The Kings and the Infidels

solomonstemple

In this modern age, we are flooded with information both true and false, or at the very least biased or unbiased.

I am disheartened to observe that many Christians still do not read the Scriptures thoroughly for themselves to determine if what they are hearing is rooted in truth.  Political decisions which affect entire nations may be based on misunderstood or biased teachings.  But how do we know what the Bible actually means?

In order to determine the true meaning of Biblical passages, one must thoroughly examine them in their entirety, within in the context of verse, chapter, book, Testament, and translation.

There are a number passages of Scripture that are continually presented as proof of God’s disapproval of homosexuality.  One of the more obscure of these passages is 1 Kings 14:24.

“And there were also sodomites in the land: and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the LORD cast out before the children of Israel.”  (KJV)

The Assumption:

Some believers paraphrase this as ‘there were homosexuals in the land.  Homosexuality is an abomination.  (It says so elsewhere in the Bible.)  So God cast them out of Israel.’  The train of thought continues… ‘if God hated homosexuals so much that He cast them out of ancient Israel, shouldn’t we cast them out our society too?’

The Context:

The Old Testament Books of Kings are basically a narrative of sin and retribution.  Along with 1 & 2 Chronicles, these four books contain genealogical tables, details of the division of Israel, and the era from the building of the (First) Temple in Jerusalem to its destruction.  The books list the achievements of each king beginning with David, and describe each ruler’s fidelity or lack thereof to the God of Israel.

King Solomon succeeded his father, David.  Solomon had the Temple built in Jerusalem on Mount Zion to house the Holy of Holies (the Ark of the Covenant) and to be the focal point for worship of the one true God of Israel.  After the dedication of the temple, God appeared to Solomon and promised him that if he lived in God’s presence, kept the statutes and ordinances that God decreed, his father David’s lineage would forevermore continue to be the rulers of Israel.  (1 Kings 9: 4-5, 2 Chronicles 7: 17-18)

God’s Warning:

“But if you turn away and abandon my statutes and my commands that I have given you, and if you walk away to serve other gods and worship them, then I will tear them up by the roots from the ground that I had given them! And as for this Temple that I have set apart for my name, I will throw it out of my sight and make it the butt of jokes and a means of ridicule among people worldwide!” (2 Chron. 7:19-20 ISV, 1 Kings 9: 6-8)

God’s demands are clear and simple: follow Him exclusively and obediently, or the lineage of David would come to an embarrassing end and serve as an example of how He would punish any who abandoned Him to worship other gods.

Lo and behold, Solomon takes many foreign wives who turn his heart to gods other than the God of Israel.  Solomon even went so far as to have temples built to worship these gods.

“The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.  Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD’s command.” 1 Kings 11: 9-10 (NIV)

God Punishes Solomon:

God promised to punish Solomon for breaking his covenant with the Lord, and He does so by depriving Solomon’s son of the kingdom and instead giving all but one tribe to Solomon’s servant Jeroboam.  Thus Israel divides into two kingdoms, the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, ruled by Jeroboam; and the two tribes of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, ruled by Solomon’s son Rehoboam.  Each of these kings faltered in the eyes of God.  Jeroboam made two golden calves for the people to worship out of fear of his people returning to the service of Solomon’s son.  Rehoboam also partook in pagan worship and temple building.  Both kings were impious and in constant warfare.

The theme of infidelity, retribution, and reform continues for generations, through the destruction of the Temple and the Babylonian exile.  Many rulers rededicate themselves to God and each time God delivers them and renews His covenant, always with the same stipulation: do not worship any other gods.

Analysis:

There are multiple references in Kings and Chronicles to the removal of ‘high places’ and poles.  This is in reference to pagan temples and worship practices, including temple prostitutes, which are referred to as sodomites in some translations.  This is the context in which the verse in question appears.

Does Sodomite Mean What I Think It Means?

Not every English Bible uses the word sodomite in this verse.  Whether your Bible uses the word sodomite or not is an incomplete discussion.  We must ask: what is the root word?.

