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Scripture and homosexuality

There are certain texts in which Sacred Scripture seems to speak about homosexuality. These texts are often used to show that homosexual acts are forbidden by God.

The general condemnation of ‘men having sex with men’

Rare fresco of a gay couple in ancient Egypt: Niankhnum and Khnumhotep (ca 2350 BC) where indiscriminate same-gender sex did not exist. But it did in ancient Palestine, biblical 'Canaan'.
Rare fresco of a gay couple in ancient Egypt: Niankhnum and Khnumhotep (ca 2350 BC) where indiscriminate same-gender sex did not exist. But it did in ancient Palestine, biblical ‘Canaan’.

Both Leviticus 18,22 and Leviticus 20,13 declare that the practice of ‘men sleeping with men’ is an abomination. They list this practice with other ones such as having sex with a woman during her periods, sacrificing one’s child to the God Molech and having sex with animals. “Do not make yourself unclean by any of these practices. For it was by such practices that the Canaanites made themselves unclean – the nations I expelled to make way for you!” (Leviticus 18,24).

The practice is described in Genesis 19,1-10. Two angels, disguised as men, visit Lot who lives in Sodom. At night, the men of Sodom surround Lot’s house and want to force him to let the two ‘men’ come out and have sexual relations with them. “Send them out so that we may have sex with them!”  Genesis 19,11-26 then continues to narrate how the angels made Lot and his family flee Sodom, and how God destroyed the town with brimstone and fire. Both Ezekiel 16,49 and Jude 1,5-8 refer to the sin of the inhabitants of Sodom.

Among the Greeks, it was normal for adults to have sex with boys or young men.
Among the Greeks, it was normal for adult men to have sex with boys or young men.

The Apostle Paul found that the same practice flourished in contemporary hellenistic and Roman society. In Romans 1,26-28 he condemns it. “That is why God has abandoned them to depraving passions: why their women have turned from natural intercourse to unnatural practices and why their menfolk have given up natural intercourse to be consumed with passion for each other, men doing shameless things with men.”

The theme is repeated in other Pauline Letters.  “People of immoral lives, idolaters, adulterers, catamites, sodomites, thieves, userers, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers will never inherit the Kingdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 6,9-10. See also 1 Timothy 1,8-11.

Assessment

These scriptural texts condemn indiscriminate sexual intercourse between persons of the same gender as practised in pagan cultures. But the existence of genuine homosexuality was unknown at the time. People did not know that some persons are born as homosexuals. Scriptural authors were ignorant about it. They could not condemn what they did not know. So genuine homosexuality does not fall under the condemnation contained in these texts.

There are many parallel examples how of ignorance underlying scripture texts has resulted in damaging misinterpretations . . .

  • Women were reckoned to be unclean during their monthly periods (Leviticus 15,19-20; 20,18; etc.).  This ignorance led to ages long discrimination against women, for many centuries even among Christians. Read more here.
  • Scripture texts forbade making a profit on loans (Exodus 22,25; Leviticus 25,36-37; Deuteronomy 23,19-20; etc.). Ignorance of how modern  business works, made church authorities forbid the interest on capital loans, which all of us  now do today. Read more here.
  • Scripture texts routinely accept slavery (Exodus 21,20-21; Leviticus 25,44-46; Colossians 4,1; Ephesians 6,5; etc.). Ignorance of basic Human Rights made even the highest church authorities support slavery until recently! They did not realise that ‘all slavery is contrary to the mind of Christ’ (Vatican II). Read more here.

Because of not understanding Scripture properly, the Catholic Church banned women from approaching the sanctuary, refused holy communion and the last sacraments to bankers and took the side of slave-owners rather than the side of their slaves. Do we want to inflict the same kind of injustice on gay or lesbian persons of our day?

Do we need to give more examples? It is not always easy to get the right meaning for today out of scripture texts. We recommend the ten principles in our course on interpreting scripture correctly.

For a full discussion on Romans 1,26-28: its background and meaning, read here.