Often as unbelievers we find ourselves fighting those of faith rather than educating and helping people with regards to what is actually true. As a skeptic, who also happens to reject the notion of God, I find myself in the position where I must correct those who believe that somehow Homosexuals, or the more liberal Christians that do not take issue with Homosexual behaviour, cannot believe in a God – or that belief is somehow incompatible with homosexuality. I have the honour of knowing some of these Christians. One of them is Samuel Martin, who speaks out against spanking and has written books on the topic such as “Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controversy” and “What Can the Sabbath Teach Us About Child Rearing practices in Ancient Hebraic Society?”.
For this reason I would like to put forward my argument for why Homosexuality is of no issue to Christians that don’t follow the bible as a literal document (Catholics who take Genesis as allegorical as an example) and I want to make the argument why in fact that there is no teaching of Jesus that explicitly disallows homosexual acts in the New Testament (NT).
The more astute of you will notice that I am only referring to the NT, and yes it is true that Leviticus does condemn these acts, however it also condones slavery, stoning, selling your daughter or the 613 other laws besides the 10 commandments, and most Christians have recognised that the NT can be interpreted as doing away of many of these old laws. For this reason I am suggesting that we reassess all claims on equal footing, and do not make special exception for Homosexuality simply due to our own bias that we disagree with it. In light of this understanding we must assess what the common arguments from the NT which are raised by Christians who believe the bible condemns Homosexuality as a sin. There are in fact only three verses in the entire NT and possibly a fourth (Jude 1:7) making a total of around 7 verses out of 7950 or so (depending on the edition) that deal with the subject. For simplicity New International Version is used throughout due to its widespread use. If you feel that there is some glaring error in this version, and are able to speak Greek, please let me know! Remember, unless you are reading the texts in Original Hebrew or Greek, then you are already relying on an English interpretation as translated.
Firstly, the verse in Jude is particularly unconvincing, since it simply states that the “crimes of Sodom” were detestable, however, this is described as male rape. Since there is nobody that is claiming rape, male or otherwise, is moral; this is inconsequential to anyone. The verse is as follows: “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” Since Sodom and Gomorrah’s crimes don’t explicitly deal with homosexuality, there is no more to comment on this (http://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-anal-sex-sodomy.html).
And, so moving onto the next three verses: Romans 1:26-27 “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
Also, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 “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 men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
And finally, 1 Timothy 1:9-10 “We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine”
Now on the face of it, it appears that men cannot “abandon natural relations for unnatural ones”, “commit shameful acts with other men”, be “men who have sex with men” or “practice homosexuality”: This seems fairly clear cut and thus the act is immoral and sinful; as least according to divine command theory. This is in fact NOT agreed upon by all religious scholars, and accepted as absolute fact. The issues revolve around the word, coined by St Paul who wrote all three books above, Arsenokoites. Since Paul invented the word, as far as we can see, and the fact there is no contemporary usage of the word during his lifetime. Coupled with this fact; the first time it is used again is about 100 years after his death by St. Polycarp (born approx. 2 years after Pauls death) in his letter to the Philippians (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polycarp); it is therefore difficult to know exactly what Paul meant. It is accepted and agreed upon by most reasonable people that words can and do evolve meaning in our own lifetimes, over decades, and moreover that it is strange that Paul did not use already existing Greek words for homosexuality, but instead coined a new term.
Furthermore, from the second until the fourth century it was used to mean “pederasty” and not anal sex between men. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pederasty) Pederasty is a term for sex with young boys, not between consenting adults, and it is only in the 6th Century that the term came to mean homosexual as we define it today (anal sex between men). (Now while this may surprise you, these are verifiable facts and I welcome you to look them up). The questions we must ask ourselves, is that if the words Paul used only came to mean homosexuality some 500-600 years later, is it a true reflection of God’s intervention to assume it meant homosexuality all along and condemn groups of people to hell instructing them to repent, when the original meaning is obscured by time? I claim it is not and if Jesus was alive today he would be ashamed to call himself a Christian if it meant victimising a group of people in the name of the Lord. The fact that there is no explicit reference to homosexuality in the four Gospels is telling enough.
The truth of the matter is that we simply cannot and do not know what St Paul meant by his words and hence we must rely on the Bible as a whole as a true encoder of linguistic truth and values of the associated words. Jesus was a humanist (if the stories about him are true) and thus we must agree that it is unlikely that he would condemn to hell for eternity those who live differently, even if assuming a finite crime did take place. As meanings of words and their connotative value changes over time, so too should the histrionic bias associated with that which is signified be converted to apply to contemporary changes in both cultural perception as well as societal value.
Conclusion: I hope that those of you who were under the impression that homosexuality is incompatible with the NT explore the facts as we know them. There are many debates and resources you can access online, and there is no reason to conclude that people are sinning without first reviewing the evidence. I want to stress again, that these views are not some zany atheist’s views (although I am that too), but standard scholarly debate among experts. I hope my position has put forward the alternative arguments that are not often heard by the public and that those interested explore further. I would also like to note that while these arguments are new to some, these are accepted as real problems among those trying to translate ancient texts. The more we learn, the less we assert we have revealed to us an absolute truth. Please consider this.
In good faith,
If you want to engage a little more with me, please feel free to jump onto Facebook chat, ask I attend your church or mosque or have coffee with you… or if you are also curious and enquiring join the South African Skeptics group, which I am a part of, that values evidence and critical thinking over bias or preconception. Thanks goes to my Agent Bronwyn Ansell for her hard work and dedication.