and a whole hierarchy of deities. It is these that were the objects of worship in the lands surrounding the Israelites during the whole of the time of the Hebrew Bible. Sacred pagan
writings – heroic epics – grew and spread. One of the earliest and best known of these is the “Epic of Gilgamesh”, which has been discovered by archaeologists throughout the ancient world in a substantially similar form, and which is available to us as near complete as one might wish.
It is believed that the acting out of ancient epics such as this, in a symbolic ritualised form was effective in gaining favour with the deity concerned; a kind of sympathetic magic. The best known form of sympathetic magic is the practice of making effigies,
usually from clay, wax or wood, and identifying them with a particular person using rituals, incantations, and perhaps clothing or hair from that person. This was (and is) very much a part of the pagan way. Figurines at every temple site tell of the practice, and many charms and incantations which use artefacts in sympathetic magic are to be
found in cuneiform texts ¶[xiii]. The connection with European Witchcraft ¶[xiv] right through to the present day is self evident, and has been remarked upon by a number of scholars .
Cult and Sex
We are contending “against the principalities, against the powers …..” (Eph 5:12)
A great deal of cultic practice is associated with the procuring of fertility in the land `owned’ by a Baal. With the epics come the `death of god’ concept. The cycle of the
seasons includes the Winter, the season of death. This is an earthly manifestation of the `death of the god’, the Baal of the place, and this death of the god is symbolically acted out as part of fertility ritual. The `rebirth of the god’ is similarly acted out symbolically, using the fertility and regeneration associated with the act of sexual
intercourse as the symbol. This part of the pagan scripture, the ιερος γαμος (Hieros Gamos), or divine marriage is a high point of pagan worship, and is acted out by the king, and the high-priestess, or in some cults, the high priest and high priestess.
We cannot be certain as to whether temple prostitution, which is widely mentioned, is an extension of the `divine marriage’ theme ¶[xv], or whether it is an acting out of the sacred prostitution that features in some of the epics; certainly the Gilgamesh epic
tells of sacred prostitution.
A footnote in the TEV Bible says: “Temple Prostitutes: These women were found in Canaanite temples, where fertility gods were worshipped. It was believed that intercourse with these prostitutes assured fertile fields and herds”.
Male-with-male sex acts also form part of the Epic of Gilgamesh, and other ¶[xvi]
epic poetry, and it is well documented that male temple prostitutes were part of pagan worship (Licht, Jastrow, Hooke etc.) Some of these were eunuchs, and eunuchs enjoyed an exalted place in the hierarchy of certain cults.
A noteworthy example is that of the Galli (see below), who publicly castrated themselves during a pagan act of worship. There are many other supporting references to male cult prostitution to be found in ancient documents. Here
is one such reference from Babylonian archaeology: “When a male prostitute entered the brothel, as he raised his hands in prayer, he said, `my hire goes to the promoter. You (Ishtar) are wealth, I am half” ¶[xvii].
Clifford Allen places the beginnings of male cult prostitution in Egyptian sacred texts. He quotes a Papyrus from around 2000 BCE from among the Chester-Beatty papyri. This Papyrus recounts the quarrels between Horus and Seth. The other gods persuaded them to bury the hatchet. The story goes on to say: “and when it was eventide the bed was spread for them, and they twain lay down. And in the night Seth caused his member to become stiff, and he made it go between the loins of Horus.” If this legend was, as it seems to be, a very ancient tale, then its acting out in ritual may well represent the origin of the male temple prostitute.
Pedersen tells us (p468) that: “Both in Egypt and Babylonia, the marriage of the God, accomplished in the person of the king, formed part of the fertility rites. Just as the rites appertaining to the death and resurrection of the God acquired an independent character in special cults, thus also the holy marriage was not restricted to the annual feasts or limited to the king alone. Bands of priestesses were attached to the Babylonian temples, whom men could visit. We do not know according to what rules, but sexual intercourse with the hierodules in the holy place contributed to strengthen
fertility, i.e. the blessing, for the participants and the community ¶[xviii]. The very exercise of sexual intercourse in the holy place acquired an independent value, however, and even men or boys, sometimes eunuchs, could supply the place of the “sacred women”.
Horner (p65) makes reference to Deut 23:17-18 which refers to `Qadeshim’ (male cult prostitutes) – and says that they were more dedicated to the goddess than the `Qadeshah’ (their female counterparts), as they had given up their manhood. He quotes Lucian, in a treatise entitled “The Syrian Goddess” ¶[xix]. This work also tells of `sacred transvestism’. Perhaps it is this practice that is referred to in Deut 22:5 as an `abomination’. The text from Lucian referred to here describes the making of transvestite eunuch prostitutes (the Galli), and the complete text is in footnote ¶[xx].
Sex – and Power
“Bring them out that we may have sex with them” (Gen 19:5)
It can be seen above that sexual coupling in pagan worship contexts has nothing to do with love or commitment, and little to do with sexual desire. There is considerable evidence that cultic activity has everything to do with power, and the sexual acts connected with them are acts of power and little else.
In a hillside in Dorset, a mighty figure is cut into the chalk. The Cerne Abbas giant is a remnant of fertility cult worship from around 1500 BCE. The giant is the huge naked figure of a man, waving a club in the air, and proudly displaying his genitals to all the world; with an enormous erection. Old local legend has it that in prehistoric times, men used to go naked into battle with an erect penis. There has, it seems, been a close
connection between sex, violence and power for a very long time ¶[xxi].
Sexual prowess appears to have been the stuff of which the pagan gods were made. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Enkidu, the `worthy opponent’ that the gods made for Gilgamesh, is seduced by Shamhat, the sacred prostitute, and they have sex continually for six days and seven nights. This epic performance speaks of a virility that is more than a match for Gilgamesh. It is, it would seem, through exploits such as this that the giants of old gained their status.
Rape was (perhaps still is ¶[xxii]) associated with conquest. And this applied to males as well as females. Both Egypt and Babylon had a tradition of castration and male homosexual rape as a form of humiliation after a battle. The phrase `a man who has been turned into a woman’ is noted in several ancient documents (see references to Biggs, also footnote in the chapter on Paul). This may refer to castration, but equally, the process of male-rape (buggery) was used to `make a man into a woman’ into a symbolic manner. After a battle, it was common to subject a king to public rape, and for his army to be led naked through the streets so that soldiers might be buggered by any who so wished. That this situation has changed little may be seen in reports cited by Letha Scanzoni, in which she shows evidence of sexual conquest in modern-day prisons being used as a means of establishing a `pecking order’.
