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

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

Bible Thumping Liberal: Gays & Lesbians in Luke

Introduction

Most people believe that Jesus never mentioned homosexuals. I have discovered that not only did Jesus mention gays and lesbians, he used two gay and lesbian couples to illustrate his teaching that celibacy for gay and lesbian believers was a non-issue.

The Evidence for the Same-Sex Theme

Luke 17:20-37 contains four pieces of same-sex thematic evidence.

  1. The story of the destruction of Sodom, a major element of which is man-on-man sex. (This is true, despite the core issue of hospitality.)
  2. The lightning and the eagles (verses 24 & 37), the primary logos of Zeus and his mortal companion Ganymede, who together were the ultimate cultural emblem of same-sex relationships in Roman culture.
  3. The “Two men in one bed” of verse 34, whose only O.T. antecedents were the Levitical prohibitions against a man laying with a man as with a woman.
  4. The “Two women grinding together in one place” of verse 35, whose double-entendre “grinding” is confirmed from both the O.T. and the Greek actually in use in the time of Christ and Luke. The word “mill,” which is present in Matthew, is absent from Luke, which absence leaves the ”grinding” ambiguous.

We need to recognize the striking same-sex element of each individual part before the meaning of the passage is clear.  The repeated phrase, “one shall be taken, and the other shall be left,” refers to the members of the gay and lesbian couples, who seem romantically involved ”in that night” (verse 34). Thus, according to Luke’s Gay Apocalypse, some non-celibate gays and lesbians are acceptable to God, and some are not.  Lesson: homosexuality is not among the criteria for non-acceptability to Christ or to God. (Note: this separation may or may not refer to what is known as the rapture. The nature of the separation is irrelevant to the argument.)

-full exposition at Bible Thumping Liberal

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Clobber Texts: A New Reading of Leviticus

Two verses from Leviticus appear to present the most explicit biblical condemnation of homosexuality,  to which  LGBT affirmative commentators have offered a range of responses. For Christians (but not for Jews), the simplest rejection is just to note that they are part of the Jewish purity laws, and no longer applicable to Gentiles, just as Christians do not observe Jewish restrictions on diet, clothing, and many other issues.  Others note that the texts refer only to men, and so cannot be applied to homosexuality more generally, or point out that the modern cultural context for loving same – sex relationships from the Biblical one of military aggression, domination and humiliation of defeated enemies, that the prohibition is no longer relevant – or that it applies only to anal intercourse, and not to other forms of sexual interchanges.
The linguist and biblical scholar Renato Lings takes an unusual approach, in an article  called “The Lyings of a Woman: Male-Male Incest in Leviticus 18:22”, in the peer review journal “Theology and Sexuality”. 
 
Lings’ analysis, based on close study of the specific Hebrew words and the broader context of the passage, argues that the apparent agreement among the standard translations hides the complexity and opacity of the original Hebrew. Specifically,he suggests that the translators have erred with the phrase “as with a woman”, which is central to the conventional modern understanding. He states that there is no equivalent in the Hebrew text to the words “as with”, which distort the original meaning. To recover some sense of what that original meaning might be, he provides a close analysis of the specific Hebrew words as used elsewhere, and of the more extended context of the two verses in the full chapters that contain them.
These two chapters, he shows, are about different forms of incest. The conclusion that follows, is that the sexual activity that is prohibited is sexual relationships with males who are close relatives ! Two possible translations he suggests are:

(a) You shall not lie with close relatives, whether male or female;
(b) With a male relative you shall not engage in sexual relationships prohibited with female relatives.

Concluding, Ling paraphrases these as

You shall not commit incest with any close relative, male or female.

I hope this has whet your appetite. Look out for more formal evaluation later, from commentators better qualified than I. However, the article as a whole deserves to be read in full. Unfortunately, it is not possible to carry it here, so you would need to get hold of a copy of Theology & Sexuality from the publishers.
Remember, in all of the Old Testament, there are precisely three texts which even appear to condemn homoerotic relationships. The passage from Genesis 19, telling the story of Sodom, quite clearly has nothing to do with sexual relationships, which leaves only these two twin texts from Leviticus, 18:22 and 20:13. Lings’ analysis, combined with the other modern interpretations as described above, at the very least shows that whatever else the precise words may mean, they do no exclude all forms of loving relationships between men – as long as they are not incestuous, not done as part of temple or cult rituals, non-penetrative, and not between Jews.
That leaves open quite a lot of possibilities, then
A Quaker discussion of this paper at Friends World Committee on Consultation notes that incest, which Lings focuses on, is a neglected area in biblical research, and also refer to earlier work by the theologian David Stewart, who had reached the same conclusion as Lings:

Renato focuses on a major issue that has been underresearched and ignored for years: incest. In a recent scholarly work, David T. Stewart has suggested that Lev. 18:22 addresses male–male incest. He bases his view on the fact that the primary concern of chapter 18 is precisely male–female incest: with mother, stepmother, aunt, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, etc. A supplementary clause in Lev. 18:22 proscribing male–male incest would make perfectly good sense. Renato backs up this hypothesis with supporting evidence located in Lev. 20 and the book of Genesis.

The original Hebrew phrase is extremely difficult to translate. However, the incest link provides valuable insight into its possible meaning. In this article Renato arrives at the conclusion that male–male incest is indeed a major factor. It should be taken into account whenever Lev. 18:22 is discussed.

Recommended Books:
Countryman, William : Dirt Greed & Sex
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