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Has 'Homosexual' Always Been in the Bible?

A great article came out recently asking whether the word 'homosexual' has always been in our Bibles. You can read it here. It’s a great article and well worth your time however, I think it may be a little more complicated than first glance.

The word "homosexual" doesn't enter the conversation until the 19th century in Germany and isn't used regularly until the 20th century in English. Before that, homosexuality wasn't considered part of someone's identity simply, a thing one might do. Which is why it doesn't enter the translations until around that time. Instead "boy molester" was probably considered a more pressing "sin" culturally to fit the term arsenekotais which is literally "man-bed". Naomi Klein recently stepped into a strangely similar debate about Victorian-era justice. She identified rulings where it appeared that homosexual men had been put to death, but upon further research by others, it appears that what we are reading as homosexual was probably understood to mean boy-molesting in a culture where homosexual identity was not properly recognized. It also appears these men were not actually executed. All that to say that for a long period "boy-molester" was probably the normative understanding of words we would now translate homosexual.

However, that does not mean that would have been the normative understanding in the ancient world.

The Levitical passages are definitely not talking about "boy-molesters" because the Hebrew is more definitively dealing with two "men". I find it much more likely that Leviticus was concerned with preserving the active male role in sex in a patriarchal society. So it's likely that the dominant cultural NT translation was simply read back onto the Hebrew during the periods cited in the article.

Paul, on the other hand, had language that would have directly described pederasty available to him and so his use of arsenekotais is difficult. My guess is that he is using the word to combine the Grecko-Roman practises around him and the Levitical framework he was undoubtedly shaped by, to refer to all of the homosexuality activity he imagined, which would have been dominated by pederasty, but perhaps not alone.

So, what do we do if Leviticus is concerned with preserving the active male role in sex and Paul is condemning all homosexual activity he observes in his culture?

Well, rather than trying to fit biblical texts into modern constructs another approach is to understand the culturally bound interpretations of specific actions present in the text but at the same time look to the overarching trajectory that defines the biblical narrative to guide us as we continue to read Scripture in an evolving cultural landscape. I would argue that this narrative is one that leads to more openness, more inclusion and more understanding of the ways culture impacts and shapes us, including our sexuality.

In other words, this article probably has more to say about translation in the 1600-1900 era than it does about ancient meanings and yet, this in itself, is a good reminder that we can't outsource meaning to a translator. We all have to internalize the story of Jesus and then determine how best to live that ethic as we face new moments and constructs.

Christianity doesn't worship a fixed textual tradition it worships a living word, the Christ, who still guides us to love and include and expand our horizons today.

Confession for Protestants

Adversary: An Introduction to René Girard 4