The Hebrew root word is Qadesh or Qadeshah. (1) The definition of the Hebrew word is temple prostitute.  The root word is also found in Job 36:14. No English translation that I have found translates the root word here as sodomite.  Most interpretations decipher the word as temple or shrine prostitute or the unclean in the book of Job.

The root words also appear in Deuteronomy 23:17 and are mostly translated into English as cult prostitute.  It is interesting to note that in this particular verse, the feminine Qadeshah is consistently translated as prostitute, but the male root Qadesh is translated a bit differently as either prostitute or sodomite, depending on which version of the Bible you are reading.

Why would the same root word be translated inconsistently?

Either sodomite is a synonym for temple prostitute  OR

the verse in Deuteronomy is saying ‘there shall be no female prostitutes or gay men among the Israelites’.

Is the second interpretation plausible?

The very next verse (Deuteronomy 23:18) goes on to say that ‘both of these are an abomination to the Lord your God’.   In order for the second translation to be plausible, one would have to accept that heterosexual prostitution is as detestable in God’s eyes as homosexuality.  The homosexual is then no longer the Bible’s vilest offender. This directly contradicts an ideology that would interpret the verse as referring to homosexuals in the first place.  Therefore, it seems more likely that sodomite is indeed a synonym for male temple prostitute.

Other Bible translators interpret the same root word Qadesh as:

  • male shrine prostitutes (NIV, ISV, GWT)
  • male and female shrine prostitutes (NLT)
  • male cult prostitutes (ESV, NASB, HCSB, NET, Jubilee)
  • male prostitutes (KJ2000)
  • effeminate (Douay-Rheims)
  • whoremonger (Young’s Literal)

According to biblehub.com, there are 8 English translations that use the word sodomite in this verse, and 13 others which interpret the root word differently.

What this proves is that translation is not an exact science.

It is a mistake to read sodomite in Biblical context as male homosexual, or homosexual.  Sodomy as we read it in modern context is probably not what the original writers intended.  “Roman Catholic scholar, Mark Jordan in his book The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology (1997) shows that the term “sodomy” originated in the eleventh century as a new classification of certain ‘clerical sins’. While early church fathers such as St. Ambrose and Origen clearly associate sodomy with inhospitality, by the time of St. Augustine, cultural associations around the word, communicated through secular poetry and legend shifted both its denotative and connotative meanings.” (2)

Furthermore, the word sodomy in a modern reader’s eyes would normally imply violence and/or perversion, which is not the same as loving, consensual intercourse.  Remember, the act and the orientation are not one in the same.  It may be your opinion that homosexuality is a perversion.  Regardless, it would be unethical to contort the Bible to support personal opinions.

Same verse, alternate translation:

“There were even male and female shrine prostitutes throughout the land. The people imitated the detestable practices of the pagan nations the LORD had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites.” (NLT)

Conclusion:

It is often said the God of the Old Testament is an angry, jealous God.  In the same chapter of the passage in question, verse 22 says “Judah did evil in the sight of the LORD, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins which they had committed, above all that their fathers had done”. (1 Kings 14:22 KJV)    

“Prior to the building of the Jerusalem temple, the people were permitted to use the high places as locations for offering sacrifices to the Lord (1 Kings 3:2).  Once that structure was completed, however, the worship of Israel was to be centralized in Jerusalem (Deut. 12).  But in practice old habits died hard, especially when the old ways offered more convenient locations and more flexible rules.  These local high places became the entry points for Canaanite religious ideas and images [and the practices that went along them].  For that reason, the repeated failure of the reigning monarch to suppress the high places in both the northern and southern kingdoms is a major concern in the book of Kings…” (3)

What were the evil sins that the people were partaking in?

Again and again throughout the Bible, we are reminded that breaking the first of the Ten Commandments is perhaps the greatest of sins.  “The story of the people of Israel until the Babylonian Captivity is the story of the violation of the first commandment by the worship of “foreign gods” and its consequences. Not only did the common people substitute Canaanite gods and worship for the one true God, polytheism and worship of foreign gods became virtually official in both the northern and southern kingdoms despite repeated warnings from the prophets of God [and God Himself].” (4)

Final Thoughts:

Idolatry, pagan worship, and temple prostitution were the abominations of Israel.  While the sin of temple prostitution is indeed sexual in nature, it was not exclusively a homosexual practice.  Additionally, it is the religious aspect of cult prostitution that is in direct conflict with the agreement between God and the Davidic kings.  Obedience to the one true God is the primary lesson of Kings and Chronicles.