The most beautiful of the young males from a conquered land would certainly be enslaved, and forced to become temple prostitutes, and to this end, some would without doubt be castrated. It seems very likely that the Israelites would have had painful experience of this humiliating practice ¶[xxiii], perhaps in both the Egyptian captivity and the Babylonian exile, and very likely at other times also. The two accounts of rape by the men of Sodom in Gen 19, and by the men of Gibeah in Jud 19 seem to be
suggesting the symbolic, or proxy, rape of God by pagans. In the Genesis account, two men, angels of God, are the intended victims. In the Judges account, the intention is the same, though this time, a Levitical Priest of God is the intended victim; the intended `God substitute’. In both these accounts, sex seems to be used as an instrument of power and humiliation rather than anything else.
Cult in the New Testament
“Wherefore my beloved, shun the worship of idols”. 1 Cor 10:14
The situation at the time of the events and the writings of the New Testament is one in which pagan cult is still the major religious influence outside Judaism. It is clear that
fertility cult worship was flourishing at time of Paul. Corinth, at the time of Paul’s letters, is the home of Afrodith Pornh – Aphrodite the great harlot. Hans Licht ¶[xxiv]
quotes Strabo, who gives this contemporary insight: “The temple of Aphrodite was so wealthy that it was able to keep more than a thousand hetairae who were dedicated to the goddess by men and women. For the sake of these girls strangers crowded hither, so the city became rich thereby. Ships captains only too easily spent their money there, and thus arose the proverb: “The journey to Corinth does not suit every man”. As well as involving such an extraordinarily large number of women in temple prostitution, Corinth had a reputation for its male prostitutes, popularly known as `dogs’. And the contemporary phrase “play the Corinthian” was a synonym among the Greeks for complete and utter licentiousness.
In Ephesus was situated the temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the world, and a fabulously rich centre of pagan fertility cult worship. The temple, together with most of its contents was destroyed by Christians fairly soon after the writing of the letter to the Ephesians; even so, the museum at Ephesus bears adequate testimony to the nature of the worship there. See the picture of the fertility god Bes on the next page – it leaves little to the imagination, and was found in the sacred
brothel at Ephesus. Also in the museum, is the god Cornucopia. Once again this god sports an exaggerated erection, but this time, his erection supports a mass of fruit: a fertility symbol indeed! As an aside, there has even been a recent discovery of an underground passageway which ran from the library at Ephesus through to the brothel! We can be certain that the situation into which the letter was written ¶[xxv]was little different from the situation at Corinth.
Paganism – and the present
“in later times, some will depart from the faith ….” (1 Tim 4:1)
Dorothy Sayers, writing in 1940 to a world at war, spoke of a new paganism ¶[xxvi]. Of the pagan way, she said: “If I do not believe in the fatherhood of God, why should I believe in the brotherhood of man?”. Today, paganism in its many modern forms has become even more overt. As the worship of God becomes a minority concern, the new paganism grows. And the old paganism has never wholly died. The first contact I had with pagan cult religion was with the Emin foundation, some fifteen years ago. Overtly it claimed to be studying Egyptology and Eastern Religions. Covertly it was engaged in the worship of Osiris et al. It is a power-cult. It is not easy to get at their source material. Having seen Emin in action, there is no way I could now write paganism off as so much superstitious nonsense. See also appendix 4 for some texts about paganism today which suggest that modern-day paganism has much the same traits as the ancient religions, including the sexual rites.
In today’s godless society, we see the breakdown of relationships; we see the break-up of family. Everywhere we see violence and dehumanisation of our fellows. Is there a connection between society turning away from God, and what appears to be disintegration of the very blocks of which society is built? I refer once again to the Wisdom of Solomon `the worship of unnamed idols is the beginning, cause, and end of every evil’. Paganism is a search for self advancement – for preferment of one’s community, and ultimately of oneself, at whatever cost to others. From the worship of God flows unity, not personal advancement in which some have a greater value than others. From the worship of God flows respect and equity, not power struggle. Is there a connection? I believe there is. Is there a connection between whom or what we worship and our behaviour? Most certainly there is. And to the person who denies worshipping anyone or anything, well, scripture says that: `the fool says in his heart that there is no God’ (Psalm 14:1, 53:1), and perhaps such a person is blissfully unaware of his obsession with his `idol’. We are in the midst of world engaged in a very human search for spiritual values; for a god. And God, our God, is the only Lord; the only God.
I make no apology for covering in some detail, aspects of paganism that have little or nothing to do directly with the subject of homosexuality. I believe that it is necessary to look broadly at pagan cult practices in order to gain a perception of what the law is saying when it uses such terms as `abomination’. If the argument against homosexual relationships is going to end, as it usually does, with the words `God hates that’, then I feel that we must investigate what it is that God really does hate, and the evidence above shows clearly that what is being spoken of is nothing less than total reversal of the first commandment. From all of the above, it seems reasonable to take a further look at scripture with the above evidence in mind – and with the understanding that God’s people are to be a holy nation, set apart from the worship of other gods. In the next chapter, I am considering that that the law as set out in Leviticus and Deuteronomy has its full relevance only in the light of a holy people of God living
alongside the religious practices of its pagan neighbours.
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” Psalm
The suggestion that homosexual and other forbidden practices cited in Leviticus are there because of the close connection with pagan worship, is one that has been around since the late nineteenth century, and has been researched and endorsed by a number of learned writers. This point of view is not accepted by most conservative evangelical Christians, who feel that the prohibitions are there simply because they are all referring to actions which are inherently immoral – both in and out of any context. A problem I have with this idea is that it does nothing to explain why creatures such as the rock-badger and shellfish are ritually unclean, why it is an abomination to eat blood, or wear clothing made from two different fibres, and why the law with respect to all of these things no longer seems to be applied ¶[xxvii]. In that context, how should the literalist reader view the saying of Jesus that the law must not be changed (Matt 5:18)? A friend who holds a fundamentalist view of scripture recently said to me during a discussion on the subject of homosexuality that “God does not change His mind. What is written in the law is still just as valid today as it was in the days of Moses”. How, then, can he reconcile with the above statement, the changes in the application of the law that have so clearly taken place?
It would make a great deal of sense if we were to find that laws that were written with one purpose in mind had been reinterpreted into a completely different context
by the time of Jesus. Is there any justification for taking such a viewpoint?
