A Letter to Louise, Part 5

Read the rest of the series


In the New Testament there are three passages to consider.

Romans 1:21, 26, 27

Revised Standard Version

21 for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him…

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men…

The King James and New International versions say virtually the same thing.

Romans 1:26 and 27 clearly speak of same-gender sex by both men and women, the only passage in the New Testament that does so. Rom. 1:18-32 speaks of Gentiles (heterosexuals) who could and should have known and served and given thanks to God but would not, so God gave them up and let them do whatever they wanted to do, and that resulted in degrading and shameful acts, including same-gender sex. It is almost a moot point, but Paul is not listing sins for which God will condemn anyone, he is listing sins that occur because people have forsaken Him. These are acts committed by those who have turned away from God and so become “consumed with passion.” All of us recognize that those who forsake God and give themselves over to lustful living — homosexual or heterosexual — stand condemned by the Bible. This passage is talking about people who chose to forsake God.

Conservative theologian Richard Hays says, “No direct appeal to Romans 1 as a source of rules about sexual conduct is possible.”B-6

I Corinthians 6:9

King James Version:

9…Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate [malakoi], nor abusers of themselves with mankind [arsenokoitai], 10 Nor thieves…, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

New International Version

9…Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes [malakoi] nor homosexual offenders [arsenokoitai] 10 nor thieves…will inherit the kingdom of God.

Revised Standard Version — 1952 edition:

9…Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals [malakoi and arsenokoitai], 10 nor thieves…, will inherit the kingdom of God.

Revised Standard Version — 1971 edition:

9…Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts [malakoi and arsenokoitai], 10 nor thieves…, will inherit the kingdom of God.

A comparison of how the two Greek words are translated in the different versions shows that translations often, unfortunately, become the interpretations of the translators. In I Cor. 6:9 Paul lists the types of persons who will be excluded from the kingdom of God and for some he uses the Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai. KJ translates the first “effeminate,” a word that has no necessary connection with homosexuals. The NIV translates the first “male prostitutes” and the second, “homosexual offenders”. The RSV in its first edition of 1952 translated both words by the single term, “homosexuals”. In the revised RSV of 1971, the translation “homosexuals” is discarded and the two Greek words are translated as “sexual perverts”; obviously the translators had concluded the earlier translation was not supportable.

Malakoi literally means “soft” and is translated that way by both KJ and RSV in Matt. 11:8 and Luke 7:25. When it is used in moral contexts in Greek writings it has the meaning of morally weak; a related word, malakia, when used in moral contexts, means dissolute and occasionally refers to sexual activity but never to homosexual acts. There are at least five Greek words that specifically mean people who practice same-gender sex. Unquestionably, if Paul had meant such people, he would not have used a word that is never used to mean that in Greek writings when he had other words that were clear in that meaning. He must have meant what the word commonly means in moral contexts, “morally weak.” There is no justification, most scholars agree, for translating it “homosexuals.”

Arsenokoitai, is not found in any extant Greek writings until the second century when it apparently means “pederast”, a corrupter of boys, and the sixth century when it is used for husbands practicing anal intercourse with their wives. Again, if Paul meant people practicing same-gender sex, why didn’t he use one of the common words? Some scholars think probably the second century use might come closest to Paul’s intention. If so, there is no justification for translating the word as “homosexuals.” Other scholars see a connection with Greek words used to refer to same-gender sex in Leviticus. If so, it is speaking of heterosexuals given to such lust they turn to such acts.

Richard Hays tells us, “I Corinthians 6:9-11 states no rule to govern the conduct of Christians.”B-7

One commentator has another reason for rejecting the NIV and original RSV translations, “homosexuals.” Today it could mean that a person who is homosexual in orientation even though “of irreproachable morals, is automatically branded as unrighteous and excluded from the kingdom of God, just as if he were the most depraved of sexual perverts.”B-8

So I Cor. 6:9 says nothing about homosexuality with the possible exception of condemnable pederasty.

I Tim. 1:10

King James Version:

9…the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners,…10…for them that defile themselves with mankind (arsenokoitai)…

Revised Standard Version – both 1952 and 1971 editions:

9…the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for 10 immoral persons, sodomites (arsenokoitai),…

New International Version:

9…the law is not made for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful…10 for adulterers and perverts (arsenokoitai)

Here only the RSV specifically refers to same-gender sex, using the term “sodomites,” which is the translation given in both the Old Testament and New Testament to Hebrew and Greek words for male temple prostitutes. The KJV probably has the same thought. The NIV does not necessarily refer to same-gender sex. Again Paul has used the Greek word arsenokoitai, the word in I Cor. 6:9.

