Category Archives: Defence
Understanding passages that some people think oppose same-sex relationships.
I have had a letter on equal marriage published in the Belfast Telegraph. The letter was shortened a bit for publication. The original is below.
With reference to Cynthia Campbell’s letter about same-sex laws (Letters, February 12), I would simply like to say that, as a practising Christian who takes God seriously and so believes the Bible’s teaching and prophesies and guidelines, I have to adhere to what it says about homosexuality as much as to any other subject.
So, as marriage is ordained by God in the first place and as being not for procreation but for companionship (Genesis 2:18), then you might consider that anything suggested by man as being a marriage does actually make it one as long as it meets this criterion. Christians who believe that marriage is about procreation should take note that procreation is not mentioned until after the Fall.
As the founder of Faith and Pride, a non-denominational gay Christian organisation, I would like to invite all gay Christians and their friends to any of our meetings. Details are on our website, https://faithandpride.org/.
Andrew McFarland Campbell
I have read your article, and if I could sum up your thesis in one sentence, it would be, “1 Cor. 6:9-10 is vague and we cannot know with any confidence what it means; thus it is irrelevant to us.” It appears you are effectively marginalizing the Apostle Paul’s teachings on morality.
This is not an accurate summary of my position. The words malakos and arsenokoites, which are used in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, are essentially impossible to translate. We cannot know what they mean. This does not mean that they are irrelevant to us, and I am certainly not marginalising Paul’s teachings. In the paper I look at Christ’s teachings as well, and use them to understand…
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There are six passages traditionally used to say you can’t be gay and Christian: Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:9-10.
Genesis 19 is about gang rape. Anyone who says this has anything to say about consensual relationships has bigger problems than Biblical interpretation.
Leviticus is part of the Law of Moses, which is not binding on Christians. In any case the verses use an obscure Hebrew idiom that is rather unclear (as can been seen in the KJV translation).
Romans 1 26 and 27 does speak about same-sex relationships in a negative light, but then again verses 25 and 25 speak about opposite-sex relationships in an equally negative light. Nobody believes that Romans 1 teaches you can’t be straight and Christian.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 use an obscure Greek word, arsenokoites, which is also used to refer to heterosexual sin. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 also uses the word malakos, which is not a sexual term. If these passages were supposed to be about same-sex relationships, the writer could have used a lot of other, more common, terms.
This is the text of the talk I gave to the Accepting Sexuality group.
There are two passages from the New Testament that are often quoted as proof that you cannot be gay and Christian: 1 Corinthians 6.9–10 and 1 Timothy 1.9–10. The New International Version of the former says “men who have sex with men … will [not] inherit the kingdom of God.” If the understanding of these passages was as simple as a superficial reading suggests, then the gay Christian movement would never have started. However, their message is more equivocal, and there are many conflicting translations.
It can be shown that the key words in these passages, malakos and arsenokoites, are not about sex between men, and the latter can even be connected to sex between a husband and wife.
By considering the wider Christian context of these passages, in particular what Christ said about inheriting…
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I just saw this on the BBC website.
The post revealing which person in the Bible ad two dads will be next – I just thought that story was too interesting not to share.
Christians are not under the Law of Moses. This is a really fundamental Christian doctrine, and it is clearly stated in the New Testament.
Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was put in charge of us until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. (Galatians 3:23-25, TNIV)
Most famously, Christians are not bound by the dietary restrictions of the Law, and nor are we bound by the rituals regarding worship. Some Christians believe that we are still bound by the “moral” parts of the Law. Is this the case, despite what Galatians says?
No. James says that you are either bound by the whole Law, or none of it.
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10, TNIV)
As Christians, we can confidently say that we don’t have to follow the rules and regulations of the Law of Moses.
But sometimes people object, saying that the moral principles of the law still apply, even if the letter of the legislation no longer does. After all, “not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen” (Matthew 5:18, TNIV) will disappear from the Law. Does that idea stand up to scrutiny?
Let’s consider divorce. What does the Law of Moses say about divorce.
If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4, TNIV)
Under the Law of Moses, a man could divorce his wife for pretty much any reason, and she was free to remarry. What did Christ say about divorce and remarriage?
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:8-9, TNIV)
Christ does not permit divorce for any reason – he only allows it in cases of sexual immorality – and remarriage is certainly not allowed. It is clear from Christ’s words that he was changing the rules, not merely clarifying them.
Divorce and remarriage is adultery, so this is clearly a moral issue, yet Jesus and Moses disagree. It simply cannot be that the moral principles of the Law remain.
What does this have to do with being a gay Christian? Sex between men is mentioned in Leviticus (18:22, and 20:13). The precise meaning and context of these verses doesn’t concern us here. Even if they really were a blanket prohibition on all sex between men, as they are part of the Law of Moses they are not binding on Christians today.
Verses 26 and 27 of Romans 1 are often quoted by people who think that the Bible teaches that same-sex relationships are wrong.
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. (Romans 1:26-27, KJV)
This passage begins “For this cause”: it depends on what went before, so you can’t read it out of context. Even so, some people believe that because this passage uses phrases like “against nature” it means that that same-sex relationships are paticularly bad, perhaps even being a transgression of natural law. But does the New Testament use what is “natural” as moral guidance anywhere else?