Oesterly and Robinson ¶[xxviii] addressed the cultic background (p67) when referring to Eze 8:10, Isa 65:4 and 66:3; also Isa 66:17. These passages about `unclean’ animals, they suggested, offer clear evidence of rejection of animal cultic ritual. “All the creatures mentioned in these passages and chosen for the sacrifices were such as were unclean in the first degree, and surrounded by strong taboos of the kind which in heathenism imply that the animal is regarded as divine”. They made specific mention of the Hebrew word `tame’, which they believed to be evidence of an uncleanness given by use in pagan worship. Despite the age of this work, and the writers’ adherence to the developmental view of Judaism, Oesterley and Robinson offered a great deal of evidence which is still valuable today.
Georg Fohrer ¶[xxix] points to evidence found at Gezer showing that pigs were commonly sacrificed to the pagan gods. This would seem to be an obvious and logical reason for the ban on eating meat from the pig; no doubt many other correlations can be made between unclean foods, and the use of animals in cult worship.
Richard Lovelace, in a well presented argument ¶[xxx], suggests that as homosexuality is mentioned in context with adultery, bestiality, child sacrifice etc., one would have to
accept that all of these acts are forbidden only in a pagan worship context if the argument is to hold good. The view which I present suggests that whether or not any or all of these acts are intrinsically immoral, in the context of Leviticus they are all associated in some way with worship of gods other than the one true God, and it is for this reason that they appear in the lists contained within the laws.
Even the most conservative of modern commentaries makes the connection between Hebrew law and pagan worship. As an example, the 1994 edition of the New Bible Commentary ¶[xxxi] comments on Lev 18:23, telling us that “genito-anal intercourse
between men, and both male and female intercourse with animals are all known to have been part of pagan worship in Egypt, Canaan and elsewhere. That is probably the reason that they are grouped together here”. A very recent document produced on behalf of the Church of England Evangelical Council is the St. Andrews Day Statement. Whilst in no way wishing to espouse a liberal viewpoint, this document points out that: “For the biblical writers the phenomena of homosexual behaviour are not addressed solely as wilfully perverse acts but in generalised terms, and are located within the broader context of human idolatry”. The document goes on to cite key New Testament texts ¶[xxxii] and to place them in the above context as well as the Hebrew Law to which this paper was at first referring.
The more liberal J. P. S. Torah Commentary on Leviticus ¶[xxxiii] addressing Lev 18:22 associates male homosexuality here with the cultic prostitution of the male pagan priests, the `qadeshim’. The article goes on to say that there has been considerable speculation (in Jewish circles) as to why lesbianism is not specifically forbidden in the Torah. “In due course”, the writer adds, “rabbinic interpretation added this prohibition as well”.
Are Homosexual Relationships Mentioned in the Bible?
“thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women” (2 Sam 1:26)
There has been considerable speculation in recent years about precisely how homosexuality was viewed in the Hebrew Bible – is there any evidence to suggest that committed homosexual relationships (as distinct from cultic acts) took
Tom Horner’s “Jonathan Loved David” attempts to show that homosexuality was accepted and acceptable in biblical times. Horner opens with a discussion about the love that David had for Jonathan, quoting the scripture that tells how “thy love to me
was wonderful, passing the love of women”. Overall, Horner makes a very good case for the relationship between David and Jonathan having been a sexual one. Much of what Horner says here is speculative, but events such as the encounter between David and Jonathan in 1 Sam 20:41 certainly take a great deal of explaining unless they are of a
A colleague of mine who is in agreement with Horner’s view suggests that there is a sexual connotation in the use of the Hebrew word `gadal’ in 1 Sam 20:41, this word is translated `exceeded’ in the AV, and is noted in some modern translations as “Hebrew unclear”. My colleague argues that in this context `gadal’ may very well mean `ejaculated’.
Apart from the David and Jonathan episode above, most of the suggestions by Horner and by others that are supposed to indicate the existence of homosexual relationships
in the Hebrew Bible seem a little imaginative. There appear to be no other possible records of homosexual relationships taking place anywhere in the Hebrew Bible.
However, to argue from such a position that they did not take place at all, would be as ill advised as it would be to argue that they are against the law, when there is no clear
example of a loving same-sex relationship in the Bible.
“The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27)
Mishnah is the name given to a splendid oral tradition which the rabbinic school tells us goes back to the time of Moses. By the time of Jesus, Mishnah had become a vast and fine body of sayings which were intended to aid understanding and interpretation of the law. At best, these sayings contain the wisdom of the ages; at worst they allow a legalism of an extreme form. And at the time of Jesus, Mishnah was strictly oral – it was forbidden to write it down. Perhaps the reason for this was to allow Mishnah to be in a continual state of change – to speak afresh to each and every generation. However, there were those who strove to give Mishnah the same authority as the law, and to this end, tried to claim that the whole of the Mishnah was given by Moses himself – a statement that is manifestly untrue. It was in this area especially that Jesus clashed with the teachers of the law of his time.
Today, we have the written Mishnah. It was committed to writing around 200 CE, and a possible two thirds of it dates from after the time of Jesus.
It is difficult to date many of the sayings, and the whole of Mishnah is conveyed in the same somewhat stylised question and answer format that makes it look like a seamless
whole. It seems to me that Mishnah is a sadly neglected resource for Christians. I am excited to have discovered it, because some of the wisdom offered is pure gold, and because it throws a great deal of light on a rabbinic tradition of which our Saviour himself was a part. And on the negative side, it shows exactly the kind of legalistic nit-picking against which, Jesus stood most firmly! To read the parts of Mishnah which deal with the Sabbath, for example, is to hear the frustration of Jesus, and to understand the very tone in which he said “The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath” Mk 2:27 et al.
Because of the nature of Mishnah at the time of Jesus, and its purpose, we are able to see only some of the sayings that Jesus would have known by heart – for learning by rote was very much a part of the mishnaic tradition. The stylised question and answer format was an aid to learning, and the Jewish lawyer would have to hand at all times the response of the wisest of his predecessors to almost any question that might be asked. The style of Mishnah, however, together with the mishnaic style of many of the responses that Jesus is reported as giving in the Gospels leaves us in no doubt as to the importance of this commentary on the law in his time, and equally, its importance to Jesus.
In summary then, Mishnah was to Jesus both a joy and a problem. It was a joy when it expressed the rabbinic wisdom of the centuries in understanding the spirit of God’s word to us through the law and the prophets; it was a problem when it sought to provide an easy way out (as it is seen to do in questions of divorce), and when it led to excessive legalism as we can see in the strictness with which the Sabbath was to be observed. And it is here that I feel that Mishnah has provided us with problems in our current understanding of the spirit of the law when applied to our sexuality here and now – this is particularly the case when we look at homosexual acts, in which Mishnah is unequivocal – in Mishnah, they are against the law when they concern men enjoying
sex with men, though as we saw in the chapter on Hebrew Law earlier, not so in the case of women with women. Interestingly, however, Mishnah does support a `betrothal by intercourse’ possibility that could well form part of an argument concerning sex before marriage.
