© Paul K. Davis 2006. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
May 28, 2006

In the play "Fiddler on the Roof" the character Tevye frequently goes on: "As it says in the good book ... blah blah blah." At one point he comments, "As it says in the good book, when a poor man eats a chicken, one or the other of them is sick." Finally one of the other characters, Mordke, calls him on this, responding, "Where in the Bible does it say that?"

I decided to ask myself the question, "Where in the Bible does it say that homosexuality is a sin?" I consider this investigation important, not because I believe the Bible is the final answer, but partly because I have a lot of respect for the Bible, and partly because, as a scientist, I know the importance of critically examining whatever evidence is brought forth. This presentation is an account of my results and a comparison with Tevye's response to Mordke.

Biblical passages which refer to homosexuality, or which have been thought to refer to homosexuality, fall into three categories: first, the account of, and references to, Sodom and Gomorrah; second the "Holiness Code" prohibitions; and third, statements by Paul the Apostle in his epistles. I studied each of these, though the New Testament was outside the scope of this year's Adult Education class on the Old Testament.

Sodom and Gomorrah

The primary account of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and their destruction, is in Genesis, chapter 19, verses 1 to 25. The Bible clearly says that Sodom and the other cities were destroyed for their sins, but years ago I noticed, as I assume many others have, that the Bible is quite vague about what the sins were. In fact, the implication is that there was no one single sin that stood out.

The notion that homosexuality was the primary sin is apparently based on the demand, by the citizens of Sodom, that Lot, Abraham's nephew, turn his visitors over to them, so that they might "know" them. The Hebrew word translated "know" is sometimes a euphemism for sex, but not always. It can also have its ordinary meaning. It is "yada`" (pardon my untaught Hebrew pronunciation). It is spelled yowd-daleth-`ayin. It is Hebrew word number 3045 in Strong's system, which indexes the entire Bible. It is translated "know" or "knew" 39 times in Genesis, of which only 4 have a clearly sexual meaning.

In any event, even if the intent was a homosexual act, it was clearly against the will of Lot's visitors, and thus would have constituted rape. The sinfulness of rape is an entirely different matter from the question of the sinfulness of consentual sexual acitivity, whether hetero- or homo-sexual.

In fact, I am inclined to believe that the actual reason for the citizens demanding the visitors was for human sacrifice. This is in keeping with the archeological evidence of practices in this area at this time, is in parallel with such Greek accounts as that found in "Iphigenia in Taurus," and fits the Biblical context of God substituting a ram for the initially intended sacrifice of Isaac.

Now, since the people of Sodom are not, in fact, accused of what is now called "sodomy", all the other references in the Bible to Sodom, and to "sodomites", do not constitute criticisms of homosexuality.

Holiness Code

The relevant clauses in the "Holiness Code" are in Leviticus, chapter 18 verse 22 and chapter 20 verse 13. These verses say, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination," and, "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."

Unlike the account of Sodom, these two verses clearly refer to homosexual acts. From reading them it is immediately obvious that they refer only to male homosexual acts, not female, so in any case they are not a general condemnation of homosexuality.

This "Holiness Code" is a collection of comandments incorporated into the Torah, like the "Ten Commandments," the Kosher rules, and many others. The Holiness Code is pretty much the strictest. Another of its provisions, in Leviticus, chapter 20 verse 9, is, "For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him." While I am not in favor of cursing your parents, I find it curious that among people these days who profess to follow the Bible, the campaign against cursing of parents has so few adherents compared to the campaign against homosexuality.

Now, stepping forward a little bit from the Old Testament class, I note that standard Christian understanding of the many detailed "laws" in the Torah is that they apply only to Jews. This is based on The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 15 verses 22 to 31, in which a general decision is made by the apostles and elders that non-Jewish Christians are not bound by the entire Torah, but required only to abstain from certain specific practices.

This raises an interesting tangential question, namely, why should Jews have more rules than Christians? Isn't morality the same for all people? The beginning of an answer to this is that fundamental morality is the same for all people, but specific rules depend on specific circumstances. Jesus condensed all morality to loving God and loving other people, yet he also gave specific answers when asked questions about specific situations. Our society has codes of ethics for various professions, which are not considered applicable outside those professions. Regardless of one's answer to this question, I find it strange that so many medieval and modern Christians have taken this one law of the Torah, against male homosexuality, so seriously, even while expecting converted Jews to eat pork as a sign of conversion!

Now, back to the decision of the apostles and elders in the book of Acts. The only one of the prohibited practices which is sexual is "fornication." The word translated "fornication" is "porneias" (pardon my untaught Greek pronunciation). This word is spelled pi-omicron-rho-nu-epsilon-iota-alpha-sigma. It is the root from which we derive "pornography." Sources I have consulted offer quite a variety of meanings for this word, but the most common is prostitution, specifically slave prostitution. My dictionary, under "pornography", explains the root "porne" as meaning "harlot." Furthermore, my dictionary derives "fornication" from the Latin root "fornix" meaning "brothel," and I know that the ancient brothels were stocked with enslaved women. Within my own standards I would consider intercourse with a slave to constitute rape, and I agree that this is a sin, and ought to be actively opposed.

My point, however, is that no prohibition on homosexuality is in the earliest Christian statement of universal morality.

Paul's Epistles

The relevant statements by Paul the Apostle are in Romans, chapter 1 verses 26 to 27; First Corinthians, chapter 6 verse 9; and in First Timothy, chapter 1 verse 10.

I won't pursue these in as much detail, as the class subject was the Old Testament, but I have covered these in more detail in my essay distributed to the students in the class.

Briefly, I believe each of these three passages is a more detailed explanation of the list from the book of Acts. I consulted the original Greek, and formed the conclusion that the King James translation is very poor in these passages. I do believe Paul refers to male homosexual acts. I do not believe he condems them across the board.

His word for homosexual is a rare word, which perhaps he invented for the purpose. It is "arsenokoitai." I believe Paul, fluent in Greek unlike the disciples, realized that the word "pornoi" means specifically a female slave, and he wished to make it clear that sexual abuse of a male slave was also wrong. Paul's fullest list, in First Timothy, is I believe best interpreted as condemning use of female sex slaves, child molestation, use of male sex slaves, and kidnapping.


Now, back to Tevye and Mordke. After Mordke asks, "Where does it say that in the Bible?" Tevye hems and haws for a few moments, and then says, "Well, I'm sure somewhere in the Bible it says something about a chicken."

I also found that somewhere in the Bible it does say something about homosexuality, but not what people claim.

I also conclude that, when considering the Bible, or anything that people are citing as evidence, check it out to find out what it actually says, find out what the context is, both within the source, and the cultural context, and beware of differing and shifting meanings of words: be a Mordke.

Copies of this talk, and of my more detailed essay, are available on request.

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