Thursday, October 08, 2015

NOT A SIN?




My most recent blogpost received a comment that asked, “So, is it ok to be gay and Christian?”
I think that’s a very good question. I will do my best to provide an answer.
First of all, I’ve been studying this topic for over a year now. It’s something I’ve held off writing about until I was quite certain I could speak about it with integrity.
If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time you already know that I’m no stranger to controversy. But this topic, unlike any other, is more volatile than anything I’ve ever written about before.
I’ve lost friends and relationships with other Christians over issues like hierarchy in the Church, the Priesthood of All Believers, Christian Non-Violence and the different views of Hell, to name a few.
But taking a position on the issue of Homosexuality has the potential to damage many relationships that I hold most dear, including members of our family.
At one point I nearly backed off completely. But then I felt I heard the Holy Spirit remind me that my calling is not to minimize my own suffering but to help alleviate the suffering of others.
So, here we go.
At one time I took the words of Paul at face value, especially when it came to verses where he forbids a woman to teach, or when he condemns homosexual activity.
But then something happened. First, my friend Jon Zens wrote a book called “What’s With Paul and Women?” which went directly to those passages where it appeared that Paul was clearly against women teaching men, or even speaking out loud in the assembly, and exposed our bad English translations, our lack of understanding the culture of that day, and years of bias against the subject matter.
What emerged was a better understanding of what Paul was actually saying, and better yet, WHY he was saying it.
For me, the topic of homosexuality has taken a similar path. As I’ve gone back to re-examine those passages where Paul certainly appears to condemn homosexuality I’ve begun to notice almost exactly the same pattern as what emerged in the issue of women in church leadership: The Greek words usually translated by our modern Bibles as “Homosexuals” don’t actually correlate to what we would call homosexuality today; There is a cultural phenomenon at work that most never incorporate; and there is a bias against homosexuality that is quite apparent once you consider all the perspectives that have been intentionally silenced over the years.
I’ll do my best to unpack all of that for you in the next few blog articles.
For the record: I am not gay. No one in my immediate family is gay. I am not taking a stand against the traditional view of homosexuality based on any emotional imperative or personal agenda.
On the contrary, I am laying my head on this chopping block because I believe that the Christian church has used these few verses as a weapon to marginalize and condemn an entire group of people who should be welcomed into the Body of Christ as brothers and sisters.
I know I will take the hit for saying this. I’m saying it anyway. And I hope to back it up with some very solid Biblical exegesis and relevant insight.
Back to our friend’s question: “So, is it ok to be gay and Christian?”
I would say that, if you define being “gay” as having a same-sex attraction [and only an attraction, not moving further into lust or fornication], then yes, it is ok to be a Christian who is attracted to someone of the same sex.
How can I say this?
Because being attracted to someone, in itself, isn’t a sin. The Bible never suggests anything otherwise.
I know that some take the words of Jesus about “looking at a woman to lust after her” as being equal to adultery, but what Jesus was referring to was exactly what he said: lustful thoughts, not default attractions, are equal to adultery. We’ve not committed the sin when we simply experience an attraction to another person. We sin when we allow our lusts to take over and our thoughts become carnal and/or we act on those lustful desires and physically engage in fornication.
But what about those verses you mentioned where Paul seems to very clearly condemn homosexuals?
Let’s take a look at those now.
Starting with Roman chapter 1, let’s look at what Paul has to say:
 “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper…” [Romans 1:24-28]
Honestly, I don’t believe there is any reason to believe that what Paul is describing here is analogous to what we would refer to as homosexuality today.
There are plenty of others who agree with me on this. For example, first century Christian,  Aristides and second century Christian apologist, Justin Martyr.
Aristides, who lived just 70 years after the Apostle Paul, taught that the issue Paul was addressing in Romans 1 was idolatry and sexual worship of false gods. In the second century, Justin Martyr also affirmed this interpretation of the passage.
Those aren’t exactly “liberal” Christian sources. These brothers aren’t alone, either. People like Bible Commentary expert Matthew Henry, Scottish evangelist Robert Haldane, and orthodox Calvinist, Charles Hodge also agree that what Paul is referring to in Romans 1 is a condemnation of pagan sexual temple practices of prostitution.
See for yourself:
"In Isaiah's time it (idolatry) abounded, witness the abominable idolatries of Ahaz (which some think are particularly referred to here - Isaiah 57) and of Manasseh. They were dotingly fond of their idols, were inflamed with them, as those that burn in unlawful unnatural lusts [Romans 1:27]. They were mad upon their idols [Jeremiah 50:38]. They inflamed themselves with them by their violent passions in the worship of them, as those of Baal's prophets that leaped upon the altar, and cut themselves [1 Kings 18:26,28]. Justly therefore were they given up to their own hearts' lusts.” – Matthew Henry [From Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible, Isaiah 57]
“The reasons why Paul refers in the first instance to the sins of uncleanness, in illustration and proof of the degradation of the heathen, probably were, that those sins are always intimately connected with idolatry, forming at times even a part of the service rendered to the false gods." – Charles Hodge [From “A Commentary on Romans”, by Charles Hodge, 1983 reprint (first published in 1835), Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, p. 41.] 
"The Apostle having awfully depicted the magnitude of Pagan wickedness, and having shown that their ungodliness in abandoning the worship of the true God was the reason why they had been abandoned to their lusts, here descends into particulars, for the purpose of showing to what horrible excesses God had permitted them to proceed.
"This was necessary, to prove how odious in the sight of God is the crime of idolatry. Its recompense was this fearful abandonment. It was also necessary, in order to give a just idea of human corruption, as evinced in its monstrous enormities when allowed to take its course, and also in order to exhibit to believers a living proof of the depth of the evil from which God had delivered them; and, finally, to prove the falsity of the Pagan religion since, so far from preventing such excesses, it even incited and conducted men to their commission." – Robert Haldane [From “Commentary on Romans” by Robert Haldane, 1835.]
If you doubt this assessment, I invite you to go back and to re-read Romans chapter one, from the beginning. What you’ll observe is a progression in Paul’s argument that begins with a condemnation of pagan idol worship and ends with a description of what that worship involves and how God punishes those who engage in the practice.

