God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Who Says Homosexuality is a Sin?

Is homosexuality a sin?Who says homosexuality is a sin? The NLT does, right there in its “translation” to Leviticus 18:22: “Do not practice homosexuality; it is a detestable sin.”

But that’s not what the Hebrew says, and I’ve put the word “translation” in scare quotes because I think that what the NLT has here is an interpretation, not a translation.

The Hebrew in Leviticus — as is widely known — is more complicated. The first part of the verse is in commandment form. The NRSV’s rendition is fairly good: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman.” The second part augments the first with the explanation that, “it is an abomination.”

Homosexuality

Although the phrasing is odd to modern ears, the Hebrew almost certainly referred to men having sex with men. The NLT’s substitution of “homosexuality” is wrong for at least two reasons. Their English refers equally to men and women, while the Hebrew doesn’t address what women do. And their English refers to a wider variety of acts and attitudes than the Hebrew. But even so, I think “homosexuality” for a translation here is close enough to be considered okay for what the NLT is trying to do.

Sin

But when the NLT introduces the word “sin” for the Hebrew to’evah, I think it has left the realm of translation behind, replacing it with their understanding of modern dogma.

The Hebrew word to’evah occurs often enough that it’s not hard to figure out what it means. For example, in Genesis 43:32, the Egyptians don’t eat with the Hebrews because it is a to’evah for the Egyptians. Similarly, “every shepherd” is a to’evah to the Egyptians according to Genesis 46:34. Deuteronomy 14:3 helps us out further: “Do not eat any to’evah”; from context the to’evah is unkosher animals. Proverbs 21:27 teaches that the sacrifice of the wicked is a to’evah. In the moving lament in Psalm 88, verse 9 (also numbered verse 8, and in the LXX numbered Psalm 87:9) includes the woe that God has made the author a to’evah to his acquaintances.

All of this evidence — and more — points in the direction of “undesirable thing” for to’evah. The standard translation “abomination” is probably mostly right. (I sometimes wonder if “taboo” was included in the meaning.)

And it seems that the authors of the NLT knew this. In the very similar text of Leviticus 20:13, also about a man having sex with another man, the NLT translates the resulting to’evah as “detestable act.”

Leviticus 18:22 is politically and religiously charged. It seems to me that a translation that masks the original text — presenting an interpretation as though it were the original — is a disservice to everyone.

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March 17, 2010 - Posted by | Bible versions, translation practice | , , , , , , ,

69 Comments »

  1. Perhaps “to lie with” is not appropriate. That is a euphemism in Hebrew, is it not? The English euphemism is “to sleep with.”

    Therefore, “you shall not sleep with a man the way you sleep with a woman; this is taboo.”

    However, cultural/religious taboos are quite difficult to distinguish from sin, since they often are co-referential. After all, it makes sense that when religion impacts society, that religion’s sins to some degree become the society’s taboos also.

    And, in a theocratic law code, wouldn’t that co-referentiality make the two [to'evah and chatah] one and the same? How does Deuteronomy 6’s command to study, preserve, and teach the “words that I appointed to you today” interact with this?

    I hope you don’t mind a brief theological excursus. You said it yourself: Leviticus 18:22 is politically and religiously charged.

    Comment by Gary Simmons | March 17, 2010 | Reply

    • However, cultural/religious taboos are quite difficult to distinguish from sin, since they often are co-referential.

      First, I’m not sure about “taboo.”

      More generally, I don’t think that co-reference is the only criterion for successful translation. The Greeks noted that “human” and “featherless biped” are (nearly) co-referential, but I think we can all agree that “featherless biped” is the wrong translation of “human.”

      We might compare modern laws and mores. For many people, breaking the law is usually immoral, as with murder, say, or grand larceny. But there are still laws that have no moral content, and some immoral actions are not illegal. I don’t think that the (near) co-reference means that we should translate “immoral” as “illegal” or vice versa.

      At any rate, in this case I don’t even think that they are co-referential:

      And, in a theocratic law code, wouldn’t that co-referentiality make the two [to'evah and chatah] one and the same?

      I don’t think so.

      One key phrase is Proverbs 21:27. I don’t think the sacrifice of the wicked is a sin, even though it is a to’evah.

      Comment by Joel H. | March 18, 2010 | Reply

    • Perhaps “to lie with” is not appropriate.

      I agree. It’s not a great translation.

      Comment by Joel H. | March 18, 2010 | Reply

    • Gary says, “Perhaps ‘to lie with’ is not appropriate. That is a euphemism in Hebrew, is it not? The English euphemism is ‘to sleep with.'”

      What do you make of the string of different (if nearly synonymous) verbs in Leviticus 20?

      11 – shakev “the man that lieth with his father’s wife”
      12 – shakev “if a man lie with his daughter in law”
      13 – shakev / mishkev “a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman”
      14 – laqach “if a man take a wife and her mother”
      15 – shĕkobeth “if a man lie with a beast” (Lev 18:20 – shĕkobeth “thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour’s wife” / Num 5:20 – shĕkobeth “some man have lain with thee beside thine husband”)
      16 – ravah “if a woman approach unto any beast, and lie down thereto”
      17 – laqach “if a man shall take his sister, his father’s daughter, or his mother’s daughter”
      18 – shakev “if a man shall lie with a woman having her sickness”
      20 – shakev “if a man shall lie with his uncle’s wife”
      21 – laqach “if a man shall take his brother’s wife”

      Comment by J. K. Gayle | March 18, 2010 | Reply

      • Sadly, Kurk, my Hebrew is not really good enough to comment very much on the matter; I was only making the point that “to lie with” is not idiomatic English.

        While I know the roots for those verbs you point out, I cannot read those verses in Hebrew, so I would hold my peace, if asked for a fuller translation. But I still would say “sleep with” *might* work for shakev — at least, if not for the interplay with laqach and the other verb mentioned.

        Comment by Gary Simmons | March 18, 2010

  2. I agree with Gary. Maybe “sin” is not the best rendering of the verse. But that does not detract from the obvious intention of the author of this verse, to forbid homosexual activity, between men at least, as against God’s law. Verses 29 and 30 make quite explicit what God’s attitude is towards those who practise this kind of to’eva.

    I don’t know if you are trying to make room here for not condemning homosexual practice today, but this verse doesn’t give you any room to do so.

