Is Homosexuality a Sin: Problems with the Truth-mine Approach

Gen 1-3: Genesis 1-3 is part of Genesis 1-11, which is the “primeval history” of Genesis. This section of the Bible is primarily made up of etiological stories.  Etiological stories are stories that are written with the purpose of explaining why things are the way they are. So for example, in the Ancient Near East there were many people and many languages.  A critical thinker might ask, “If we all came from Adam and Eve, why are there many languages and so many cultures?” The story of the Tower of Babel, at least in part, explains why human diversity and numerous languages exist.

Often these etiological stories were stolen from other cultures and then modified. This is evidenced by incredible parallels that exist between the stories in Genesis 1-11 and stories from other cultures. The most prominent example of this is probably the Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient Sumerian text that contains a flood narrative with strong literary parallels with the story of Noah. Many such literary connections exist for other stories in Genesis 1-11 as well.

It has been suggested that how the writers of the Bible modified these stories are a commentary about how the LORD is different from the other gods of the area. For example, while the creation stories in Genesis might contain parallels to other creation stories, the LORD is the only deity who declares His creation and humanity to be good.

Due to the nature of many of these stories, and the genre they were written in, I do not believe these stories in Genesis are literal factual accounts of history.  I do not believe these stories have to be literal factual accounts of history to be true. I believe these stories are multifaceted, and just because they are etiological stories does not mean they are not communicating more than what the story is directly explaining. So for example, the story of Babel can communicate more than why there are different languages and people groups.

Genesis 1-3 in specific contains explanations for the existence of two genders, marriage, patriarchy, why snakes crawl on the ground and why snakes have a contentious relationship with human beings, etc. These stories are not an exhaustive treatise on human sexuality, sexual ethics, or sexual immorality. Some would suggest that from this passage God sets up His ideal for human life as being a heterosexual marriage that produces children, therefore homosexuality is wrong because it is a deviation from this ideal. First of all, this sounds a lot more like the American Dream than the Bible.  Second, if we suggest that the Garden of Eden is the ideal that we must strive to return to, we must do this in all ways. If we suggest that heterosexual union that produce children are God’s ultimate plan for human beings we must suggest that single people, barren women, egalitarian relationships between the sexes, work that does not requires effort and clothes are not God’s ideal and should be worked against. In addition to this, if this is the ideal, what are we to make of Paul’s admonitions for people to remain single and by extension, be childless?

My point is we should probably not take Ancient Near Eastern stories about why things are the way they are as our fundamental texts on human sexuality or family life.  While these stories have a purpose and convey truth, these stories were never meant to function like this. This would be like looking for modern day chemistry rules in the book of Proverbs. It is a confusion of literary genres and obscures the purpose of these passages.

Gen 19: The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is one of the misinterpreted passages in the Bible.  This passage is not about condemning the modern concept of homosexuality, this passage is about hospitality. In the Ancient Near East and many Eastern cultures to this day, hospitality was and is an incredibly important value. Most Western Christians, in our highly individualistic and competitive mindset, simply do not understand this, but I should explain more.

The men of Sodom were not sexually attracted to the angels of the LORD. They were heterosexuals who were going to violently rape outsiders as a show of dominance. The closest parallel today would be prison rape. In that day, this would have been an incredible violation of the values of hospitality. To the people of Abraham and Lot’s day, this value was so deeply entrenched in their patriarchal culture that Lot would rather the group of men gang rape his own daughters than to see two of his guests suffer the same fate. Lot’s behavior also underlines the fact that the men of Sodom were not homosexuals.  Apparently Lot thought that his daughters might provide a worthy substitute, which would not make sense if Lot knew that these men were all homosexuals we were only interested in sex with the same gender. In short what is at the core of this passage does not directly pertain to homosexuality.

