Homosexuality in Scripture challenge

Andrew at Theo Greek is writing on homosexuality and scripture in Theo Geek: Homosexuals shall not inherit the kingdom of God?

In this post he is very specifically considering 1 Corinthians 6:9:

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?
Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor
adulterers nor male prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals [TNIV]

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?
Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male
prostitutes, sodomites, [NRSV]

I recommend reading his whole post. Two parts particularly caught my attention:

However Christians who have studied Greek are rather infamous for never reading or paying attention to any Greek documents outside of the Bible.

In short, I see no reason to think either malakos or arsenokoites in 1 Cor 6:9 have anything to do with homosexuality whatsoever. Such translations are simply a result of poor scholarship.

This first point is one that Dr Ann Nyland makes and which she addressed in her translation of the New Testament "The Source".

I respect Andrew’s work in challenging common translations of these words. At the end of the day though we do actually need to have an English Bible text so I would be interested in an alternative suggestion for a translation from Andrew. I also find it interesting that Dr Nyland in the Source has:

Don’t you know that people who are not right with God won’t obtain God’s Realm as their inheritance? Make no mistake! People who engage in sexual acts against the law of Moses, idol worshippers, adulterers, receptive male homosexual promiscuous cross dressers [malakos], anal penetrators [arsenokoites]

as "The Source" is the only translation I have that considers Greek outside the NT, yet Dr Nyland does not come to the same view as Andrew.

Dr Nylands phrase "People who engage in sexual acts against the law of Moses" is also very interesting as I understand that to be a great deal broader in scope than "sexually immoral" (TNIV) or particularly "fornicators" (NRSV), eg it presumably includes those who have sex during a woman’s period (Lev 18:19). If the meaning is that broad then I don’t see why the rest of the list is needed as it is all covered in the law of Moses anyway.

My own view is that the text is unclear, simply to use the word homosexuals as in the TNIV seems to be jumping further than our understanding of the text justifies.

In terms of application I am reasonably confident that we can agree that certain acts such as abusive homosexuality, male prostitution and homosexual promiscuity are condemned by this text (just as are any forms of abusive sexuality, prostitution and promiscuity).

At the other end of the spectrum I do not believe this text can be used to condemn consensual, committed, loving homosexual behaviour with any sense of certainty.

I hope that Andrew continues to look at the other New Testament texts on this subject.

13 thoughts on “Homosexuality in Scripture challenge

  1. Andrew

    “The Source” is the only translation I have that considers Greek outside the NT
    It looks like everything I have always wanted in a translation! I have despaired in the past at the fact that no scholars of Classics had ever done a translation that used up to date knowledge of Greek. I will have to buy a copy…
    Dr Nyland does not come to the same view as Andrew.
    I think you overstate here. She renders ‘arsenokoites’ as “anal penetrators” which was one of my suggestions. (it needs to be born in mind that this includes heterosexual anal sex, and that ancient Greeks generally condemned all anal sex, and thought homosexuality was fine so long as it wasn’t anal)
    Her view that ‘malakos’ refers to “receptive male homosexual promiscuous cross dressers” strikes me as stretching things, so I’ll be intrigued to check out the translation notes.

    Reply
  2. Dave Warnock

    Andrew, Sorry if I overstated the difference between Dr Nyland and yourself. I based that on your nothing to do with homosexuality comment and her translation of malakos.
    Yes The Source is very handy to have around and the notes are extensive (about equal to the text itself).

