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Austin Chronicle The Bible Tells Us So

JUNE 1, 1998:  The academic debate over what the Bible has to say about homosexuality focuses primarily around five different areas of the text: Genesis 19; Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; Romans 1; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10.

Genesis 19 is the Sodom and Gomorrah story of a town so wicked that it was destroyed by God. The final straw for God's judgment comes when two angels whom he has sent to survey the wickedness are attacked by a crowd of men who ask to "know" them. In Hebrew, this word "to know" could mean either sexual or intellectual knowing, so it's unclear whether there is, in fact, an implication of homosexuality. However, when the Sodom story is retold in Ezekiel 16:48-49, the downfall is described not as the fault of sodomites (the word comes from the story) but from other human failings such as "pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease," and not aiding the "poor and needy."

Still in the Old Testament, Leviticus 18 lists some of the strict laws which God handed down to Moses. Among these are 18:22: "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." Leviticus 20:13 repeats the warning with a punishment added: "They shall be put to death; their blood is upon them." However, also in Leviticus are less-heeded restrictions, such as not to eat rare meat or cut the corners of men's beards.

Bethune makes the case, along with other academics, that the original Hebrew of Leviticus 18:22 translates awkwardly into English as "You shall not lie the lyings of a woman as with a man," which Bethune reads as a comment on the dominant-submissive relationship between men and women of the time. The possibility that men should be made submissive in a sexual relationship is being condemned, not homosexuality in general, say moderates.

Romans 1:22-27, in the New Testament, is a little tougher. "For even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust toward another..." Conservatives read this as a straightforward condemnation of both lesbian and gay sex. However, in the context of the entire passage, which addresses pagan idolatry, academics read the passage as a condemnation merely of well-known pagan cults which included homosexual acts in their worship practices, and not of homosexuals in general.

1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 have almost identical lists of people who cannot be received into heaven. (No big surprise, since they were written by the same guy, the Apostle Paul, who also wrote Romans.) These lists include whoremongers, they that defile themselves with mankind, menstealers, fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, and the effeminate. However, none of these words in their original Greek can be translated simply as "gay men," since such a concept of sexual orientation did not really exist at the time. Instead, Bethune believes that what is being condemned is a common practice of slavery and prostitution of young men who would dress up in wigs and makeup to feminize themselves and sell sex to men, often in exchange for being tutored or apprenticed. This sex-for-knowledge exchange between men and boys in the Greek world is well-documented, and Bethune believes that this particular form of submissive, abusive relationship is what is being spoken against everywhere from Leviticus to Timothy.

Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus himself ever address homosexuality.

A sidenote: Three Christian groups - the Family Research Council, the Christian Coalition, and Americans for Truth About Homosexuality - are urging their members to stop using the King James Version of the Bible. According to the Associated Press, "scholars are now fairly certain that James was a homosexual." - K.V.

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