Studies in the
on this page...
1. Sdom &
2. Sodom in Jesus'
3. Jude 7: Sodom
5. Lev 18:22; 20:13
6. "Male-bed(s)" in
vice lists - I Cor 6:9;
I Tim 1:10
7. Rom 1:16-27 A
Pretext out of
VIOLENCE TO THE BIBLE? OR INSPIRED BY THE BIBLE?
by Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Hanks
Introduction: Homophobia as Murder
Her officials are roaring lions,
her rulers are evening wolves that leave nothing for the morning....
Her priests...do violence to the law.
The Liberator within is just and does no wrong.
Every morning this Sovereign dispenses justice,
each dawn without fail....
Scriptures that they actually suffered "violence"! Bringing the tradition of the Spanish Inquisition to
the New World, when Balboa came to Panama and found 40 transvestites amongst the indigenous
population, he promptly had them killed by feeding them to his dogs. Early in the Nazi reign of terror
(1934) Hitler first executed military leaders accused of homosexuality. Later he had tens of
thousands of civilian homosexuals imprisoned (along with Jews and other scape-goated minority
groups), forced to wear a pink triangle, and finally killed. Were these examples of violence inspired
by the Bible--or rather a result of the kind of violence done to the Bible by homophobic official
Seven Case Studies in the Torture of Texts
1. Genesis 19:1-25. Sodom and Gomorrah.
Historically, the Bible text most often cited to justify gay-bashing has been the Genesis
narrative about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Especially since the 12th century
(which witnessed a veritable explosion of anti-semitism and homophobia in Europe; Boswell
1980), clerics commonly have resorted to harrangues in which "sodomy" has been defined as
anal sex between males, denounced as the sin most abominable to God, and set forth as the
explanation for the destruction of the two pagan cities. Late medieval burning of "faggots," and
the death penalty prescribed for "sodomy" in Europe and the Americas were easily justified by
the appeal to Genesis 19. Still today, "evangelists" plea (for funds) to save the nation from the
1.1 Here's how the story begins: "The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening...." (Gen. 19:
1). Not a word is said about sexual relations between human beings. Rather we read how
certain men attempted to rape (anal sex) angels! If that is what all our "anti-sodomy" laws had
sought to kill and imprison people for, no one would ever have been convicted (unless they
actually had managed to rape an angel!).
1.2 Second, the story proceeds to tell how all the men of sodom (not just 1 or 10%) made a
determined attempt to rape the angel visitors (Genesis 19:4-11). This was not a proposal for a
loving consensual relationship, but the violence of a mob intent on gang rape and humiliation
of unwelcome foreigners. That in this narrative God harshly judges the attempt of gang rape
against angelic messengers hardly provides any rational basis for condemning same-sex
relations between adult humans that are consensual and loving. We might compare the case
of King David, whom the prophet Nathan rebuked for his adultery with Bathsheba and murder
of her husband (2 Samuel 12). To read into that text the notion that God condemns all
"heterosexuality" would do violence to the Scriptures. Yet that is precisely the kind of text-
torturing that official interpreters have perpetrated for centuries in the case of the Sodom
1.3 What is obvious from a careful reading of Genesis 19 is easily confirmed by looking up the
48 Bible references to Sodom: Sodom is condemned for violence and "oppression" (which
included what we could call "rape"), refusal of hospitality, and failure to show solidarity with the
weak and poor (Ezekiel 16:46-49)--but never for "homosexuality" nor any ancient linguistic
approximation. The Bible never speaks of "sodomy" (a linguistic invention of the monk, Peter
Damian, 1007-72 AD), since in the Bible Sodom is only a place name, never a sin (Mark
Jordan, 1997). Only in the inter-testamental apocryphal literature did Jewish writers begin to
use the Sodom story to condemn certain kinds of same-sex genital behavior common in the
Greco-Roman culture of their overlords. Significantly, Jesus rejected these "homophobic and
xenophobic" interpretations so popular with his fellow Jews, and returned to the original
meaning of the story as a warning against cruel refusal of hospitality (Mt. 10:15; Lk. 10:12).