So, as I began to look at this passage again, I started to wonder if what Paul was focused on here was anything at all like what we would refer to as homosexuality today.

Now let’s look at 1 Corinthians 6. This is where things get a lot more interesting.

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality.”  [1 Cor. 6:9, ESV]
This seems pretty much a slam-dunk, doesn’t it? How can we argue with this? Well, once you start to examine the Greek you’ll begin to see a few problems.
First, the word translated here as “homosexuals” is from the Greek word "arseno-koitai". This is a word that most NT scholars would say Paul invented. In other words, we don’t exactly know what it means because it’s a compound word made out of two different Greek words which are forced together. Paul never explains or defines this word for us. It literally means “Man” and “To Bed” which our  modern English NT translators have wrongly rendered as “homosexuals”.
That term first appeared in our modern English translations in the Amplified Bible back in 1958.
Bibles translated earlier than 1958 render the verse like this:
"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate (malakoi), nor abusers of themselves with mankind, (arsenokoites)" [1 Cor 6:9, KJV]
As you can see above, the King James Version did not contain the word “homosexuals”. Only later translations and editions changed the word to “homosexuals”
Keep in mind that this shift in the translation came not from better, more convincing scholarship, but from cultural shifts within the Christian church.
Let’s look at these two words in a little more detail.
The Greek word “malakoi”, which is the plural of malakos, and the Greek word “arseno-koitai” are both used in 1 Cor 6:9.
First we’ll examine the word “Arseno-koitai”. As we said, many New Testament scholars have argued that Paul invented the compound word himself, since it cannot be found in any other writings of the time to refer to same-sex attraction or relationships.
There were over a dozen other words which Paul could have used if what he wanted to refer to was your everyday, ordinary homosexuality. I won’t go into the list of words, but there are plenty of other terms for same-sex intercourse in the Greek language that Paul left out of his epistle.
Why did he do that? We don’t know. But for whatever reason, Paul instead, chose to use an unfamiliar compound word  – "arseno-koitai" – which is never used in any extant Greek literature with our modern meaning of homosexual.
“Arseno-koitai” is used only once more in the Bible, [1 Timothy 1:10], and Paul never defines its meaning for us.
Are you ready for a big surprise? This next detail might just resolve the mystery of Paul’s invented word for us.
There was a very well-respected Jewish teacher who lived during the lifetime of both Jesus and Paul the Apostle. His name was Philo.  He was one of the most widely read Jewish intellectuals in the first century.
It’s no secret that Paul was highly educated as a Pharisee under Gamaliel. We know because of the works he quoted that Paul also read other philosophers and thinkers of his day. He most certainly would have been well-versed with someone like Philo who, no doubt, held great influence over the Pharisees and Rabbis living in first century Jerusalem.
Here’s what’s most fascinating about Philo. In his commentary on Leviticus 18:22, he argues that what Moses was condemning was shrine prostitution, and he specifically used the term “arseno-koitai”.
Wait. What?
That’s right. It seems that Paul did not invent this compound word. Philo did. And when Philo used the term, he used it to refer to the practice of pagan temple prostitution.
Now, let’s look at the other word that Paul uses in 1 Cor. 6, “Malakoi”.
The word “malakoi” occurs four times, in three verses in the New Testament. In Matthew 11:8 and Luke 7:25, Jesus uses the word to refer to soft clothing.Jesus never used the word in reference to homosexuality.
The best translation of the word into English is “effeminate”, not “homosexual”.
 In the first century, this term is normally used as an epithet against heterosexual men. As in, “You punch like a girl” or “Don’t cry like a girl”.  The word is never used to refer to someone who is homosexual. It is always used to describe a heterosexual male whose behavior is more feminine, or soft, than male.