Different Biblical translations use different verbiage to convey meaning.  Even the best of translations contain inaccuracies.  There are modern connotations of words that do not necessarily align with their historical meanings. (5) The assumption that any passage within the books of Kings serves as proof of God’s disapproval of homosexuality is unsound.  Hot button words like abomination and sodomite must be read and understood in their appropriate context if we are to go beyond human bias and receive and understand the true intention of the Scriptures.

“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” Romans 15:4 (KJV)

 

References:

McEntire, Adele Tuttle. Outline Studies in Old Testament History. New York, NY: The Abingdon Press, 1925. Print.
The New American Bible. Hartdegen, Stephen J. NIHIL OBSTST. Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983. Print.
http://biblehub.com/
(1) NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries Copyright © 1981, 1998 by The Lockman Foundation.
(2) https://nwanglicanblog.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/sodomy-a-biblical-word-study-that-might-surprise-you/
(3) Duguid, Iain M. The NIV Application Commentary: Ezekiel. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan House, 1999. Print.
(4) Freedman, David Noel. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1992. Print.
(5) https://inexactreligion.wordpress.com/2015/07/24/lost-in-translation/

Further Reading:

http://www.jewishhistory.org/the-divided-kingdom/
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/the-sin-of-sodom
http://www.gaychurch.org/homosexuality-and-the-bible/the-bible-christianity-and-homosexuality/
http://whosoever.org/v2i5/defense.html
http://www.biblebelievers.com/Sodomites.htmlhttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-michaelson/who-are-the-real-sodomite_b_849205.html
http://www.emergingtruths.com/the_sodomites/the_sodomites.html
http://www.directionjournal.org/11/2/kings-and-chronicles-interpreting.html
https://bible.org/seriespage/21-great-divorce-kingdom-divided-1-kings-12-2-chronicles-10
http://www.gaychristian101.com/Shrine-Prostitutes.html
http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/babylonian-exile/

 

Image courtesy of Ariely at Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A%D0%A5%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BC_I.jpg)

It’s Not Science, After All…

 

What do I mean by ‘inexact religion’ anyway?  Many religious people treat religion as the secular world treats science.  There are indisputable answers, all equations are balanced, and the universe makes sense.

So where does reason fit into religion?  

Religious and social reformer Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf once said that “nature is full of different creatures of different inclinations, and it is the same in the spiritual world.  We must learn to regard various ways of thinking as something beautiful.  There are as many religious ideas as there are believing souls, so we cannot force everyone to measure up to the same yardstick.  Only God, according to His infinite wisdom, knows how to deal with every soul.” (1)

In General, Are We Too Specific?

  • Belief in a higher power can be represented as God or nature or otherwise.  Religion or Spirituality
  • Religion can be nature based, polytheistic, monotheistic, or based on philosophy. Eastern or Western
  • Western religion is divided primarily into three Abrahamic religions. Judaism, Christianity, Islam
  • Christianity is divided into Catholicism and Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy
  • Protestants are divided into Anabaptist, Anglican, Baptist, Calvinist, Congretional, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, Quaker  (2)
  • Baptists, which are the second largest religious denomination in the U.S. (the first being Roman Catholics), are divided into Conventions. Southern, National, or Progressive National
  • Baptists are further divided into even smaller fellowships, groups, and organizations. General, Particular, Freewill, Primitive and others.  (3)

This is just one example of how religion can be divided and categorized.  Modern religious subcategories are seemingly endless.  Each branch on each limb feels differently about equality and tradition among other things.  Yet many believe and act as if they are the single leaf that holds the truth, the accurate history, and the keys to the future; without recognizing a shared history or common doctrine.

Why is everyone so ‘I’m right you’re wrong’?