Leaving aside Romans for the moment, there are seven verses in the King James translation Bible where something is described as “natural” (φυσικός, phusikos, Strong’s 5446), “naturally” (φυσικῶς, phusikós, Strong’s 5447), or otherwise according to nature (φύσις, phusis, Strong’s 5449).
Just one of those verses – 1 Corinthians 11:14 – uses “nature” as a good thing that we should emulate (and even then that is debatable). Two of them – Galatians 2:15 and Galatians 4:8 – are neutral regarding nature as a moral authority. In three of them, “nature” is actually a bad thing.
Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. (Ephesians 2:3, KJV)
But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; (2 Peter 2:12, KJV)
But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. (Jude 10, KJV)
Unlike Romans 1:26-27, the seventh verse, 2 Peter 1:4 is about divine nature, which is obviously a good thing.
As well as the above verses, “nature” is used in the King James Version in eight other places, six of which are translations of different Greek words (1 Corinthians 2:14, 1 Corinthians 15:44, 1 Corinthians 15:46, Philippians 2:20, James 1:23, and James 3:6) and two of which are interpolations by the translators to add clarity (2 Timothy 3:3, and Hebrews 2:16). None of those verses suggest that “natural” behaviour is something that Christians should aim for.
Returning to Romans, in Romans 11:21-24 Paul describes God himself acting in a way that is contrary to nature:
For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? (Romans 11:21-24, KJV)
“Nature” just isn’t used as a moral force in the New Testament. We can’t simply look at something being “natural” and conclude that it is good, and look at something being “against nature” and conclude that it is bad. Yes, in Romans 1, Paul uses negative language about same-sex relationships, but he also uses negative language about opposite-sex relationships. There is simply no justification for the assumption that the negative language used about one is worse than the negative language used about the other.
There was recently a case in the UK when two Christians who owned a hotel wouldn’t allow a gay couple to have a double room. Obviously, as a gay Christian, I disagree with their decision because I don’t think it is wrong for anyone (Christian or not) to be in a same-sex relationship.
But what does the Bible say about two men in one bed? The Bible says it is OK.
I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. (Luke 17:34, KJV)
If it was wrong for the two men to be sharing a bed, then you would expect that either both would be taken or both would be left, but because one was taken and one was left, we can see that two men sharing a bed is not a question that affects their standing before God.
By the way, if you look at a more modern translation it might say something like “two people in one bed”, but by contrasting it with the next verse where there are “two women” in the field, I think it is clear that this verse is about two men.
How many Christian churches would allow two men or two women to get married?
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:1-3, NIV, emphasis mine)
There are two passages in the New Testament that are often used to prove that same-sex relationships are wrong. They are 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:10. Let’s have a look at 1 Corinthians.
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, NIV)
The word translated as male prostitutes is malakoi (singular: malakos), and the word translated as homosexual offenders is arsenokoitai (singular: arsenokoites). There is one, and only one, other place in the New Testament where arsenokoitai is used, and that is in 1 Timothy 1:10.
We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers–and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine (1 Timothy 1:10, NIV)
In this passage, it is translated as perverts. That’s a little odd. One word, used in essentially the same way, is translated as two completely different things in two passages in the same translation.
It gets odder when you look at different translations of those two passages. Consider the English Standard Version.
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, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, ESV)
understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine (1 Timothy 1:10, ESV)
The ESV has a footnote next to men who practice homosexuality that says “The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts”. On the one hand, the translators of the ESV say that malakos and arsenokoites together mean men who practice homosexuality, but on the other they say just arsenokoites on its own means that. Once again, the translation of arsenokoites is not consistent between the two passages, but this time we can see that the translators of the ESV disagree with the translators of the NIV about what arsenokoites means. They also disagree about what malakos means. The NIV says it means male prostitutes but the ESV says it refers to one of the partners in consensual homosexual sex.
The third translation I’m going to mention is the New Jerusalem Bible.
Do you not realise that people who do evil will never inherit the Kingdom of God? Make no mistake – the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, the self-indulgent, sodomites, thieves, misers, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers, none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, NJB)
on the understanding that laws are not framed for people who are upright. On the contrary, they are for criminals and the insubordinate, for the irreligious and the wicked, for the sacrilegious and the godless; they are for people who kill their fathers or mothers and for murderers, for the promiscuous, homosexuals, kidnappers, for liars and for perjurers – and for everything else that is contrary to the sound teaching (1 Timothy 1:10, NJB)
The NJB is at least consistent with its translation of arsenokoites, rendering it as sodomites and homosexuals, but compare its translation of makakos to the others’: it has self-indulgent where the NIV has male prostitutes, and the ESV has the passive partner in homosexual acts. You cannot argue that those are in any way the same thing at all.
The translations of arsenokoites are just as bad. The NIV has homosexual offenders and perverts. The ESV isn’t clear about whether or not arsenokoites needs malakos to mean men who practice homosexuality, but even then the word perverts means something different from the phrase homosexual offenders, which in turn means something different from men who practice homosexuality, which in turn means something different from homosexuals and sodomites, which is what the NJB uses.
The truth of the matter is there is no consensus among Greek scholars about what the word arsenokoites means. If there was then there would be more consistency between translations. It is an obscure word, and nobody is really sure what it means. When someone quotes one of these passages as proof that the Bible says same-sex relationships are wrong, then they are on very shaky ground.
For more about the translation of arsenokoites and malakos, see Arsenokoités and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences by Dale B. Martin.