Romans 1:24-27 (1) Just WHO Is Being Condemned?

Among the half dozen biblical clobber texts that appear, in modern interpretations, to condemn all same – sex relationships, perhaps the most difficult to counter is that in Romans 1:24-27. A reader, who in several comments recently has been critical of my posts about Mattew Vines and his book “God and the Gay Christian”, refers to this passage, asking:

How does Vines square his case for same-sex marriage with the New Testament condemnation of *all* sexual relationships outside of the male-female paradigm as unnatural in Romans 1:24-27?

I’ve already replied to my reader in the comments thread (here), with reference to Vines specifically, and with passing reference to some other useful commentary on the passage by others – but there’s much more to be said about this very badly misunderstood passage.RomanForum

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Romans 1 – A Message of Inclusion for Gay Christians.

Conventionally, when people speak of “Romans 1” in the context of homosexuality, they are thinking in terms of the end of the chapter,verses 26 and 27,  with their apparent condemnation. of homoerotic acts. There are two basic flaws with this assumption. As James Alison and others have pointed out, the division of the text into chapters and verses is relatively modern, and arbitrary. It is inappropriate to read these verses in isolation, without consideration of the full context. Reading the whole of Chapter 1, immediately followed by chapter, gives quite a different perspective on the intended lesson – that the passage as a whole, as of the full letter to the Romans, is a condemnation of hypocrisy.in judging others.

Part of a Syriac ms of Paul's letter to the Romans (source, Wikipedia)

Part of a Syriac ms of Paul’s letter to the Romans (source, Wikipedia)

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A Key to Romans 1 – Hiding in Plain Sight

At Bible – thumping Liberal, the straight ally and evangelical Christian Ron Goetz asks a crucially important question:

HOW DO I RECONCILE PAUL WITH MY SUPPORT FOR LGBT FOLKS?

August 27, 2013

I just got an email from Harold, one of my PFLAG friends. He asked the following question.

“How do you reconcile Paul’s words and yet support LGBTs?”

There are several good ways of approaching this question. One way looks at Paul’s specific words, what they mean and don’t mean, and then discover that Paul is not as anti-homosexual as fundamentalists make him out to be. Another way is to look at Paul as a man who was working out his theology, literally, as he went along. Another way is to see how Paul treated other issues of some disagreement, that have been puzzling or unclear to us. Finally, we can look at some of Paul’s own attitudes and interactions, and adopt some of them as our own.

-more at  Bible-Thumping Liberal.

This is important, because Paul’s words in Romans and in Corinthians are the most disturbing of all the Biblical clobber texts for lesbian and gay Christians. The story of Sodom in Genesis should not be troubling at all, as the Bible itself makes clear that the infamous “sin of Sodom” is about injustice, and pride, and has nothing whatever to do with homoeroticism. There are numerous responses to the verses in Leviticus, but the simplest one is just to note that these are part of the Jewish purity laws, like the dietary restrictions, the prohibition on clothing of mixed fibres and shaving one’s beard, and the obligation of male circumcision. As such, they simply do not apply to Christians – as we read in the Acts of the Apostles. The letters of Paul are another matter, less easy to reconcile with our experience of a same – sex affectional orientation.

So, how can we do so? In his post, Goetz goes on, to elaborate on each of these ways of looking at Paul. There is also another, simpler still: the words simply do not mean what they are popularly supposed to mean. I’ve already discussed how this is so for Corinthians, where the Greek words “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai” have been mistranslated as referring to homosexuals. (They don’t). For Romans 1, I suggest that the key is simpler still, hiding in plain sight – in the title. 

This is the letter to the Romans after all.

Hadrian and Antinous

Roman Emperor Hadrian and His Beloved, Antinous

Paul himself was a Roman citizen, and would surely have understood something of how his words would be interpreted. So let’s look at them: Continue reading

The Distorted Christian Tradition of the Sodomy Myth (2)

The remarkable thing about the Christian tradition that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was because of the sin of homoerotic sex, is that this was never part of the Jewish tradition: not in the Hebrew Bible (First, or Old Testament), not in the Apocrypha, not in the Pseudepigrapha, and not in the Rabbinic tradition that followed. The obvious question that follows, is quite how did the Christian theologians get it so wrong, using a strong condemnation against oppression, injustice and lack of hospitality to strangers, to justify their own persecution, oppression, and explicit refusal of hospitality in Church to sexual and gender minorities?

sodom

In tracing the historical development of what is clearly a distorted tradition, Renato Lings draws on the commentaries of the story from each historical tradition – and simultaneously describes how changes in language over those centuries meant that later commentators, up to the medieval scholastics, were depending on texts which had been through multiple translations, losing some of the subtlety and nuance of the original, and also had suffered corruption from copying errors.

