Theology changes its mind (part 6)

So what about Paul?

If anyone wants proof that homosexuality is wrong from the New Testament point of view usually quote St Paul. Just three short passages:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable 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 1:24-27

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practise homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

the sexually immoral, men who practise homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 1 Tim 1:10

Starting with the Romans passage, “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator,” (my bold.) It’s all about worship, and St Paul is looking at what we worship.

Today sex is held up by some as something to follow, and sex is good. I would not be the father of three children if I wasn’t. People are interested in sex. Sex sells, if you want to sell something to men use a partly clothed woman,and if you want to sell something to women us a partly clothed woman, but use a different pose and lighting. But we can make sex too important, we can idolatrise sex, we can worship sex. We can put sex in the place of God.

Which is exactly what Paul does here, he accuses the pagans with their temple prostitution of putting sex as a thing to be worshipped. It’s a thing of degrees. You can see it today in people who use porn getting bored and going for harder and harder porn. The simply erotic will no longer do.Putting sex in God’s place leads to more perverse and less loving sex. Gay or straight sex as an object of worship is wrong. In fact anything being worshipped in the place of God is wrong.

That leaves two verses, to look at and my tour of homosexuality and the Bible is over. The hardest until last.

That the verses from 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy use the word homosexual in the version used (ESV) is a problem, as a term used to describe sexual orientation was not used until the late 19th century (at first in German, later in English). Before then there was only language about the behaviour. To translate using a term homosexuality that did not exist at the time and then having to qualify this by putting the phrase men who practice in front of it seems to be a clumsy way of translating to me and opens up possible misinterpretation. But at least it is closer to the original than translating to homosexuals, because it is not the orientation but the practice that is being spoken about. Defining people by their sexual orienttion was still many centuries away when the Bible was written and compiled.

The Greek word Paul used in both 1 Timothy 1:10 and 1 Corinthians 6:9, ἀρσενοκοίταις (arsenokoitais) is found nowhere else in the Bible, which is a problem when it comes to letting the Bible interpret itself. Some think that Paul coined the word himself by putting the Greek words ἄρσενος (arsenos) and κοίτην (koiten) together. Arsenos meaning men and koiten, bedded. Simply putting the two together gives us men who sleep with men.

If only linguistics was that simple. If only you could understand words by splitting them.  So in English understand would mean stand under and in French Chat (cat) and eau (water) – Chateau must mean cat’s water. On the other hand there’s nothing to say that the meaning of the word is not the one from putting two words together.

So there is no prior history of the word, and no other usage in the Bible, so it could help if we looked at how people used the word after Paul. The Acts of Paul (2nd Century) and the Sibylline Oracles (3rd or 4th Century) have the word in a list of sins relating to economics. In the 6th century the Patriarch of Constantinople used Arsenokoites in a sentence where if the word was about homosexuality would mean men comitting homosexuality with their wives. Shortly before the reformation the word was used to refer to masturbation The word has a long and varied history. But what Paul meant by it is not clear.

It isn’t that simple. Which is why condemning homosexual activity from the Bible isn’t that simple either. Trying to find the meaning of the original text to the people it was written to without interpreting in the light of modern concepts which were not understood when the Bible was written is not simple either.


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