How does the Pauline Corpus view homosexuality
“but the greatest of these is love”. 1 Cor 13:13
Three isolated texts from the Pauline corpus are very frequently seen quoted in support of the view that the Bible condemns same-sex acts. However, I begin this section by saying that Paul gives us every reason to avoid treating his letters and indeed, the remainder of the books of the New Testament as though they contain legislation ¶[xxxiv]. I believe that each of the New Testament letters was written to address a specific situation, and that the purpose of their inclusion in the New Testament Canon is to enable us to see how the Holy Spirit and Scripture together taught the early church how to live in the way of the Kingdom. I believe that the intention was that this same process might continue in later times. In spite of this view, I feel that it is appropriate to look at the individual texts in their context, to try to discern the nature of the problems they addressed.
The three passages from the Pauline letters that are most frequently quoted as speaking out against homosexuality and fornication are 1 Cor 6:9-11 1 Tim 1:8-11 and
Rom 1:26-27, and when these passages are taken out of context, both textually and culturally, they give every appearance of providing a clear cut case.
However, it is well worth looking more closely at each of these passages. With a little flesh on the bare bones, they are not nearly as clear cut as they at first seem to be.
Whilst conservative and older commentaries take these passages to be clear prohibitions of all homosexual behaviour ¶[xxxv], it is noticeable that some of the more recent commentaries either avoid the issue of homosexuality ¶[xxxvi], or at least point out that it is homosexuality `as a consequence of paganism’ that is spoken of .
Worthy of mention are Stowers and Fitzmyer. Both of these, although writing from very different positions do attempt to give a summary of the various points of view about Paul’s attitude to homosexuality, and give some indication of the relationship of pagan practices to sexual customs.
1 Cor 6:9-11 has a special peculiarity in the language that Paul uses.
He mentions idolaters, and then goes on to speak of two different vices which have to do with sex. Here, the RSV takes two separate words, and translates them as though they had one meaning – `sexual perverts’
¶[xxxvii]. J. B. Phillips translates these two words as `effeminate’ and `perverts’. The two words concerned are μαλακοι (malakoi), and αρσενοκοιται (arsenokoitai) and if one can judge from the wide variety of differing translations offered for this passage, the meaning of the Greek seems to be unclear. Could this passage be connected with pagan worship?
Traditionally, malakoi, which means quite literally `soft ones’, has been taken to mean
men who take a passive rôle in male-with-male sex acts. However, several of the writers listed, including Countryman and Helminiak point out that the meaning of this word is less than clear. Helminiak points out that the word used to be taken to mean `masturbators’, and this is borne out by Boswell in an interesting quotation which he
provides from a late sixth century `penitential’ or piece of counsel for confessors, ascribed to John the Faster ¶[xxxviii], and quoted on p363 of Boswell’s work. John uses the word μαλκια for those who masturbate, and the context here makes this odd use of the word quite unmistakable. We see, then that the meaning of the word μαλακος
has never been clearly understood.
One other place that this same word occurs is in Matthew’s gospel, Matt 11:8, and here, the word is used to mean the clothes of “a man in soft raiment” ¶[xxxix] (RSV). Since it was usual for eunuchs who staffed the pagan temples to dress in the clothes of women – in fine clothes, or `soft raiment’ I want to suggest the possibility that μαλακοι
might here be used to refer to male eunuch temple prostitutes. Indeed, I suggest that this explanation is no more fanciful than any of the others that have been put forward.
The description of the Galli, above, also points to the practice of dressing in fine clothing by eunuchs.
John Boswell offers a lengthy linguistic argument which begins by saying that whilst the word μαλακος used by Paul is often translated as though it refers to homosexuality, it means literally, `soft’, and is used in a variety of different ways, Boswell is thus able to conclude that the word may mean something other than homosexuality.
With regard to the word αρσενοκοιτης, several scholars point out that this is a rare word, and that there is no evidence whatsoever for its use prior to the letters from Paul – and the only later uses are in references by the early church fathers to Pauline teaching. The traditional explanation for its derivation is that it is a contraction of the Septuagint text from Leviticus. Scroggs points to a rabbinic text in which are found the Hebrew words `mishkav zekor’, literally, `lying of a male’, and suggests that since the word is formed from αρσεν… = male and κοιτη = (literally) bed, αρσενοκοιται may be a literal translation by Paul of this Hebrew text.
Here, Boswell produces a lengthy and very technical argument based on Greek grammar, and knowledge of dialects that were contemporary with Paul.
His argument claims to prove that the word might mean something completely different from the traditional `active male homosexual partner’. In it, he seeks to demonstrate thatαρσενοκοιται does not mean homosexuality, and whilst the actual meaning of the word is less than clear, Boswell is certain that had Paul wished to refer to homosexuality, he would have used a different word, probably ανδροκοιται (androkoitai). He offers a number of words from the Koine of Paul’s time (Koine – see below) which could have been used if homosexuality were the object of Paul’s
statement. He also points out that, whatever the word actually meant to Paul, it is
a rare word, and as far as is currently known, it appears for the first time from the pen of Paul. Once again, texts from early Christianity are used to show differences in the interpretation of the word. In John the Faster, cited above, arsenokoitai is used with reference to an act performed between a husband and a wife.
Scroggs (p85) looks at Lev 18:22 and 20:13 in the Septuagint and links it with Paul and his use of the word αρσενοκοιται . The main thrust of Scroggs’ argument is the suggestion that overall, Paul is actually referring to the practice of pederasty, common among the Greeks and the Romans of his time. This practice is highlighted in depth in
Bernard Sergent’s “Homosexuality in Greek Myth”. Pederasty was a practice in which a man from upper class society would take a pubescent boy as his `apprentice’. The man would generously bestow presents, together with the benefit of his lifelong learning and experience on the boy, and the boy would be a sexual companion to the man for a time. This was a practice that was entirely acceptable in Graeco-Roman
society at the time of Paul, and is shown by Sergent to have its roots in pagan cultic ritual and tradition. Paul’s use of αρσενοκοιται instead of specific Greek words which were commonly used to describe the man and the boy in a pederastic relationship tends to weaken Scroggs’ case. The language in which the New Testament is written is `Koine’, which was the Greek of commerce, a kind of universal language throughout the Roman Empire. And whilst Koine has a limited vocabulary, it includes words which Paul might well have used, had he wished to describe either pederastic or adult homosexual relationships. It therefore seems likely that Paul had something different from this in mind when he wrote his letters.