    Comment by Peter Kirk | March 18, 2010 | Reply

    • There are two significant ways to’evah are used. One is simply to’evah, the other is to’evah “unto God.” (Is that to’evah YHWH?)

      If something is merely to’evah, that implies a social taboo or social abomination.

      If something is to’evah YHWH (or whatever) then it would be an abomination unto God.

      In Leviticus it never uses the name of God. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that homosexuality is a social taboo, not a sin unto God.

      Comment by Colleen Harper | October 14, 2011 | Reply

      • It is very odd that the writers of scripture either did not have sexual sin on their radar to quite the degree that Victorian, post-Victorian and Muslim people have. The scriptures are *way* more concerned about deities, foods, rituals, property rights (including one’s women), cleanliness and so on. I mean, Solomon was a sex addict, but that was not an issue… but it was when the chicks from other countries talked him into giving a foothold to foreign deities!

        Look at David… he had all the girls he wanted, but when he took another man’s wife, and abused his power and connections to have a rival killed… a prophet got involved!

        Even in the NT, Jesus doesn’t seem to have “sexual sins” on his radar!

        So either they didn’t have “sexual sin problems” or they didn’t seem to care back then.

        Personally, I don’t see where God, society, my family or even the people involved, are served by same-sex cuddling [homosexuality has nothing to do with "sex" - it is the antithesis!]… but I am not sure I see much, if any, fascination or concern about it in the scriptures.

        By the way, one would be hard pressed to find lesbianism referred to in the Torah, even if Leviticus is corrrectly understood as consigning fags to death.

        In fact, one is hard pressed to find any kind of “sexual sin” in the Torah!

        If masturbation is a “sexual sin” then one would be hard pressed to find it in the scriptures! The only reason that casual sex is villified is that the word PORENIA (“whoring”) is translated in a way to suggest that it refers to any kind of sexual behavior – which it does not – it refers to *paid* sex only!

        Comment by bibleshockers | October 15, 2011

  3. Robert Alter’s translation (in contrast to NLT’s) with his fn is instructive:

    With a male you shall not lie as one lies with a woman. It is an abhorrence.

    “The explicitness of this law–the Hebrew for ‘as one lies’ is the plural construct noun mishkevei, ‘bedding,’ used exclusively for sexual intercourse–suggests that it is a ban on intercourse and intercrural intercourse (the latter often practiced by the Greeks). Other forms of homosexual activity do not seem of urgent concern. The evident rationale for the prohibition is the wasting of seed in what the law appears to envisage as a kind of grotesque parody of heterosexual intercourse [i.e., for procreation primarily?]. (Lesbianism, which surely must have been known in the ancient Near East, is nowhere mentioned, perhaps because of no wasting of seed is involved, though the reason for the omission remains unclear). There is scant textual evidence to support the apologetic claim of some recent interpreters that the ban on homosexual congress is limited to the preceding list of incestuous unions. One may apply here the proposal of Mary Douglas that this is a culture that likes to keep lines of categorical distinction clear: no human-beast couplings are allowed (in contrast to the imaginative freedom on this topic of Greek myth), and any simulation of procreative heterosexual intercourse by the insertion of the male member in an orifice or fleshy crevice of another male is abhorrent.”

    Alter’s note on the possible contrasts with the Greek cultures and myths is fascinating. This draws particular attention to how the LXX translators chose their Hellene rendering of their Hebrew here. Some of the word choice is very curious (if only we had more time to consider that).

    Comment by J. K. Gayle | March 18, 2010 | Reply

    • So then Judaism’s equivalent of Narnia would not have a centaur? :(

      Comment by Gary Simmons | March 18, 2010 | Reply

      • Correct. Judaism and centaurs (and Narnia, for that matter) are not particularly compatible.

        Comment by William Ross | March 21, 2010

  4. Thank you Joel for your work on this text and topic.

    I believe it is important for religious people to be honest about their texts. As a Christian, I find texts in the Bible, including the New Testament, to be wrong, in some cases, even horrific. I’d rather fess up about a text than pretend it’s something it’s not. Texts such as this one force me to see that the theological task involves much more than analysis of biblical texts.

    Comment by Chris Ayers | March 19, 2010 | Reply

  5. [...] argument also does not cover Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Joel Hoffman is correct to point out that these verses do not use the language of sin. But it is clear from them [...]

    Pingback by Gentle Wisdom» Blog Archive » How not to abuse the Bible against Jews and homosexuals | March 24, 2010 | Reply

  6. Actual Jews and rabbis and such are pretty clear that “not lying with a man as with a woman” refers to anal sex.

    God is not worried if you love someone, cook breakfast for him, go out to parties as a couple, pleasure each other, or (as Lenny Bruce put it) cuddle together on hot sticky nights. The so-called God of Love likes to see people love each other.

    Comment by Eliezer Pennywhistler | August 24, 2010 | Reply

  7. Would a man lying with a man be a sin since there is a command NOT to? If something is to’evah does that also make it a sin, a missing of the mark as I have come to understand sin?

    Comment by chava lebowitz | August 24, 2010 | Reply

  8. very interesting discussion I recommend “Sin: a History” by Gary Anderson

    Comment by Patrick McGuire | August 27, 2010 | Reply

    • I also recommend his book. (I have a review here.)

      Comment by Joel H. | August 27, 2010 | Reply

  9. [...] Who Says Homosexuality is a Sin? [...]

    Pingback by The Year in Review « God Didn't Say That | December 31, 2010 | Reply

  10. [...] short of specifically calling it a sin (which is why I think Pastor Osteen is wrong — more here), I’m not convinced by those who try to interpret the text as being about anything other than [...]

    Pingback by “The Bible Says So” and Other Stupid Arguments « Joel M. Hoffman, PhD | January 31, 2011 | Reply

  11. Under Covenantal Law, male-male sex was punishable by death (Lev 20:13).

    Under Covenantal Law, human-animal sex was punishable by death (Ex 22:19).

    Therefore what was an ‘undesirable thing’ or an ‘abomination’ was also punishable by death, at least in the case of male-male sex. It would appear to me that just because something is not explicitly described as sin does not preclude it from being so.

    So in retaining the original meaning, let’s not be ignorant of what the consequences were when an ‘abomination’ was committed.