A long church tradition may have led to errors of misinterpretation end errors of translation, some of which continue to affect todays versions of the Bible. Since the issues addresses by the Hebrew prophets are idolatry, pride, social injustice and oppression, it is indeed remarkable that today’s scholarly consensus emphasizes sexual violence.

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Biblical Love – Lost in Translation?

The dangers inherent in translating texts are obvious to anyone who has attempted to use Google Translate. Professional linguists and translators fo better, but difficulties remain, especially with literary and biblical texts. For LGBT people, the consequences have been profoundly damaging.

The widely held belief that the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality underpins both religious and secular opposition, but this belief is unfounded. The word does not exist in the original text, for the simple reason that in Biblical times, the word and concept as we understand them, were unknown. What we have, is a set of modern interpretations of a series of translations from what are now dead languages. It is now widely recognized, for instance, that the Greek words “malakoi” and “arsenokotoi” that occur in Corinthians, do not in fact simply refer to “homosexuals”, as some translations imply. There has been less attention paid to the Hebrew texts of the First Testament.

Love Lost in Translation, front cover

In a new book, “Love Lost in Translation“, the biblical scholar and linguistic specialist  Renato Lings argues convincingly that in fact, all of the damaging texts of terror that have been so widely used to object to homoerotic relationships have been similarly distorted, with their original sense badly corrupted. In a fascinating opening chapter, he describes how these difficulties have affected not only modern translators, but even the writers of the Gospels and Pauline letters, in their understanding of the Jewish scriptures.  These were written in a classical Hebrew over hundreds of years, so that by the time of the Second Testament, it was no longer the common speech, having been replaced by Aramaic and Greek. To make the Hebrew bible more widely accessible, it had been translated from classical Hebrew into Greek (the version known as the Septuagint).  The Second Testament itself was written directly in Greek – and for its quotations and  references to the Hebrew prophets, depended on the Greek translations in the Septuagint. A few centuries later, the Greek bible, both Septuagint and Second Testament writings, were themselves translated into what had since become the common language of the people – Latin, in Jerome’s Vulgate version. Continue reading

“Clobber Texts” – Resource Page Updated

When I first began to grapple seriously with the tensions between life as a practicing Catholic, and living honestly and with integrity as a gay man in a committed, stable partnership, one of the discoveries that helped me enormously was a Quest pamphlet given to me by a Catholic priest, which showed me for the first time that far from being “obviously” against homosexuality, the Bible includes only a half dozen verses that even appear to be critical, and that the relevance of even these half dozen is seriously disputed by many modern scholars. That was twenty years ago:  since then, many more scholars and theologians have been revising their views on the biblical take on same – sex relationships – and coming down on the side of acceptance.

So when I began to write at Queering the Church, in an attempt to share with readers the ideas and materials that had helped me, one of the first subjects I tackled was this question of the “clobber texts”, in a basic introductory post. Conscious of its limitations, for a long time I intended  to return to the subject, with more detailed reflections on each of these troublesome texts, drawing on and summarising the key arguments about them – but held back, feeling intimidated and inadequate to the task. Later, as my own knowledge matured, I became less interested in the defensive approach to the texts of terror, and more interested in identifying the far more numerous supportive and affirmative passages, both those featuring specific peoples that LGBT Christians could identify with (David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, the “Beloved Disciple”),  and the more general passages emphasising love and inclusion, and warning against legalism or passing judgement on others . So, as I began to expand my back pages at the site into a collection of resource pages, for the pages on scripture I have added extensive links to material on the affirmative texts – but added very little on defence against the nasties.

It was always my intention though, to include as many links to useable posts elsewhere on these clobber texts,  as I could find.  Earlier this week, I was asked by a reader for some help in this area, and as I did not yet have the summary of links that I have planned but not put together, I was forced to do some digging about from scratch. In the process, I finally began the process of adding an extensive list of links to my “Defence Against the Clobber Texts” page (a subpage of the “Rainbow Bible” section, in the navigation bar above). It’s still not exhaustive – I know that I have seen many more on-line articlues on these than I have included. These are just the ones that I was able to track down in the short time that was then available to me.  I will continue to add to it – and would welcome any further suggestions from readers.