If Paul is, as Scroggs has suggested, desiring to be faithful to Leviticus, is it not likely that he would have quoted the exact text from the Septuagint ¶[xl] as he so often does elsewhere?
Several writers suggest that Paul invented this word himself rather than choose one of several pre-existing Greek words because he was looking for a faithful rendering of the
Levitical text, and a direct quotation from the Septuagint would have carried with it loaded overtones from the rabbinical tradition.
I suggest that it is because he wanted to refer specifically to the cult-worship situation that the law was originally written to forbid, that Paul uses this word. It is significant
here to note that Paul is writing to Corinth, and as we have seen in the chapter on cults in the New Testament above, this town was a famous centre for sex-cult worship. I suggest that by Paul’s time, interpretation had so distorted the original intent of the law that he used words that had no current legal connotations. Bullough points out that, whatever the original meaning of the laws on sex, by the time of the Christian era, Jewish literature (Mishnah ¶[xli], Talmud) had understood the law to include a complete prohibition on homosexuality and masturbation, and as we know, the letter of the law can be a deadly thing.
One could, of course continue to speculate: the fact remains that there is considerable doubt as to the exact meaning of the word αρσενοκοιται. That it is connected with men, and copulation, is clear from the roots of the word, but the precise
meaning is certainly arguable.
However one might feel about the subject, it seems very odd that Paul should use, possibly for the first time, such a rare word.
In the pastoral epistle 1 Tim 1:8-11, the word αρσενοκοιται is also found and therefore the same argument that I have given above will apply to this situation also. Here, the
letter is addressed to Timothy in Ephesus, which once again had a reputation for cult worship, centred on the temple of Artemis as we have seen in an earlier chapter.
It seems, then, that we may have misunderstood both μαλακοι and αρσενοκοιται completely ¶[xlii], and at the very least, we must be wary of the interpretations
that have been put upon these two words from time to time. The third text mentioned is Rom 1:26-27 – this text is one which is regarded by many as a final proof that Paul sees homosexuality as being forbidden by God. This time, there are no possible linguistic arguments that can reasonably be put forward. However, this is clearly a passage that ought to be read from a little earlier in the chapter. Beginning at verse 18, the section is seen to be about those who have abandoned allegiance to God, and who have turned to the worship of other gods as is seen in verse 23. The consequence of this, says verse 24, is the list of vices that follow – the ones referred to in vv 26-27. It seems clear, therefore that the context is, once again, one of pagan worship, and cult practices.
As I have mentioned above, this passage has a familiar ring to it when it is taken alongside the passage from Wisdom 14:12-27 already cited.
Compare the words of Paul with the Wisdom of Solomon. It seems likely that Paul may well have the LXX text of Wisdom in mind when writing and here, the phrase `γενεσεως ενελαγη‘ (geneseõs enellagee) is used in 14:26, and is variously translated. `Changed nature’, and `confusion of sex’ are but two variations. γενεσεως has to do with inheritance and birth or birthright. Bullough suggests that the Greek `γενεσεως ενελαγη‘ is of doubtful meaning: `change of kind’, is a possible reading. He also feels that it could be taken to mean change of sex, but this is not certain – however, he believes that the words could easily refer to Jews and Gentiles; pollution or ritual defilement, and the forsaking of the God of Jewish birthright, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Certainly, he assures us, it refers to paganism.
The variety of different translations of this passage suggest that there is little clarity. Whilst γενεσεως ενελαγη (geneseõs enellagee) could mean `change of nature’, `sins against nature’ (JB) seems a little hard to justify. `Changing of kind’ is how the Authorised Version renders the phrase, and Moulton has `confusion of sex’; is this perhaps connected with cross-dressing etc. in cult worship? Perhaps there could here be an allusion to the suggestion of men`becoming like women’. I want to suggest
that the self-castration of the Galli (above) would be an example of this ¶[xliii].
Also, in Hooke’s `Babylonian and Assyrian Religion’ p34, a sick man’s nature (personality) is exchanged with that of a God. Perhaps the `change of nature’ spoken of here may have something to do with Possession.
In Romans 1:26-27 the reference to παρα φυσιν (para phusin) – literally `against nature’ occurs. This is often quoted, and has been used by many theologians since early church days to provide rulings about behaviour, especially in a sexual context. Helminiak ¶[xliv] argues that other uses of `nature’ by Paul suggest that what he is meaning is not the same as saying `against natural law’. One specific example is in 1 Cor 11:14, in which `nature itself” (φυσις) teaches us that it is wrong for a man to have long hair.
In addition to questioning Paul’s use of παρα φυσιν in the sense of `against natural law’, recent anthropological writing suggests that homosexual behaviour is not actually against `natural law’, but is very much a part of nature. Carl Sagan shows same-sex sexual behaviour to be a natural and normal part of the establishment of `pecking order’ among certain species of primate. On p53, he writes, “The connection between sexual display and position in a dominance hierarchy can be found frequently among the primates. Among Japanese macaques, social class is maintained and reinforced by daily mounting: males of lower caste adopt the characteristic submissive sexual posture of the female in oestrus and are briefly and ceremonially mounted by higher caste males”.
In a similar manner to other quotations from Paul mentioned above, there is a considerable variance between translations of Rom 1:26-27. I suggest that if Paul does have pagan worship practices in mind, and if, as I suspect, he is considering Wisdom 14, then the whole passage becomes far easier to understand – especially
para fusin – after all, what could be more `against nature’ than worship of anything other than the God whom we are created to love and serve? Compare Rom 1:25, which speaks of the worship of the creature rather than the creator.
It has been suggested that at the time that he wrote to the church in Rome, Paul had left Ephesus, and was probably in Corinth. Alternatively, Paul might have been writing from a prison cell in Ephesus. The Church in Rome to which Paul was writing was a mixed church; according to the Interpreter’s commentary, it is very probable that the Gentiles outnumbered the Jews. And it will come as no surprise to find that in Rome, all the aspects of pagan worship were as common as they were in any
major city – perhaps moreso.
Paul was writing from a place in which he was surrounded by the worship of foreign gods, in the midst of sex-cult worship. And he was addressing a church which had to overcome the same difficulties – and worse – he was addressing a church in which
many of the members were converts who would have had vivid memories of their own heady and hedonistic times sojourning in the pagan temple. Small wonder that Paul has to lay on the line the dangers of reversion, which is precisely what I feel is his intention here.