    As for other homosexual practices, including gay marriage, one should take into account the full moral/biblical ramifications of such, especially as ‘marriage’ has implications for potential adultery and divorce.

    In other words, can homosexual infidelity be classified as an ‘adulterous’ act in the context of a homosexual relationship – according to Scripture? If not, what is the moral value of sanctioning gay marriage from a biblical perspective (or any homosexual practice for that matter)?

    Comment by Robert Kan | February 6, 2011 | Reply

    • Dragging gay marriage into this discussion is problematic. (I know this strays rather far off-topic, but feel a reply is necessary.)

      After all, what gays and lesbians are demanding is CIVIL marriage, because (at least in the United States) ALL marriages are civil, and only some are religiously blessed.

      The argument against adultery can also be made without recourse to scripture since the Scriptures are clearly unhelpful on the question of infidelity within a gay relationship. There is no Biblical “case law” in which to base the charge of “adultery” within a gay relationship, but there is plentiful case law in the public sphere for such a charge that would fit as appropriately for a gay relationship as it does for a heterosexual relationship.

      So, as has been pointed out above, gays and lesbians are not asking for the religious sanctioning of their marriage so much as they are demanding civil equality to enjoy the civil aspects of marriage. Let each religion do as it sees fit to sanction or not to sanction gay and lesbian marriage.

      Comment by Colleen Harper | November 9, 2011 | Reply

  12. Sorry for the late reply, but this subject is of historical nterest to me having served on my synod’s council dealing with ordination of homosexual clergy. Of course, this verse was often in view and hotly debated.

    I would offer a somewhat different translation of Lev 18:22:

    “And with a male you shall not lie down in the manner of a woman. It is an abomination”

    The plain meaning of this translation is that the abomination arises from one of the males assuming the role of the female In this view, men are not prohibited from engaging in sexual activities among themselves, so long as one of them is not penetrated, i.e., assuming the role of the woman. A more concise meaning is that God is specifically prohibiting anal sex among males.

    I would offer that Robert Gagnon has written at length on this subject (and this particular verse) in his book, “The Bible and Homosexuality”. Prof. Gagnon argues that both the penetrator and penetrated commit sin and while I’m partial to that view, my translation of Lev 18:22, if correct, does not support it.

    Thoughts?

    Michael

    Comment by mtp1032 | June 30, 2011 | Reply

    • Michael, from what you describe, I would say Gagnon was correct – Lev 20:13 specifies that both males were to be put to death. If something is not true by direct reference, it may still be so by implication. If your rendering is correct, it would have had a direct implication for the one male and an indirect implication for the other, simply because mutual consent to a wrongful act does not absolve either party from guilt. Consent is not a valid excuse for justification purposes.

      Comment by Robert Kan | July 8, 2011 | Reply

  13. Every time I read a discussion about this verse everyone always seems to talk about this verse and this verse alone pulled out of context of the entire chapter. Chapter 18 is full of sexual law. Every single verse is about who you shouldn’t have sex with.

    I haven’t done much study in the Hebrew, but interestingly enough every single verse in the NIV says “do not have sexual relations….” except for verse 22. Verse 22 says “do not lie with” Odd. Perhaps the writer is talking about something else. Also, every verse was about what woman not to have sex with. 15 of them. Only 1 about men? Not likely.

    Something else of interest to note. That word “abomination” is a poor translation. I would go as far as to call it an interpretation. NIV renders the word “detestable.” Now you can debate about the differences but the Hebrew isn’t very clear on the matter either. In fact, in the original Hebrew, the verse isn’t a complete sentence. From what I’ve read, it seems that original translators didn’t have a readable script to translate from. They got the first half, but were unable to read the second half due to damage of the scribing. So talking about the verse is utterly useless and probably shouldn’t even be in there.

    Last thing. Chapter 17 and Chapter 19 talk about temple practices to the god Molech. It stands to reason that 18 would also be about that. Actually, it is! Verse 3 “you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan.” Hmm. What did they do in the land of Canaan? Well, read on to find out.

    And what’s with verse 21? Do not sacrifice children? How is that relevant to sex law? Doesn’t make sense.

    So why all these laws? Verse 24 says because that’s how the land God is sending them to(Canaan) became defiled. What happens if you do any of them? Well, you’ll be separated or “cut-off” from the people. You’re not going to be put to death. No, you’ll likely just have to offer an animal as a sin offering and then you’ll be right with God.

    Comment by Josh Gould | November 9, 2011 | Reply

    • Josh, if I’m not mistaken, being “cut off” is a reference to not having a continuing seed… Obviously, if you have same sex relations exclusively, you won’t perpetuate your seed, because true sex is intrinsically male+female. No true sex, then no offspring.

      Comment by bibleshockers | November 9, 2011 | Reply

      • While what you say about sex and offspring is true, it isn’t the only truth to be found in the area of sex. Yes sex is for having kids. It’s also for pleasure. It’s a gift given to us and we should enjoy it responsibly. To say that sex is only for having kids would be like saying a car is for only for sitting in. Yes you sit in it, but you also drive it.

        It’s my understanding that when it says “you will be cut-off from the people” it’s talking about the nation of Israel itself, society if you will. All these things that are detestable will separate you from those not doing them and you’ll ultimately become a social outcast. Of course there’s always a chance for repentance and reconciliation, but that’s another topic.

        Comment by Josh Gould | November 9, 2011

      • Josh, biologically speaking, sex is intrinsically male+female. The other stuff is not, strictly speaking, “sex” so much as “horsing around” which *contributes* to the furtherance of the species by motivating and implementing the mixing of the sperm and ovum.

        It may be that the distinction “lies with” as opposed the other verses speaking of “having sexual relations with” reflects this biological reality, and so, while true sexual relations do not occur between same sex partners, they might “lie down together in parody ofr” or “in mockery of” true sexual relations. Hence what is forbidden is only the horsing around.

        “Cutting off” is final, and reconciliation is not possible:

        Exo 31:14 Keep the sabbath, therefore; for it is holy unto you; every one that profaneth it shall certainly be put to death: yea, whoever doeth work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his peoples.
        (Darby)

        Comment by bibleshockers | November 9, 2011

      • Josh,

        Please. Do you truly intend to so deeply malign homosexuality to the extent that you completely ridicule the loving relationship two gay men or two lesbian women have toward one another, that you claim their sexual acts are “in parody of” or “in mockery of” what YOU call “true sexual relations?”