This directory of links is permanently housed at the page on “Clobber Texts“, a subdivision of the “Rainbow Bible” pages but as an introduction and for convenience , here it is, as it stands today. (For balance, also see the far more extensive pages on “LGBT Affirmative Scriptures“)

*****

General: Overview

For a general discussion of these “Texts of Terror”, see Countering the Clobber Texts here at QTC,

and also:

The Bible and Homosexuality, ByRev. MonaWest,Ph.D. (at Metropolitan Community Church), with the sub-headings:

  • Sexuality in the Mediterranean World
  • The Story of Sodom in Genesis 19
  • Leviticus
  • The Writings of the Apostle Paul
  • Romans 1:26 ‐ 27
  • Issues of Biblical Authority

Also at MCC,

At Bridges Across the Divide, Homosexuality and the Bible  by Walter Wink

For more detailed discussions on each, see:

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The Bible and Textual Abuse: The Case of "malakoi" and "arsenokoites".

Sane and rational discussion of the Bible and same-sex relationships are bedevilled by difficulties with language, arising from problems with translations on the one  hand, and vastly different cultural conditions which make it difficult sometimes to make sense of the applicability of the words, even where the literal meaning is clear. This is especially important in the case of two obscure Greek words which, in poor translation, appear to say clearly that the Biblical teaching is opposed to homosexual activity.
Several notable scholars (Boswell, Countryman, and those that followed) have shown that these translations are faulty, casting doubt on a large chunk of the case for biblically based homophobia. Michael Carden, an Australian biblical scholar, has a post up which first notes that Christianity is unique in depending on translations for its scriptures, and then goes on to a lengthy, detailed discussion of the problems presented by translations of these two troublesome words.
From the opening of a much longer discussion at Michael Carden’s Jottings:
Christianity is rather unusual in the family of Abrahamic/Middle Eastern religions in the role of scripture and language. For Judaism and Islam, and I suspect traditionally for Zoroastrianism too, the language of scripture, i.e. the language in which it was written, is also the language in which it must always be read. So countless Jews and Muslims have grown up learning something of Hebrew and Arabic and not just any Hebrew and Arabic but the Hebrew of the Torah and Tanakh and the Arabic of the Qur’an, even if it means just memorising slabs of text (as a pre-Vatican 2 Catholic child I have a resonance with this because I remember being taught the responses of the old Latin Mass, which I regard nowadays as a valuable bit of rudimentary childhood second language teaching). For Jews and Muslims too any translation of scripture is counted as an interpretation, it does not share in the authority of the ‘original’ text. Christians, on the other hand, have always read their scriptures in translation.  Christian bibles are comprised of two parts: an Old Testament comprising texts originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek; and a New Testament comprising texts originally written in Greek. Early Christians used as their Old Testament the Greek translation/version of the Hebrew and Aramaic texts known as the Septuagint, together with those texts Protestants term apocryphal that were written in Greek. Just about all of the ancient Christian translations of the Old Testament were from this Greek text. Only the Syriac and Jerome’s Latin Vulgate included translations from (some of) the Hebrew version shared with Rabbinic Judaism. So from the very beginning Christians have been involved in the project of translation. For many cultures too, ancient and contemporary, their first body of written literature  has been a translation of one canonical version or another of the Christian Bible.
So for Christians, unlike Jews and Muslims, linguistic questions of meaning, equivalence and translation, can become highly fraught theological and political questions.
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The Abomination of “Abomination”.

The Abomination of “Abomination”. | Queering the Church: ” There may be no single word or concept that has been more greatly abused in discussion (or ranting) about faith and homoerotic relationships, than “abomination”, which comes to us via the mistranslation of the Hebrew “toe’vah”. If there is another that has been more greatly abused, it is probably “homosexual” which does no in fact occur at all). I have written elsewhere about how a more accurate translation of the Hebrew is the milder term “taboo” – but precisely because it is milder, that does not suit those who insist on misusing the Bible as a weapon against minority groups. It is also widely applied to all same-sex relationships, even though the text in Leviticus clearly applies to men only. ”

‘via Blog this’

Rembert S. Truluck’s 12 Steps to Recovery From Bible Abuse.