As discussed above, this word would have no reference to homosexuality or homosexual sex in our discussion.

So like the other two New Testament passages, I Tim. 1:10 says nothing about homosexuality or homosexuals and nothing about same-gender sex unless that of temple prostitutes or possibly the molestation of young boys by heterosexuals.

In view of the facts set forth above, we realize there is no moral teaching in the Bible about homosexuality as we know it, including homosexual sex (except possibly pederasty). The Bible cannot be used to condemn as immoral all same-gender sex. It clearly condemns lust, whether homosexual or heterosexual. There is certainly nothing in the Bible about anyone going to hell because he or she is homosexual. All who go to hell will go for the same, one reason: failure to commit their lives in faith to Jesus Christ as their lord and savior.

From a slightly different approach to interpretation, Dr. Robin Scroggs states, “The basic model in today’s Christian homosexual community is so different from the model attacked by the New Testament that the criterion of reasonable similarity of context is not met. The conclusion I have to draw seems inevitable: Biblical judgments against homosexuality are not relevant to today’s debate.”B-9 [Italics his]

Dr. Gomes concludes his discussion of homosexuality and the Bible with these words:

The Biblical writers never contemplated a form of homosexuality in which loving, monogamous, and faithful persons sought to live out the implications of the gospel with as much fidelity to it as any heterosexual believer. All they knew of homosexuality was prostitution, pederasty, lasciviousness, and exploitation. These vices, as we know, are not unknown among heterosexuals, and to define contemporary homosexuals only in these terms is a cultural slander of the highest order, reflecting not so much prejudice, which it surely does, but what the Roman Catholic Church calls “invincible ignorance,” which all of the Christian piety and charity in the world can do little to conceal. The “problem,” of course, is not the Bible, it is the Christians who read it.B-10

APPENDIX C The Three Sins

When we say to homosexuals, “We love the sinner but hate the sin; go clean up your act and then we will welcome you,” what they hear us say is, “you” are sinners and “we” are not. Since we know that everyone is a sinner, what do we mean? “You are great sinners and we are little sinners”? Or possibly, “Well, everyone knows what your great sins are, but ours are hidden from other people”? This is all ridiculous, but isn’t it easy to see why gays and lesbians hate this statement? I believe many of our church members (heterosexuals) honestly think that same-gender sex is a worse sin than any they commit, so much worse that homosexuals cannot be welcomed into our churches, or if welcomed to visit, never affirmed in their homosexuality. Can we be sure that such a judgment of same-gender sex, even that of loving, committed couples, is right?

It seems to me that Ezekiel 16:49 sums up clearly the Bible’s categories of sin. It says, “The sins of Sodom were…” Sodom, destroyed for its sinfulness with fire and brimstone from heaven (Gen. 19:24), is mentioned throughout the Bible as an example of sin at its worst. So Ezekiel’s statement should be most instructive to us. Ezekiel names three types of sin attributable to the people of Sodom.

First named is pride and its companion, haughtiness. We didn’t expect that; this isn’t one of the terrible, unspeakable things that criminals and perverts do. That’s right, Ezekiel first names the sin of the spirit. Now we recall that the sins of the spirit were the sins for which Jesus so condemned the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the “back to the Bible” people of Jesus’ day, organized originally for just that purpose. They went regularly to worship services, they knew their Bible thoroughly and they tithed faithfully; how can fault be found with them? But Jesus knew their pride and hypocrisy and said such was a great sin, so great they could not get into his kingdom because of it. It was their sins of the spirit that condemned these people who otherwise were so exemplary.

The problem about sins of the spirit is that for most of us we are not conscious of them. We go to church and study the Bible and give to the church; we must be pretty good people, But if, like the Pharisees, we are not conscious of our sins of the spirit, then maybe we are like the Pharisees. Religious editor Marv Knox recently wrote that “insidious enemies — such as greed, apathy, self-interest and hate — …threaten us all.”C-1 — all sins of the spirit. And the list could go on. We all know that we are not free of the sins of the spirit. They must be great sins for Jesus to condemn them so – our great sins.

Ezekiel then says that the people of Sodom had been blessed with abundance, but they did not help the poor and needy. This is a sin of omission. Are we guilty? Maybe we are not sure because, as with our sins of the spirit, we are not really conscious of our sins of omission. But shouldn’t we think about how much we have failed to be what God made our potential to be and how much we have left undone and how indifferent we have been to the needs of others when the Lord expected us to help?

