Let’s go through the Bible’s references and realize: Christianity was simply wrong.
Only once in the life of Jesus does he lay upon the human a requirement. “I give you a new commandment,” he says in John 13:34, “to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
He affirms in John 15:12: “My commandment is this — to love one another just as I have loved you.”
The ‘commandment’ is singular. That means one.
But Christianity likes to pretend there’s two?
I grew up in a religious culture where scarcely any conversation was complete without some insult to ‘the homosexuals’. For us, people of the same gender touching had somehow become evil itself.
What happened to loving your enemies? (cf. Mt. 5:55, Lk. 6:35)
When Christians thought they were being nicest, most accommodating to gay people, they’d say things like: “Hate the sin but love the sinner.”
As if Jesus tells us to hate.
When I sat down to study the Bible for myself, with access to scholarly resources . . . I realized what a hoax it was.
The ‘love commandment’ is affirmed again and again. The 1 John letter, the only New Testament text written to Gentile believers, without Jewish references, has no talk of sex at all. “Love one another” is repeated five times (3:11, 3:23, 4:7, 4:11, 4:12; cf. 2 Jn 6).
Paul affirms, in Galatians 5:6: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Does gender count? It doesn’t in Galatians 3:28: “nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Let’s talk about the Bible, and gays?
“I wish to speak in my own behalf and not to have it thought to be a defect, for Jesus Christ did the same, and therefore I cannot be blamed. Christ had his John, and I have my George.”
Life is full of funny little things? The ‘King James Version’, a translation of the Bible that America received as a holy text, was brought into being by James I, who was homosexual.
Jesus, indeed, has only one scene of intimacy, in John 13:23, with a younger man.
New Testament theology doesn’t prompt humans to follow patterns of gendered behavior. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world,” Paul says in Romans 12:2 — gender would also be part of that.
The ‘Ethiopian eunuch’ of Acts 8:26–40, who’d, even if a Jew, would have been excluded from Jewish practice by Old Testament laws (cf. Deut 23:1), is another key expression that something changed, theologically. It is now ok to be sexually different. The human follower is simply a “holy one” (1 Col 1:2) — a spiritual being.
And what we know about spiritual beings is they are “male and female” as in Genesis 1:27.
Sexual oscillation is a regular New Testament experience.
“I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ,” Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:2, to readers who are likely men.
Paul says: be a girl now. We are to be “one in Christ”—all together.
Jesus himself provides clear encouragement for non-binary sexuality. The ‘eunuch for the kingdom’ of Matthew 19:12 is praised.
Christianity has asserted this category means ‘voluntarily celibacy’. As J. David Hester reminds us, eunuchs were “widely perceived as neither chaste nor celibate, but highly sexual and sexed beings.”
Far from upholding cultural categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’, the Jesus teachings cut though them. “Even as a figure of celibacy,” as Hester notes, the eunuch “renounces the forms and practices at the heart of binary paradigm.”
The Jesus follower, after all, is the ‘Bride of Christ’ — regardless of biological gender, seen as a girl. The Bible is heavily in favor of androgyny.
The gay person, and any gender rebel, then begins to look like an important manifestation of the ‘Jesus energy’ — the human living in a state devoted, somehow, to spirit.
Lights and color, art and theater, flowers and music. The famous interests of gay people begin to look like signs of the human lifting out of ordinary mortal concerns (“the pattern of this world”), and re-imagining the earth as a garden, to be . . . decorated.
The anti-gay theology relies on some mix of these readings:
- the Eden text, understood as male & female created for each other
- Noah having been raped by his son
- Sodom as a narrative about male rape
- Leviticus 18:22 understood as a prohibition on male-male contact
- the arsenokoitês of 1 Corinthians 6:9 or 1 Timothy 1:10 understood as ‘practicing homosexuals’
- Romans 1:26–27 describing homosexual contact
Let’s go though them, one by one?
‘God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’
I love this old joke — told obsessively when gays were dying of AIDS. But that the human male and female were created for each other’s exclusive use is not a summary of Creation.
Christianity always understood the garden narrative very badly. The man and woman are equal helpers. The gardener is God (cf. John 15:1).
And the gender trouble begins with Him.
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (ESV)
“The poetical structure of Gen. 1:27 clearly suggests that God himself too was both male and female,” says Johannes C. de Moor.
The first human seems to have been created, not male, but male and female . . . God’s own state.
Genesis leaves unclear why, in 2:21, a sexual split occurs. But it sets up the arc of biblical narrative: the divided human becoming whole again.
As Wayne A. Meeks notes, Galatians 2:28 points to Genesis 1:27, as if Paul, in saying there is “no male or female,” is indicating that Christian character “reverses the fateful division of Genesis 2:21–22.”
The divided human, that is, becomes whole again.
