When one compares the original Hebrew and Greek writings with various English translations of the Bible, discrepancies emerge. There are many passages in English Bibles which clearly condemn same-sex activities. But when the original Hebrew or Greek text is studied, the passages are either ambiguous or are unrelated to consensual homosexuality within a committed relationship. Two words which are often mistranslated in many places in the Hebrew Scriptures are:

  • Qadesh means a male temple prostitute who engaged in ritual sex; it is often mistranslated as “sodomite” or “homosexual.”
  • To’ebah means a condemned foreign Pagan religious cult practice, but often translated as “abomination.”

We have concluded the following:

  • The Bible has a lot to say about temple prostitution, including homosexual ritual prostitution. This was a common practice within the Canaanite fertility religion; some believe that the practice was also taken up by some ancient Israelites.
  • God’s destruction of town of Sodom had nothing to do with homosexuality
  • The Bible says little about homosexual feelings.
  • It says nothing about sexual orientation; the concept of orientation dates only from the late 19th century.
  • A number of homosexual relationships are described positively or neutrally in the Bible
  • Of the many hundreds of Jesus’ instructions and prohibitions, few have a sexual component and none condemn homosexuality.
  • Paul may have condemned same-sex sexual activities by homosexuals, but the passages are unclear; there are many possible interpretations.
  • Bible translators must be aware of the errors that have been made in previous versions of the Bible; they are widely discussed in theological literature. But it would probably not be economically possible at this time to produce a translation of the Bible that was accurate. People are so used to expecting homophobic references in a half-dozen locations in scripture that they probably would not buy a Bible that was accurate to the original text, or which admitted that the meanings of certain words are unknown.

A Caution

The words “homosexual” and “homosexuality” do not appear in the Bible—at least they are absent from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. The authors of the Bible did not understand sexual orientation; this concept was only developed in the late 19th century. The writers had little or no comprehension of same-sex committed relationships. Their languages had no words for these concepts. Rather, they assumed that everyone was heterosexual, but that some heterosexuals engaged in sex with persons of the same gender. Thus, when you see one of these terms in an English translation of the Bible, it is important to dig deeper and find what the original Hebrew or Greek text really means.


Bible References

In Biblical times, same-gender sexual interactions could take many forms. Some were:

  1. kings of conquered tribes were sometimes raped by the invading army as the ultimate symbol of defeat and humiliation. Homosexual rape was also a way of humiliating visitors and strangers. These were acts of power and domination and had nothing in common with consensual sex by gays and lesbians.
  2. some non-Jewish tribes in the area had male prostitutes in their temples who ritually engaged in same-sex activities; this horrified the ancient Israelites. Temple prostitution is no longer found in most areas of the world.
  3. it was common within the Roman Empire for male adults to keep boy prostitutes for the purpose of sexual activity. The boys were often slaves. In modern times, this is considered child abuse, a criminal offense.
  4. it is reasonable to assume that many loving gay and lesbian relationships existed in Biblical times, but these would normally have been conducted in secret.

Only the last type would have any similarity to today’s gay and lesbian consensual, committed, loving relationships.


People’s Beliefs Regarding the Bible

People differ greatly in their view of the Bible:

  • Generally speaking, Fundamentalists and other Evangelical Christians believe that:
    • the Bible, as originally written, is inerrant (infallible) and that God prevented the authors from making even a single error
    • every verse is useful in their understanding of God’s intentions
    • one should initially attempt to interpret each passage according to its literal meaning

Many conservative Christians believe that certain translations are essentially free of error; e.g. the King James Version and the New International Version. Thus, when they read some of the passages that clearly and unmistakably condemn homosexuality, they are inclined to trust the translators and conclude that God hates homosexuality. Unfortunately, many groups of translators have been heavily biased against certain people, including Witches, gays and lesbians; many have tended to warp their translations accordingly.

  • More liberal Christians tend to look upon the Bible as containing many translation errors, whose verses should not necessarily all be taken at their face value. Sections which accept and regulate slavery, limit the rights of women and condemn homosexuality are some examples.