I ponder this one sin of omission that Ezekiel speaks of here and have a feeling of great guilt, for both the Old and New Testaments have so very much to say about helping the poor, but my hands have never been dirtied by working with or for the poor, Should most of our church members feel the same way? But partly it’s not their fault; we preachers have not preached and taught about this responsibility God expects us to take. So the sin of us preachers is multiplied in this, our sin of omission. And this is only one sin of omission. When we add all the others…I often think that surely our sins of omission must be our greatest sins. Or do I think that because I am so unconscious of my sins of the spirit? I don’t know, but I am certain that our sins of omission are very great.

Finally Ezekiel says of the people of Sodom that they committed other abominations. These are the sins of commission. These we are more conscious of, but we probably still think that we are such good people, we don’t commit many of them. I read of a woman who said she had not sinned for 43 days. Incredible, almost, that someone could have that concept of what sin is. But then, is that pretty close to the concept of many church members? Why did our Lord give us a model prayer that could be prayed every day and that included “Forgive our sins.”?

If homosexual sex is sin, it is the sin of commission. This was the third sin Ezekiel mentioned. The three sins may not have been given in order of their evil, but wouldn’t you expect him to name the worst first? If they were in such order, then the sin of commission is not as great as the others, and the sexual sin would not be as great as our sins of the spirit and of omission. But whether our sins of commission are small or great, are we not all such great sinners in God’s sight that we cannot possibly point a finger at anyone else and say “Sinner”? Is this why Jesus said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt. 7:1)? When we have done — no, even if we could possibly do — all that Jesus commanded, can we say anything except, “We are unprofitable servants” (Luke 17:10)?

Welcoming gays and lesbians and affirming them in our church fellowship is not going soft on sin. Just the opposite. It is recognizing that we are all such great sinners in God’s sight that we can never judge another’s sins as worse than our sins. If we, sinners as we are, can be part of the fellowship of the church, then homosexuals, if they are considered sinners, can also be part of the fellowship. The criteria for their being welcomed is in their love for the Lord, their desire to worship and serve him and to have fellowship with us.

Philip Yancy in his splendid little book, What’s So Amazing about Grace?, tells of the prostitute who was so sick of her life that she went to a counselor for help. In the course of their session the counselor asked her if she had thought about going to church. She was appalled at the thought. “Of course not,” she said. “I feel bad enough about myself now; how would I feel among those people?” Then Yancy notes that when Jesus was on earth, prostitutes and such sinners were attracted to him. The Pharisees criticized him harshly for that very thing. And Yancy wonders why church people today, Christians who are supposed to be little Christs, repel instead of attract these people. Perhaps our churches are wont to say that we must project an image of what is right and moral in this world. Oh, so we must mean that if Jesus attracted these people, he did not project such an image. We are without defense. Until we become more Christlike, the prostitutes and homosexuals will never want to come to us. Yet, do we not realize that we cannot be less sinful than they? We are in no position to judge them.

Even Richard Hays, a conservative theologian who believes homosexuality itself is sinful, insists that gays and lesbians must be taken in and affirmed by our churches, saying, “Unless we think the church is a community of sinless perfection, we will have to acknowledge that [gays and lesbians] are welcome along with other sinners in the company of those who trust in the God who justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). If they are not welcome, I will have to walk out the door along with them, leaving in the sanctuary only those entitled to cast the first stone.”C-2

Louise, how can we sinners, we great sinners, say anything to gays or lesbians or anybody who wants to worship and work with us except, “You say you love the Lord and want to serve him. We do, too. Come be a part of our fellowship of worship and study and work. We are all such sinners in God’s sight we need one another and we can help and support one another. We are not here to judge one another’s sins; we are here to love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ as we make our Christian pilgrimage.”

References and Bibliography


The author holds the Copyright to A Letter to Louise. Louise has given her permission for this Letter to be disseminated. She and the author hope the Letter will be read and be helpful to many, and permission is granted for noncommercial use to any individual or group if the following conditions are met:

If quoted in print or electronic form, the quote should cite this web site for the reader’s reference.

If reproduced in any form it should be reproduced in its entirety and without any undocumented additions or deletions to the text. Clearly identified editorial commentary attributed to the author of the commentary are excepted and are allowed. Reproductions should also cite this web site for the reader’s reference.

Non-commercial use in this context allows individuals, groups, non-profit and for-profit organizations to produce copies of A Letter to Louise, on paper or any other storage media, and to charge a fee for the copies in order to recover the cost of materials used for reproduction and for the cost of shipping.

© Bruce W. Lowe, 2001