What is the meaning of ‘homosexual’ in the Bible?

There is a common argument that when the Bible speaks of homosexuality what it is actually referring to is 1) homosexual rape, 2) sex with boys (children), 3) homosexual prostitutes (cult prostitutes), 4) heterosexuals having ‘unnatural’ homosexual sex. Are these arguments valid? What is the Bible referring to specifically? I’ll look at these other options briefly one at a time.

First, some have argued that what is condemned in the Bible is not homosexuality, but homosexual rape. I don’t think this is an academic argument, but I’ve heard it from more than one student. They assert this, based on the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) and the Levite in the town of Gibeah (Judges 19). This is, in their view, what the Bible is speaking of every time it speaks of homosexuality. Problem is, there is nothing in Lev. 18:22 or Lev. 20:13 that would indicate rape. It’s straightforward enough. Moreover, Jude 7 seems to indicate the great sin of Sodom was not rape but that they “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire.”

Second, some have argued that Paul was reflecting Greek culture and the he was not actually condeming homosexuality but pederasty. This view states that Paul, following Greek culture, was only condemning the sexual and emotional exploitation of young boys by men (pederasty). Paul would certainly condemn such practices; however, this argument assumes Paul was more a product of Greek culture than his Jewish culture. It neglects the fact that Paul’s theology/ethics flow out of the Old Testmant and the foundational nature of the creation accounts of Genesis 1-2 for Paul’s sexual ethics. New Testament Scholar Tom Schreiner writes, “The indispensable framework for interpreting the NT teaching on homosexuality is Genesis 1–2, the creation narrative…The two different genders signify that marriage and sexual relations are restricted to the opposite sex, and that same sex relations are contrary to the created order.” These chapters of Genesis and the whole of the Old Testament form the foundation of Paul’s ethics, and all agree in their condemnation of homosexual activity. Moreover, Schreiner points out, “that second temple Jewish literature consistently and unanimously speaks against homosexual practices.

The third common objection is that the Bible speaks against ‘religious’ or ‘cultic’ homosexuality (i.e. male temple prostitutes). The Bible certainly speaks against this (Deut. 23:17-18); however, temple prostitution does not appear in the near context of Leviticus 18. Patrick Ramsey comments, “The absurdity of this pro-homosexual interpretation is demonstrated by applying the same reasoning to other sexual prohibitions listed in Leviticus 18. For example, the very next verse condemns bestiality. Is non-religious bestiality morally acceptable? What about incest, which is denounced in verses 6-17? Are brothers free to sleep with their sisters as long as it is non-religious, consensual, monogamous, and occurs within a “loving” relationship?” Obviously not.

The fourth common objection is that what Paul condemns in Romans 1:26-27 is heterosexual individuals who have homosexual sex – that is what’s unnatural, not homosexuality per se. Again, Schriener points out the flaw in this argument, “Such a view fails because it introduces a flawed concept of nature into the text. When he uses the term ‘nature’, Paul does not mean one’s individual and psychological predispositions. The word ‘nature’ refers to what God intended when he created men and women, and does not focus on the inherent character and disposition of human beings.” So it is homosexuality itself that is unnatural as it is against God’s original design. Moreover, such an argument ignores the entire OT and Paul’s other statments in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10. In both passages Paul uses the term arsenokoitai – a combination of “male” (arsen) and “bed” (koite), so that its etymology means “to go to bed with a male.”

As I said on Sunday night, you have to do some pretty fancy mental gymnastics to get around the Bible’s clear and repeated proscriptions against homosexual activity. Sin does want to justify itself; however, in this case such attempts to justify the sin of homosexuality exegetically fail.

4 thoughts on “What is the meaning of ‘homosexual’ in the Bible?

  1. Have you read William Webb’s “Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals”? He gives a good rundown of these arguments (among others).

  2. No I have not read Williams, though now I’ll have to add it to my reading list. Thanks for telling me about it.

  3. Don’t rain on my parade. I’ll do this my way, and I will determine the explanation and the excuses for this lifestyle/conditon (homosexuality). That’s what our threatened culture would tell us when we pass judgment on a lifestyle or declare a moral absolute especially if the absolute has its roots in God’s word the Bible. Thanks Dan for carefully and succinctly explaining what Scripture says. God’s design and desires are what completly liberate us to be sexually whole. Any way you spin it Scripture condemns homosexuality

  4. I recently made a similar post on my blog. I really liked your sources, and will have to integrate them! Just recently, one of the more liberal sites on the web (huffingtonpost) had a supposedly ordained minister making the same mistakes you have outlined.

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