        Can’t you make your point without deliberately using words that any reasonable person would perceive as deliberately hurtful and mocking?

        And if “horsing around” is forbidden, then I hope you are having ONLY missionary sex with your WIFE only for the purpose of producing more offspring. ANY other reason, by your logic, would be “horsing around.”

        Comment by Colleen Harper | November 9, 2011

      • >>>…Please. Do you truly intend to so deeply malign homosexuality to the extent that you completely ridicule the loving relationship two gay men or two lesbian women have toward one another, that you claim their sexual acts are “in parody of” or “in mockery of” what YOU call “true sexual relations?”…

        Obviously, scripture does not castigate David and Johnathon for a deep love among men. Deep loyalty is virtuous. What is not approved of is abandonment of natural sex for an alternate, non-prescribed lifestyle.

        I’m not saying whether this is an objective “sin”, just that the scriptures and biology are built on a very specific pattern and the alternate is, to be cut off.

        Comment by bibleshockers | November 9, 2011

      • I hope you see my problem, Love.

        I can not convince those who accept all the Bible as scripture that homosexuality is not a sin. It isn’t so much my intent to try to do that. If I grant that homosexuality is sin (Note: according to Christianity, I DO acknowledge that it is sin), I would immediately point out that there are hundreds of other things that are likewise sin, and many of them are directed specifically at heterosexual couples, such as infidelity, denying one another intercourse, etc.

        But I have a clear intent and “agenda” to try to encourage Christians to consider the language that they use concerning homosexuality. Homosexuality is one of the most hated of all sins, and all too many Christians are extremely vocal in that hatred, and use language specifically designed to malign and hurt with deliberate malice.

        It fits all too clearly with the phrase “hate the sin but love the sinner.” Experience shows that those who use the phrase — more often than not, by far — understand the commandment, and completely disregard it as they heap scorn, derision, hatred, bigotry, etc., on those who practice homosexuality. They are condemned by their own words, and immediately, because they show they know the commandment, and then they gleefully disobey it. Homosexuals know what love is, and when they hear hate-filled speech, they aren’t feeling love, I can promise you.

        Therefore, I keep hoping my words will prick the hearts of those who will recognize how their words hurt others and, instead of winning them over to faith in Jesus, instead immediately alienate those who have been verbally – and physically – attacked. Is that what Jesus commanded?

        Comment by Colleen Harper | November 9, 2011

      • >>>…Therefore, I keep hoping my words will prick the hearts of those who will recognize how their words hurt others and, instead of winning them over to faith in Jesus, instead immediately alienate those who have been verbally – and physically – attacked. Is that what Jesus commanded?

        Jesus was **completely** silent about “horsing around.” In fact, Moses is pretty silent about the issue. “Song of Solomon” absolutely celebrates Solomon for his “porn-star prowess” – and from a woman’s point of view!!

        But Moses, and the scriptures in general, and *especially* Matthew, do take a dim view of “an alternate lifestyle” that does not conform to the paradigm:

        Mat 19:3 The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
        Mat 19:4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that ***he which made them at the beginning made them male and female***,
        Mat 19:5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
        Mat 19:6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
        Mat 19:7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
        Mat 19:8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: ***but from the beginning it was not so***.
        Mat 19:9 ***And I say*** unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

        Personally, I’m not going to lose any sleep if someone takes offense if I don’t mince my words. If you want to handle a knife, you might expect a few cuts.

        Comment by WoundedEgo | November 9, 2011

      • But your words, WoundedEgo, appear to say that you will be happy to take up that knife and insert it between the ribs, twist it to inflict greater pain, and laugh as you pull it back out.

        Is that your method to lead someone to your Savior?

        I have tried to point out that I am not defending homosexuality in contravention of all the myriad verses you might spew. I am pointing out that the commandment that was given to you was one of love, just as God so loved the world that He gave His Son, but that many Christians, such as you do not care if your words hurt, and in fact, many “Christians” deliberately go out of their way to MAKE the words hurt.

        Admit it, you do NOT want to lead a homosexual to your faith. You want to reject him completely, without ever attempting to show love to him, without ever trying in loving grace to lead him to salvation.

        Words have both the power to heal, and to destroy. When it comes to homosexuality, it seems most Christians only wish to destroy, never heal. That is my point.

        Comment by Colleen Harper | November 9, 2011

      • Colleen, I’m not trying to lead anyone to a savior… I’m pretty sure I won’t even influence anyone’s thinking one little bit. My satisfaction is from just calling it as I see it (ie: the scriptures) and letting others do with it, or not do with it as they see fit.

        Comment by WoundedEgo | November 9, 2011

      • I’m not sure I agree with your understanding of “cut off”. At least in the Levitical texts the English phrase “cut off” is [almost always] translated from the root verb KaRaTh in which the context suggests a meaning of ‘banish’. I do agree that the metaphorical meanings of KaRaTh are varied, but I’ve never run across an argument for your position. Perhaps you could extend your comment and explain it in more detail.

        Blessings,

        Michael

        Comment by Michael | November 9, 2011

      • Josh, I think you have the car analogy the wrong way round. The main purpose of sex, whether one thinks of a divine purpose or in evolutionary terms, is to produce offspring and propagate the species. The pleasure involved is a side-effect, and an inducement. Similarly the purpose of a car is to get you from A to B, and comfortable seats are a side-effect and an inducement. So to say that sex is only for having kids is like saying a car is only for getting from A to B, and not for enjoying sitting in, listening to the sound system etc. On that analogy of course, gay sex is like sitting in the car and enjoying the sound but never going anywhere. That doesn’t in itself make it wrong, of course.

        As for being “cut off”, there is certainly an exegetical opinion out there that it implies capital punishment for the offender. The Hebrew word here can mean “kill”, at least in Genesis 9:11, probably also in Psalm 37 several times etc etc.

        Comment by Peter Kirk | November 9, 2011

      • Peter,

        In large part I agree with your comments about sex and its biological purposes, for procreation and for pleasure. Most assuredly, sex has procreative value, and it is reasonable to deduce that the pleasure aspect is an inducement to provide that procreative value, but I think there are many other aspects that sex serves as well, for biological purposes. I will address one only.