2. Sodom in Jesus' Teaching (Mt. 10:14-15; Lk. 10:11-12)
declared God's judgment against homosexuals. However, when biblical scholars recognized
that the Genesis story about Sodom had been misinterpreted and that the KJV had
mistranslated five Old Testament texts, a theological crisis surfaced: Jesus not only had
avoided the homophobic mistakes of centuries of Christian scholarship--he had even
anticipated the "modern" perception that the real sin of Sodom was the refusal of hospitality
and the resort to violence against strangers.
provisions for their journey, he concluded (Mt. 10:14-15; compare Lk. 10:11-12):
leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and
Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
God's angel visitors--which Genesis 19 then contrasted with the refusal of hospitality, mob
violence and attempted gang rape on the part of the men of Sodom. Clearly Jesus rejected
the homophobic use of the Sodom story that had become popular in certain Jewish circles of
his time and called his disciples back to the original contextual intent of Genesis 19 as a
condemnation of refusing hospitality to strangers and resorting to violence against them.
into crisis: Jesus promised eternal life to all who believed in him and obeyed his commands--
but (contrast homophobic fellow-Jews of his day!) he spoke not one word against same-
gender sexual acts. Jesus' words, like the scores of other Bible texts on Sodom, had become
part of the arsenal used to promote violence against sexual minorities. But when Biblical
scholars began to rediscover the original meaning of the Sodom story, the main bastion of
purported Biblical support for homophobia was gone. Jesus had not promoted violence
against sexual minorities--his words had been tortured and suffered from the violence of
homophobic official interpreters. And to the great embarrassment of modern evangelical
missionary societies (which commonly require males to be married), it was noted that Jesus
sent out his disciples in same-gender male couples (see also Paul and Timothy, etc.)!
3. Jude 7 (by Jesus' brother): Sodom again.
dimension of Genesis 19. At first glance, this emphasis might appear to contradict Jesus' own
focus on Sodom's refusal to be hospitable to homeless travelers:
immorality (Greek: ekpornesasai), and going after flesh different (Greek: sarks hetras)."
Remarkably, Jude here employs the very Greek word (hetras) from which we get the word
"heterosexual"--one whose sexual orientation results in a preference for the "other" sex, the
"different" gender. Scholars agree that Jude's reference to "flesh" that is "different" signifies
precisely the flesh of the (non-human) angels in Genesis 19, interpreted in relation to Genesis
6:1-4, where angels ("Sons of God") are said to have had sexual relations with women (see
Jude 6). Thus the HarperCollins Study Bible note explains: "The Sodomites attempted sexual
relations with angels" and the footnote to Jude 7 indicates that the Greek literally reads "went
after other flesh." Similar linguistic data and interpretation are given in the Roman Catholic
Jerusalem Bible (see details in recent commentaries).
condemnation of "homosexuality"--although one might misinterpret the Greek in a comic
literalistic fashion and suppose that a condemnation of "heterosexuality" is implied. But have
our official interpreters fairly translated the text--or tortured it and done violence to it?
Shockingly, the most recent scholarly translation represents the worst kind of violence to the
text. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) renders the Greek "sent after other flesh" (its
own note!) as "pursued unnatural lust"! And the New International Version translates the key
Paul speaks about gentile sexual uncleanness that is "unnatural" or "against nature" (see
below on Romans 1). The NIV may be influenced by antiquated Freudian notions of
homosexuality as a kind of "perversion" of original heterosexual desires (assumed to be
universal). Surprisingly, the old King James version, without the help of modern Greek
scholarship and Freudian psychology, did much better, rendering the key phrase in Jude by
"strange flesh"! Obviously, in Jude 7, as in Genesis 19, the reference to Sodom and the
males' attempted gang rape of angels provides no basis for promoting prison sentences or
mob violence against homosexuales. Here we have another clear case of official interpreters
torturing the text and doing violence to the Bible.
4. Deuteronomy 23:17-18: "Sodomites" in Five Hebrew Scriptures?
more literal rendering of Jude 7, the same cannot be said of five Old Testament texts where in
the KJV the word "sodomite" was used to translate the Hebrew word kadesh (which had
nothing to do with Sodom). Best known and most helpful for understanding the meaning of the
original Hebrew is the text in Deuteronomy 23:17-18 (KJV):
nor a sodomite (kadesh) of the sons of Israel.
Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore (zonah),
not the price (earnings) of a dog,
Into the house of the LORD thy God for any vow:
For even both these are abominations unto the LORD they God.
"holy/consecrated" person (feminine), and then "zonah," here perhaps synonymous, but
generally any kind of female prostitute. The Hebrew word the KJV mistakenly translated
"sodomite," really has nothing to do with the city Sodom, but is simply the masculine form
(kadesh) for the corresponding male cult prostitute (literally, "holy/consecrated" person).
Most often cultic prostitutes served members of the opposite sex (in pagan rites believed to
promote fertility); certainly nothing in the text would indicate the author is thinking exclusively
or even primarily of same-sex genital activity. However, the KJV's utterly unwarranted
introduction of "sodomite" to translate the Hebrew reference to a "temple prostitute" prompted
four centuries of English-speaking Christians to think that Deuteronomy was condeming all
same-gender male sexual activity.
