Homosexuality: More Scripture to Consider

At the end of the official ‘Living in Love and Faith’ course, we had a sixth session, in which the Church of England statute on marriage was explained, along with what is considered to be the traditional view on what the bible has to say about sexuality.

This traditional view is based on six or seven verses from the bible, which some would argue condemn homosexuality the (so-called ‘clobber verses’), and although there have been recent attempts to reinterpret them, some would still argue that actually the only way to read them is to read them literally.

You won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t agree. Yes, the English translations of those verses are very clear, and make it all too plain that the translators are almost universally of one mind on the matter: that homosexuality is a sinful life choice. That’s probably not surprising - not least because they’re working for ‘Christian’ publishing houses, whose aim is to sell bibles. The work of translating bibles isn’t cheap, and you don’t want an expensive ‘flop’ on your hands, so you’re going to go with what sells… In this case a ‘traditional’, quite conservative, interpretation.

I, on the other hand, am not selling anything. But I am concerned with people being given a fair summary of the ‘facts’ and the chance to make up their own minds. As such I’m not interested in simple, ‘black and white’ answers to questions - unless the answer to said question actually is simple - but in that case, I’m unlikely to be writing about it anyway!

I have written about this subject twice before - once here, where I ‘tackled’ one ‘clobber passage’ (1 Corinthians 6:9-10); and again here, where I talked more generally about issues of justice and fairness in the church’s treatment of homosexuals.

Beginning now, I am going to attempt to work through the rest of the ‘clobber passages’, trying to wrestle with what they say - taking particular note of the original languages and culture where possible, to try to gain a nuanced understanding of what they may be saying.

I’m not claiming here that I have any ‘special knowledge’ which anyone else isn’t party to - I’m just concerned with showing that there is debate, sometimes heated, and a great deal of uncertainty around the interpretation of these passages. There are virtually no ‘right answers’ here.

We should note, first of all, that we are under grace rather than under law.

…for you are not under Law, but rather under grace. Romans 6:14

And we should also note that:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say - but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” - but not everything is constructive. 1 Corinthians 10:23

So we have the freedom to do anything at all, but it may not turn out to be good for us!Under the New Covenant, we are not obliged to obey the Old Covenant laws. Anyone who says that we are, is first of all denying that Christ’s death was sufficient, and secondly, wants to enslave us and make us feel afraid and unsure of our salvation. Jesus said:

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36.

Anyway, bearing that caveat in mind, let us nevertheless examine the passage briefly and see whether we can learn anything of value about homosexuality from it.Genesis 19, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, has traditionally been used to condemn homosexual behaviour - indeed, one act apparently common to male homosexuals (anal intercourse) is frequently referred to as sodomy on the basis of the traditional interpretation of the passage. There is a very similar story in Judges 19, and my conclusions about that are similar to those here, so I shan’t look at it specifically.

The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”

But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom —both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

“Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.

But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.

And so it goes on. It ends up with Lot and his family fleeing the city, with the city being utterly destroyed, and with Lot’s wife being famously turned into a pillar of salt because she looked back on the city (which seems particularly harsh to me!).This is, it has to be said, a particularly awful story - there’s almost no ‘up-side’ to it - nobody really looks good at the end of it.

I’m really not sure what, if anything, it has to say about homosexuality.

What we actually have here is the attempted gang rape of two individuals (men or angels?); the attempted violation of ancient laws of hospitality; and Lot, despicably and desperately, offering the would-be rapists his virgin daughters as substitutes for the men to whom he has given hospitality… The latter may well be taken to emphasise to us how seriously the hospitality laws were taken!

I suggest that this scenario has virtually nothing to do with consensual homosexual sex, and a whole lot to do with the violation of rules around hospitality, and the laws against rape - homosexual or otherwise.

We see in the Genesis 18 story of the ‘Hospitality of Abraham’, how strangers were supposed to be treated. This is backed up by laws found, for instance, in Leviticus 19:33-34:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

And Exodus 23:9:

Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.

These are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ - laws and customs regarding hospitality seem to have been universal in the ancient (and much more modern!) Middle East. They also seem to have been considered sacrosanct and inviolable; hence the seriousness of the consequences for Sodom here. I suggest, therefore, that to use the Genesis 19 ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ passage as condemning consensual homosexual sex, is to alter its meaning so much that it no longer makes the sense its author intended.

Addendum

A friend just pointed out that God had some quite forthright things to say to Jerusalem in Ezekiel 16 - which includes the following:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. Ezekiel 16:49

So maybe that’s the ‘sin of Sodom’, rather than anything to do with what someone does with their genitalia.

Next time we’ll look at the two other Old Testament passages supposedly condemning homosexuality: Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022