        Sex is also a strongly bonding activity. Sex binds two people together more effectively than any other activity that I can think of.

        Therefore the way you use the car analogy implies that you think the only real purpose is to get from infertility to fertility, when I think it is just as appropriate to use the same analogy to get from weakly committed to strongly bonded, which is something a homosexual couple CAN do.

        After all, the MOST committed and stable pairing arrangement is lesbian couples, according to current scientific research.

        Of course, that doesn’t fit comfortably with the concept of homosexuality as sin.

        Comment by Colleen Harper | November 9, 2011

      • >>>…The Hebrew word here can mean “kill”,..

        I would say it *implies* killing, but the functional import of the verb relates to “an end to their seed.” This is not valued in much of today’s hedonistic society, but is a man’s raison d’etre in much of the ancient, Semitic sociiety. One would die to preserve one’s offspring, so to “die” was not as horrific a penalty as to be “cut off.”

        It is evident in scripture that a barren couple were of all people most miserable.

        And the original decree was “grow fruit trees and have many offspring.” To voluntarily choose to live to cuddle, eat, and sleep was to be “unfruitful” and thus to waste your spot on the earth.

        Comment by bibleshockers | November 9, 2011

      • Whoa Colleen, that post about mockery wasn’t mine. The author of each post is posted below the post. Say that 10 times fast hehe.

        Comment by Josh Gould | November 9, 2011

    • Josh,

      You wrote:
      >…except for verse 22. Verse 22 says
      >“do not lie with” Odd.

      It is odd, but that’s the point. Where male homosexuality is concerned, neither procreation nor sexual pleasure seem to be in view. Rather, only anal-sex is prohibited because the act is seen as a violation of God’s created order, i.e., joining together that which God had previously separated. Thus, as I’ve argued elsewhere in this thread, the Hebrew Bible does not prohibit male-male erotic behavior except for sexual activity in which one of the men is penetrated.

      Viewed in context, homosexuality (both male and female), with the exception of anal sex among men, is not portrayed as a sexual sin (per your point, Josh).

      One other note, I don’t mean to be a troll, but should anyone wish to dig deeper into this issue, a good starting point might be this post and its footnotes.

      http://thussaidthelord.com/blog/biblical-literacy-2/what-the-bible-really-says/male-homosexual-intercourse-what-the-bible-really-says/

      Blessings,

      Michael

      Comment by Michael | November 9, 2011 | Reply

      • How do you get “penetration” from the text?

        Comment by bibleshockers | November 9, 2011

      • Hey Michael,

        The point I was trying to make is the language itself. In all the previous verses it says “sexual relations.” Verse 22 doesn’t use that language. If that was what it was trying to suggest then it likely would have used that terminology. At the very least the writer could have said “know carnally” as they said in the story of Sodom. I intend to read that article, but may not have time for a few days. I’ll get back to you.

        Josh

        Comment by Josh Gould | November 9, 2011

      • Michael,

        I’ll address your previous inquiry here instead of the previous post. You mentioned that the Hebrew word for cut-off can be more accurately translated as “banished.” To me that affirms my position even more because being a social outcast can certainly feel like you’re banished. I would imagine that in a pre-modern culture such as that, banishment would be far more serious than we would consider it to be today.

        Consider some of the verses in the chapter. Verse 8 says such an act would dishonour your father. Verse 10, dishonour you. There are natural consequences that committing such acts will bring. I don’t believe that the dishonour would come from God, but rather it’s simply a result. Example, if you eat junk food, you get fat. It’s not that God makes you fat, it’s just what happens. So maybe the banishing thing is not like a “soul banishment from God” but rather it’s society’s reaction for doing such things. How many stories have you heard about a sexual predator getting out of jail and moving in the neighbourhood? You’d rather not have that person around right? Maybe it’s along the same lines in this chapter.

        Keep in mind that this does NOT mean that it’s the only answer. It’s entirely likely that the banishment is from God. It could be both. I just think that it’s more along the lines of the nation(society) casting you out.

        Comment by Josh Gould | November 9, 2011

  14. Colleen, thank you for taking my point, and not being negative about it. I will take your point about sex leading to bonding of couples, whether hetero- or homosexual. And that bonding has a clear purpose when it comes to caring for children. But where no children are produced, what is the point of the bonding? From an evolutionary viewpoint, none. Believers might quote Genesis 2:15-23, with the first bonded couple taking care of the garden rather than of a family. But in verse 24 this story is used as to validate heterosexual marriage and intercourse, so it would be rather perverse to use it to justify homosexual practice.

    Comment by Peter Kirk | November 9, 2011 | Reply

    • Thank you Peter.

      I fully agree that when a couple has a child, bonding is a critical part of child care. I experienced the opposite – a lack of bonding – in my one marriage (that ended in divorce.)

      Hopefully you will meditate on the question you posed:

      “But where no children are produced, what is the point of the bonding?”

      And consider its application to couples too old to have children or couples who suffer from infertility while desiring children. Clearly, I think there is sufficient reason in both these cases for bonding as well, to provide them companionship and comfort.

      And evolution would not be concerned with whether a bonded couple is fertile or infertile. It would be expressed because, when a couple IS fertile, it will promote keeping them together. Evolution wouldn’t be sensible – as in exhibiting a sense of reason – to distinguish between a fertile couple and an infertile couple.

      Thankfully, I am pleasantly surprised to find a Christian (I assume you are a Christian) who apparently has no spiritual problem with evolution. That is not my usual experience, unfortunately.

      Comment by Colleen Harper | November 9, 2011 | Reply

      • >>>…And consider its application to couples too old to have children or couples who suffer from infertility while desiring children. Clearly, I think there is sufficient reason in both these cases for bonding as well, to provide them companionship and comfort…

        This was apparently a matter of dispute in the first century, no? I mean, the disciples are portrayed as looking to Jesus to resolve a contemporary argument… “Can a man ditch a wife if she’s unsatisfactory?”

        The answer is an appeal to an “original design” that must be adhered to.

