In 2002 the scholarly world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Revised
Standard Version (1952, anticipated by the New Testament publication, introducing the word
“homosexuals” in two texts in 1946). At the same time, the American evangelical world witnessed the
publication of a less homophobic English Standard Version (ESV) and a controversial “dynamic
equivalent” TNIV (Today’s New International Version), cautiously inclusifying the popular NIV. For
those mature enough to recall the incredible outcry vilifying the 1952 RSV (mainly for substituting
“young woman” in place of “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14), the slavish and mindless evangelical imitation of
the RSV’s translation of arsenokoitai by “homosexuals” (finally recognized by Frederick Danker as
erroneous in the latest Greek lexicon, DBAG, University of Chicago) is highly ironic. It would also be
amusing were it not for 50 years history of adolescent suicides and violence against gay men and
lesbians inspired in part by such prejudiced Bible translations. A liturgy mourning their deaths might
be more appropriate than the celebrations we are witnessing.
To begin with the new evangelical ESV (Crossway Bibles, Good News publishers, Wheaton, Ill.,
2002), arsenokoitai (“males-bed”, literally, with “bed” a euphemism for a sexual act) in both 1 Cor 6:9
and 1 Tim 1:10 is rendered:
“men who practice homosexuality”.
Obviously, this corrects the grossly defective RSV at two points by recognizing that the Greek word
refers only to males, not to lesbians, and to a sexual act, not an orientation. The stubborn
anachronistic maintenance of the 19th century neologism “homosexuality” (a concept and term
unknown to Paul) is confusing and regrettable, but at least two of the worst misunderstandings of the
1946 RSV New Testament have been corrected. The ESV footnote goes even further, indicating that
in the case of 1 Cor. 6:9, “The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and
active partners in consensual homosexual acts,” which delicately informs the reader that the
prohibition is limited to male-male anal sex (in an age ignorant of safer sex and condoms). The ESV
qualification of the anal sex as “consensual” is totally gratuitous and has no basis in the Greek, since
in the ancient world the male-male anal sex most commonly practiced was pedophilia, often violent
and abusive (the humiliating penetration of young slaves and prisoners of war; see Robin Scroggs
1984; Hanks 2000; Robert Goss 2002).
In Jude 7, the ESV does not even attain to the accuracy of the King James (“strange flesh”), and
renders the reference to the attempted gang rape of angels in Sodom (Genesis 19) as “unnatural
desire”. However, as the ESV footnote accurately indicates, the Greek speaks literally of “other
flesh” (Greek, heteros, as in heterosexuality), so the importation of the concept of nature and
unnatural desire from Romans 1:26-27 is again totally gratuitous and misleading. The Jerusalem
Bible (Roman Catholic; in French and Spanish, not English) thus remains the only modern
translation that renders sarx heteros accurately. As in several other versions, the JB note properly
explains that the reference is to angel flesh, hardly what a modern reader would understand as
“homosexuality”. The mistaken neoplatonic notion that angels are non-material “spirits” commonly
leads translators and readers to misinterpret Jude 7 (see Jude in Hanks 2000).
In the Hebrew Bible, the ESV corrects the worst error of the sex texts in the King James Version,
replacing the reference to “sodomites” with “cult prostitute”:
None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute and none of the sons of Israel shall be a cult
prostitute. You shall not bring the fee of a prostitute or the wages of a dog into the house of the
LORD your God…. (Deut. 23:17-18).
With this correction in Deuteronomy and similar texts in Kings, plus the common modern recognition
that Genesis 19 condemns an attempted gang rape of angel visitors to Sodom (not the
“homosexuality” of the 19th century, nor the sin of “sodomy” invented in the late middle ages), some
50 of the 56 traditional clobber texts disappear. The ESV’s literal maintenance of “dog” as a
euphemism for male cult prostitute enables the reader to resist David Aune’s error in interpreting
“dog” in Revelation 22:15 as an exclusion of “homosexuals” from the New Jerusalem (see Revelation
in Hanks 2000).
Unfortunately, the TNIV (Today’s International Version, International Bible Society, Colorado
Springs), although superior to the RSV at these points, does not attain to the level of the ESV. In
both 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10 arsenokoitai is rendered “practicing homosexuals”! This translation
thus perpetuates the myth that these texts condemn lesbians, and the condemnation falls upon a
group of persons with a certain sexual orientation. Should a heterosexual or bisexual person commit
such an act, as commonly happens where the aim is violent humiliation, not sexual fulfillment, the
TNIV implies the person would be blameless, since he or she is not of homosexual orientation. On
the other hand, the TNIV dynamic equivalent translation in this case does render the Greek more
literally, since it reflects accurately the fact that in 1 Cor. 6:9 the Greek has two terms, the first of
which (“softies” literally) the TNIV renders “male prostitutes”! To the careful reader this might at least
suggest that the “practicing homosexuals” are diligently practicing their sex with male prostitutes.