The Christian person re-acquires, then, the character of the first, undivided human, as Kalina Wojciechowska realizes out in “The First Human and the Perfect Human as an Androgynous Character.”
Jesus’ prompt, as in Mark 10:43–45, is for the human to be “servant” after his example. This is to live, she notes, “without trying to elevate oneself, rule over others, or impose one’s will on them.”
It’s Jesus who embodies this state, insistently. He is the ‘image’ to follow and understand. This is the point of 1 Corinthians 15:42–58: “so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man” (cf. Col 1:15–20).
To return to the ‘old Adam’ is never the idea.
As also in , Jesus is the ‘image’ that Christians follow — not some idea of gender associations.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer cautions:
The attempt — with the origin and nature of humankind in mind — to take a gigantic leap back into the world of the lost beginning, to seek to know for ourselves what humankind was like in its original state and to identify our own ideal of humanity with what God actually created is hopeless. It fails to recognize that it is only from Christ that we can know about the original nature of humankind.
And the famous Bonhoeffer, as biography discloses, seems to have been gay, or waking up from the long suppression of feeling itself. He points ahead to a ‘religionless’ Christianity . . . focused on the present practice of love.
Wasn’t Noah raped?
A key piece of the anti-gay puzzle has been the imagined rape of Noah, the guy with the big boat. Didn’t he get drunk and his son Ham ‘saw his nakedness’ . . . which means sexual assault?
The Bible, as it turns out, uses idioms or expressions. As John Sietze Bergsma and Scott Walker Hahn note in “Noah’s Nakedness and the Curse on Canaan (Genesis 9:20–27),” to ‘see the nakedness’ of a man means, as in Lev 18:7–8; 18:14, 16; 20:11, 30, 21 . . . to have sex with a man’s wife.
Sodom and Gomorrah have a bad day
In Genesis 19, angels arrive to investigate “outcry” over a crime. The crime has already occurred. We’re not told what it is.
Joshua W. Jipp helps with the references.
The reader is not yet told the exact content of Sodom’s “grave sin” but with the repeated usage of the term “outcry” (twice in vv.20–21) it is clear the Sodomites are accused of an abuse of social justice (cf. Genesis 4:-9–11; Exodus 2:23–3:7; Isaiah 5:7).
The angels’ time in Sodom has been a central proof, somehow, of the Bible being against gay people, as if the subject of the narrative was contact with the angelic anus . . . extrapolated to mean that part of all humans.
It was a bit of lunacy long passed off as serious biblical analysis, and overlooking that, in many times that Sodom is discussed in scripture, it’s never with a sexual focus.
When God discusses Sodom in Ezekiel 49:49–51, it’s within an unexpected framework of girls being ‘inhospitable’ and mistreating the poor.
“How ironic then, as Elizabeth Stuart notes, “that within the Christian tradition the story of the destruction of Sodom for its cruelty towards two male strangers who take shelter in Lot’s home should have been twisted into a ‘text of terror’ and used against gay and lesbian people, itself becoming an instrument of inhospitality.”
The sexual reading of Sodom depended on a reading of a single generic word . . . to ‘know’, in Genesis 19:5. That can suggest sex, but was just used, in Genesis 18:19, when God wants to ‘know’ Abraham.
Was God wanting to have sex with Abraham?
To study the Sodom narrative now is to find, essentially, another text. It’s like stripping a layer of bad paint . . . and finding a masterpiece.
As Scott Morschauser works through the references, the angels are probably suspected of being spies . . . as Sodom was a city at war. Lot, the gate-watchman, has let the angels into city.
The city rulers arrive, asking to interrogate (“know”) the visitors — thinking they might be enemy agents?
In a typical biblical plot device, Lot offers to put up his valued daughters as hostages until his guests leave. But the Sodomites, in some derangement, lunge for the angels.
Whatever evidence collection God is here for, has now happened, and three cities are burned down.
It took a feminist, Holly Joan Toensing, to ask the obvious: If Sodom is about gang-banging gays, why are women killed for it? She modifies the Morschauser reading in helpful ways.
The Levitical ban on . . . something?
“Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”
Christians love Leviticus 18:22, which seems so sleek and powerful an instrument of judgment. But check under the hood?
As Renato Lings notes, “the original Hebrew wording of this minuscule text is so arcane that the entire verse becomes almost untranslatable.” He suggests: “And with a male you shall not lie down the lyings of a woman.”
Jan Joosten, professor of Hebrew at Oxford, suggests an even more literal translation: “And-with a male not you-will-lie ‘lyings-of’ a woman.”
There’s many complications. It’s a death penalty offense, as noted in Leviticus 20:13. But what does it even mean?
“Commentators for more than two millennia have struggled to interpret these laws,” notes Saul M. Olyan in an influential 1994 paper, “‘And with a Male You Shall Not Lie the Lying down of a Woman’: On the Meaning and Significance of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.”
