Many a Christian man or woman who has struggled in secret with their sexual identity has read a book or a pamphlet, or heard a pastor teach on a new understanding of God’s perspective affirming homosexuality. Understandably, this has brought great freedom and relief to many of these strugglers. This newfound freedom has led them to share their discovery with others in the evangelical community often finding a response that is interpreted as unwelcoming and unenlightened. Therefore, a proper understanding of what the Bible says is of utmost importance to how we live as followers of Jesus regardless of what our culture advocates.
Having just returned jet-lagged from a wonderful trip to Australia, I want to deal with the last two passages of Scripture which have been reinterpreted to claim the Bible’s support (lack of condemnation) of the homosexual lifestyle. Let’s look at the traditional interpretation, the reappraisal, and an appraisal of the reappraisal of these passages: 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; 1 Timothy 1:9, 10.
Traditional View: Paul was very clear that those who continued in a settled course of willful disobedience, as defined by various sinful activities, would not be accepted into the Kingdom of God. This includes homosexuals as well as heterosexual offenders, the idolatrous, thieves, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers. These passages also teach that such sins were represented in the backgrounds of some who were Christ-followers in the 1st century Church.
Reinterpretation: The issue here is the translation of two Greek words used by Paul. In NKJV Bible, the first word is homosexuals (KJV- effeminate, NIV-male prostitutes, catamites) and the second is sodomites (KJV- abusers of themselves with mankind, NIV-homosexual offenders). In the Greek we have malakos and arsenokoites. The literal meaning of malakos is soft or effeminate and arseno (male) koites (coitus) is a male who goes to bed with a male. Paul coined this last phrase, it is never used anywhere else in Greek literature, so if he had meant homosexuality as we know it today he would have used an already existing word for it. Instead he created a word that most likely refers to male prostitution. Therefore, this word describes lustful, unloving, uncommitted sexual relationships not the permanent, loving, same sex relationships that we know especially among Christians.
Thus the Bible is silent about homosexual orientation and only speaks about perverted heterosexual activity; people who go against their nature engaging either as active or passive partners in abusive or idolatrous same sex activities. Thus Paul’s statement in 1 Cor.6:11 that there were some in the church who had been saved out of this lifestyle should not be construed as a proof text that a homosexual orientation can be healed or given the power of abstinence. This would be placing people back under the law and not under grace. Instead, we should understand this verse to mean that the homosexual convert “must certainly learn to cease from unloving abuses of sexuality, as heterosexuals must; and all of us must struggle against idolatry and the other manifestations of the ego nature” (Scanzoni, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? p, 71).
Appraisal: Paul coined 179 terms in the NT in order to communicate God’s truth to a pagan culture. However, this term arsenokoites is derived from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Note the two passages that we already discussed from Leviticus: meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten gyniakos– do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman (Leviticus 18:22); hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gynaikos– if a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman (Leviticus 20:13). Therefore, when Paul used the word he did in 1 Tim. 1:10 and 1 Cor.6:10, he took it right from a passage in the Old Testament that forbids homosexual behavior in any form, whether idolatrous or otherwise.
In 1 Tim. 1:10 we also see an application of the Ten Commandments to the Christian life and places homosexual behavior next to the general term for immortality (porneia) as offending the 7th commandment— “you shall not commit adultery.” The hope that Paul holds out in 1 Cor.6:11 must also be understood from this perspective. Some of the saints in Corinth had been saved out of various sinful conditions. Certainly homosexuality was not at the top of the list as if it were the biggest sin, nor was it at the end of the list as though it were the smallest. The most reasonable implication is that there were some former homosexuals represented in that congregation. So there is hope! (Note that in the next chapter Paul writes that in view of the immanent persecution of the Church, it was better to remain celibate. However, if one could not avoid fornication then marriage was recommended. He does not mention the homosexual alternative as an option.)
This is the end of my 5-part series. If you have questions, let me know and I will try to address them (anonymously) in a later blog. If any of you are church leaders and would like a copy of our church’s pastoral position paper on Homosexuality and the Church, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will send you an electronic copy.