        Comment by WoundedEgo | November 9, 2011

      • Thank you, Colleen. Yes, I am a Christian – follow the link on my name for more details. In broad terms I accept “theistic evolution”, that God used the processes of evolution, more or less as described by mainstream scientists, to make creatures according to his design and purpose. It was for the sake of argument, and because not everyone here is Christian, that I was also putting forward the more pure evolutionary argument that the only kind of “purpose” that any biological characteristic can have is the propagation of the species.

        According to that argument, bonding between fertile couples helps with the care of offspring. Bonding between infertile couples, however, is an accidental side-effect, except perhaps in so far as it reduces disruptive competition for fertile ones. That is, if for example an infertile male could not form a stable bond with a female, he might instead predate on various fertile females and challenge their bonded male partners, and so disrupt caring families. But apart from this factor “companionship and comfort” among infertile or elderly couples has no evolutionary advantages.

        If instead we look at my preferred theistic understanding, we can indeed consider that “companionship and comfort” might have been God’s purpose even for infertile couples. To that one can add the care from a partner (sometimes not a spouse but a same gender friend even if the relationship is totally non-sexual) on which many old people rely – people who from a strict evolutionary perspective should be allowed to die. However, if we take our understanding of God from the Bible, we also read that homosexual practices, as well as heterosexual ones outside marriage, are not part of his intended design for humanity.

        Comment by Peter Kirk | November 10, 2011

  15. Coleen,

    Your last comment to WondedEgo was interesting to me. Mostly, I value this blog for its insights into how the Bible ought to be understood. This thread is NOT disappointing in that regard. With this in mind, when I read your statement

    “…the commandment that was given to you was one of love…”

    I had to wonder just what is your understanding of the biblical meaning of ‘love’? Maybe the problem here is that all of us are operating on a definition of biblical love that may not be a common one. For example, I do not believe that biblical love has its emotional content in view. Thus, love is to be exercised no matter how one feels. In fact, more credit to the one who acts lovingly toward those s/he hates. When Jesus commands us to bring the sinner to the altar, is He advocating a loving act or a punishing one? Put more directly, doesn’t the commandment to love sometimes mean we must tell people hard truths — as best we understand them?

    But, there’s a second issue here. Loving acts can, and often are, hurtful no matter how delicately and compassionately delivered. How do we prioritize love and compassion and mercy and justice and all these wonderful biblical virtues in the face of real world moral dilemmas?

    Now, back to the issue at hand: with respect to male homosexual behavior, is the truth of the sin to be subordinated to the impulse not to be hurtful?

    Blessings,

    Michael

    Comment by Michael | November 9, 2011 | Reply

    • When performing an analysis of an ancient text, matters of “sensitivity” and “political correctness” are only in the way. Objectivity is the name of the game. This may not work for people with a vested interest in bending the text to be palatable to “trans-gendered” people so they might be well advised to steer clear of ancient Semitic texts!

      Comment by WoundedEgo | November 9, 2011 | Reply

    • Michael,

      You have very valid points, concerning the way love may cause pain, the way love does not require emotional content.

      What has bothered me quite often in the Christian exhortation against homosexuality, at least as presented by some (I speak from experience) is that frequently vocabulary is used that can not be perceived as anything except deliberately hurtful, with malice and intent.

      In the political campaigns over gay civil marriage, as a prime example, time and again we see organizations, much like National Organization for Marriage, that use slanderous charges such as “all gay men are pedophiles” or “homosexuality will lead to beastiality.” I hope I don’t have to extensively prove that Most pedophiles are heterosexual or that most homosexuals never practice beastiality, but these kinds of nasty and vile ad homenem attacks occurred in California, New England and elsewhere.

      National Organization for Marriage hides in the authority of Christianity, and yet perpetrates these vile and despicable verbal assaults on homosexuality. I can NOT attribute these attacks as hurting in the name of love. I can only characterize them as intending to cause the most hurt, slander and abuse possible. That is NOT Christian love by any of our agreed measures.

      That individuals take their lead from NOM and do likewise makes me question whether they too, really are Christians. What they do (much like Westboro Baptist Church) is not done in love, but is done to hurt and outrage.

      That is why I have participated here. I have hoped that some of you would take my words to heart, to chastise those who do evil in Jesus name.

      I fully grant your right to believe homosexuality is a sin. But it is only one of all the sins that separate one from God. It is not the most grave of all sins, is it?

      Comment by Colleen Harper | November 11, 2011 | Reply

      • I have a couple of thoughts for you, Colleen. First and with all due respect, you seem to be advancing a straw-horse argument. No one in this forum has come close to making such claims as you attribute to N.O.M. Don’t get me wrong… I’m not the least bit offended and I completely understand your sensitivity. However, I just don’t see how it applies here. That there are misguided people – Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists — is not surprising. But, what does that have to do with how we are to understand the biblical view of homosexuality as discussed in this thread?

        The second issue for you is a question: How, Colleen, is your view of love and homosexuality grounded in the text? From the biblical perspective, I see the two as largely unrelated (unless you count the prohibitions against incest, in which case a older brother’s love for his younger brother in no way mitigates the sin).

        Blessings,

        Michael

        Comment by Michael | November 11, 2011

      • Michael, check out my comment to post 2. At least in the verse presented, I tend to think because it was not called a “to’evah” unto God, it ought to be understood as a social “to’evah” or a social taboo rather than a sin unto God. Other places where something is a sin unto God, it is clearly identified as such, with the formula of “to’evah JHWH” (or whatever the correct appellation to God is.)

        I think you can imagine that there are various verses frequently used as weapons to beat down homosexuality which I also find problematic, and some passages that I would argue serve completely different purposes than to condemn homosexuality (such as Romans chapters 1 and 2). {I would argue in the last verses of Chapter 1, Paul sets up a scenario wherein his readers start getting pumped up by his words, much like footballers before a game, when he turns the table and says “therefore you, oh Christian, when you do these things” in the first verses of Chapter 2. Chapter 1 would then be less a rant against homosexuality as it would be provoking crowd antipathy against a social taboo.}

        And I would maintain that God’s condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah was for lack of hospitality as opposed to homosexuality, from readings elsewhere in the Bible.

        This said, I understand that scriptural interpretation, and dogma built upon scriptural interpretation, will differ from church to church and from denomination to denomination. There will, therefore, be churches that take a very hard-line opposition to homosexuality, and there will be others who think it no worse than any other sin, and unworthy of exaggerated emphasis.

