Ethics,  New Testament,  Old Testament

Homosexuality was Added to the Bible in 1946

It is becoming more and more popular to argue that the Bible speaking against homosexuality is a recent innovation that was added to the Bible to make Scripture anti-gay. One very common iteration of the argument is that the word “homosexual” was not in any Bible prior to 1946. The implication of such argumentation is that the Bible does not speak against homosexuality, and that the church should therefore accept a gay lifestyle as being compatible with biblical teaching.

picture of Bible which allegedly did not include homosexuality until 1946

Those who put forward such argumentation typically point to Luther’s German translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9, which uses the word Knabenschänder, or “boy molester” rather than the typical idea of homosexual found in modern translations. Additionally, proponents point to the KJV translation, done in 1611, which translated 1 Corinthians 6:9 as, “nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind.” It was not until 1946 with the translation of the RSV that the term homosexual came to be utilized in Bible translations.

How should Christians respond to such argumentation? Is it true that the Bible is accepting of homosexual behavior, and that it was only recently (after 1946) when the Bible was twisted to be anti-gay?

There are multiple arguments which are important to work through in order to think accurately about this issue.

First, a translation does not determine meaning, but is a reflection of the translator(s) understanding of a text, conveyed through the capacity of a target language.

This is a very important point at every level. Every translation is ultimately an interpretation by the translator, but it is also limited by the target language. Anybody who knows more than one language understands this. Each language has its own idiosyncrasies, common vocabulary, and idioms which must be accounted for. Most languages do not represent ideas in the same ways.

With regard to Bible translation specifically, there are plenty of examples where Bible translations convey a meaning which is not exactly in line with the original meaning of the Greek or Hebrew. For example, the use of James instead of Jacob in the NT, or even the KJV’s use of “Appearance” in 1 Thessalonians 5:22. In other words, translation is not a simple issue, and there will often be differences in how translations are done.

I would argue the idea of using a particular word in a translation is less important than the question of meaning. Ultimately, the most important question to ask is, what does the text mean. In other words, what did the author mean when he wrote the original words in Greek or Hebrew. Our translations are supposed to be a window through which we can discern that answer, but translations can be imperfect (though thankfully we normally have very good translations). Regardless, the most important question relates to meaning of the original text. The issue of word choice in a target language is secondary because words change and develop in the target language over time.

Let me give a rather easy example to demonstrate how this works. Substitute the word gay for the argument relating to homosexuality in the Bible. The Bible is not against gays, because the Bible doesn’t use the word gay. Obviously, the fact that our Bible translations do not use the word “gay” has little to nothing to do with whether the Bible speaks against the gay lifestyle.

Second (and most importantly), the Bible unequivocally speaks against homosexual behavior.

This is the most important point. Whether English had developed or used the term homosexual is really an unimportant point, because homosexual behavior is described and prohibited in Scripture. For example, the term homosexual is not used in Leviticus 18:22 or 20:13, but it is clearly what is in view, since the sexual relationship described is compared to how a man lies with a woman.

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

Leviticus 18:22

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

LEviticus 20:13

The very fact that Leviticus 20:13 speak against both active and passive partners shows that it is the homosexual act itself that is condemned, not a certain aspect of it. Historically pro-LGBT scholars have tried to argue against this point by theorizing that Leviticus 20:13 was a later update of the original law, Leviticus 18:22. Although there is no evidence of such an update, obviously it is necessary to argue that way since the text is problematic the way that it reads for a pro-LGBT viewpoint.

Some pro-LGBT scholars argue that the Levitical prohibitions against homosexuality are outdated and the church has moved beyond those antiquated notions. The problem is that Paul utilizes Leviticus both in Romans 1 as well as 1 Corinthians 6 to formulate his sexual ethics.

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

In fact, the link between Paul and Leviticus is so strong, Beradette J. Brooten, herself a lesbian commentator writes the following:

Rom 1:26–32 directly recalls Lev 18:22 (“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination”) and 20:13 (“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”) Even though Romans 1 does not explicitly cite Leviticus 18 and 20, they overlap at three points: (1) Romans 1 and Leviticus 18 and 20 use similar terminology; (2) both Romans and Leviticus contain a general condemnation of sexual relations between men; and (3) both describe those engaging in such relations as worthy of death.

Brooten, Love Between Women, 282–83.

So, does the fact that Leviticus or Romans does not use the English term homosexual mean anything? Any honest student of Scripture would say no. The Bible speaks clearly on the issue, even without using the term homosexuality. Nor has the church moved beyond the sexual ethics of the Old Testament world. Paul seems to rely heavily on Leviticus 18 and 20 in Romans 1, and that connection is even stronger in 1 Corinthians.