In summary, then, there is considerable doubt as to precisely how we ought to interpret the teachings of 1 Cor 6:9-11 and 1 Tim 1:8-11. With regard to Romans 1:26-27, we can conclude that this may have to do with cult practices, or with pederasty, or we can
instead accept that Paul was offering the traditional rabbinic teachings. If this
were the case, are we then to conclude that Paul would have wanted to condemn same sex relations between a couple who are in loving committed relationship?
Paul tells us that “now we have been set free from the law …….”, we have “died to that which once held us captive”. From now on, Paul says, “we render service in a new manner, according to the spirit, not according to the letter as of old” ¶[xlv]. And we can see that the letter of the law can be a deadly thing, an instrument of captivity, if it is not interpreted by the loving-kindness of the Holy Spirit. This is not to say that the law has no value, but it certainly cautions us against using scripture as a weapon with which to attack others.
Up to this point, we have not looked at the gospel teachings in any depth.
Let us first compare the moral and legal teachings of Jesus with the moral dilemma in which the church finds itself, and then in conclusion take a further look at Paul’s teachings.
How Jesus views the Law.
“then neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11)
All the discussion so far has been without the benefit of any specific teaching from Jesus himself. The most important aid in our examination of the Bible and its teaching ought to be the words of Jesus – can we expect anything specific here?
Having stated above that Jesus assures us that the whole Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets depend on the two commandments “Love the Lord our God with all our heart, our soul, and our mind.” And that we must “Love our neighbour as we love ourselves”, what are we to make of his statement in Matt 5:18 (NRSV) “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” and its parallel in Luke 16:15 (NRSV) “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the
law to be dropped”?
I am going to suggest that these statements are consistent – that Jesus did not cause or encourage any change to the Law as originally given to us. If this seems inconsistent with the evident change to the food laws, and also with what Mark says in his gospel, 7:18-19, that “all foods are thus made clean”, then I suggest that by the time of Jesus,
interpretation of some parts of the law had moved far and away from anything that was intended by the original writers of the Pentateuch. As we have already seen, Jewish tradition (Mishnah), does have a tendency to enlarge upon, and to legalise the original
teachings. And the example already given from the Torah Commentary, about lesbianism, and that “In due course rabbinic interpretation added this prohibition as well” serves to reinforce this view.
Whilst each of the evangelists is writing to a different reader, and could therefore be expected to be selective with his material, in the examples above, the parallel texts suggest strong agreement with the actual words of Jesus. I am personally taking the view that whatever bias each of the individual Gospels may hold, they report with considerable accuracy such of the words of Jesus as they contain. I am, of course aware that others may wish to argue against this.
In support of my suggestion that Jesus did not alter the law as originally given, I offer some examples.
The main part of chapter 23 of Matthew’s gospel addresses the question of biblical interpretation. In Matthew 23:16-22 (with parallels in Mark 12 and Luke 20) and also in Matt 5:33-37, Jesus questions contemporary teaching, and the free interpretation of that which is `Holy’, or `Set Apart’ in the law. It thus becomes quite clear that between the giving of the law, and the coming of Jesus, the original meaning of much of the law has
been perverted, and it seems equally clear that Jesus is
upholding the law as it was originally given!
I offer as a second example, the way in which the food-laws are brought into question, firstly in Mark 7:18-19, in which the words of Jesus are interpreted as “making all foods clean”, and secondly in the account of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts. Acts 15:20 makes it clear that it is in the specific case of foods used in pagan worship that the law is henceforth to be interpreted, whatever the interpretation had been before that
time. If the prophetic words of Jesus in Matt 5:18 and Luke 15:16 to the effect that the law will not be changed are understood to have a literal meaning here, then it would have to be taken to say that the original meaning of the food laws is in fact, that food and animal products used in pagan worship are unclean, and must not be used. To place such an interpretation on the origin of the food laws not only gives sense to otherwise meaningless ritual, but is to some degree substantiated by archaeological evidence about sacred animals, rituals and sacrifice in pagan cults in the Ancient
Near and Middle East, as we have seen above in the chapter on the Hebrew Law.
Horner attempts to show that Jesus did in fact condone homosexual activity. He looks closely at the gospel narrative of the healing of the centurion’s servant in Matt 8:5-13, and Luke 7:1-10. In both of these accounts, the centurion is reported to have used
the Greek word παις (pais) to refer to his slave, whereas the narration uses the word δουλος (doulos). The word παις means literally `boy’, and is a word that would, according to Horner, invariably be understood to refer to a slave who was also a bedfellow. This was a common practice of that time and place and the assertion in Luke’s account that the slave was `dear to him’ bears out Horner’s assumption. The
word δουλος on the other hand means only `slave’, and would have been the word that the centurion would be expected to have used, had he simply meant `slave’. Horner argues that Jesus would have spoken out here about the centurion’s relationship with his slave, had he believed that homosexuality was sinful. Whilst Horner’s conclusion is interesting, there are other factors to consider here.
The word παις is also used to mean `son’ – as in Acts 3:13 and 26, in which it is used to
refer to Jesus as the Son of God.
It appears also in the account of the healing in John 4:46-54. Some authorities have suggested that this account could be a parallel to the Matthean and Lucan accounts of the healing of the centurion’s slave; in any event, the word παις is used here once more – but this time it is translated `Son’. In addition, the assumption that Jesus would have known about the relationship between the centurion and the boy is not one which is entirely justified by the text. Perhaps the situation is not as clear as Horner would like us to believe.
The question I ask though, is, even if Horner is right in his assumption, would Jesus have been likely to speak out in condemnation? I believe that to have done so would have been out of character insofar as we know the mind of Jesus. For that reason, I want to go on to look at other situations in which Jesus is faced with sexual
misdemeanour in order to try to gauge his general attitude.
There is no teaching from Jesus himself about same sex relationship, and very little about sexual behaviour, but some further examples from the Gospels are interesting. The first is the dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at
the well (John 4:7ff). Here, it is noteworthy that although this woman seems to have a
somewhat freethinking attitude towards marital fidelity, Jesus does not condemn her, or even preach morals at her, but simply accepts her with respect.
One outstanding example of the attitude of Jesus towards sexual morality is that of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:2-11). Avoiding all arguments about the canonicity of this passage, and taking it for the purposes of this argument, as a valid piece of John’s
Gospel, the question I put is: why did the Scribes and Pharisees test Jesus by asking
him to interpret the law to them?
I believe it can only be because they expected a liberal answer from him – and in this case, the liberal answer came from them – out of their own shame.
There is, of course, the oft-quoted phrase that is used by some Christians to present a moralising Jesus, the phrase “Go and sin no more”, that follows his non-judgement. I suggest that this is something of a throwaway line; something like saying the
obvious: “better try and keep out of trouble in future”. It seems to me that overall, the attitude of Jesus towards sex is not only forgiving, but totally non-judgmental. And of course, Jesus himself admonishes those who follow him not to judge.