Is it Faith, or Blind Faith?

Religion requires faith.  One definition of faith is “belief that is not based on proof”. (4) However, many believers treat religion as an unquestionable source, guidebook, law and/or component of life that we cannot ignore or live outside of.

The ultimate paradox: religion is simultaneously beautiful and ugly.

The ugliness lies only in irresponsible and/or harmful religious beliefs and practices.  Any religion that has lasted for a few years has encountered differences in opinion and practice.  The early Christian Church disagreed on whether Jesus was God or man, whether Mary was a perpetual virgin, and whether circumcision was a requirement for the indoctrination.

Each time there is disagreement, there is potential for divide.  Each divide has the potential to polarize and anger.  Ignorance can perpetuate these negative feelings and the only remedy is an acknowledgement of common origin or shared ideas.  The stained glass in the sanctuary is not meant to shut the world out.

Responsibility:

Christians, in particular, believe that mankind has a responsibility to lead others to Christ through witness and example.  Living by example requires discipline, courage, and study.  Believers should know who wrote the scriptures and doctrines of their belief system, when they were written, and how they have changed over time.

While religious dogma is divinely inspired, it is ultimately man-made.  The books that make up the modern Bible were not originally compiled in one volume together.  Church histories are written by human hand.  Biblical translations are likewise filtered through human minds and are often changed to serve earthly objectives.

Believers have a responsibility to accept this truth.  If one can know the truth and yet retain one’s faith, the belief becomes worthy of exploration.  But, if one is required to ignore and/or degrade in order to be faithful, the belief itself becomes highly questionable.

Hopeful Conclusion:

Rather than divide ourselves in an attempt to conquer souls, we can choose to celebrate our diversity.  We can choose harmony over conflict.  This is the beauty of having free will!  The mere fact that so many people (even of the same faith) disagree on vital issues (such as the treatment of LGBT people) is proof in and of itself that religion is highly subjective.

We can live our faiths and speak via our actions rather than spewing hateful words, or literally using weapons as tools of our faiths.  Let us trust [God] and acknowledge our similarites.  Believers can choose coalescence over competition, because there is no single correct way to believe or worship.  Religion, after all, is not science.

 

 

References:

(1) Benge, Janet and Geoff. Count Zinzendorf: Firstfruit (Christian Heroes: Then and Now). Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2005. Print.

(2) http://christianityinview.com/protestant/denominations.html https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestantism http://www.britannica.com/topic/Protestantism

(3) http://www.astudyofdenominations.com/denominations/baptist/#variants https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baptists_in_the_United_States

(4) Stein, Jess, ed. “Faith.” Def. 2. The Random House College Dictionary: Revised Edition. Revised ed. New York: Random House, 1975. Print.

Further Reading:

http://christianityinview.com/comparison.html

http://www.truthmagazine.com/archives/volume27/GOT027055.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abrahamic_religions

http://www.servantsnews.com/sn9611/s961121.htm

 

Put Them All On An Island…

https://pixabay.com/en/sea-water-message-in-a-bottle-ocean-749619/

One recent afternoon while driving home, I tuned in to a religious radio program.  The topic of discussion was the meaning and implications of Genesis 5:2 “Male and female created he them; and blessed them”.   Many believers interpret this verse to mean that God intended for all mankind to be solely heterosexual, and that any other orientation goes against nature and likewise against the will of God, and therefore should be condemned.

A church deacon presented a theoretical social experiment as proof that God disapproves of homosexuality (or any deviation from heterosexuality).  Place all heterosexual people on one isolated island, all homosexual people on another, and all transgendered people on a third isolated island.  Come back in 200 years and see which island still has human life.  This idea has been relayed before, with considerable media coverage.  Once again it got me thinking, and of course seeking.  With ample consideration, research, and guidance, I present to you the following ideas.

The Inaccurate Conception:

The island experiment works on the premise that procreation is one of God’s greatest blessings and the fact that homosexual people are incapable of it is unquestionable proof of God’s objection.

