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The Bible on Homosexuality

by Hope Antone

Hope, a long-time friend and supporter of WSCF Asia-Pacific, is a woman of capability. She divides her time teaching Feminist Theologies at Union Theological Seminary in Cavite, as one of the important publications team members in the Asian Women's Resource Centre, and as Executive Secretary in the Christian Conference of Asia-Faith, Mission & Unity.

Objectives:

Suggested Procedures:

  1. Ask participants to make a list of teachings they have heard about homosexuality. What or who were the sources of these teachings? How have such teachings influenced their attitudes to homosexual people?
  2. Make a list of biblical verses you know that are often used to deal with the issue of homosexuality. Analyse how these verses are interpreted by different groups of people. What is the impact of such texts on sexual marginals?
  3. Share stories and personal encounters with sexual marginals in your area. How are they treated generally at home, at school, at work, in church, in society? Think of unique gifts that sexual marginals do have and have a simple ritual of affirmation. Alternatively, think of ways you have participated in the discrimination of sexual marginals and offer a prayer of confession.

Summary of Study

Genesis 19:1-11 – This is one of the most quoted passages whenever the issue of homosexuality is discussed. Even the issue of Lot offering his own daughters to the Sodomites, who asked to have sex with the two angels is easily overlooked as the male-male sex issue is emphasized. The passage has often been used to mean condemnation of homosexuality, and yet the sin of Sodom is not so much about homogenitality but about hardheartedness and abuse. The sexual reference to male homogenital acts did not point to homosexuality but to a lack of hospitality on the part of the people of Sodom to some visitors. In Ezekiel 16:48-49 is a summary of the sin of Sodom: that they refused to take in needy travelers.

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 both speak of male same-sex or homogenital acts and the offense was called abomination, which was punishable by death. Homogenital act was forbidden because it was associated with the Gentiles and was seen as outside the ways of the Jews. The word abomination (Leviticus 20:25-26) meant mixing of kinds—hence, impure, defiled, going against how things should be. It was the belief that anything defiling was a curse and the betrayer must be eliminated to correct the flaw. These passages in Leviticus must be taken in the context of the Holiness Code which spelled out requirements for Israel to remain holy before God, i.e. different from other people. The Bible seems to be silent on women's same-sex acts and the most likely reason is that to the biblical Jewish mind, real sex involved the penetrating function of a male and the receptive function of a female. Hence, anal homogenital acts among men were seen as blurring the idealised line between female and male.

The Christian teaching about purity of heart does not relate to homogenital acts. In Christ's teachings, cleanness and uncleanness do not matter; only whether one is doing good or evil.

Romans 1:18-32 is the only passage in the New Testament that discusses homogenital acts. Verses 26 and 27 use three words to describe these acts: unnatural, degrading and shameless. The word "unnatural" simply means not characteristic consistent or expected; it does not mean Contrary to the universal law of nature, something wrong or against God. In fact, Paul also uses the word unnatural to refer to God's unusual or atypical acts (Romans 11:24), for God is not bound by standard expectations. The Greek word translated as "degrading" or "shameless" meant something not highly valued or respected. It was also used about men wearing long hair (1 Corinthians 11:14). So the words do not really imply any ethical or moral judgment on homosexuality but only pointing out the social disapproval of it.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 are the other passages that have been known to mention homosexuals or sodomites depending on the version of the Bible. They are listed together with the immoral, the thieves, the greedy etc. who are to inherit the reign of God. It would seem therefore that what is opposed is the use of exploitative lewd and wanton sex between men as well as the abuse of heterosexuality.

In conclusion biblical research shows that, at the very least, "the same-sex acts that are the focus of biblical concern were not what we mean by 'homosexuaIity' today. The Bible conceived of the matter very differently in a very different world; the Bible is basically indifferent to homosexuality in itself. The Bible is concerned as with heterosexuality, only when practices violate other moral requirements." (Daniel A. Helminiak)

Notes summarised from What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, by Daniel A. Helminiak (New Mexico: Alamo Square Press, 2000)

Methodology/Instructions

Materials Needed

References:
  1. Wahlberg, Rachel Conrad. Jesus According to a Woman. New York: Paulist Press, 1975. Melanchthon, Monica J. "Female Sexuality: The Song Of Songs", Envisioning a New Heaven and a New Earth. Lalrinawmi Ralte et al. Delhi: NCCI/ISPCK, 1998.
  2. Wendel, Elisabeth Moltmann & Jurgen Moltmann. Humanity in God. New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1983: 10-16.
  3. Prusak, Bernard P. "Woman: Seductive Siren and Source of Sin? Pseudepigraphal Myth and Christian Origins", Religion and Sexism – Images of Woman in the Jewish and Christian Traditions. Ed. Rosemary Redford Ruether. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1974.
  4. Exum, J. Cheryl. Fragmented Women. Pennsylvania: lnternational Pennsylvania, 1993, chapters 3, 6.

This Bible Study is taken from the module "Transforming Attitudes Towards Sexuality" published by Asian Women's Resource Centre for Culture and Theology (AWRC), 2002.