Homosexuality and the OT
Using OT texts is always tricky, because, though we are loathe to admit it, we cherry-pick the stuff we feel is applicable, even if we claim to accept the whole bible as inspired/inerrant. I have never heard a sermon on the evils of either rounding your hair off at the edges nor trimming the edges of one's beard" (Lev. 19:27). Few churches specifically exclude hunchbacks, dwarfs and those with damaged testicles from taking up the offering though they are specifically precluded from doing so in Lev 21:17-20. Some churches, I have heard, might even allow those with osteoporosis to preach.
Because we are seeking texts that address loving committed same sex relationships, we cannot use the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen.19) as the act there is homosexual rape - the rape of a heterosexual male [as well as breaking the rules around hospitality and refuge]. Rape is rape.
We also must exclude the numerous KJV references to "sodomites" (e.g. Dt.23:17. 1 K 14:24. 15:12, 22:46, & 2 K 23:7) because it is, simply, a bad translation. the term qadesh clearly refers to sacred male prostitution [linked to fertility cults]. Since we are talking about committed homosexual relationships and not prostitution of any kind, let alone sacred prostitution, these are irrelevant to our quest.
This then leaves, out of the whole body of the OT, two (2) verses:
The first is Lev. 18:22 - which in many English translations does seem to indicate that it is an "abomination" for a man to lie with a man as he would a woman. What the text actually says is that it is wrong for a man to "lay lyings of woman“ which could mean something as broad as all homosexual acts or something as narrow as "don't have homosexual acts in the woman's bed because it is sacred." When meaning is uncertain, often context helps clarify. The context for this is
[18:18] where we learn you must not take into your harem both a woman and her sister at the same time. [note: implicitly it is okay to have a harem]
[18:19] don't try to have sex with a menstruating woman
[18:20] don't have sex with your neighbour's wife in your marriage-bed.
[18:21] don't give your kids to Molech [a longer discussion needed here]
[18:22] The verse in question
[18:23don't have sex with animals
[18:24] The summary statement "don't make yourselves unclean by any of these practices"
The second OT verse is Lev. 20:13. Here again it is "lay lyings of woman" translated as "do not lie with a man as a woman." In this case the death penalty is prescribed. It occurs as part of a list of other sexual offences requiring the death penalty, including: having sex with a woman and her mother, with an animal, with your stepmother, stepsister, etc. Death is also here the prescribed penalty for cursing your mother and father [if imposed it's a wonder any adolescents actually achieved adulthood]. Other offenses for which the death penalty was prescribed in the Bible included gathering sticks on the Sabbath (Num 15:32-36) and improperly eating ritually offered food (Num 18:12). Note: coitus interruptus could also result in death at God's hands [Gen. 38:10-11} implying perhaps that the wastage of semen may be punishable by death [so much for condoms, even in marriage].
Out of the entire OT then we have two verses which seem to condemn some aspect of homosexual behaviour, though the specific referent act may be a little ambiguous. Moreover, at least on face value, Scripture is clear. Capital punishment is required. I know few Christians, even among Christian extremists, who believe this to be true.
Interestingly, there are significantly more references to usury [collecting of interest.] including Ex. 22:25, Lev. 25:35-37; Dt.23:19; Ps. 15:5; as well as Prov 28:8, Neh.5:11-13; Ezek 22:12. Though our Muslim brothers and sisters still follow this, I have yet to meet any church that teaches that collecting interest on investment is sinful, or refuses to invest any of its own money to collect interest. In fact many actively participate in the usury system by either taking out a mortgage or setting up an interest-yielding foundations/funds.
Homosexuality and the NT
Once again there are relatively few references to homosexual activity. The most significant of these is Romans 1:26-27: which the NIV translates as Because of this [worshipping things instead of God], God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
Looking more closely at the words in this passage:
shameful lusts [also translated as "degrading passions", etc.] comes from atimas [a = not + tima= value/esteem] and pathos -feeling. So it could be "worthless feelings or unworthy feelings, feelings of no value". Interestingly it is the same word atimia that Paul uses to describe men with long hair (1 Cor 11:14). Some see a link to the frenzied state of mind induced in the mystery cults with wine/drugs and music but this is conjecture.
natural - women exchanging their natural sexual intercourse for unnatural."natural" translates from phusikos which means natural or innate. "unnatural" is from para phusein which could probably be more accurately translated as "unconventional", "deviating from their common practice". So the reference here is to heterosexual women giving up their natural heterosexual behaviour for homosexual behaviour. This, incidentally, is the only reference to female same-sex relationships/activity in the Bible. In parallel form, heterosexual men are giving up their natural relations with women
just reward does seem to imply the STDs rampant among temple prostitutes and in the fertility cults.
In terms of the broader context of this passage, Paul was talking, not about sexual sin, but about idolatry and he uses this as an example of idolatry and its impact. The language is strong, hyperbole was, after all, was one of Paul's marks as a writer. It seems likely that Paul probably has in mind the temple prostitutes and sexual habits of the fertility cults in his mind, but it is possible that the reference is broader.
