By Dr. John Carpenter
Many people still hold the Bible in high esteem. As they should. It is the Word of God. But as the culture war fighting gets heated around the issue of homosexuality, some have tried to disarm what the Bible says on the subject. The routine of many Christians has been simply to quote some pointed Biblical passages about homosexuality, claiming (rightly) that that settled the issue. But there is now an arsenal of arguments by people claiming to be Christians, or scholars, who say the Bible doesn’t really condemn homosexuality; that translations that appear to show the Bible denouncing homosexuality are the product of a “homophobic” culture that distorted what the Bible really said. With claims as to the real meaning of words like “abomination” and “homosexual” in the Bible and the supposed back-ground of ritual shrine-prostitution, many Christians feel disarmed, as if their go-to scriptures have been nullified. The tactic is to so re-interpret passages that they are supposedly no longer relevant to the discussion. Like rendering an enemy’s weapon inoperable, the goal of such people is to nullify scripture.
Nullification Strategy # 1: The Story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) Isn't About Homosexuality
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) has long been read to be about homosexuality. But the scripture nullifier says, “Not so.” It’s either about rape or lack of hospitality. The nullifiers argue that the men of Sodom were seeking rape and therefore it’s not consensual homosexual relations that are being condemned but rape. Others will cite Ezekiel 16:49 which condemns Judah for being like Sodom in its lack of hospitality.
Fact Check: Sodom had already been described as “wicked” (Genesis 13:13) and their sin “very grave” (Genesis 18:20). In Genesis 19 that sin is illustrated for us vividly. in Genesis 19 the men of Sodom ask to “know” Lot’s visitors and “know” is only used in the Bible of consensual sex, never of rape. They only start to get violent after they are told that what they seek – to “know” the men – is “wicked”, just as homosexual advocates today often respond with indignation when they are told their cause is wrong. Further, those pointing to Ezekiel 16:49 to nullify the condemnation of homosexuality need to read the next verse (16:50) which calls their sin an "abomination" and Jude 7 "sexual immorality and perversion."
Nullification Strategy # 2: Calling Homosexuality an "Abomination" in Leviticus is Only Ceremonial
Scripture nullifiers argue that the two passages in Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) that describe homosexuality as an “abomination” either refer only to ritual uncleanness, like that earned through eating shrimp, or are just one of many obscure regulations, like not eating pork, that we don’t pay any attention to.
Fact Check: The word “abomination” is not a narrowly ritualistic word; it’s a generic word for something detestable, abhorrent. It is used generally of the feeling of disgust such as in Job 9:31 where Job laments, “my own clothes will abhor me”. (See Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew lexicon, p. 1073a.) Further, while it’s true that Leviticus has such “ceremonial regulations”, these two passages are not among them. Rather, these they are moral laws. That’s made plain just two verses after calling homosexual activity an “abomination”, God says to Israel, “for by all these things the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity and the land vomited out its inhabitants” (Leviticus 18:24f). In other words, God punished (as in Sodom) even nonbelievers, by the standards of these moral laws (including the prohibition against homosexuality). God considers it to be something everyone should know is wrong.
Nullification Strategy # 3: Jesus Didn’t Mention Homosexuality.
Self-described "red letter" Christians say that if Jesus didn't personally say it, then it's not important or binding on them. So, since Jesus didn't personally condemn homosexuality, the apostles' later condemnation of it isn't applicable totday.
Fact Check: While it is technically true that Jesus didn't mention homosexuality, it is irrelevant. First, Jesus affirmed the entire law which would include the statements on homosexuality. “Until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Mt. 5:17-20). Then He appointed apostles (“sent ones”) to speak for Him, declaring to them, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me” (Mt. 10:40). One of those apostles was Paul. Jesus speaks to us through him.
Nullification Strategy # 4: The Bible Doesn't Actually Mention What We Call "Homosexuality"
The Nullifiers insist that the term translated “homosexuals” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 doesn’t really mean that; it means rapist, or some other such thing.
Fact Check: There are, in fact, two terms used in the original Greek, combined in the ESV to mean “homosexual.” First was malakos (μαλακ?ς) which was the sexual partner of a young man in ancient Rome, a male who submits his body to unnatural lewdness. It is defined by Bauer, Ardnt, and Gingrich, the most respected Greek lexicon, as referring to “men and boys who allow themselves to be misused homosexually” and has listed about eight examples of ancient literature using the term in that sense.
Second is the word arsenokoit?s (?ρσενοκο?ται) which, according to Bauer, Ardnt, and Gingrich, is derived from the Greek translation of the reference to homosexuality in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Literally it means “male-beder” and is defined as a male “who has sexual intercourse with a male". This later word appears again in 1 Timothy 1:9, where it lists homosexuals as not among the righteous but are among the “unholy and profane” who need God’s law to wake them up to the truth that their sin is, indeed, a sin.
Nullification Strategy # 5: The Bible Doesn't Condemn Consensual Homosexual Relationships
The nullifiers claim that consensual homosexual relationships are not being referred to in the passage applied to homosexuality; rather, the Bible is condemning ritual prostitution. Some pagan temples had “shrine prostitutes” who were employed for sexual acts as part of the worship of that pagan god. That, they say, is what is condemned in the Leviticus passages and Romans 1:26-27.
Fact Check: First, there’s simply no reference to ritual prostitution in the Leviticus passages or Romans 1:26-27 (perhaps not in the entire Bible). To assume that such is the back-ground of those passages is only that: an assumption. It must be read into the texts. It is an idea foisted onto the passages to get the result some want: scripture nullification. Second, the result of this nullification strategy is to make the Bible state an absurdity. If, as this strategy states, homosexuality is only sinful if done as part of pagan shrine prostitution, then the same would apply to the other sins listed in the same context. Hence, according to this tactic, sins like adultery, incest, bestiality are also only wrong if done as part of pagan shrine prostitution. It’s nonsensical.
The conclusion is that the Bible plainly condemns homosexuality. But there is hope. Condemnation isn’t the purpose for the Bible or Jesus. Just after telling us that no homosexual will enter God’s Kingdom, the Word of God says, “Such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:10). Notice the past tense. “Were”. Some of God’s people are saved out of the sin of homosexuality. It’s not an iron shackle that hopelessly enslaves you. You were, God says to His church, sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, greedy, drunks, scoffers, swindlers, and even homosexuals. But not anymore! “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.” (1 Cor. 6:11.) You too can be washed, made holy, put in a right relationship with the Father!
John B. Carpenter, Ph.D., is the pastor of Covenant Reformed Baptist Church.