This gives further grounds for saying that if Jesus did not advocate changes in the law, it may be reasonable to conclude that rabbinic teaching at the time of Jesus had become an abuse of the original spirit of the law. There is at least a hint of this in Luke 11:46, and the parallel passage in Matt 23:4. This appears to confirm the conclusions reached in the chapter on Mishnah above, and about how it compares with the law as we find it in the Hebrew Bible. Perhaps it is also worth considering that when Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11ff), who spends his time and inheritance on harlots, the whole purpose of the story is not to show moral judgement in the matter of sexual misdemeanour, but to show the wideness of God’s mercy.
The conclusion I reach from the teachings of Jesus, is that we have to get behind the interpretation of the centuries, and get through to the meaning of the law, at the time and place into which it was given. This is a nearly impossible task, but one which the Church needs to have continually in mind whenever the teachings of the the Hebrew and Greek Bible are part of an issue.
“if we love one another, God abides in us” (1 John 4:12)
I began this paper in prayer. Troubled by what I saw around me – troubled by what seemed to me to be an aching gap between the law of love, and the practice of the church – I poured out my heart to the Lord.
And in my mind, the words seemed to form: “What I look for in my people is commitment”. Somehow I was aware that commitment to God must come first in the way of love; and commitment to God is commitment to His creation – commitment to one another. The search for truth on which these words have taken me is what I have presented above. I do not present it as a definitive answer, but for me personally it is a
search that has clarified a great area of questioning.
In my searching, I have tried hard to take a high – almost literalist – standpoint on scripture insofar as reason and conscience allowed me to. And I am heartened when I see that the very latest of many books to address the subject of homosexuality comes from an evangelical scholar ¶[xlvi], and stresses the importance of a biblical perspective on the
subject, while at the same time, emphasising the importance of questioning the religious and social background when studying the Bible.
It would be simple if we were able to say categorically that the Bible teaches a specific attitude with regard to homosexuality. From the above, we can see that there is not a clear picture. We have looked at the teachings of Jesus – which leave us with no option but to accept that the whole of the law is fulfilled if we love God with our whole heart, and if we love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Alongside the passages from Paul and from the pastoral letters which we have discussed, we need to look at Paul’s view of the law itself. Three passages in particular from Paul demonstrate how he sees the relationship of the Christian life to the Hebrew law. In Romans 13:10, and Galatians 5:14-18 Paul is clearly upholding the attitude seen in the teachings of
Jesus – that the whole of the law is fulfilled if we obey the law of love. In 1 Cor 6:12, and again in 10:23, Paul is showing clearly that we are set free from the law, and indeed “I am allowed to do anything.” – and then he goes on to give the injunction “but not
everything is good for you. I could say that I am allowed to do anything, but I am not going to let anything make me its slave”. It would seem then, that whatever else Paul is saying about moral issues, the ultimate factor is the `law of love’; the law of love will be the test of what we feel led into by the Spirit of God. If the Spirit leads us to accept the appropriateness of same-sex relationships, and if we are certain that they do not break the law of love, then they must be said to accord with scripture.
I am now firmly convinced that arguments about human sexuality are nothing more than a drain on our spiritual resources as a church. I am firmly convinced also, that we should be questioning human relationships and our commitment to them in the light of our own commitment to God. Humankind is not made for aloneness; and church fails where relationships and community break down. I have referred above to a number of passages from scripture. I close with a passage which, though not in scripture is certainly in complete harmony with it, and I offer it as a prayer for the church. “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est”. I offer alongside it, a somewhat free translation: “Where compassion and love are found, there is our God”.
[i] ¶[i]Matt 22:37-40 (with parallels in Mark 12 and Luke 10).
¶[ii]In studying the Bible, I intend to remain faithful to it, holding in high regard its inspired nature, and the respect that the church has traditionally accorded to it as the `Word of God’. Whilst I would not claim to be a Bible literalist, I respect the Christian who is, and to this end, I have undertaken the following study with due regard to suggestions offered by an extreme fundamentalist Christian group which I reproduce in full in appendix 2
¶[iii]Robin Scroggs,in “The New Testament and Homosexuality” identifies six distinct viewpoints of Bible interpreters, when looking at the question of homosexuality.
He offers six very different attitudes: four that say that the Bible opposes homosexuality in different degrees, and two that say that the Bible does not actually oppose it at all. The complete list of these viewpoints will be found in appendix 5.
¶[iv]Several of the books quoted are written from an anthropological viewpoint, and tend to regard monotheism as a late development; anthropology generally seems to follow the thought patterns in Freud’s “Totem and Taboo”, and it sees religion in general as beginning with a form of animism, and following a developmental process which I suppose would ultimately give birth to scientific humanism. This is especially
true of some of the books from the early part of this century. This seems to have given rise to two opposing points of view about the worship of God; one suggests that the religion of the Hebrews developed out of the pagan religions, and the other suggests that the worship of God is the first and most natural way of worship for humankind; all other religious expressions are therefore deviant, and intrinsically evil. I subscribe to the latter view, as it is wholly in accordance with the Bible, and it seems to me to be
the most in keeping with experience of God – my own, and that of others; indeed, this view is one which is in accord both with the Augustinian view that “we have no rest until we find our rest in Him”, and also with the modern day evangelical thought that “in each of us, there is a God-shaped space, and we cannot be content until this is filled”. Whilst I do not hold to the developmental view of the books cited, I have found in them a great deal of evidence to explore and to illustrate the cultic backdrop against which the Bible was lived at the time it was written.
¶[v]Horner says that only the NEB renders `qadeshim’ correctly as `male prostitutes’ in Job 36:14.
¶[vi]I am working from a sincere belief that religion in early old-testament times, including pagan cult religion, was not mere primitive superstition, but was as genuine a human religious expression as is any religious expression in the present day. I
believe that any failure to take seriously the whole of the religious climate into which the Hebrew law was given will result in a failure to understand and to take seriously the
law itself – or at least, will result in a distortion of its meaning. For me, spiritual entities acting in the world for evil and for good, are a reality. I take very seriously the view that C. S. Lewis expresses in the foreword to his “Screwtape Letters”, that there are two equal and opposite errors into which we can fall. The one, he tells us, is disbelief in evil spirits, and the other is to believe in them, and to accord them too much power.
¶[vii] See the chapter on the Pauline view (below) for problems with this
passage. Note: `confusion of sex’, in the Greek, γενεσεως ενελαγη (geneseõs
enallagee) means literally `changed nature’. Some authorities suggest that this may have to do with the making of eunuchs for the purposes of temple prostitution.