More mature readers who no longer feel the need to “practice” and “only give concerts” will thus not
feel threatened by the TNIV.
In Jude 7, instead of the Aristotelian and Thomistic importation of the concept of “natural/unnatural,”
the TNIV imports a mistaken concept of Freudian psychology and categorizes the Greek reference
to “other [angel] flesh” as a “perversion”. This it may well be, but Jesus’ brother had not read Freud.
Sadly, contemporary evangelicals who like to boast of being “conservative” often fail to be so when
such a stance would be accurate and admirable, but rather fall prey to the kind of chic neologisms
they denounce when they clash with hoary prejudice.
While the ESV, and especially the TNIV, fail to progress as far and fast as progressives might wish,
their turtle-like plod toward the sea of truth contrasts dramatically with the disastrous retreat of
Abingdon Press toward the dark fundamentalist forest of total obscurantism. The publication of
Robert Gagnon’s bombshell in 2001 (just in time to negatively affect presbytery votes in our
Presbyterian trench warfare), is now crowned with volume X, the last to be published in the twelve
volume New Interpreter’s Bible (“NIB”; Nashville: Abingdon, 2002). Volume X includes Romans, as
well as 1 Corinthians, and thus takes us beyond problems of translation into the nettle of
hermeneutics. Proper balance requires us to recognize that, except for its ominous tilt toward
homophobia, Abingdon’s New Interpreter’s Bible is an admirable set, erudite and readable,
advancing concerns of Latin America’s liberation theologies for the poor, as well as significant
feminist and womanist contributions.
In 1994 I was amazed to see that NIB I had assigned Leviticus to conservative evangelical Walt
Kaiser, a life-long militant against the documentary hypothesis (JEDP). I could hardly be surprised,
then, that the treatment of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 (p. 1127) was staunchly traditional. (For my
former classmate in Wheaton Graduate School of Theology, 1956-57, Wellhausen has been more
an abomination than homosexuality.)
NIB XII (1998) included the work of Duane Watson on Jude. Since NIB includes the text of both NIV
and NRSV, the reader was given both the rendering of “other flesh” (Greek, Jude 7) by “perversion”
(NIV) and “unnatural lust” (NRSV), corrected with NRSV note b: “Gk went after other flesh”. Watson
properly points out that the sin of Sodom involved inhospitality and attempted rape of visiting two
angels. However, his terminology is sometimes incorrect and confusing, as when he refers to the
“second sin” as “that of homosexual practice and rape” (p. 489). Does anyone ever refer to rape as
“heterosexual practice”? Or David’s “heterosexual practice and adultery”?
In NIB X (2002), Paul Sampley’s contribution on 1 Corinthians provides the least objectionable NIB
treatment of a clobber text (1 Cor. 6:9, pp. 858-859). Basically he views the two terms as referring to
sexual acts that involved abuse and exploitation (see the reference to “oppression” that heads the
list, Hanks 2000). Sampley also refers readers to Victor Paul Furnish’s work for a balanced and
thoughtful treatment of the issue. Personally I prefer to avoid any reference to “homosexual/
homosexuality” in the Bible, since it is grossly anachronistic and confuses readers (especially the
traditional minded who prefer confusion to more light). For the rest, one might disagree with details
of Sampley’s interpretation, but nothing in them smacks of homophobic prejudice.
Alas, the same cannot be said of the contribution on Romans by N. T. Wright, a scholar whose work I
greatly admire. His NIB commentary on Romans is of the highest quality, sadly marred by a couple of
homophobic pages on Romans 1:26-27 (NIB 433, 435), where his only bibliographical references
are to Robert Gagnon’s work and Richard Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament (Harper,
1996). Since I have written repeatedly and extensively on the Romans text (most recently in The
Subversive Gospel, Pilgrim, 2000), I will not rehearse my disagreements with Wright here. My almost
finished review (20 pages) of Robert Gagnon’s work updates a few significant points. Gagnon’s
work, detailed and scholarly (in the area of exegesis, not science), deserves a careful reading and
refutation. Following Gagnon, Tom Wright got it wrong in the NIB: the “God-given male and female
order is being fractured” (p. 435)—Gagnon’s ill-chosen trump card. So Wright’s excellent work on
Romans is best studied for the many other areas where he provides much light.
Information for Denominational Activism
from the Academic World
lll. Clobber Texts Update: Evangelicals Advance, Abingdon Retreats
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