 Plato, for example, in his “Republic”, wrote famously that too much music made a man soft [malakoi], and feeble; unfit for battleHe did not argue that it made him a homosexual.
 Aristotle also warned about the dangers of men becoming too soft [malakoi] by over-indulging in pleasures rather than balancing out their lives with acts of physical and mental discipline. Again, he was also not saying that lack of exercise or hard work might make someone turn gay.
Even Josephus, the first century Jewish historian [and contemporary of Jesus and Paul] used the term “malakos” to describe men who were weak and soft through lack of courage in battle. [See “Wars of The Jews” ,7:338; and “Antiquities of The Jews”, 5:246; 10:194.]
Want to know what’ even more interesting about how first century people understood this term? It turns out that “malakoi” was most often used in reference to men who shaved daily and had no beards. These were often ridiculed and accused of wanting to look like women with clean-shaven faces.

If this is what Paul had in mind in 1 Cor. 6:9, then the reference is more about cultural norms of the day – which is similar to what Paul writes about when he condemns short hair on women and long hair on men and calls this “unnatural” or “against nature”.
“Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” [1 Cor. 11:14-16]
Is a man with a clean-shaven face an abomination before God? Is he going against his own nature? Or is this an example of First Century cultural norms being equated with God’s eternal purpose?
I think these are worthwhile questions to explore. I also think that the conclusions that many Christians have accepted today are seriously lacking in the necessary study and critical thinking required to justify many of our attitudes towards those with same-sex attractions.
If this were a court of law, I believe that the evidence above is certainly enough to warrant a reasonable doubt about the true meaning of these passages we often use to condemn people who are not like us.
As I said before, I think this topic is very similar to doctrines like Hell and Women in Ministry. At one time you and I might have read the scriptures and said, “It says right here…” without knowing that what we were reading was:
A) Not exactly what was said in the actual Greek
B) Lacking historical background information regarding the culture of those people and
C) Unduly influenced by NT translators who had a bias towards the subject matter
In conclusion, here’s what I’m saying – People who experience a same-sex attraction are not condemned by God. Many of them are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They should be embraced and welcome into the Body of Christ, regardless of who they feel any attraction to. In fact, their attraction to Christ as Lord and Savior is the only one we should take into consideration at all.
Hopefully, we could all agree that as ambassadors of Christ we need to love homosexuals and share the love of Jesus with them rather than attack and condemn them.
Maybe you don’t agree? I don’t know. But for me the Christian’s job is to share and show the love of Jesus to everyone – regardless of their struggle with sin – and allow the Holy Spirit to A) Convict people of their sins and B) Transform them into the image of Christ. Neither of those is the job of the Christian, and therefore, not my job either.
This means that we shouldn’t expect a homosexual [or an alcoholic, or a drug addict, etc.] to “stop sinning” before we agree to fellowship with them, or befriend them, or welcome them into the Body of Christ.
For me, the alcoholic metaphor is an apt one. Most Christians would agree that someone who is an alcoholic will always be an alcoholic. We wouldn’t expect them to stop being an alcoholic, or even to stop thinking about taking a drink, before we welcomed them into the Body of Christ. In fact, we might agree that being in fellowship with other Christians might actually help this person to overcome their addictions and to receive the grace and mercy of God as they seek to follow Jesus.
I would trade the term “alcoholic” for “homosexual” in that paragraph above without any reservation.