¶[viii]little is said about this catalogue of vice in any of the recent commentaries that I have examined. Several writers suggest that it is evidently a contemporary standard formula, possibly mishnaic in origin. There is one suggestion that the list originates in a Graeco-Roman dice game which was known to exist, and which included a list of evil works that scored points in some way.
¶[xv]Appendix 4, which deals with `divine marriage’ in 1995 suggests that temple prostitutes may well become brides of the Baals prior to their offering sexual intercourse to others. This suggests that intercourse with a bride of the god is a means of achieving union with that god. “Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her?” 1 Cor 6:16. Does this mean that he who joins with a temple prostitute becomes one with her – and her god?
¶[xviii]at this point Pedersen cites Meissner, `Babylonia and Assyria II’ also M P Nilsson, `Griech Feste’, Stengel, `Kultus Altertümer’, N Nilsson, `Études sur la culte d’Ishtar’ in Archives d’Études Orientales. Pedersen, Johannes – Dyva and Jeppesen 1940 (1963)
¶[xx] “The Galli” – extract from Lucian, above which is also quoted by Horner “On
certain days a multitude flocks to the temple, and the Galli in great numbers, sacred as they are, perform the ceremonies of the men and gash their arms and turn their backs to be lashed. Many bystanders play on the pipes, while many beat drums; others sing divine and sacred songs.
All this performance takes place outside the temple, and those engaged in the ceremony enter not into the temple. During these days, they are made Galli. As
the Galli sing and celebrate their orgies, frenzy falls on some of them, and many who had come as mere spectators afterwards are found to have committed the great act. I shall narrate what they do. Any young man who had resolved on this action strips off his clothes and with a loud shout bursts into the middle of the crowd and picks up a sword from a number of swords which I suppose have been kept for many years for this purpose. He takes it and castrates himself, and runs wild through the city bearing in his hands what he has cut off.
He casts it into any house at will, and from this house he receives women’s raiment and ornaments”.
¶[xxi]Interestingly, anthropology makes a connection between human behaviour, and that of the higher animals in the use of sex as a display for the establishment of hierarchical position. See below for a discussion of παρα φυσιν in the section
on the Pauline letters.
¶[xxiii]Christians today subscribe to various theories as to when and where the law was handed to the people of God. David Rohl’s recent work suggests that further revision to biblical chronology is about to take place. It is for this reason that I emphasise that these practices existed for the whole of the periods covered by the Hebrew Bible. Specifically, the circumstances would have been similar whether the law was given to Israel immediatly folowing the Exodus, or, as is often suggested, during the Babylonian captivity.
¶[xxv]The letter to the Ephesians may have been a circular to a group of churches in Asia Minor. However, since all of these churches were situated in strongly pagan areas – as examples, I offer Laodicea and Aphrodisias – the arguments offered above apply here also.
¶[xxvii]I am aware of the recent explanations given by Mary Douglas in her “Purity and Danger” and by William Countryman in his “Dirt Greed and Sex”. Whilst both of these put up arguments of considerable scholarship, they each seem to me to be deeply immersed in the kind of anthropological background which I tend to refute. Additionally, the case which Douglas presents rests very heavily on the use of the Hebrew word `tebhel’ which Douglas says is usually translated “perversion”; as far as I am aware, only the NIV has this translation, and that is not a well founded rendering, the root having to do with `mixing’. Additionally, `tebhel’ occurs only twice in the bible – Lev 18:23 and Lev 20:12. I suggest that in this context, `tebhel’ may refer to syncretism; to `mixing’ of allegiance rather than to something more materialistic. Countryman’s arguments about racial purity and inheritance are valuable, but only look at a small part of law, and I would suggest that the thoughts which I am putting forward are not invalidated by his views. Both authors seem to me to regard early Hebrew theology as a kind of `primitive religion’. I contest this view.
¶[xxxii]Rom 1:26-27, 19-32, 1 Cor 6:9-10, and 12-20
¶[xxxvii]When translating `αρσενοκοιταις‘ in 1 Tim 1:10, the NIV offers us the word `perverts’, and in 1 Cor 6:9 we are given `homosexual offenders’. Both words are
loaded; I question the direction of the `loading’. The position on this is not made any clearer when the usually reliable RSV apparently gives up on trying to find appropriate meanings for αρσενοκοιται and μαλακοι as two separate words, and simply lumps them in together as `sexual perverts’.
¶[xxxviii]John the Faster was Bishop of Constantinople from 582 to 595 CE (during
the time of Gregory the Great). John was noted for being the first to declare himself
“Oecumenical Bishop of New Rome”. He was, as his name suggests, an ascetic, and in keeping with the age, something of a legalist. This was the age in which the sacrament of Penance, and the church’s charism to `forgive sins’ led to a great deal of debate as to what was, and was not, sin, and also about the gravity of the sin in question.
¶[xli]Brundage also cites Mishnah, Yeb 8.6 and Sanhedrin 7.4 as saying that homosexuality was considered a serious crime anyway by the legal experts of the time. I quote Mishnah San 7:4, which prescribes death by stoning for: “He who has sexual relations with his mother, with the wife of his father, with his daughter in law, with a
male, and with a cow; and the woman who brings an ox on top of herself” – but it is interesting to note that even here, the section continues into a condemnation of those who are engaged in sorcery, worship of other gods, and those who introduce others to the worship of other gods.
¶[xlii]Whilst the Latin Vulgate uses a literal translation, `molles’ (soft ones) for μαλακοι, the Vulgate translation of `αρσενοκοιται‘ is given as `masculorum concubitores’ – literally `lovers (in a sexual sense) of males’.
This is clearly less ambiguous than the Greek, and may well be the origin of the traditional line taken by later translations. However, the question is one of accuracy; I suggest that the Vulgate is here, not accurate.
¶[xliii]cf.”Men who have been changed into women for the sake of the goddess” – p19 above. Bullough, Vern L. “Sexual Variance in Society and History” – John Wiley, New York, 1977
(p53) “Male prostitutes served Ishtar in the temple at Erech and other places and were literally called men “whose manhood Ishtar had changed into womanhood”. And he cites volume 2 of Robert D. Biggs “SA.ZI.GA – Ancient Mesopotamian Potency Incantations in texts from Cuneiform Sources” – 1967.
¶[xliv]In his recent book “What the Bible really says about Homosexuality”, Dr. D. A. Helminiak offers a lengthy discussion over the meaning of para fusin, showing
that it cannot necessarily be taken to mean `against the laws of nature’ in any modern sense of the word.