Having given lots of context in my blog yesterday, which I urge you to read before you read this one, I’m going to dive straight in today. I’m going to look at the main verses of the Bible used to teach against homosexuality and gender fluidity in the order they appear, and discuss one alternative interpretation which therefore introduces reasonable doubt into the absolute certainty of their truth and allow for Christians to hold differing stances while still being in communion with each other in Christ. There are many many others, and this blog merely touches the tip of the iceberg in a bid to make it readable over a cup of tea as opposed to an urnful!
Firstly, and this applies to all the subsequent verses from Genesis, interpretation of these verses depends in the first instance on what you understand Genesis to be. Personally, I understand Genesis as a vast, epic creation narrative, an oral tradition written down after thousands of years of telling and retelling, from parent to child, with seeds of historical accuracy but more akin to mythology than history. At the other end of the scale there are Christians close to me who value Genesis as an absolute historical record and believe everything happened exactly as written. How we therefore engage with the verses we are about to explore will be very much affected by this understanding of their context.
Genesis 1:27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (NIV).
It is worth pointing out Genesis 1:27 is not part of the Adam and Eve narrative and is not specifically telling the story of two individuals. ‘Mankind’ is used to represent all people, not specifically gendered to males, and perhaps more appropriately translated as ‘Humans’ (see CEV – Contemporary English Version). ‘Male and Female he created them’ is perhaps a little more problematic. However when we look at the Hebrew language, we see that gender is binary, masculine and feminine. The previous part of the verse used the word ‘Adam’ we later see as the singular name as a plural (‘Humans’), now the writer is emphasising the wholeness of God’s creation by using the full range of linguistic description available to them, in Hebrew this being two genders, masculine and feminine (whereas for example in Polish there can be up to five). Therefore this passage could mean ‘So God made people in Their own image, in the image of God They created them; all types of people They created them’. In all of us there is something of a reflection of God, and this is the emphasis of the verse, not the specifics of biological sex we have come to focus on. Look at the beauty of that image once we peel away the binary labels we insist people must fit in order to meet the requirements for God’s love!
You may completely disagree that my suggested interpretation is a reasonable one. But it could be. There is potential for reasonable doubt, is there not?
Genesis 1:28 “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; (NIV)”
I have seen it argued that homosexuality is against God’s plan because gay couples cannot naturally reproduce. Well, neither can many many heterosexual couples because of a vast range of reasons, and I am sure most Christians would agree arguing they are not worthy of a place at the table with Christ because of illness, life circumstances or abusive experiences would be cruel. So I reject that argument outright for the same reasons. I also recognise the blessings and hard work of many gay parents out there who raise children through blended families, adoption, assisted conception and many other routes just as heterosexual people do, with an equal human right to do so. If the previous verse applies to all whom God creates regardless of gender, this one does too.
Genesis 2:18 “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. (NIV)”
Reminding ourselves ‘the man’ here is ‘Adam’ which is being used as genderless pronoun at this point, equivalent to ‘the person’, there is only one person and gender is not yet in existence. There is no gender given for the helper either. The text translates as a partner, a helpmeet, but with no suggestion this needs to be a woman.
Genesis 2:23-25 “The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (NIV)”
The way verse 23 is written suggests poetry, as I have demonstrated in leaving the text as presented in most Bibles, with new Hebrew words being used in this place that aren’t used anywhere else. Here is the first division of ‘ish (man) and ‘ishshah’ (woman), but the terms are to denote separation, two equal yet different entities, specific to this creation moment, not to define two different sexes from which nothing will ever vary. It is important to note at this point the Rabbis of the Jewish Mishnah freely discuss four genders in their writings, allowing for variation from two sexes in the Torah within 9 chapters of where we are now (See Kukla in Ruttenberg, 2009) We then have verse 24 which talks about a man leaving his parents – at this point we just have the two individuals created by God, so this becomes a more general footnote at the end of the poem.
The term used for ‘clings to’ his wife is used by Paul in Ephesians to denote a faithful covenant, and talks about a state of relationship. Becoming one flesh has an obvious face value meaning, but the Hebrew points to the establishment of a new family. So therefore the translation could become ‘Therefore a man leaves his creators and commits to his partner, and they become a new family’, without needing to sexualise any of it. The word ‘marriage’ is never used, the concept as we have it is a societal construct that has no parallel in the times of the scriptures, therefore to comment marriage is good based on the text is flawed. Two separate beings entering into this new family unit together is necessary, but that they are strictly sexed at this point is relating to two characters in a story, not a hard and fast rule for everyone.