HOWEVER: That doesn't mean that I view homosexuality as a sin. It simply means that I would encourage Christians to extend the same grace to those who are gay as they do to those who might struggle with addictions.
Thanks for taking the time to wrestle through this with me.
Peace,


13 comments:

John G said...

Thank you for the article! A bit about myself before I make a couple of comments. As part of the Body of Christ, my tribe is the conservative Evangelical side, with a dash of fundamentalism.
Best part of the article is that it is making my wife and myself think and think deep!
May I suggest with an article so rich and full that you consider one or two short, concise, clear questions (no more) that we can ponder upon.
Unwise with a great article like this I am afraid we will end up all over the map.

Kathleen Ward said...

Thank you, Keith, for contributing to this controversial topic, which every church (organic or established) absolutely needs to deal with in this time. I deliberately avoid addressing these hot-button topics in my blog - like you, I know they can offend family and friends who have been brought up to take the English translations of their Bibles at surface value. So many Christians have placed so much of their identity in being opposed to homosexuality that it requires a complete rethink of their theology to shift their mindset. Hopefully your post stirs people to re-examine these verses, shift their position, and still come away with their faith intact.

Well done on being courageous in exploring controversial topics. Blessings,

Kathleen

the alternative1 said...

Wow that is an excellent response and I value very much what you said and I WILL talk to Papa about it--thanks!

A J MacDonald Jr said...

Do not be deceived Keith. Christians are defined by actions and beliefs. Not just beliefs.

You’re buying into the world’s false theories of homosexuality and alcoholism: once a homosexual always a homosexual... once and alcoholic always an alcoholic.

But the Bible tells us we cannot practice sin and be saved:

“Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God...” ~ Saint Paul (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

There’s no such thing as an unrighteous Christian, a sexually immoral Christian, an idolater Christian, an adulterer Christian, a homosexual Christian, a thieving Christian, a greedy Christian, a drunkard Christian, a reviler Christian, or a swindler Christian (see: 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

These sins are things Christians used to do.
SIns that have been turned away from.
Sins that are no longer practiced.

This is basic Christianity Keith. To believe otherwise, as you are now teaching, is to believe a lie and to be deceived.

Concerning the Bible on homosex...

“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:26-27)

The standard reference work is: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Univ. of Chicago Press); also known as the Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich (or BAG).

According to the BAG, the word arsenokoites means: "a male who practices homosexuality, pederast, sodomite."

According to the BAG, the word malakos means: "men and boys who allow themselves to be misused homosexually."

1 Corinthians 6.9 - http://biblehub.com/text/1_corinthians/6-9.htm

1 Timothy 1.10 - http://biblehub.com/text/1_timothy/1-10.htm

ἀρσενοκοῖται (arsenokoitai) homosexual - http://biblehub.com/greek/arsenokoitai_733.htm

μαλακοὶ (malakoi) effeminate - http://biblehub.com/greek/malakoi_3120.htm

Keith Giles said...