(1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7). Modern translations correct this error and
render the Hebrew kadesh as "temple prostitute" (see NIV; NRSV). However, for four
centuries many readers of the KJV believed that Deuteronomy's Law gave them grounds for
persecuting, torturing and killing those they called "sodomites." In the 19th century kindlier
forces from the Enlightenment struggled to reduce the punishment to lengthy prison
sentences. But had Deuteronomy itself inspired all this violence? Or had the texts been
tortured by translators and official interpreters who imposed their own hatred and homophobia
on the Bible?
5. Leviticus 18:22; 20:13. Bring back the Death Penalty?
Leviticus 20:13 might appear to be guilty:
abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them (Lev. 20:
goes far beyond any hostile, homophobic attitudes reflected in other ancient cultures.
Christian interpreters commonly dismiss such texts in Leviticus as one of the barbaric portions
of the Old Testament that are simply best ignored. Even orthodox Jews must read through 10
chapters of Leviticus (detailed instructions for animal sacrifices and priestly vestments) before
they find a single verse considered normative today. And Christians will find not a single
provision they consider normative before they reach chapter 18. Many would even wait until
Chapter 19, where the command to love our neighbor occurs--a norm both Jesus and Paul set
forth as of permanent validity (Mk. 12:31; Rom. 13:8-10). Jesus also made the radical Jubilee
Year provisions of Leviticus 25 central to his own sense of mission and purpose (Lk. 4:18-19).
euphemistic, but recent investigations have demonstrated that it refers to (unprotected!) male-
male anal penetration (Saul Olyan 1994; Daniel Boyarin 1995). In the Ancient Near East, to
sexually penetrate another male "like a woman" was a common way to violently humiliate
prisoners of war and strangers (see Sodom). However, it also became a common practice of
prostitutes serving in idolatrous pagan cults (see Dt. 23:17-18 above). Probably the word
"abomination" in each of the Levitical texts points to unsafe, abusive sex acts in the context of
recipe for sterility, not fertility, and priestly sexual instructions in Leviticus commonly seek to
fulfill the command to "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28, from the priestly source "P"). As the
modern tragedy of AIDS has made clear, unprotected male-male anal sex is also medically
dangerous. Priestly authors writing centuries before condoms strongly opposed a male
practice they knew to be commonly violent, unjust, humiliating, idolatrous and always infertile;
unknowingly they also protected Israel from the scourge of many diseases that can be
transmitted by unprotected anal sex.
have tortured and violated the texts? Yes! The most common technique has been to strap the
texts into a kind of time machine, transport them to the 20th century, and force them to try to
answer modern questions about "homosexuality." With this technique interpreters ignore what
the texts sought to say in their original context and try to make them say whatever our culture
dictates: prison sentences for "practicing lesbians," for instance. However these patriarchal
texts speak only about males and say not a word against lesbians or other women engaging in
any same-gender sexual practice. Glibly reading into the texts the modern scientific concept of
sexual orientation and "homosexuality" fails to respect their prescientific character, including
patriarchal assumptions about male superiority and need to maximize population growth.
mutual masturbation, (as well as anal sex with condoms). To grab two verses by the throat,
ignore the immediate context and book in which they occur, and force them to provide
simplistic answers to complex modern questions is to violate both the texts and the ancient
Holiness Code in which they occur. Anyone who cites a text demanding death penalty for
idolatrous Israelite males engaged in anal sex without condoms as support for prison
sentences for modern lesbians is either hypocritical or terribly self-deceived.
6. "Males-bed(s)" in two pauline vice lists (1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10)
with Sodom, including the only text from Jesus himself, only a handful of potential weapons
remained. Clearly, creativity was desperately called for, and in 1946 the translators of the
original Revised Standard Version of the New Testament made their modest contribution.
from two common words (male + bed; Greek: arsenokoitai; cf. the English "chair + man =
chairman). The Greek, however, uses the specific term for males and is plural, so "chair(s)-
males" would be a better analogy. With such a term the etymology could not tell us whether
such males would prefer sitting to walking or standing (lazy), prefer to command others
(bossy) rather than be "facilitators", like to lounge around in chairs with a woman or another
male--or plural "women" or "males"--(sex addicts or promiscuous), or get paid to do so
(prostitutes, with either or both genders).
common euphemism for sexual activity, here with males as the condemed protagonists;
females/lesbians are not the protagonists, but might be the partners of the condemed males.