For all those who are bothered by allegations that the Bible is (allegedly) against homoerotic love, here’s a site to bookmark now: Steps to Recovery From Bible Abuse. I first came across this just yesterday, by way of a reference in the excellent book, “The Queer Bible Commentary”, and am delighted to have found it.  As gay men, lesbians and trans peoples, we all know how freely the bible has been used and abused to argue against full equality, or even to justify direct discrimination, bullying, violence, criminalization and even execution. For those of us who are Christians, this abuse may have led us to deep feelings of guilt as we have struggled to reconcile and balance the supposed demands of faith, and living lives of personal integrity.
There are numerous resources now available that show how this supposed opposition is a chimera, and a gross misrepresentation of what the Bible really says about homosexuality, but most of these do not go much further than rebutting the handful of texts of terror. Dr Truluck’s site does much more – offering suggestions for healing from the years of guilt engendered by this Bible abuse.

Dr Rembert S Truluck

The developer of the site, Dr Rembert S.  Truluck, was a  Southern Baptist Pastor from 1953 to 1973, Professor of Religion at Baptist College of Charleston, SC, 1973-1981, and later a pastor at Metropolitan Community Churches in Atlanta, San Francisco, and Nashville, TN., 1988-1996.
He was a Doctor of Theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, 1968, and the author of “Invitation to freedom“, (a guide to Personal Evangelism in the Gay Community), and “Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse.

A note on the home page states that Dr Truluck passed away at age 74 on November 13, 2008, and that the last update was on 07/22/2007. Although the site is no longer being updated, it is being maintained, and still accessible at the invaluable OT Kenyer Portal, which also houses links to the Lesbian and Gay Catholic Handbook (also no longer updated) and numerous others.
There are mixed views on the long term value of 12 step programmes in treating addiction, and in the extension of the original concept from Alcoholics Anonymous to other forms of addiction. The further extension to applications that have nothing whatever to do with addiction, or even to mental or physical health, is particularly problematic. However, in the light of the (mis)representation of the Catholic “Courage” pastoral program as a 12 step recovery program for homosexuals, I find this idea a delightful counter.  At this stage, I do not want to get into any detailed evaluation of the merits of Truluck’s proposed steps, although I would say that overall, they make sense to me.

The 12 steps to Recovery

1. Admit You Have Been Hurt By Religion
2. Turn to God As Your Guide to Recovery
3. Examine Your Faith
4. Face and Deal With Your Anger
5. Avoid Negative People And Churches
6. Face The Scripture Used Against You
7. Find Positive Supportive Scripture
8. Read And Study The Gospels
9. Come Out And Accept Yourself

10. Develop Your Personal Support System

11. Learn To Share Your Faith With Others
12. Become A Freedom Missionary

The Bible Recovery Website

Dr Rembert’s website contains much more than just the 12 step program listed above. Additional pages are

Go ahead, explore!

Suggested Books:

Truluck, Rember S : Invitation to Freedom
Bohache, Thomas, Guest, Deryn (et al, eds): The Queer Bible Commentary

Recent Related Posts at QTC:

Related articles elsewhere

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The "Abominations" of the King James Bible

Scripture has been so commonly quoted in support of arguments against same sex relationships, that we too easily overlook the simple facts that the texts being quoted were written in  a foreign language, in a remote cultural setting, in contexts very different to that in which pseudo-religious bigots abuse these texts today. To extend correct understanding of these texts, every useful explanation deserves wide exposure.

At Religion Dispatches today, Jay Michaelson  has an explanation of one particularly treacherous and widely abused and misunderstood word, “abomination”.   Critics of the clobber texts routinely point out that the same word is used to proscribe certain foods, shaving, as well as “men lying with men”, and the inconsistency exposed in its modern use to attack  selectively one but not the others. Outside the scholarly journals however, not enough attention has been placed on the word itself, which emphatically does not have the connotations and strength of meaning in the original Hebrew text that it does in the modern English usage of its translation. (Renato Lings, meanwhile, has offered a useful analysis of the Levitical texts from another perspective, the words for “men lying with men”, and also finds that they simply do not mean what modern abusers of the texts think it means).

The Hebrew word is “toevah” (plural “toevot“), and it is to the King James version that we owe the appallingly inappropriate translation as “abomination”. In an extensive analysis of all 103 Biblical uses of the word, some key themes emerge. First, almost all have the connotation of non-Israelite cultic practices.