Third, Paul’s use of the word translated homosexuals in 1 Cor 6:9 (ἀρσενοκοῖται) is reliant on the Levitical prohibitions against homosexuality.

It is obvious from a study of the surrounding text that Paul had the Levitical prohibitions against same sex relationships in mind when he wrote the book of 1 Corinthians. This is demonstrated in two ways—big picture and small picture.

Related to the big picture, anyone who studies the book of 1 Corinthians notes Paul’s reliance on Leviticus to formulate his ethics on many of the issues. Note the following examples.

IncestLev 18:6–18; 20:111 Cor 5:1–13
HomosexualityLev 18:22; 20:131 Cor 6:9
IdolatryLev 18:21; cf. 19:41 Cor 10:7; cf. 6:9
Imitating GodLev 19:21 Cor 11:1
Not Causing StumblingLev 19:141 Cor 8:9
Warning Against Spiritual ProstitutionLev 20:51 Cor 6:12–20

Clearly Leviticus was on the mind of the Apostle as he worked through the issues that the church of Corinth faced. But there is also evidence in the small details.

In 1 Corinthians 5:1, Paul uses terminology in describing the incest problem at Corinth in a way that matches with the Greek Old Testament text from Leviticus 18.

Lev 18:7aLev 18:81 Cor 5:1c

ἀσχημοσύνην πατρός σου καὶ ἀσχημοσύνην μητρός σου οὐκ ἀποκαλύψεις, μήτηρ γάρ σού ἐστιν. (LXX)  

You shall note uncover the nakedness of your father and the nakedness of your mother, for she is your mother (my translation).
ἀσχημοσύνην γυναικὸς πατρός σου οὐκ ἀποκαλύψεις, ἀσχημοσύνη πατρός σού ἐστιν. (LXX)    

You shall not uncover the nakedness of the wife of your father; it is the nakedness of your father (my translation).  
ὥστε γυναῖκά τινα τοῦ πατρὸς ἔχειν. (NA28)        

That someone is having the wife of his father (my translation).

The wording that Paul uses indicates that what was in mind in 1 Corinthians 5 is incest between a son and his mother-in-law, not the biological mother.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9, the text in view on homosexuality, we have another example where Paul relies on the Greek Old Testament for his word choice. The word ἀρσενοκοῖται did not exist prior to its Pauline usage, and is recognized by scholars as a term that Paul invented from the base text of Leviticus 18 and 20.

Leviticus 18:22μετὰ ἄρσενος οὐ κοιμηθήσῃ κοίτην γυναικός  
Leviticus 20:13ὃς ἂν κοιμηθῇ μετὰ ἄρσενος κοίτην γυναικός  
1 Corinthians 6:9ἀρσενοκοῖται  

The idea that Paul coined the term ἀρσενοκοῖται in reference to the Levitical prohibitions against homosexuality is increasingly prevalent among scholars.  It is not strange at all for Paul to form new theological words. There are 179 words found in Paul that occur nowhere else in pre-Christian Greek literature. Eighty-nine of those terms occur only one time.  This data seems to support the idea that Paul was very comfortable with introducing new terminology. Greek is, after all, very conducive to creating new words easily. Given the fact that Paul was heavily influenced by the LXX and Jewish law, it seems a rather logical conclusion that Paul coined the term ἀρσενοκοῖται (which we translate “homosexuals”) so as to call to mind the Levitical prohibitions against homosexuality.

Conclusion on Homosexuality

The argument that translations did not use the word “homosexual” until 1946 is a red herring which distracts from the real issue. The real issue is not whether the word homosexual was used in English translations, but whether the Bible speaks against the issue of homosexuality. When examining the biblical data, there is really no other conclusion—the Bible rejects the idea of homosexuality as compatible with God’s design for humanity.

Photo by Johannes Krupinski on Unsplash

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

14 Comments

  • Keith Berry

    I recieved a link to this blog post yesterday by someone who questioned my existence in God’s eyes. It appears you have spent a lot of time and energy about the “sin” of homosexuality. Please know, this is a not a threat but a promise, as I have documented the paper trail – if anyone I love, like my husband, is killed by one of your crazies as a result of what you write and/or preach …. well that’s what our civil courts are for. What you are preaching is dangerous. It causes people to be murdered. If someone is killed as a result of a hate crime, loved ones do have legal standing to file suit. Stop. Enough is enough.