For further specification we must rely on relevant usage, which is quite limited. Had Paul
preferred clarity and explicitness, common terms were available to him in Greek, so his
creativity and ambiguity may be quite purposeful in the rhetoric of his vice list.
here translated "effeminate." "Bed(s)-males" the KJV translated "abusers of themselves with
mankind," and even into the 20th century theologians (especially Catholic) cited the text to
condemn masturbation (which came to be called "self-abuse"). However, the original Revised
Standard Version (1946) of the New Testament rendered both "soft" and "bed(s)- males" with
the single new scientific term "homosexuals." Of course, by 1946 most doctors and
psychologists had come to recognize masturbation as normal and healthful, while
homosexuality (no longer simply the sin or vice of "sodomy") had come to be viewed as an
illness. Thus suddenly did the Apostle Paul sound more up-to-date than the Kinsey reports
(1948). A hitherto obscure, ignored Cinderella of a text, with the touch of the translators'
magic wand, was suddenly transformed into a prophetic oracle: for countless pious Bible
readers it became obvious that God had inspired Paul with insight into the scientific matters
about sexual orientation that were not clarified to the world in general for 1900 years.
Lesbians commmonly came to be condemned on the basis of the mistranslation
"homosexuals" even though anyone who knew anything about the Greek original knew that
the pauline term specified males and excluded females.
describes some kind of sexual act(s), not "orientations." As a Jew, Paul probably had in mind
the prohibition in Leviticus of (unprotected) male-male anal sex. In later translations,
homophobic creativity responded with a host of alternatives: "practicing homosexuals" (NAB;
but in Paul's context, most engaging in same-sex acts were probably bisexuals and
heterosexuals); "homosexual offenders" (NIV; lesbians had to remind sexist male translators
that women also exist and could be homosexuals, but were not the "bed(s)-males" Paul
referred to). In desperation the New RSV in 1989 backtracked to the point of repeating the old
mistake of the King James mistranslation of Deuteronomy and translated "bed(s)-males" as
"sodomites" (which even the King James translators were wise enough to avoid at this point).
And thus, alas, Paul found himself plucked from the exhilerating peaks of Freudian-Kinseyan
scientific chic ("homosexuals") and plunged back into the netherworld of prescientific,
medieval ignorance ("sodomites").
probably coined the term "bed(s)-males" to refer to older males who took advantage of young
adolescents (paedophiles), or to young male prostitutes (possibly cultic) serving either males
or females. The use of "bed(s)-males" in 1 Tim. 1:10 without the accompanying "soft," made
difficult any precise distinction between penetrator and the one penetrated in anal sex. What
both texts make clear, however, is that the sexual vices in the lists are examples of activities
that are "unjust" or "oppressive," reflecting an abuse of authority or power: some kind of
sexual exploitation, not a consensual relationship of love between equals (Dale Martin 1996).
7. Romans 1:26-27. A Pretext out of Context?
until around 400 A.D. (Clement of Alexandria, Anastasios and Augustine) agreed in
interpreting 1:26 that way. John Chrysostom (344-408) is the first to suggest a reference to
female homoeroticism! Romans 1:27 then refers to (unprotected) male-male anal intercourse
(cf. Lev. above; Miller 1995; 1998).
perspective only as "uncleanness" (making unfit for Temple worship), not as sinful. As he
advances (deconstructs) his argument, Paul shows that from the Christian perspective,
"nothing is unclean in itself....all things are clean" (14:14,20; Greek literally, followed by KJV
and NRSV). The NIV does violence to the text three times: by inserting the word "sinful" in
Romans 1:24 and then twice inserting the word "food" in Romans 14:14,20 (compare "pure" in
deconstruction as the argument of the book advances in the evaluation of practices that are
"against nature." Reading Romans 1:26-27 out of context, one easily leaps to the conclusion
that anything "against nature" must be sinful (a notion common in Jewish and pagan
philosophical thought when Paul wrote). However, in Romans 11 Paul deconstructs this
interpretation, using exactly the same Greek phrase (par phusin, against nature) to insist that
it is God who continually so acts by converting the Gentiles and inserting them "against
nature" into the olive tree (symbol for Israel). Obviously any miracle extolled in Scripture is
"against nature"! The linguistic link between Romans 1:16 and 11:24 is commonly ignored by
homophobic interpreters; and even when noted, they often fail to point out that it is God who
acts against nature in Romans 11:24.
sexual acts as involving social stigma, and loss of honor. However in Romans 3:21-26 Paul
glories in the cross (Gal 6:14), demonstrating that it is precisely in Jesus' crucifixion (the most
shameful experience imaginable) that God accomplished our redemption. Hence Christians
can "boast" (3x: Romans 5:2-3,11) in their salvation accomplished through this shameful act
and maintain a hope that "does not put to shame" (5:5; cf. Hebrews 12:2 which describes
Jesus as "despising the shame" or social stigma of the cross).
and gentile readers) only reaches its point in the call for mutual hospitality and the setting
aside of traditional prejudices: "Accept one another, then, as Christ accepted you, in order to
bring praise to God" (15:7). Sodom-like refusal of hospitality is not to characterize the five
house churches in Rome. Jews were free to maintain their traditional distinctions about
"unclean" gentile practices, but they were not to impose such distinctions on gentile converts.
