As I move into part three of what the Bible says about homosexuality, I should say that there are a few passages that are often translated erroneously in the Old Testament that the King James Version adds the word Sodomite to such as Deuteronomy 23:17 and 1 Kings 14:24. In those verses, the word Sodomite actually never appears in the Hebrew so I think the word Sodomite was added to emphasize just how wicked temple prostitution is seen to be in God’s eyes. If you want to know more about the ways of the people of Sodom and didn’t read part one of this blog series then you might want to go back and read it. Suffice to say, God is not at all pleased when we humiliate, torture, rape, or live in irrational fear of our fellow-man.
Since I am not able to find any more places in the Old Testament that deal with homosexuality I’ve decided to move on to the New Testament. Let me make something clear as I move into this next section. I’m doing my best not to put my personal opinion into these studies. I’ve tried my best to study these passages without an agenda in mind, I just want to see what God’s word says on the matter. But, I am guilty of being very homophobic in the past and have in fact mocked homosexuals in the name of my faith. No matter what we may personally believe about homosexuality, I know that ridicule and hate are never God’s ways in the world. It’s with a repentant heart that wants to understand and love like Jesus does that I write these blogs.
Speaking of Jesus, let’s see what he says on this matter. He will set us straight (no pun intended) on this issue. Jesus had such strong feelings about homosexuality that he talks about it in the book of…, um, … wait a minute, let me find it…, he preaches about it in the book of…, um…, I mean he mentions it in the book of, …um, …? Oh, I guess he never mentions it. Well.. that’s frustrating. It must be in one of the lost books of the Bible where Jesus says to vote republican (lol).
As you can see, in my small attempt at humor above, Jesus doesn’t talk about Homosexuality. He doesn’t condone it. He doesn’t condemn it. He just doesn’t address it. I’m sure it existed in Jesus’ time but the fact is that in scripture he silent on the matter.
Thankfully, we do have other passages written by followers of Christ. The Bible wasn’t delivered from a Fed Ex truck one day written by a bunch of nobody’s. It took centuries of deliberation on the part of the church, praying and considering what books should go into the Bible and what books would show us the heart of Jesus. The Bible was written by flawed people who were overcome by grace and I believe in it’s authority for our lives. With this in mind, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1.
1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 (NRSV)
9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Timothy 1: 9-11 (NRSV)
9This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, 10fornicators, sodomites, slave-traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
These passages are very similar with nearly interchangeable lists of people who were (and are) not considered righteous. Trust me, you don’t want to be on one of these lists. People on this list by their state of being are keeping themselves removed from the reality of the Kingdom of God, both in the present and in the eternal. These are sobering words. The Kingdom of God is literally where the presence of God dwells, where He reigns supremely. Jesus tells us that the Kingdom is already present and is all around us, yet it will also be manifest at the end of all time, when creation is remade and evil is cast out for all eternity. To not inherit the Kingdom of God is to not inherit the good life God intends in the present and in the future He will provide. It is our choice. His salvation was given to all on the cross 2000 years ago, but our part in that is ongoing. We choose to embrace or reject his saving arms in the way we choose to live and by the God or gods we choose to follow. These list Paul provides are to be taken seriously and should make us all pause lest we be judging ourselves away from Him.
In both passages the Sodomites (greek=arsenokoitai) have made the list of people not inheriting the Kingdom, along with people who have pre-marital and extra-marital sex, murderers, and various others. Arsenokoitai is the Greek word that is translated as homosexual or sodomite in English, even though there is not Greek equivalent to it. In the New Testament the word arsenokoitai is only used in these two passages. It appears Paul may have invented the word out of two other Greek words to express his point: arrhen which means male and koite which is the cohabitation of a couch or bed.
Now you can look at 25 different commentaries and get 25 different answers as to the meaning of this word Paul used. Some scholars believe it denotes pedophilia while others say it simply means two males who lie together sexually. But, one thing that all commentators seem to be in agreement about is that it is an action word. Paul has just said that straight people who sleep together outside of marriage (fornicators) will not inherit the Kingdom and now he is saying that men (or possibly men who sleep with young boys) outside of marriage are also left out. This list is composed of action words. A thief is a person who actually steals something. A liar is a person who doesn’t tell the truth. An action has to take place in order for the sin to be enacted.
Now Jesus seems to contradict Paul on this just a bit when he talks about the motives of the heart. Jesus says if you lust after a woman you’ve committed adultery with her in your heart so there is something to our being in control of our thought life. But, Paul seems to be talking about something different here, the actual act of committing sin, not just thinking it. Maybe sin does begin in the heart, but it isn’t fully birthed until it is acted upon. To me it seems that there is great encouragement in these writings of Paul. I think he is telling us that having feelings and desires don’t make you sinful, but there are healthy ways to act which we are made for, and there are unhealthy ways which distort what we were made to be.