    • Peter Goeman

      Keith,

      I’m sorry you feel that way, but I would encourage you to look at the facts and not confuse religions. Christians do not murder. That is a priority one commandment. No matter what we believe God demands of His creation, we are never obligated to force anyone to obey, nor are we obligated to kill those who do not obey.

      There has, historically, always been opportunity in America to talk about these deeply important issues without resorting to violence. I can promise you that if someone does you violence, that is evidence they are not a Christian. You have nothing to fear from us. But I would encourage you to engage with the substance of the argument and not resort to emotionalism.

      Peter

      • Keith Berry

        I am a Christian and well aware of what some “christians” are capable of. They use words such as yours to justify their hate, to justify their crimes against humanity. Many “christians” have killed in the name of Christ. I do not wish to debate this with you. My only intent is for you to be aware of the possible consequences of what you incessantly preach – murder . . . civil suits as a result of hate crimes. There are a lot of unbalanced people out there taking your dangerous rhetoric to heart. I had an interaciton with one the other day. Not emotional, just facts.

        • Peter Goeman

          Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Keith. It seems you would be okay with my previous statement then, that not all who claim to be followers of Christ actually follow him—something Jesus himself warned would happen (Matt 7:22). At that point then, we need to ask the question what is a real Christian—and of course the point is a Christian obeys Christ and all of Scripture. According to 1 Cor 6:9-10 that means you also would not be a Christian, so I hope you reconsider the relationship you think you have with Christ. You seem thoughtful, so I pray you ask yourself if you say you are a Christian, why don’t you do what Christ says?

  • Jennifer

    Peter, there were a whole bunch of ancient greek words Paul could have used instead of making up arsenokoitai if he were intending to refer to homosexuality. Erastes or its plural form Erastai were greek words referring to two man lovers, that Paul does not use. Words for men having sex with other men in general were androbates, androbateo and androkoitai, again, Paul does not use them. There also existed words for men having sex with males in general that Paul does not use; arrenomanes and arrenomixia. Clearly Paul is not referring to men bedding other men with this word, otherwise he wouldn’t have rejected perfectly good words already in existence. Finally, nothing about arsenokoitai carries with it connotations of lesbianism, so clearly homosexual is a bad translation on that basis alone.

    Let’s now address your argument that Paul derived this word from the LXX translation of Lev 18:22 or Lev 20:13. There is little objective reason to believe this, given the same composite words arsenes and koiten were also found in other LXX verses referring to sexual activity, Num 31:17-18 and Judges 21:11-12. In addition it wouldn’t make much sense for Paul to be referencing gentile believers to jewish laws when Paul spent so much time in his letters denouncing the old testament law. There is also no objective reason to believe that a bunch of newly converted gentile believers would have a copy of the LXX lying around when books of this magnitude back in those days were extremely expensive to acquire. Whilst nobody can make objective claims about what the new testament believers understood ‘arsenokoitai’ as, its unlikely they understood it to be about homosexuality, given the plethora of words already in existence referring to the same thing and the fact that Paul made the word up. Almost all extra scriptural uses of this word refer either to rape of boys (It is used by one early christian author to refer to Zeus abducting the boy Ganymede and raping him) or rape of men (it appears referring both to rosy fingered Dawn goddess Eos abducting and raping multiple men and the demon serpent Naas raping Adam in the garden of Eve). It interestingly also appears paired with ‘barbarian’ in the phrase ‘you shall not fear either the barbarian or the arrenokoitai’ on the walls of an ancient Grecian city where homosexuality was legal. Clearly this word was not understood to be referring to the two gay guys in love down the street.

    Let’s now address Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. In the original hebrew there are two main words of relevance in these verses that pertain to the homosexuality debate. One is ‘ish’ referring to man/ adult male. It is found only at the beginning of Leviticus 20:13, the second is zakar, found in both verses and translated numerous times throughout the old testament as referring to male children, or boys (see the original hebrew of Lev 12:2) It is far more plausible then that these verses were referencing pederasty or paedophilia, a possible interpretation backed up by jewish literature. First century jewish philosopher Philo interpreted these verses as referring to pederasty in his Special Laws III, IV 37-42. Later Jewish writings clearly allow the interpretation of these verses as referring to pederasty/ paedophilia, Babylonian Talmud 54a makes this quite clear by its inclusion of the sentence ‘whether he is a minor boy.’ Babylonian talmud niddah 13b writing upon ceremonial uncleanliness (niddah) of masturbation makes reference to ‘playing with children’ (an apparent euphemism for paedophilia or pederasty) and associates it with homosexuality/ these verses. Further jewish commentaries make references to catamites, or philerasts. Martin Luther in his 1534 Lutherbibel interprets these verses as such:

    Lev 18:22 ‘You shall not lie with a boy as with woman; for it is an abomination’
    Lev 20:13 ‘If anyone sleeps with a boy as with a woman, they have done an abomination and both shall die to death. their blood shall be upon them’

    Clearly these verses were not referring to acts between two men in light of this

    I shall now address Romans 1:26-27 with reference to its broader context. Romans 1:23 quite clearly refers to rejection of God in favour of worshipping physical false idols of fake gods in the form of men and animals. Romans 1:24 makes reference to sex acts of worship to these false gods. probably also referring to temple prostitution. Romans 1:25 makes further reference to this pagan idolatry and the sex acts in the worship of these false gods. Romans 1:26 makes reference to the act being unnatural (para physin) similarly in 1:27 uses physiken with reference to the men going against nature for each other.

    It is clear from the linguistic context here that Paul was only condemning homosexual acts committed in the context of idolatry, sex worship acts and temple prostitution, rather than homosexual acts in general. Homosexuality is something found in multiple animal species and something proven to be biologically caused in humans, so seeing as we know God does not lie or make claims in His book that are untrue (Titus 1:2) amongst other verses, the only logical interpretation of these verses is that Paul is only condemning homosexual acts in a specific idolatrous sexual context, rather than in general. This is further backed up by the fact Paul does not use the greek word Porneia in romans chapter one, the word usually used by him throughout the new testament to identify sexual sins. This would seem to imply that Paul did not think the actions as outlined in 1:26-27 were distinct sexual sins in their own right separated from their context of idolatry and sexual worship. Nor does Paul use any of the already existing greek words for homosexual acts in general here

    The potential counter argument that all the following sins listed after 1:28 must also be permissible outside the context of idolatry if we take this as a view is soundly refutated by the fact that the references to what is natural/unnatural only appear in verses 1:26-27. This isn’t just modern queer revisionism either, this is the interpretation early christians took regarding these verses. In Pelagius’ Commentary on Romans 1:23-24 he makes reference to ritualised sex acts and connects it to the worship of Zeus/ Jupiter. He also clarifies that the reference to ‘lusts of their hearts to impurity’ refers to ‘the filthy rites of idols.’ Athanasius in Contra Gentes (335-337 CE) links Romans 1:26-27 to temple prostitution of both women and men performing unnatural sexual acts with other men to appease the various goddess cults. This passage also makes reference to the self castration of the galli priests that Paul makes reference to in scripture, this is likely what he was referring to in 1:27 (receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.) Other early Christians also link homosexual acts to idol worship and prostitution; Second century apocalpyse of peter describes punishment for both men and woman who have sex with men in the context of idol worship: These are the worshippers of idols, these are they which have cut their flesh as apostles of a man and the women who were with them, and thus are the men who defiled themselves with one another in the fashion of women, all idols, the works of mens hands and what resembles images of cats and lions, of reptiles and wild beasts, and the men and women who manufactured the images shall be in chains of fire.’

    There is more I could say here but I think you get the idea.
    Just food for thought

    • Peter Goeman

      Jennifer,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. If you are interested, I’d be happy to send you my dissertation which deals with most of the points you made. Although it is a little Hebrew intensive in Chapter 2, most of the dissertation is understandable in broad sense showing the connections. I deal specifically with Lev 18:22 and 20:13 and show their relationship to 1 Cor 6:9-11 and Rom 1:23-27 in the NT. Many scholars are supportive of the view that Paul coins the term arsenokoitai from the LXX, and the simple reason Paul would use that term rather than other Greco-Roman terms is that Paul is a Jew and he is drawing specific attention to the standard of morality that God revealed in Leviticus (Leviticus is alluded to many times in 1 Corinthians–he is clearly dependent upon it).

      In any case, appreciate the comment, and if you are interested in seeing some academically peer-reviewed arguments in support of the above post happy to send you my dissertation. I value the fact you spent some considerable time formulating your comment. Would be happy to interact more in the future.

      Peter

  • Pastor James Jones

    As I am a minister and want to answer this question in my mind I thank you foe the work you have done. Religion is for ALL that are willing to believe in HIM and obey Him. Praise the Lord and Glory be To God. I have aske Him to to answer this question for me and He has.

  • Joyce

    The best explanation I have ever read on this issue. It is very much needed in today’s society since it has been embraced and made “legal” in many places. God bless you. Thank you very much.

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