In Romans 16 Paul's warm greetings to households involving all types of "sexual minority"
living arrangements (only three married couples!) confirms this understanding. Homophobic
interpretation does violence to Paul's liberating gospel by reading 1:26-27 out of context,
mistranslating key related verses, and failing to follow Paul's argument to the end. Properly
interpreted, Romans 1:26 does not refer to lesbian sex, and in 1:27 Paul refers only to
abusive (probably paederastic) unprotected anal sex. He thus transcends the homophobia
common in his cultural context and stands in basic continuity with Jesus, who never spoke
against homosexuals, but supported the poor, the oppressed, the weak, the sexual minorities
and the marginalized of his day.
the millions of Jews killed (probably because Jews were more easily identified), recent studies
contain abundant evidence indicating that sexual minority representatives killed in the last
1000 years may well exceed the six million Jews estimated to have been killed in the
Holocaust. If we could indeed draw a straight line of historical causality from Leviticus to Hitler
(as some claim), few would want to consider the Bible a helpful guide for modern life -- much
less divinely inspired. Above we have outlined an alternative hypothesis: that a few biblical
texts have been arbitrarily selected, violently misinterpreted, and then used as a pretext to
rationalize common human fears and hatreds. A more thorough study of the texts and the
history of their interpretation amply supports the conclusion that the Bible has suffered
repeated violence from offical translators and interpreters. Properly interpreted it provides no
rational basis whatsoever for promoting prejudice and violence against sexual minorities.
Arthur, L. Robert (1994). The Sex Texts: Sexuality, Gender and Relationships in the Bible. P.
O. Box 8291, Omaha, NE 68108.
Boswell, John (1980). Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality. Chicago: University of
Boyarin, Daniel (1995). "Are There Any Jews in 'The History of Sexuality'?", Journal of the
History of Sexuality 5/3:333-355.
Brooten, Bernadette J. (1996). Love Between Women. Chicago: University of Chicago.
Cantarella, Eva (1992/88). Bisexuality in the Ancient World. New Haven: Yale.
Comstock, Gary David (1991). Violence Against Lesbians and Gay Men. New York: Colombia
Countryman, L. William (1988). Dirt, Greed and Sex. Philadelphia: Fortress.
Edwards, George R. (1984). Gay/Lesbian Liberation: A Biblical Perspective. New York: Pilgrim.
Grau, Günter, ed. (1993/95). Hidden Holocaust? Gay and Lesbian Persecution in Germany
1933-45. New York: Cassell.
Hanks, Thomas D. (1997). Are There Clobber Texts in the Bible. St. Louis, MO: OTHER
Helminiak, Daniel A. (1994). What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality.San Francisco:
Herek, Gregory M. and Berrill, Kevin T., editors (1992). Hate Crimes: Confronting Violence
Against Lesbians and Gay Men. London: Sage.
Jordan, Mark D. (1997). The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology. (Chicago: University
Martin, Dale B. (1996). "Arsenokoites and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences", pp. 117-
136 in Biblical Ethics & Homosexuality Robert L. Brawley, ed. (Louisville: Westminster John
Miller, James E. (1995). "The Practices of Romans 1:26: Homosexual or Heterosexual?"
Novum Testamentum 35:1-11.
(1997). "Pederasty and Romans 1:27" JAAR 1997 (in press). (1998). "Romans 1 Revisited"
Nissinen, Martti (1998). Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective. Chicago:
Olyan, Saul M. (1994/97). "'And with a Male You Shall Not Lie the Lying Down of a Woman':
On the Meaning and Significance of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13," Que(e)rying Religion: A
Critical Anthology, Gary David Comstock and Susan E. Henking, eds. (New York: Continuum),
398-414 = Journal of the History of Sexuality 5/2:179-206.
Scroggs, Robin (1983). Homosexuality in the New Testament. Philadelphia: Fortress.
The Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Hanks, copyright 1999
Multicultural Ministries with Sexual Minorities. 319 N. 4th St.,
Suite 902; St. Louis, MO 63102 USA. Fax: (1-314) 241-2403
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