Additionally, while centuries of tradition have focused on the sex at the center of this passage the Bible does not exclusively tie the planned gang rape to the judgment that came upon those two cities. Ezekiel actually directly describes the sin of Sodom not as it being filled with homosexuals but with being, “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned, they did not help the poor and needy.” (Eze 16:49)

Jude: The passage in Jude refers to the men of Sodom wanting “strange flesh.” The word “strange” here is often interpreted as meaning “unnatural” as in they, “unnaturally wanted to have sex with people of the same gender.” However, the Greek word here is “different.”  If the men wanted “different flesh” it seems it would be more likely to mean female flesh. As in flesh that is different from their (male) flesh.  However, from context of the story this does not seem like an option.  So what is this phrase referring to? Is it that they wanted to sleep with people they had not slept with before? Is it that they saw the angels as outsiders and from a different tribe and wanted to establish dominance over them? Is it that they recognize that the men were angels and they wanted to sleep with them just as the angels once slept with human women? The language here is obscure and there does not appear to be an ironclad connection with “wanting strange flesh,” whatever that phrase meant, with homosexuality.

Leviticus:  The book of Leviticus is probably the most under read and least understood book in the Bible.

(Sidenote: I would encourage everyone to read Milgrom’s commentary on Leviticus.  It is incredible. He makes what is most often treated as a “useless book” into something incredibly engaging.)

There are numerous competing theories about why the various laws in Leviticus were written and what they reveal about God’s heart.  No argument is conclusive or appears to make perfect sense of all the laws. Yet two verses at the heart of this book stand as a centerpiece to the condemnation of homosexuality for many Christians. I want to point out some issues with using this text in this fashion.

First, to some who think homosexuality is a “modern invention” of some “left wing agenda” know that sexual acts between people of the same gender have existed pretty much forever in cultures around the world. One rule in studying cultures is that if a culture makes a rule against a specific behavior, that behavior was happening in their culture. This is because communities do not make rules about things that do not exist or are not happening in their community. Why would they need to? From Leviticus, this means that male on male sexual acts were happening among the Hebrews or at the very least in the cultures surrounding them. Sexual acts between two people of the same gender is not the result of heterosexuals confused by shows like “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” or “Will and Grace.”

Here I should point out that while these sex acts happened for a variety of reasons and took a variety of forms I would not suggest that just because someone engaged in them meant that they would be a homosexual person as we understand them today.  The story of Sodom illustrates this point.  However, I also do believe that there have been people in history who would today understand themselves to be homosexual or bisexual in orientation long before we had terminology to understand and talk about those sexual orientations and sexual orientation in general.

Second, we cannot and should not inconsistently apply the laws of Leviticus.  If we suggest that Leviticus 18 and 20 are applicable for today why do we not treat the rest of Leviticus as applicable for today?  The vast majority of contemporary Christians pay no attention to the dietary laws, laws concerning women being unclean after childbirth and menstruation, and men being unclean after ejaculation, the prohibitions against eating blood, the year of Jubilee and many other laws clearly explained in Leviticus.

To this, someone might say, “Well Kevin we clearly do not want to enforce all the ceremonial and cultic laws of Leviticus. Christ has fulfilled the Law and so we are no longer bound to it. We just think that when God declares something an abomination and says it deserves the death penalty that this means it’s probably a sin and against God’s will.”  While I understand the rationale of this argument, this rationale is also applied selectively.  As pointed out in a picture from previous post God also said shellfish were an abomination (Lev 11/Deut 14) and also called for the death penalty of women who had sex before marriage (Deut 22).  If we are to suggest strong language in any part of the Bible is a signal for a timeless and eternal truth, we have to apply that across the board or come up with a compelling explanation for why we are being selective in our use of this rule.

To top it all off these laws only address male homosexual acts.  The patriarchal bias of the Bible shows up again in that female sexuality was not considered important enough to write about. From Leviticus there is no clear condemnation of homosexual acts among women. So do lesbians get a pass?

The “sodomite” passage in Deuteronomy: This passage has nothing to do with homosexuality and everything to do with cultic prostitution. It is irrelevant to any discussion regarding homosexuality.

Continue onto the next page for more as I turn to the New Testament passages…

About Speakfaithfully

I am figuring out life and faith and taking other people along with me on my journey. Sometimes as fellow travelers, sometimes as hostages.
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