~ Procreation is not limited to fertile heterosexuals.  Due to in vitro fertilization and other fertility alternatives, parenthood is no longer as exclusive as it once was.  Every church feels differently about this issue, as surrogacy and infertility treatments could be considered ‘unnatural’ in their own right.

~ If we assume that every person on the heterosexual island is fertile, willing, and able to reproduce, then the island is no longer representative of society as it stands.

~ We have no proof that God withholds His love from those who procreate through unconventional methods.  Should we believe that heterosexual couples who conceive through modern medical advances (in the same way that a same-sex couple might) are undeserving of the blessing of those children?  I realize that infertility and inability are not one and the same, but with modern capabilities, the homosexual island could be as fruitful as the heterosexual one.

“For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” (Psalms 84:11)

The Church Says Gay Is a Choice:

The island experiment ignores the idea (that many in the Church perpetuate) that sexual orientation is a choice, and that no one is born homosexual.

~ If sexual orientation was strictly a choice, wouldn’t at least some of the inhabitants of the homosexual island re-choose in order to avoid extinction?

I find it difficult to believe that every single homosexual on the island would choose death over possible redemption.   This idea exemplifies the view that homosexuals are caught in Satan’s evil grasp, unable to choose wisely or righteously.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”  (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Is Bias at Work Here?

Another notion that this experiment carries is that homosexuals make poor choices in general.  Aside from the commonly held belief that sexual orientation is always a choice, this experiment asks us to believe that every homosexual on the island would lack the integrity to choose discomfort over extinction; as if homosexuals have no reverence for life itself.

~ This experiment paints a negatively skewed portrait.  I believe that several homosexual people would place purpose over pleasure, without question, if the stakes were so high.

Let us assume that there are no resources on the island with which to build a fertility clinic.  In a ‘Survivor’ type scenario, the heterosexual island would flourish and the homosexual one would eventually empty of its human inhabitants.  Why is this the prevailing assumption?

~ Are we not shown in the Bible several examples of non-traditional family origins?   Many of these relationships came with a great deal of discomfort.  “Religious scholars say that God suspended the laws of incest in the early days of man in order to ensure that man spread on the earth.” (1)

~ If we removed the religious bias towards homosexuals, the experiment would fail.  Without this bias, we would have no reason to assume that God would allow the homosexual island to diminish, simply because the inhabitants were not sexually attracted to those of the opposite gender.

No Girls Allowed:

If we take the experiment one step further and separate the homosexuals onto two islands; one for gay men, and another for lesbians, then yes both islands would reach a human population of zero. There would be no way to fertilize eggs without access to the opposite gender.  However, the same would be said if the heterosexual men and women were on two separate islands.  To take the experiment this far only makes the point moot.

~ No human population made up a single gender can survive, regardless of sexual orientation.

Unnatural = Extinction?

More than 700 animal species have gone extinct in the last one hundred years alone. (2)  No one would suggest that these animal species suffered extinction due to ‘unnatural’ activities, sin, or temptation.  Most believers uphold the idea that mankind was created ‘in His image’ and therefore holds a spark of the divine, or a soul, within them that separates us from the plant and animal kingdom.  But is it accurate to believe that God has no genuine interest or concern for the nature He created other than humankind?

~ If that were so, why would God intelligently design animals that could take drastic measures for survival like spontaneously changing gender?  This seemingly ‘unnatural’ ability is exactly what allows some species to escape extinction.

Gender Evolution:

Indeed nature has already remedied the lack of gender diversity for several non-human species.  Several fish, frogs, eels, worms, trees, and even chickens have evolved to be able to change gender in order to conserve their species. (3)  Mammals have not developed this ability because it has never been necessary.

~ Who’s to say that mammals couldn’t evolve gender changing capabilities if it became crucial and/or God’s will that we do so?

~ Nature [God] induces attributes when (and for as long as) necessary for survival. 

Consider the appendix: a vestigial organ for most of civilization, but still serving a purpose in the populations of lesser developed countries.  One day, humans may be born without it. (4)

The Island of Misfits:

In this particular presentation of this social thought experiment, transgendered people were placed on an island of their own.  Is this meant to be a preventative measure, to further remove the possibility of ‘natural’ procreation on the homosexual island?  It is unclear.

