I’d like to briefly deal with the two most often quoted passaged in the New Testament which deal with homosexuality. In listening to various sides on this issue, I realized that there are a lot of folks out there who either don’t understand the truth of what Paul is saying or they have no interest in letting God’s Word transform them. And, Christians, I’m looking at you, here. If an unsaved person entrenched in sin doesn’t at first recognize their sin, that’s completely understandable. A lost person will do what is in their nature. When a blood-washed Christian- someone who has accepted God’s grace- fails to share that grace with others, then something is very wrong. What happened to being fishers of men? To the passages at hand….
“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.”
These verses are often used by Christians in the context of Romans 1 to identify homosexuals as those with “reprobate minds.” The idea of a reprobate mind is that the person with such a mind has “passed the point of no return” and has utterly rejected God to the point that God will no longer persist in offering them salvation. Not only does this view lack a lot of Scriptural support, but it ignores the reality of what many people who experience same-sex attraction say about themselves. Many, many of them say they experienced this aberrant attraction at a very early age. I disagree strongly with the interpretation that Romans 1 means that homosexuals are past saving. The overall context of Romans puts Romans 1 as a general description of humanity apart from God. There is a general cause and effect relationship between rejecting God and the sins which God permits humanity to fall into. Humanity as a whole and perhaps specific cultures will spiral downward, away from admitting the authority of Christ…..unless God intervenes. This is the natural tendency of humanity in general, but it is not the experience of everyone who is not a believer, nor is it the path that every person must take to self-identify as a homosexual.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
“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 practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (ESV)
The ESV takes two terms used to refer to homosexuality in this passage (translated in the KJV as “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind”) and translates them simply as “men who practice homosexuality.” I can only assume the translators chose to do this to avoid explaining the two terms for some reason. I’ll have to say they wimped out on this one.
There are a few issues in this passage:
- Are the people on this list banned from going to Heaven?
- Who are the effeminate and the abusers of themselves with mankind?
- Does this passage deal primarily with cultic practices, or with all homosexual activity?
I would first point out that “inheriting” and “entering” the Kingdom are two different things in many passages of Scripture. One can enter the Kingdom without inheriting it, but one cannot inherit the Kingdom without entering it first. In other words, I do not think that this passage means that those who commit the sins listed are banned from Heaven. We know from other passages that people who commit sin- even violent or blasphemous sin- can be saved, so clearly Paul’s intent is not to list off reasons why some are banned from ever entering Heaven. So who are these people, anyway?
I am very surprised by the number of writings on this subject which make the Greek language behind this passage so ambiguous. It is true that Paul uses a very unusual word here: “Arsenokoitēs”- literally, “[male] intercourse with a male.” Some would limit the word to only temple prostitution, pedophilia, etc. However, if this is all that Paul meant, there are at least three Greek words that he could have chosen from: paiderastes (“lover of boys”- pedophilia), paidophthoros (“warped by boys [prostitutes]”), and kinaidos (“effeminate cross-dresser”.) Instead, Paul chooses two very broad terms for homosexuality in general. So what made him choose these two words?
While he was a Jew, Paul would have been well-versed in the Greek language. The Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) would have been something he knew well and used frequently when speaking with non-Jews. This unique word in Corinthians comes from the Septuagint’s rendering of Leviticus 18:22: (kai meta arsenos ou koimēthēsē koitēn gunaikos. bdelugma gar estin…. “And you shall not have sexual intercourse with a male as with a female. For it is unclean.”). Paul essentially made up his own Greek word to match the Old Testament commandment. Clearly, Paul believed that commandments against sexual sins were still in effect, regardless of whatever else he believed about the Old Testament Law!
The other word used for a homosexual here is “Malakos”, a term used of male prostitutes in the pagan cults, pederasty (you don’t want to know), and the passive member of a homosexual relationship. Just about every Greek lexicon accepts a broad definition of this term. It is translated as “effeminate” in a more classic sense; as in, a male who assumes the role of a female. This term does not refer to a man whose personality or mannerisms could be taken to be feminine. These are sometimes culturally defined rather than God-given. The bottom line is that Paul chose two unique words with very broad meanings to tell us that all homosexuality- whatever form it takes- is against God’s plan. Whether a lifestyle, a form of prostitution, or pedophilia, it is all wrong.
This brings me to the last verse in this passage: “such were some of you.” Change is possible. There is hope. The Bible does not merely condemn, but offers redemption. However strong the emotions, however ingrained the behavior, healing and change can occur. God offers liberty from sinful lifestyles through the blood of Jesus Christ. The Corinthian church had members of its congregation that were former homosexuals, thieves, and drunks. Christian church, where are your converts from all aspects of society? Perhaps we need to start being fishers of men instead of keepers of the aquarium.