        As there are several Greek words for “love,” it is even more problematic, but what I have most often tried to mean when I have used the word love would most closely approach alternatively philia and agape. These, especially agape as used in 1 Cor 13, most clearly speak to the problem that I often find lacking from professing Christians (although almost none here) when addressing the issue of homosexuality. 1 Cor 13 says “Love is patient, love is kind,” “Love … is not arrogant.” Paul has laid out in these few words a condemnation against those who are so hateful in their strident condemnation of homosexuality, even granting that homosexuality is a sin.

        What I have asked readers here to consider is that when they hear someone speaking hatefully about homosexuals, that you, dear readers, would rebuke them because their words are not “patient, kind, not arrogant.”

        Does this help? I hope I’ve addressed your questions sufficiently.

        Colleen

        Comment by Colleen Harper | November 12, 2011

      • Colleen, thank you for writing that “I fully grant your right to believe homosexuality is a sin”, and distinguishing that belief, and presumably the careful expression of it, from the kind of hate speech that you attribute to NOM. The problem I have is with those, in the gay lobby and elsewhere, who condemn even the careful expression of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs as hate speech.

        Comment by Peter Kirk | November 12, 2011

      • I acknowledge that my fellow advocates can be as outrageous as those they oppose. I promise in turn to challenge them that, when someone is presenting “the careful expression of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs,” those they oppose have the full right to do so. It is a two-way street, and what is wrong for one is wrong for both.

        When we discuss civil marriage in the context of civil society, adjudicated by civil law courts, under a civil Constitution and Amendments that have presented civil society with religious pluralism, is it right to insist that a religious dogma must be mandated into civil law? I fully grant that it is the right of religious organizations to advocate for their position, just as others have the right to advocate for contrary positions, but one thing I have consistently encountered is the insistence that the religious position ONLY, MUST be given primacy. In civil society, the final authorities are the ballot box and the legal courts, not the religious institution.

        Within this civil debate, I wish all sides could remain civil and concede that no one has institutional authority apart from the constitutional democracy under which we live.

        I’m sorry that this conversation has been hijacked so far from the original proposition.

        But I did remember what I was trying to append to “to’evah.” The social taboo, “to’evah” as opposed to the sin “to’evah el-… (shaddai, odom, etc.)”

        Comment by Colleen Harper | November 12, 2011

      • Colleen, this may surprise you, but I completely agree with your last comment. Whether or not homosexual practice is considered a sin by religious believers should not determine whether it is prohibited or given less privileges in civil law. But, as Robert points out, what should determine that is a majority vote. Even an argument that something is a fundamental human right has to be accepted by a consensus in a society. So the debate about same sex marriage needs to be full and open, and not stifled by the gay lobby and by religious conservatives turning it into a battle of dogma.

        Personally I would recommend the current British practice (now under threat) of recognising formal same sex partnerships, as “civil partnerships”, but avoiding the word “marriage”. If some religious groups want to celebrate these partnerships in their churches etc, that should be allowed, as long as the right of other religious groups to refuse to do this is fully honoured.

        Comment by Peter Kirk | November 13, 2011

      • >>>…is it right to insist that a religious dogma must be mandated into civil law?…

        Marriage laws, properly legislated, based no a biological reality, not a religious preference. The biological reality is that when a male and a female mate, they will or can reasonably be expected to produce another person in whom they share a natural, biologic link and unique intrinsic rights and responsibilities. Therefore the government has a compelling reason to establish laws specific to male-female unions.

        No such biological reality exists between male-male or male-female unions. Therefore, establishing marriage laws for such unions is inappropriate and should not be done. It places the government into the service of pleasing a particular group. This is a dangerous precedent.

        Comment by bibleshockers | November 13, 2011

      • Bibleshockers, that is a good argument, which those who are opposed to same sex marriage should make more of, rather than trying to impose their religious positions on civil society.

        Comment by Peter Kirk | November 13, 2011

      • Thanks, Peter, I agree.

        Comment by bibleshockers | November 13, 2011

      • In a democracy, technically speaking, the majority should always get what they want, always. Even if the majority wants to call same-sex unions “marriage”, then that is what it ought to be called.

        Some argue that same-sex unions should have another term, since the original definition of “marriage” implies the union of one man and at least one woman, to broaden it to all existing cultures.

        The original definition excludes same-sex partners, it excludes a woman with multiple men, and it excludes incest.

        Of course, in a secular democracy, all of this could be arbitrary. The majority could also mandate for “polygamous” same-sex unions (multiple same-sex partners) as well.

        The moral debate is about whether the relationship model should be rigid and inflexible, or subject to evolution and change. And how much change?

        These considerations are necessary for discussing biblical homosexuality and its potential consequences.

        Comment by Robert Kan | November 12, 2011

      • Robert,

        This statement in your reply above merits futher discussion.

        >The moral debate is about whether the relationship model should
        >be rigid and inflexible, or subject to evolution and change. And
        >how much change?

        While this may be the point to which we’ve come in this thread, the discussion should be ordered to the question, “Who Says Homosexuality is a Sin?” Which, I think is pretty easy to answer.

        The Hebrew Bible does not state explicitly that male homosexual intercourse is a sinful act (chatah). Rather, the adjective used is ‘toevah’ which, as has been noted by others in this thread, has a wide range of meanings but whose fundamental understanding is pretty clear: Toevah describes behavior that ranges from unacceptable (violating certain purity codes) to abhorrent (child sacrifice). For explicit examples, see Prov 6:16-19.

        Rather, male homosexual intercourse constitutes a sinful act because it is prohibited. And, by behaving in ways counter to God’s will, one separates or estranges oneself from God. Note carefully that male homosexuality is not sinful because it is toevah. Lots of acts are toevah and are not sinful (I detest stepping on slugs, or picking up dog #$$%#$… Yet, none of these are sinful acts.

        Male homosexuality is sinful simply because it violates a divine prohibition and serves to separate its participants from God. Thus, the answer to Dr. Hoffman’s question is clearly Yes! Male homosexuality is a sin and the biblical witness clearly states as much. To what degree male homosexuality is toevah is not clear.