The odd plural ‘lyings’, the Jewish rabbis thought, might require that sex with women be the subject? As David Brodsky explains:
The rabbis interpreted the plural “lyings of women” to mean that when a man has sexual intercourse with a woman who is Biblically prohibited to him, both vaginal intercourse and anal intercourse are prohibited, and each carries the same penalty . . .
I have a longer discussion here. In short, Leviticus is written for priests, and probably speaks in terms they use. As Susan Pigott notes, the word ‘bed’ is used in Isaiah 57:7–9 in connection to idolatrous practices.
The Jewish Temple was the ‘bed of love’, as Ezekiel 23:17 notes. A temple, or perhaps a worship space in general, was therefore a ‘bed’. In Jewish spirituality, as in Christianity, the deity and humans are married.
A scene of worship, where deity and humans meet, is then . . . ‘sex’. The place where sex happens is a bed.
Let’s pull out our Jewish Levite priest decoder rings? “And with a male you shall not lie down the lyings of a woman.”
This would mean — another deity — shouldn’t be allowed into the worship spaces — of the human community under Yahweh’s protection?
However it’s seen, to use Leviticus 18:22 in a war against fellow humans is deeply unbiblical. As Susan Pigott says:
Isn’t it interesting, that when Jesus quoted Leviticus, he quoted a verse about love (Lev. 19:18)? Maybe, if we’re going to pick one verse out of Leviticus to plaster on signs, that’s the one we should choose.
A reader of Paul’s “vice lists” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 or 1 Timothy 1:10 might find “practicing homosexuals,” translating the Greek word arsenokoitês.
The word doesn’t appear in any surviving documents that pre-date Paul, and its meaning is unclear.
If seeking to refer to men touching each other, isn’t there easier ways? As Ann Nyland notes, “the word does not appear in any of the extensive ancient Greek writings on homosexuality, and the ancient Greek culture was very comfortably homosexual.”
The Christian tradition maintains that Paul made the word up himself, perhaps, as a way of alluding to Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13. This authorizes a part of Jewish law for New Testament believers, and also would seem to require the punishment — death — be imposed.
Then, if Christians follow even one part of Jewish law, according to James 2:10 and Galatians 5:3 . . . they’d have to do it all.
Let’s look at arsenokoitês more closely, before that happens?
A word isn’t known only by examining its parts. “This approach is linguistically invalid,” Dale B. Martin says in a study of the arsenokoitês. “To ‘understand’ does not mean to ‘stand under.’”
The later usages may be revealing, as they don’t seem to rely on Paul. In the Sibylline Oracle and the Acts of John, it’s some infringement on ‘justice’.
But then, more particularly, in Arietides’ Apology it’s used in reference to the Greek myth of Zeus and Ganymede. The god, when abducting the boy, commits arsenokoitia. As William L. Petersen notes, “Zeus, in the taking of Ganymede, is the model ἀρσενοκοίτης.”
Note a sexual motive isn’t required, and may distract from how Paul is using arsenokoitês. In the myth, Zeus steals Ganymede out of the human world in order for godlike beauty to not exist among humans.
Paul himself, as it happens, says what arsenokoitês means. It’s in 1 Timothy 1:8–10. “Note how carefully this list follows the canonical order of the Decalogue,” says Reginald H. Fuller.
That is to say: this list of ‘vices’ tracks with the Ten Commandments. Let’s correlate the “vices” from Exodus 20:1–17 and 1 Timothy 1:8–10, using the words as translated:
“Honor father mother” ➤ “those who kill their fathers or mothers”
“Murder” ➤ “murderers”
“Adultery” ➤ “sexually immoral people”
“Steal” ➤ homosexuals, kidnappers”
“False testimony” ➤ “liars, perjurers”
Homosexual men might not like the earlier category of adultery, since that requires intimacy with a married woman. The arsenokoitês then, must be in the category of ‘stealing’. It’s paired, after all, with kidnapping.
The basic definition would be: stealing a person, but in some way that is distinct from kidnapping?
Let’s recall the basic template of Zeus and Ganymede. The god steals the boy from the human world. The definition of arsenokoitês might be, for Paul, something like ‘hoarding’ of humans.
A spiritual system, for example, might ‘hoard’ a priestly group of humans, not allowing them to have human lives. Does that sound familiar?
Storytime with Paul!
In the late 3rd century, a few hundred years after the book of Romans was written, an interpretation appeared that had its first chapter being about the problem of goddess worship.
The meaning then twists and turns over time, and it became a condemnation of “homosexuality.” Even that took a few tries by a minor writer named Ambrosiaster, affirmed by John Chrysostom, whose hatred of gays was entwined with his even deeper hatred of Jews and women.