Each Bible translation reflects the world view, beliefs and mind sets of its translators. Their personal biases distort their work. There is an additional complexity facing translators: today’s society is very different from that of Biblical times. It is sometimes difficult to find a current English word that closely matches a Hebrew or Greek term.


Specific Verses from the Hebrew Scriptures

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Specific Verses from the Christian Scriptures

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Same-Sex Relationships in the Bible

The Bible describes three emotionally close relationships between two people of the same gender. They appear to have progressed well beyond a casual friendship:

  • Ruth and Naomi
  • David and Jonathan
  • Daniel and Ashpenaz

Daniel’s relationship appears to have been a committed homosexual partnership; the others may or may not have been sexually active.


Conclusions

  • There may be as many as three references in the Bible to committed homosexual relationships, none of which was condemned.
  • Homosexual activity in the temple by male prostitutes is clearly prohibited by the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament).
  • Prostitution, both heterosexual and homosexual is generally condemned.
  • Sexual abuse of boys by adult males is condemned
  • St. Paul considered at least some male and female homosexual acts to be forbidden, but it is unclear precisely which acts are included. He may have been referring to:
    • temple prostitution,
    • people who are not innately gay, lesbian or bisexual, but who engaged in homosexual acts,
    • to child sexual abuse, or
    • group sexual orgies.

Paul was certainly aware of sexual orgies in Pagan temples, including both heterosexual and homosexual encounters. He would have been aware of the practice of male adults keeping a boy for sexual purposes. These may have been the only forms of same gender sex that he knew of. He did not appear to make any references in his writings to consensual, committed homosexual relationships. He probably did not know of any.

One should note that Paul also condemned women preaching (1 Cor 14:34) or wearing gold or pearls (1 Tim 2:11). He also accepted and did not condemn the institution of slavery. Many Christians feel that his writings reflect his own prejudices are not a particularly useful guide for ethics and morals in the 20th Century.

  • Jesus made many hundreds of statements regarding belief and behavior. However He never mentioned homosexuality.
  • It is the subject of endless debate whether St. Paul’s prohibition of at least some homosexual acts was:
    • for the people in the vicinity of the Mediterranean during the 1st Century CE, or
    • For all people, forever.

One can argue that the ancient Israelites were surrounded by warlike tribes. Their fertility was very important if the group was to survive. The early Christian church was persecuted by the Roman government and by the Jewish religious leaders. Homosexuals tend to have few children; thus their presence would be met with opposition. At the end of the 20th Century, conditions are the exact opposite; we are threatened by our excessive fertility. Perhaps Paul’s criticism of homosexuality is no longer valid, like his various prohibitions against women’s behavior.


Internet and Published References

  1. For more information on the Sodom, Gomorra and Gibeah stories, see: http://student.uq.edu.au/~s101014/HMPGE2.html#page2
  2. For an analysis of some of the references to homosexuality in the Bible, see: http://www.theshop.net/information/homo1.htm
    This is the home page of Daniel A. Helminiak, Ph.D., author of the book: “What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality”, Alamo Square Press, San Francisco CA (1994)
  3. Dignity, New York has an extensive “Lesbian, Gay Bisexual Catholic Handbook” which is available at their site: http://www.bway.net/%7Ehalsall/lgbh.html#c3
  4. “New American Bible”, Catholic Book Publishing Co., (1986), P. 249
  5. Anon, “What does Leviticus 18:22 really say?”, National Gay Pentecostal Alliance (NGPA), PO Box 1391, Schenectady NY, 12301-1391 (1996)
  6. Anon, “What does Leviticus 20:13 really say?”, NGPA (1996)
  7. Anon, “Romans 1:26-27”, NGPA (1996)
  8. Anon, “A Biblical Perspective on Same-Sex Marriage”, NGPA, (1994)
  9. Father Basil Isaacs, “Proofx booklet”, Fountain of Life Western Orthodox Church Catholic Mission. Available for $2.50 from 1928 E. Highland, Suite F104-142, Phoenix, AZ 85016.
  10. Barry Wick, “Myths Invoked in Letter”, Editorial, Rapid City Journal, 1997-APR-13