Looking beyond the Romans passage we are left really with the two lists of sins/sinners [1 Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10], a kind of piling up of greek words two of which are relevant here: malekoi and arsenokoitai. Both of these terms are difficult to translate with any degree of certainty- here are some of the ways they have been translated:
male prostitutes [NIV];
those who make women of themselves [Darby] ;
guilty of homosexual perversion [NEB];
boy prostitutes [NAC-1987];
sissies [Jerusalem, German ed.];
catamites [Jerusalem, 1966] (catamies refers to boys kept as sexual slaves);
self-indulgent [New Jerusalem, 1985].
Malekoi literally means "soft". By soft, then, does Paul mean the morally soft? Or soft-skinned? Soft-living? There is no definitive way to answer. In bible translation, when meaning is unclear or multiple meanings are possible, translators use the context to determine meaning, but in a list one can't do that.
abusers of themselves with men [KJV];
behaves like a homosexual [CEV];
child-molesters [Jerusalem, German ed.];
persons of sordid morals [Jerusalem Fr. Ed.];
homosexual offenders [NIV];
lechers against men [Wycliffe]
Arsenokoitai literally means "male-beds" or perhaps "male-bedders"
In the church fathers malakos was not used for either effeminate males but rather for moral weakness [and sometimes for masturbation]. It was never used for homosexual males. The link to boy-prostitutes/sex slaves is possible.
It may be that the link between malekoi and arsenokoitai in I Cor 6:9 could be referencing boy sex-slaves and those who keep/employ/abuse them. This would roughly parallel the list in 1 Tim where it runs: pornoi [male prostitutes]; arsenokoitai [those who keep/abuse them] and adrapodistei â€“ slave traders [those who sell them the prostitutes] - an indictment against the entire sex trade common in the culture.
Of interest is the fact that Paul does not use the common terms for a homosexuality or homosexuals [homophilia] or other less ambiguous terms [there were a number available and in common use]. If Paul had wanted to name homosexuals he would have used the term â€“ it was not in his character to be subtle or coy.
Biblical witness in other areas of sexuality
Apparently it is okay to have a harem. Polygamy is accepted - both in the OT and in the NT. The only prohibitions against it that I can find are in 1 Tim 3:2 &12 and Titus 1:6 where bishops, deacons and elders [ie the church leaders] are to be "husbands of one wife" - but this could equally be translated as "married only once" i.e. not divorced and remarried [so it is in the Jerusalem Bible]. Apparently polygamy, for the rank and file of church members is, in biblical terms, okay.
Where Mosaic law allowed for divorce, Jesus specifically condemns it, indicating that re-marriage is adultery. Pure & simple. To remarry is to live in sin. Yet, perhaps because the incidence of divorce is higher in evangelical churches than in other mainline churches, divorced and remarried persons are often allowed not only to participate in church activities but to actually provide church leadership, even to serve in ministry. Yet this is the one area of sexual conduct specifically addressed by Jesus. He is silent on the issue of sexual orientation and homosexual relations. Why would those condemned as adulterers by Jesus himself be considered more acceptable than those in committed, monogamous same sex relationships, about which he said nothing.
Both the OT and NT accept slavery as a given. Nowhere is there any blanket condemnation of slavery. Female slaves could be used as sex slaves for procreation [2 Samuel 5:13-15]. In war, young sexually inexperienced girls were considered "booty" and could be taken by the conquering soldiers. Yet somehow we know inside our guts, that God is opposed to this. How do we know that? Paul accepted it. Why shouldn't we? We know it because we have internalized the Word of God, come to know God's intent, and rely not merely ancient/inspired text itself.
Sex within seven days of menstruation resulted in excommunication. [Lev. 15:18-24; 18:19], Focus in the Family has never devoted a single program to sexual activity during/after menstruation.
In the NT the two references to not allowing women to braid their hair [1 Tim 2:9 & 1 Peter 3:3] provide almost as much scriptural attestations as the condemnation of homosexuality. As noted condemnation of interest generating economic activity has a much stronger biblical base. Why don't we see evangelical/fundamentalist churches condemning the banks? Go after those payday loan-sharks? Why so silent on the epidemic of braided hair? Why would they allow Homecoming videos to be shown in their churches that feature prominently a man with long gray hair? Why pick on homosexuality? Where do they get off saying that marriage is the union of one man and one woman? There is no scriptural warrant for this. In the Bible, marriage may also be the union of one man and a number of women. Moreover, even if you are married you might have a female sex slave or concubine.
If someone says they believe the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God, I'll take them seriously if they are serious. But let's have no cherry picking, lifting up a verse here to enforce ignoring others. No French braids, no corn braids and definitely no dreds. Seniors with osteoporosis taking up the offering? Never. Questions need to be asked about survivors of prostate cancer to see if they are appropriate for leadership as two complete testicles are essential. Women cover your heads.
Why would we have allowed these other regulations to fade while passionately holding on to, or, more accurately, enhancing the prohibitions/judgments against homosexuality? For that the answer lies not in the bible, but in ourselves.