        ASIDE: In biblical Hebrew, the principle word for ‘sin’ derives from the root chata connoting the idea of missing the mark and in the context of relationships (both personal and divine) essentially means estrangement. As might be imagined, it is widely attested in the Hebrew Bible and, interestingly, is infrequently (if ever) used in place of (or synonymous with) ‘wicked’ or ‘evil’.

        Blessings,

        Michael

        Comment by Michael | November 13, 2011

  16. [...] Who Says Homosexuality is a Sin? Adultery in Matthew 5:32 What’s the difference between an eagle and a vulture? Q&A: What’s the best Bible translation to read and study from? The Ten Commandments Don’t Forbid Coveting Making Jesus the “Human One” The Value of a Word for Word Translation Gender in the Updated NIV Who are you calling a virgin? So, What? John 3:16 and the Lord’s Prayer [...]

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  17. [...] it happens, I don’t believe that Scripture says that, but I do support Pastor Osteen’s right to interpret Scripture as he [...]

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  18. [...] counts. I think that Leviticus 20:13 has to be weighed against Genesis 2:18, and in any event, I don’t think the Bible calls homosexuality a sin. And as it happens, I don’t believe in the death penalty for [...]

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  19. [...] How to Love the Lord Your God — Part 3, “Heart and Soul” Adultery in Matthew 5:32 Who Says Homosexuality is a Sin? Q&A: What color is the “blue” of the Bible? What’s the difference between an [...]

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  20. The act of a man having sex with another man is clearly called a sin in 1 Cor 6:9-11.
    Since it is crystal-clear that homosexual men that have sex cannot inherit the kingdom of God, what exactly are you debating?

    Comment by Santiago | January 8, 2013 | Reply

    • I really should let Joel respond to this, but (and with apologies in advance), if I understand Joel’s position correctly, he would point out that to’evah is sufficiently broad in its attested usage in the Hebrew Bible that claiming it’s synonymous with sin is a stretch.

      Remember, this blog is largely oriented to translation issues so the debate about whether to’evah should be translated as ‘sin’ is surely a legitimate one, but it’s not as clear cut as many think. Here’s an example: I could claim that it is to’evah to step in fresh dog poo with one’s bare feet. But stepping in dog poo is manifestly not sinful, rightly understood.

      Blessings,

      Michael

      Comment by Michael | January 8, 2013 | Reply

      • I’ve not yet seen any attempt or suggestion to define “Sin”, in it’s context of being against the will of a “Sovereign Divinity.”

        That said, if we are mere manifestation of a divine minds grand and cosmic plan, “sin” would only be defined as “a not knowing” we are integral, in the divine will or, “sin” translates to “the free will to not know” our integral effect… The root of the latter definition has the hardened core of, “a not knowing.”

        This is the same as if we lived, “not knowing” water keeps us from dying of thirst…
        Or even if disliked the taste of water and drank less and less, “choosing not to know” water is our natural, life giving purifier.

        Whatever we decide is how “God” made us, keeps us in a dual state of separateness but, safety apart from others who are just as free to believe they are what everybody should accept, and/or be.

        How divine is such a child-like selfishness?

        Maybe it’s just our collective child-like divinity… growing up into a less searated identity?

        If not, I can allow for other things as an integral part of humanity’s experince…
        I can let it be.

        And I don’t need a dictator or doctrine to force me into that.

        I wish you Peace; that divine and holy innocence of peace.
        May follow after and be with you and yours… always.

        Charles Lee, Jr. (Kolt4JC)

        Comment by kolt4jc | January 9, 2013

  21. As a gay man, I would like to point out one thing. As far as I know, this is the only sin in the Bible that is a sin of existence. According to Christians, I am damned simply b/c I exist. If I believe Christians, I am an abomination in G-d’s eyes. This doesn’t seem right to me.

    Everything else in the Bible that is labeled as a sin has a distinct choice. You can lie or not lie. You can commit adultery or not. You can sleep with your sister or not. But if you are gay, you sin by your very existence. . .or so I’ve been taught.

    These few clobber passages have made it extremely difficult for me to search for G-d. Mainly b/c I fear that if I do search for Him, He will reject me.

    Personally, I think these passages are referring to male shrine prostitutes. You should not lie with a male shrine prostitute as you lie with a woman, it is a sin.

    Comment by Jim Short (@icedogchi) | January 23, 2013 | Reply

  22. The one thing I was reading referred to a mistranslation and that when they refferred to homosexuality they were actually referring to male prostitution within the temple do to a similarity of Hebrew text. Here is an exerpt from the site:
    Literal Translation- . In the New Testament, the two verses 1 Corinthians 6:9 & 1 Timothy 1:10 are often mistranslated as condemning homosexuality in English Bibles (but not in the Roman Latin Vulgate Bible or the 1545 German Bible of Martin Luther). Mistranslation is based on two ancient Greek words “malakoi” & “arsenokoitai” (Greek letters “ARSENOKOITAI ” literally, “male-beds”), which was a new word used by Paul (Saul) at the time and not a common term for homo-sexuality. Because Paul was speaking in a religious context, the word “arsenokoitai” has been translated as referring to male-pimps or customers in temple prostitution, a common practice in so-called pagan rituals widespread in Temple Cult worship of the time. [The minor term "malakoi" (used to describe "soft" clothing) is non-sexual and has been translated as "effeminate" (KJV), although others state "weaklings" or "morally weak, lazy" men.]

    Rarity of Words- . The ancient Greek word “arsenokoitai” occurs in only those 2 verses, 1 Corinthians 6:9 & 1 Timothy 1:10. Logically, if homosexuality were considered a sin, there should be many verses about it, and the word “arsenokoitai” would occur more than twice if it had referred to a major issue, such as homosexuality; the rarity of the word fits the logical translation: the word “arsenokoitai” refers to the rare practice of temple prostitution, not general homosexuality. (See: 73 references to arsenokoit* found in TLG E Feb/2000, “http://www.jeramyt.org/gay/arsenok.htm”.) Yet, precisely because the word is so rare and had no formal definition, the word “arsenokoitai” is crucial in fostering misinterpretation of the Bible: a more common word could not be so easily redefined.

    Comment by Ryder | February 14, 2013 | Reply

  23. also the use of arsenokoties is outside of the bible is used for a woman and her husband

    http://www.jeramyt.org/gay/arsenok.htm

    Comment by angie | March 7, 2013 | Reply


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