Genesis 19 – The Story of Sodom & Gomorrah (TW: Sexual Violence, proceed with discretion)
This Bible story, from which the term ‘sodomy‘ is (arguably wrongly) derived, tells the tale of two angels who came to visit who were then threatened with gang rape by a group of men from the village. This is often used as an argument against homosexuality. However there is some important context to this. In verse 3 we are told the angels’ host Lot insisted they join him in his home, and gave them a meal with unleavened bread. Thus he was demonstrating the greatest honour to his guests, binding himself to them as their protector for the evening. When the group then came to the door demanding their bodies, the commitment made to the angels as guests was so serious, Lot taking the shocking action of offering his virgin daughters instead (verse 8) was a preferable violation to letting the men be abused. Just pause there for a moment …
This passage is not about homosexuality. It is about men with evil intentions and the desperate choices good people are driven to when they strive to maintain God’s laws in impossible situations. The sexual orientation or identity of the individuals (indeed, angels are often identified as androgynous) is irrelevant.
Leviticus 18:22 “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; (NIV)”
I am absolutely persuaded by the many contextual and linguistic arguments that the verse in question comes from a passage listing a series of incests, and therefore is a further addition to this list; this interpretation renders the recognised translations erroneous and the passage would be better translated as ‘you shall not lie with a close male relative as you would your wife’. I learned a lot from this excellent 2014 article by Kelly Kraus I would refer you to, and also this, unfortunately anonymous blog.
This is an extended passage which includes the only reference to lesbian sex in verses 26-27: “For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (ESV)” However, the main body of the text is discussing the Romans and their approach to living. Paul’s teaching to the church in Corinth here is about idolitry, and here the unnatural relations in same sex couplings is due to the worship of the sexual partner in place of God. This is not an inherent homophobic text, the reference to homosexual acts is, on the face of it, an example of exchanging the god given good, or the natural intercourse with women, for the unnatural, so straight men having affairs with men. This would not of course apply to already homosexual men for whom the natural order would already be to be with a man, and the sin is in the affair. There is also evidence (Nyland, 2004) that the whole passage is an analogy for idolatry and nothing to do with sex at all!
1 Corinthians 6:9 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality (ESV)“
The world translated as ‘men who practice homosexuality’ in this list of misdemeanours comes from two different words, the first being the the Greek Malakos. Malakos has no equivalent word for English translations, the nearest equivalent is the Roman ‘cinaedus’. Cinaedi was a description for a specific group of people who were portrayed as cross dressing, effeminate and promiscuous, and therefore , in Paul’s opinion, to be avoided. Corinth, where Romans was addressed to, was a Roman colony and therefore this word speaks into a very specific context – remember Paul’s letters were never meant to be ‘scripture’, they were just his letters at the time, and became scripture due to a vote in a council…
Arsenkoites has no equivalent word for English translations either. The range of possibilities include anal penetrator (of men and/or women), rapist, murderer, extortionist. The link to Leviticus 18 is erroneous as it is not presented as the whole word there, but two words which make up the same compound word – therefore it has been assumed to be the same but further study of ancient Greek texts would show this to be false (see Nyland, 2004). The use of the full word (as opposed to the compound word made of two) is best seen in ancient Greek plays where it is used as ‘rapist’, making that the best translation for the usage in 1 Corinthians too. It is worth noting it is the same term used for when the Sodomites wish to rape the angels in Genesis 19.
Therefore suggesting repentance from being a rapist is fair enough! But relating this passage to being homosexual is like relating being an abusive husband to being heterosexual. It doesn’t follow.
I know that was a long haul, well done for getting this far! I want to add some additional verses which support and celebrate the addition of previously excluded peoples into the family of Christ. That is for another blog I think, and I will add a link once it is live (ETA now live here). For now, however you have responded to this one, take it to God. For in Them lies the the answers you may seek, the comfort you may need and the peace we all yearn for. It is where I am headed now.
Peace be with you.
Anon (2016) Leviticus 18:22. Available at https://blog.smu.edu/ot8317/2016/05/11/leviticus-1822/
Freedman, D.N (ed.) Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. William B Eerdmans Publishing Co; Grand Rapids, MI
Kukla, E.R. “Created by the Hand of Heaven: Sex, Love, and the Androgynos”. In Ruttenberg, D., Ed. (2009) The Passionate Torah: Sex and Judaism. New York University Press: London
Nyland, A (2004) The Source New Testament.