Somehow it all created the ‘modern’ idea of Romans 1, which is that Paul goes on a weird rant about idolatry and happens to mention, along the way, that homosexuality is unspeakably evil.
So let’s start again.
Starting a letter to the Romans, Paul decides to tell them a story to illustrate why judging people is bad. The warning against judgement in Romans 2:1, frames the story before it.
Paul is telling a story illustrating the dangers of judging.
Who is the Romans 1 story about? As in 1:20, it seems to concern beings who are familiar with, or present at, ‘the creation of the world’.
It’s about beings who ‘claimed to be wise’.
We realize: Paul has told this story before: in 1 Corinthians 2:6–8, about “the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.”
Two clarifications are going to be helpful.
First, for over a millennia, Christianity tried to forget about the actual plot of the Bible. It came back into focus only as a result of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which affirmed that Jews of the ‘Second Temple’ period thought about the Bible as a story of angels who ‘rule’ the earth going bad.
Romans 1 is a summary of that narrative, as Ann Nyland realized.
Paul’s argument follows most closely the popular Wisdom of Solomon. Wisdom declares that truth about God is evident in creation (Wis. 13:1–9); people, however, have failed to infer that truth from the good things that are visible (13:1). Thus, they ended up reducing God’s rightful glory by worshipping images of humans or beasts (13:13–14), images of created things (13:10–14; 1; 14:8,11). Once introduced, idolatry grew comfortably worse (14:15–16), and it has led to other vices (14:22–24). These moral consequences include sexual sin (14:12,24) and have climaxed in a number of vices (14:25–26).
So then . . . read the Wisdom of Solomon, and find that there’s no ‘homosexuality’. This is entirely a narrative of spirit beings lulling humans into idolatry, worship of themselves, which is an affront to God.
Paul would not be attacking ‘sinners’. He’s trying to save sinners! He is not saying any humans have been judged.
But the ‘rulers’ have been judged (cf. John 16:11, etc.).
To read the evildoers of Romans 1 as mere humans is not possible.
As Kathy L. Gaca puts it, “the identity of Paul’s ‘truth-suppressing people’ remains open-ended, which likely precludes a modern consensus about their cultural identity.”
Seeing that Romans 1 is about the dangers of judging, and noting the Enochian/Wisdom narrative is being told, how could a Christian reader understand the story Paul is telling?
It goes something like this. The humans are created. The rebel ‘Sons of God’ or ‘Watchers’, eyeing the control of the earth, impregnate human women, as in Genesis 6, perhaps using the unusual process described in Luke 1:35.
This would be Paul’s language of Romans 1:26: “For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones . . .”
The ‘unnatural’ sexual relations are happening with angels, who have, after all, a different ‘nature’ than humans. They’re another kind of being.
The famous ‘Nephilim’ are born. The human race has a half-sibling, a ‘brother’ who keeps trying to kill it.
Doesn’t that bring many biblical narratives into focus? It does.
In Jewish lore, the giants aren’t noted for sexual appetite. As perhaps befits creatures of enormous size, they‘re known for eating.
Matthew Goff notes: “Their crimes, which include murder, cannibalism and the consumption of blood, are driven by their insatiable appetites.” (cf. Psalm 57:4: “I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts…”)
Though amplified in the Enoch texts, the Bible’s canonical scriptures tell this story as well. In Numbers 13:32, the Israelite spies see “a land that devours its inhabitants” (cf. 1 Enoch 7:3–5). We might even see hints of the undisclosed crime that brings God to Sodom.
Now, that verse, Romans 1:27, that has been used to persecute gays —
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.
Two clarifications. The word ‘men’ is a term used in the Bible of any beings, human or angel, or both. In Daniel 9:21, the angel Gabriel is a ‘man’. The Nephilim are ‘men’ in Genesis 6:4.
Also, the word ‘lust’ here doesn’t mean ‘lust’ in a sexual sense. It’s the Greek orexei — used nowhere else in the New Testament — but used in the Wisdom of Solomon 16:2 where it means . . . ‘appetite’, or hunger, for food.
The story being told is that these giant beings abandoned natural processes with human women and were inflamed with . . . hunger.
They committed shameful acts. They received the ‘due penalty for their error’. The punishment fit the crime.
This is a key biblical principle, as noted in Wisdom 11:16: “a person is punished by the very things by which a person sins.”
The original problem is illicit reproduction—the angels’ with human women.
The punishment that fits the crime is a race that forgets how to continue life—with all the many adaptations that involves.
To “abandon natural relations” means they don’t have sex.
The Old Testament never explains how the Nephilim disappear. The Jews aren’t noted to have killed them off.
They disrespected humans and the earth, and are ‘punished’ by the very means by which they came to life. As God stands there, watching.
graphic: Henry Holiday, ‘Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego,’ c.1918, Church of St Editha, Tamworth, UK