AJ - I think we are talking past each other. I'm not saying that gay sex or gay marriage is ok. I'm saying that having a same-sex attraction isn't a sin.

I realize that it's possible to find commentaries, and even English bibles with the translation of "arseno-koitai" rendered as "homosexual", but the point of my article was to dig deeper and show that this isn't really the correct definition of that word.

If you disagree, then so be it.

An Alcoholic will always be one. They don't have to suffer from their addictions, and they can find freedom from that area of weakness in their life as they abandon themselves to God and depend on Him daily for mercy and grace to resist their temptations.

It's no different for someone who has a same-sex attraction.

Are we meant to be forever defined by our weaknesses or temptations? Surely not. But we are also not meant to ignore our weaknesses. Paul says that he would rather boast all the more in his weakness because it is the power of Christ at work in him.

My journey, and my careful studies, have brought me to this conclusion - that having an attraction to someone of the same sex isn't what God considers to be sinful. What is sinful is lust, and fornication [sexual relationships outside of marriage].

If you disagree with my scholarship, then let's discuss that. Otherwise, you and I are simply expressing our feelings and opinions and that's not very productive.

John G said...

Well said Keith.

A J MacDonald Jr said...

I guess I'm confused. Same sex attraction? Your previous post, about a married so-called "Christian" lesbian couple led me to believe you were okay with same sex relationships/marriage. Is this not the what you were saying in that post? Obviously, same sex attraction and lust is similar to opposite sex attraction and lust. Jesus said it's a sin for a man to lust after a woman, and it is similar for a man to lust after a man and for a woman to lust after a woman. I understand that. What I'm not willing to do is to attempt to wrongly justify homosex. Homosexuals don't have special privileges. They are in the same boat as heterosexuals, meaning: Stop lusting and stop acting upon those lusts if we wish to be saved. Peace.

Keith Giles said...

Please don't import supposition from a previous article into another one.

In the previous article you're referencing please notice that I said this:
"Keep in mind, when Jesus used Samaritans in his parable, he wasn't endorsing their religion or their lifestyle. Instead, he was hoping to upset the negative stereotypes surrounding them. He wanted to challenge the idea that their bad theology made it acceptable for the Jews to hate them and treat them as less than human."

So, no, my previous post was not intended to say that I was "okay with same-sex marriage".

This article spells out as clearly as I can what I believe about being gay and what the NT says about that.

samthemacman said...

Nice post. A great presentation, filled with compassion and biblical content without hitting people over the head with it. Also filled with common sense and historical context. Nice combination of insight and commentary on an important question concerning same sex attraction. I know several devout Christian men who have this struggle, and your insight and comments confirm much of what the Lord has revealed to me on the subject of same sex attraction. A really great post. I recommend it to others.

John G said...

Keep pushing us to think. Patti and I read the article together and we are looking forward to future post. Have made some good connections with the Gay community. Sadly we have run into challenges with the Body of Christ. About 20% are homophobic, 20% are grace givers, and the part that is sad is how 60 % or so just don’t want to discuss or deal with the issues.

Doug Webster said...

Thanks for this post Keith! This is some great, helpful information! I was a bit confused upon first reading this, in part because I wasn't previously aware the word “malakoi” was involved in the debate over what the Bible says about homosexuality. In order to be clear, would you translate 1 Cor. 6:9 something more like “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor effeminate, nor those who engage in temple prostitution.”? This still makes me wonder what Paul had in mind when he used the word “malakoi”. Was it about being timid or wavering rather than firm and bold, or would it have been about not behaving/disguising one's self as the opposite gender, or was it just a culture thing? Perhaps some “malakoi” was related to idolatry too.

timruah said...

You mention the use of αρσενοκοιτης in Philo but I can't track down a citation anywhere. Are you sure he used the word?

Tom E. Snyder said...

I would disagree that an "alcoholic" will always be one. That seems to deny the power of the cross to deliver us from the power of sin. "Alcoholic" is an identity. Christians have a new identity--child of God. That does not mean we do not sin. That means that "sinner" is not our identity.