Countering the Clobber Texts


The Magisterium of the Church warns strongly against Biblical fundamentalism, against cherry-picking isolated texts to prove a point.  Still, opponents of sme sex relationships constantly do just that, constantly quoting a handful of texts against us.  Oddly, this very small collection of texts is used so often that there is a widespread perception that Scripture is strongly against homosexuality.  This is simply not so.

Old Testament

There are only three specific verses in the Hebrew Bible that are quoted in direct opposition:  the story of Sodom  & Gomorrah, and two related verses in Leviticus.  the story of Sodom has nothing at all to do with homosexual relationships (even the word “Sodomy” did not have its current meaning until quite late in history).

The verses from Leviticus were not about moral evils, but about Jewish purity laws, comparable to the the requirement of circumcision, and the well known restrictions on diet, shaving one’s beard, sexual intercourse during the wife’s period, or wearing clothing of different fibres.  (This is made clear by reading the surrounding verses).  The New Testament makes it clear that the purity laws simply do not apply to non-Jews.

New Testament

First, consider the context:

The New Testment was written in Greek, as the lingua franca for the Graeco-Roman world at the time, and was written primarily for a non-Jewish audience.  Throughout this territory, Greesks, Romans and many local cultures treated sexual relations between men as commonplace.   In these societies, the gender of one’s partners was of little significance beyond personal preference.    Indeed, many men had two regular partners – a wife for childbearing and housekeeping, and a male friend for sexual pleasure, companionship and conversation. Male prostitution was legal and widespread, and even found sponsorship in many religions as temple prostitutes.  The moral siginificance of sexual partenrs had n othing to do wiht gender, but much more to do with social status.  Male citizens were regarded as superior, and entitled to use lower status persons (their wives and male or female slaves) more or less as they pleased.  Lower status persons were expected to submit as a matter of course.  Because the passive role in intercourse was seen as appropriate for women or slaves, male citizens were expected to take the active part, slaves were not expected to penetrate male citizens.

The Texts:

Against this context, it is astonishing that there are just three texts in the New Testament, and noe at all in the Gospels, which even appear to refer to same sex relationships.   This is hardly a sign of Scripture being “strongly and clearly opposed” to homosexual relationships.  If, as claimed, these relationships were indeed seen as sinful or morally suspect, they would certainly have received much more attention from the  writers of Scripture.

Even so, just these three texts are of dubious relevance.  Two may have been subject to mistranslation or misinterpretation, referrring to temple prostitutes and to a general moral laxity (or ‘softness’) rather than to ‘homosexuality’ as we know it.  The third, from Romans, is the one most directly relevant, referrring to “unnatural” relations between men.  But for many people, same sex relationships are entirly natural, and heterosexual relationships unnatural.  Some people would argue that for these people with innate same sex orientation, it is not same sex activities that are sinful but opposite sex relationships, as these are the “unnatural” ones for them.  (At least one modern translation takes this approach in a footnote.)

Conclusion:

In all of the Old Testament, there is nothing against same sex relationships which is applicable to non-Jews.  In the New Testament, in spite of a culture among its intended audience for which same sex relationships were widspread, there are no words spoken by Christ himself, and none by the four evangelists, that mention the subject.  There are instead jsut three verses, all from the Pauline letters, which even mention it, and these are viewed by many modern scholars as of dubious relevance.  This is hardly the strong scriptural condemnation our opponenets proclaim.

Supporting Texts.

On the contrary, there is much is Scripture that directly opposes the condemnation we receive, and indeed is supportive of us.  These themes I address elsewhere.

Further Reading

Daniel Helminiak, a theologian who has himself written a well-known book on the topic, has a useful descrption on his home page of how  he came to write it.  In telling the story, he describes how his earliest influences in the field were the books by John McNeill (The Church and the Homosexual (1976),  John Boswell (Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (1980), and L William Countryman (Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and their Implications for Today (1988).  Many would agree that these, together with Helminiak’s own “What the Bible really says about Homosexuality” remain the seminal works in this rapidly developing field.

For a shorter and simpler introduction to the topic, see The Bible, the Church and Homosexuality.

For more extended treatments, see also Gareth Moore, OP, A Question of Truth

(For detailed information on these books, and others that are relevant see my book pages)

For on-line information, there are many available sources:

The LGBT Catholic Handbook has usefully bundled together a collection of articles.

The same source also has detailed sources for specific verses:

Genesis 19:  The Story of Sodom
Leviticus 18:22
I Corinthians 6:9-10  & I Timothy I:8-10
I Romans

The text from Romans is the most troublesome.  More extended discussion is available about the analysis of John Boswell.

One Response to “Countering the Clobber Texts”

  1. Excluded From God’s People: The Problem with “Homosexualitatis Problema” « The Open Tabernacle: Here Comes Everybody Says:

    […] – but it is identified elsewhere,  and it is not “homosexuality”.  (See “Countering the Clobber Texts” for more on the real sin of […]


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