In particular, foreign forms of worship (“avodah zara“) he describes as the “primary” toevah, from which most other forms of toevot flow. Some of these are clearly serious, and would also be recognised as such in the modern West – such as  idolatry, child sacrifice, and witchcraft (Deut. 12:31, 13:14, 17:4, 27:15, and 32:16 ) – but unlike the Hebrews, we would not see this as sufficient justification for “the genocide of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanaites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites” . But in addition to idolatry, Ezekiel lists some further “toevot” that we would recognize as wrong, but would be surprised to see described as “abominations” –   usury (Ez. 18:13), haughtiness and pride (Ez. 16:47-50), heterosexual adultery (Ez. 22:11, 33:26), and violence (Ez. 33:26). (I hope that someone can point out to those promoting homophobic violence in the name of religion, that they are as much guilty of “abomination” as those they oppose.)

A further use from Ezekiel brings home an important feature of this notion of “toevah” as a general term for foreign acts (Ez. 16:51) – that it is foreign practice that is the problem, usually cultic, but sometimes not. As Michaelson makes clear, the point of toevah is that it is culurally specific. Just as some foreign practices are toevah to Israelites, so some Israelite practices are equally toevah to others:

Genesis 43:32 states that eating with Israelites is toevah for Egyptians. Gen. 43:34 states that shepherds are toevah to Egyptians—the sons of Israel are themselves shepherds. In Exodus 8:22, Moses describes Israelite sacrifices as being toevat mitzrayim—toevah of Egypt—although obviously Israelite ritual is not an objective “abomination.” If toevah means abomination, then eating with shepherds, eating with Israelites, and Israelite sacrifices themselves must be abominable! Since this clearly is not the case, toevah cannot mean “abomination” in any ontological sense—it must be a relative quality.

Toevot also include what Michaelson calls “ethical failings”, including pride (Prov. 6:16, 16:5), lying (Prov. 12:22, 26:25), scoffing (Prov. 24:9) and evil speech (Prov. 8:7) – some more in there that are worth drawing to the attention of those crying “abomination” against gay men and lesbians. I also like this:

Interestingly, Proverbs 13:19 says that “to turn from evil is toevah to fools,” again suggesting that toevah is something relative in nature. Similarly, Prov. 29:27 says poetically: “An unjust man is toevah to the righteous, and the straightforward man is toevah to the wicked.”

However, the KJV and many other biblical translations do not simply apply the inappropriate word “abominations” to the Hebrew “toevah”, but also to other Hebrew words usually associated with idolatry:   sheketz,  which refers usually to idolatry and occasionally to other taboos such as forbidden animals (Lev. 11:10-13). Likewise,  as pigul, which is how Leviticus 7:18 describes leftover sacrificial meat.

Here’s the crunch:

Progressive religionists must stop using the word “abomination” to refer to toevah. The word plays into the hands of fundamentalists on the one hand, and anti-religious zealots on the other, both of whom want to depict the Bible as virulently and centrally concerned with the “unnatural” acts of gays and lesbians. In fact, toevah is mostly about idolatry, and male homosexual behavior is only as abominable as remarriage or not keeping kosher. Whenever we use the word “abomination” we are perpetuating the misunderstanding of Biblical text and the religious persecution of LGBT people.

What word are we to use instead?

Personally, I like “taboo” as a replacement. It conveys the culturally relative nature of toevah, has some connotation of foreignness, and rightly aligns the taboo against homosexuality with taboos against, for example, eating unkosher food. It also has a vaguely archaic feel, which it should. Admittedly, “taboo” began as tabu, and specifically refers to a particular concept in Pacific indigenous religion; it is a bit inexact to import it to Judaism and Christianity. Yet the word has, by now, entered the common parlance, and in that general sense, it matches toevah fairly well. (Alternatively, we could stick with the Hebrew term, the foreignness of which heightens the foreignness of the Biblical concerns about homosexuality.) One thing remains clear, though: what’s really abominable here is the word “abomination” itself.

I like this. Taboo exactly captures that sense of something which is forbidden, in a cultural context. See how the impact of the Levitical text changes if we make that small adustment, from “abomination”, to a more precise, culturally appropriate  translation:

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination

becomes

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is taboo for Israelis.

See?