Now this is where it gets difficult. I can remember as a young man struggling with what at times seemed to be uncontrollable lust. I remember begging God in my private prayer times to make the desire go away. Why would a Christian have to struggle so (thanks teenage hormones). Not always, but at times it seemed like too much to bear. Sometimes I was successful in overcoming temptation, and other times I was not. The guilt and shame I felt in moments of defeat far outweighed the thrill having the forbidden fruit. So why are we this way? Why do we have desires for things that we are not allowed to have? Why do my homosexual brothers and sisters have these desires that many of them simply do not want to have? It doesn’t make their desire any less real just because they may or may not want it? I honestly don’t know where these desires come from. If they are from God then it seems a cruel thing for Him to say “I made you this way but you cannot be the way I made you.” If these impulses come from somewhere other than God then why can’t they be overcome through prayer and accountability? For many, like Henri J. M. Nouwen who chose to embrace his savior over his desires, there is victory over temptation. What I cannot answer is why for so many people of faith, their desire does not go away.
I don’t want to spout easy, pithy answers. To do so would be to minimize the struggle many people are going through. I know there is a lot of debate over whether or not the Old Testament passages that I addressed in parts one and two deal with homosexuality. I tend to think that they are addressing rape and idol worship more than homosexuality but the New testament seems much more clear on the matter in my view. And we could say that these New Testament passages are only dealing with pedophilia because that is one way to translate arsenokoitai, but it is also translated to mean same-sex acts as well. (Please note that I am not equating consensual sex with pedophilia). As much as we may like to, faithful Biblical criticism will not let us make the Bible say what we would like it to say. To me it seems these passages clearly are addressing male homosexual acts. Females aren’t mentioned but they rarely were so I don’t think we should try and say Paul made an exhaustive list.
What I can say is this, all things from God are for our good, even the painful things. Our sexual urges as human beings are strong, but they are not God. Sex is not God although I do believe our society has made it a god. Chris Tomlin’s song Our God comes to my mind at this point. He sings: “Our God is greater, our God is stronger, God You are higher than any other. Our God is healer, awesome in power, our God.” Temptation is calling our name and waiting at the door for us, but our God is greater. You might be a struggling with any of the issues that Paul talks about in these verses, but my only reply to you is our God is greater. Maybe your sin is heterosexual sex outside of marriage and you can’t seem to stop, well it’s time to live in the reality the our God is greater. Maybe you are a kleptomaniac, well good news, our God is greater. I believe we can overcome by God’s help through accountability and prayer.
It’s not easy but neither is the road to the cross which we all must follow. Mother Teresa is one of the most godly examples I can think of from our time. Yet, this godly woman struggled to the point of despair over what she called God’s absence in her life. In many of her letters published posthumously (Come Be My Light, 2007), she describes her experiences of profound spiritual darkness that haunted her for fifty years. (that’s right, 50 years). She admitted that she didn’t practice what she preached, lamenting the stark contrast between her exterior and her interior places: “The smile is a big cloak which covers a multitude of pains. . . . my cheerfulness is a cloak by which I cover the emptiness and misery. . . . I deceive people with this weapon.”
She described the absence of God’s presence as emptiness, loneliness, pain, spiritual dryness, or lack of consolation. “There is so much contradiction in my soul, no faith, no love, no zeal. . . . I find no words to express the depths of the darkness. . . . My heart is so empty. . . . so full of darkness. . . . I don’t pray any longer. The work holds no joy, no attraction, no zeal. . . . I have no faith, I don’t believe.” She called herself as a “shameless hypocrite” for teaching her sisters in Christ one thing while experiencing something different.
But, Mother Teresa’s darkness isn’t unique in the Christian experience. I don’t see her as a failure, but as the truest example of faith lived out, even when it isn’t easy and doesn’t feel good. Disciples, all disciples, are bid to carry their cross. Would Christ expect anything less of us than He lived out himself? Jesus endured an unthinkable Roman execution and shamefully hung between two criminals. With his last breaths he screamed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Roman soldiers mocked, beat, spat on him, and cast lots for his clothing. Our hope is in the fact that God Himself understands every struggle, every pain, and every temptation we go through. He greets us with compassion, remembering how we are made. It may not seem like it at first glance, but this is good news my friends. Jesus allowed evil to overcome him and put him into the grave but that’s not where the story ends. He comes back and shows us that God isn’t angry, He is forgiving. God isn’t just a lover of those who serve Him, He even loves and forgives even those who killed Him.
I hope this doesn’t seem like I’m giving easy answers to complex problems. The only thing I am sure of is that if God asks us to do something or prohibits us from it then it is for our good. I posted song lyrics prior to this post that I hope will be an encouragement to those of you who are facing very real private storms in your lives. Just know that no matter what storms may be raging against you, the storm is not God and will not have the final say.
Well, I’m tired of typing and I’m sure you are tired of reading. I’d love to continue the dialogue on these passages and continue the charitable discourse that we have begun on this blog, Facebook, and Email. Please share your thoughts even if you don’t agree, that’s fine. I’m just a fellow traveler with you seeking the Psalm 1 road to wisdom. Maybe you can add new insights into my study that I have yet to see. Pray for me as I do the same for those of you who will read this. Part four next week.
Rick Lee James