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  3. Peter Kirk

    So, Andrew, would you accept an argument that Paul is here condemning anal sex, whether homosexual or heterosexual? What options does that leave open for male homosexual activity? (No, don’t answer this!)
    If you buy “The Source”, I recommend the edition “with Extensive Notes on Greek Word Meaning”. My one-time friend Ann Nyland’s note on arsenokoites reads:
    “The Greek term was not as formal as translated here [anal penetrator], but there is no polite English equivalent. The word means one who anally penetrates another during sex, and appears to include rape. It does not apply exclusively to males as the receptors, as it was also used for anal penetration of women, e.g. Migne Patrologia Graeca 82. See also Martial, 11.78. It occurs elsewhere in the N.T. only in 1 Tim 1:10.” (There is more, but not helpful enough for me to retype it.)
    In case anyone feels like writing off Ann Nyland as homophobic, read this post about her Study New Testament for Gay, Lesbian, Bi, and Transgender. Interestingly, in this she has nuanced her understanding of arsenokoites a little to make it sound less focused on homosexuals:
    “The word arsenokoites in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10 has been assumed to mean “homosexual”. However, the word does not mean “homosexual”, and its range of meaning includes one who anally penetrates another (female or male), a rapist, a murderer, or an extortionist. When used in the meaning “anal penetrator”, it does not apply exclusively to males as the receptors, as it was also used for women receptors. The word does not appear in any Greek literary source until the poets of the Imperial period. This late occurrence is most significant as the Greeks wrote at length on male-male sexual relationships.” (quoted from this now dead link, apparently the same as this)

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  4. Andrew

    Peter,
    I would accept that ‘anal sex’ (both heterosexual and homosexual) is a reasonable translation based on the evidence, though this is a difficult word and such a translation should not be taken as gospel as it were. It is because I fear readers seeing a speculative translation and thinking “well I’d better modify my behavior not to do that then” that I would prefer to give the narrowest possible translation which I mentioned is “anal rape” or “rape for the purpose of dominance” or even (as Ann mentions above) “extortion” in an economics sense.
    I definitely intend to buy the version with Greek notes.

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  5. Peter Kirk

    Andrew, you may be surprised that I more or less agree with your last comment. See this post. I find Romans 1:26-27 much the stronger New Testament basis for treating homosexual activity as inconsistent with the highest standards of Christian behaviour.

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  6. Dave Warnock

    Peter,
    I agree with you that of the so-called clobber texts Romans 1 is the strongest.
    However, even there I am unconvinced that we can be sure that Paul would condemn a loving, consensual, committed relationship between two people of the same gender (I don’t think they were known to him in the way we understand them today).
    I am pretty confident that Christians frequently gets it wrong in the relative “badness” of various behaviours. For example our consistent treatment of sexual sin as being worse than others (such as gluttony or lack of justice).
    Even within the sphere of sexual sin I don’t see how we can justify treating a loving, consensual, committed relationship between two people of the same gender as worse than wild promiscuity – yet that is often what is portrayed by Christians – although not I believe supported by Scripture.

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  7. Peter Kirk

    Dave, I do not think that Paul would condemn such a couple in the way that Fred Phelps or Archbishop Peter Akinola might. I don’t think he would treat it as worse than wild promiscuity, or than gluttony (I’d better watch myself on that one) or lack of justice.
    But I do think he would treat it as falling short of God’s perfect standards of behaviour for Christians. As I have written before, it might be better to think of it on the same level as remarriage after divorce: not ideal, but understandable and perhaps acceptable in the circumstances.
    Also there are good health grounds for avoiding anal intercourse, as becomes clear when one looks at the (not often published) data showing that “Homosexual lifestyle is strongly linked to premature death, life expectancy being reduced by an average of 25 to 30 years”, of which major causes are “Traumatic disease … due to the act of anal intercourse” and “live bacteria and viruses … transmitted from one rectum to the next … Passive or receptive anal intercourse carries a 30­fold increased risk of anal cancer compared to controls”.
    What upsets me is the bad exegetical arguments that the Bible has nothing to say on this issue, when it does – even though this is not easy to interpret. And perhaps even more upsetting is the way that in some quarters (notably Anglican ones in North America) inclusion of gays etc seems to have been promoted to be the most important aspect of the “Christian” message.

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  8. Dave Warnock

    Peter,
    “And perhaps even more upsetting is the way that in some quarters (notably Anglican ones in North America) inclusion of gays etc seems to have been promoted to be the most important aspect of the “Christian” message.”
    Agreed, although there seem to be even more places where homophobia is presented as the most important aspect of the “Christian” message.
    Neither does justice to Scripture or our Lord.

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  9. Andrew

    Peter,
    Your argument about the (allegedly) serious health issues associated with homosexuality is extremely interesting. To me, this sort of argument is a thousand times more important than obscure theoretical arguments about what the Bible might or might not say on this issue. Because if there really are serious health consequences of such behavior then it is our duty out of love and concern for the well-being of such people to discourage them from engaging in this behavior just as we would want to discourage people from taking harmful drugs etc.
    I am concerned however that the source you referred to is extremely biased. I realize however that given the controversial nature of this issue “neutral” science is difficult to come by. I suggest that if those within the church against homosexual practice focused on medical arguments rather than on dubious biblical exegesis and super-dubious claims about complementary gender roles, that they would get taken a lot more seriously by others within the church and by the wider community.

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  10. PamBG

    There are some statistics somewhere that show that lesbians tend to have longer monogamous relationships than either gay men or heterosexuals, that they tend to live longer than both groups and they tend to have less sexually-transmitted diseases than both groups.
    So maybe we should all be lesbians instead? (I can hear the inevitable jokes coming from you heterosexual men. Stop it.)
    Many gay men do not engage in anal sex and a number of heterosexual people do. Bringing up anal sex only makes me suspicious that this is more about ‘yuck factor’ for a lot of people than it is about theology.
    In a country where gay men particularly are viciously beaten and the church fails time and time against to ‘t speak out against it, I can understand making this a justice issue. It is a justice issue. The Christian church has proven by it’s actions that it most certainly does not love gay people and that it hates the ‘sinner’ as well as the ‘sin’.
    Ask my gay Christian friends. The way people talk you’d think that they were living triumphalist lives rather than feeling alienated from the church.

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  11. Dave Warnock

    Oh Pam you spoil sport, I was just about to ask about becoming a Lesbian.
    Anyway I think your points are very valid and well put.
    re your concluding paragraph. In many cases I would use stronger language than “alienated from the church”. Rejected, condemned, hated, discriminated against would be a muted starting place for many.

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  12. Peter Kirk

    Andrew, I realise that the source I quoted for gay life expectancy is not a neutral one. I would be very interested to see any more neutral studies. But then would anyone who dared to publish results even remotely like those I have outlined be accepted as neutral?
    Pam wrote:
    The Christian church has proven by it’s actions that it most certainly does not love gay people and that it hates the ‘sinner’ as well as the ‘sin’.
    Pam, you over-generalise. This is of course true of large parts of the church, and that is shameful. It is certainly not true of the significant part of the church today, the majority in many denominations, which is now promoting gay weddings, gay bishops etc, and persecuting those (even JI Packer!) who take a different line. It is also not true, I hope, of a significant number of churches which, while continuing not to accept that homosexual activity is fully acceptable behaviour for Christians, make every attempt to reach out to and accept those of homosexual orientation and by no means hate the sinner.
    As for anal intercourse, how would you react to a teaching (perhaps based on an interpretation of arsenokoites) that this is wrong whether homosexually or heterosexually, and that relationships between gay men are OK as long as they avoid anal intercourse? I’m not sure I would quite take that position, but I would come close to it.
    I will not get into lesbianism as that is not an option for me!

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  13. PamBG

    Pam, you over-generalise.
    Well, I guess over-generalisation goes both ways. I can assure you, for instance, that I don’t think that being pro-gay is the be-all and end-all of the Christian message.
    We obviously see things differently. I see a handful of denominations – Metropolitan Community Church, the United Church of Canada and the United Church of Christ in the US that allows gay unions to be blessed.
    No denomination in the UK allows the blessing of gay unions. Yet somehow you manage to feel persecuted because your views are being upheld.
    Which just goes to show that there truly are different perspectives on everything.
    My friend, J in the US, as an example, feels that he can’t tell people in his church that he is gay and he feels that he would likely be kicked out of his church if he did. Does JI Packer feel that way? Is he totally unsupported by other Christians for his views? Somehow I doubt it.

    Reply

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