~ This may illustrate the ignorance many people have of transgendered people.

~ Gender identity and sexual orientation are two separate things.  In other words, transgendered does not necessarily mean same-sex oriented.  Furthermore, many transgendered people can and do procreate. (5)

“The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps.” (Proverbs 14:15)

Separate but Equal:

When we return in 200 years, perhaps the planning and intention behind the procreation on the homosexual island will have prevented the overpopulation and subsequent starvation that has occurred on the heterosexual island.

Perhaps after two centuries all three islands will look identical because the heterosexual people will have raised gay children, and likewise, the people on the other two islands will have given birth to heterosexual children; creating a beautiful and diverse population on each individual island.

It is my feeling that Christ would want LGBTQ brothers and sisters to be treated with dignity and respect. Without human prejudice, no proof can be found that God does not love His LGBTQ children, or that they are less than any other human being on any other island.

“I will praise you; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works; and that my soul knows right well.”  (Psalm 139: 14)

References:

(1) http://listverse.com/2008/05/26/top-6-incestuous-relationships-in-the-bible/

(2) http://www.petermaas.nl/extinct/lists/mostrecent.htm#

(3) http://phys.org/news/2015-11-trees-sex.html , http://www.msn.com/en-us/video/wonder/ancient-european-tree-changes-sex/vi-BBmPP48 , https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_reed_frog  ,   http://beckman.illinois.edu/news/2011/03/rhodesfishstory , http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2013/09/22/7-gender-bendinganimals/ ,  http://www.ehow.com/info_8120656_animals-can-change-sex.html , http://www.livescience.com/13514sexchangechickengertiehenbertiecockerel.html ,  http://www.sciencefocus.com/qa/can-chickens-really-change-gender

(4) http://web.archive.org/web/20080626191535/http://www.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/10/05/appendix.purpose.ap/index.html?iref=mpstoryview# ,  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vestigiality

(5) http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/appi.ajp.2007.07040587

Further Reading:

https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001180.htm , http://stronginfaith.org/article.php?page=37  , http://emptycradlefullheart.blogspot.com/2012/09/infertility-and-miscarriagea-punishment.html  , http://www.compellingtruth.org/Bible-infertility.html

(Image courtesy of Comfreak at Pixabay.com)

Who Carries the Keys to the Kingdom: Paul’s letter to the Corinthians

Every believer hopes that he or she will enter into heaven when their earthly life is over.  To do so, one must meet certain requirements and live by certain parameters.  Those who fail to meet these standards could be denied access to the Kingdom.  Throughout the Bible various sins are listed that if committed, may cause one to fall out of favor with God.  The Ten Commandments would be the most familiar list.  The Laws of Moses, found in Leviticus, would be another.  Many of these offenses are highly relevant and remain illegal even today.  Some have been all but forgotten.

In 1 Corinthians Chapter 6 we find a specific list of perpetrators that will be denied entry into heaven.  Some of the sins in this particular passage are quite clear, others obscure.  Certain translations of the Bible have interpreted two of the phrases in this passage to imply that homosexuals will be some of the people who will be refused at heaven’s gate.  Are the interpretations that support this idea correct or misguided?

Backstory:

In Acts 18, we find the account of the Apostle Paul going to Corinth on his second missionary trip.  Paul was compelled to spread the message that Christ was the Messiah.  He was eventually successful in establishing a Christian church there.  At the time of Paul’s visit the city’s inhabitants were mostly cultic pagan, worshiping Aphrodite and other gods of Rome, Greece, and Egypt.  To be called ‘a Corinthian’ in those days was synonymous with moral depravity.  (1)

Paul left Corinth after a year and a half to continue on his missionary calling.  During his travels Paul received word that the Corinthian Church was divided and that many in the community were returning to their former misguided ways.  Paul wrote a letter to address these concerns.  1 Corinthians is that letter. (2)

Context:

Paul’s letter addresses many topics.  He condemns the disorder in the Corinthian church as well as the moral disorders of the community.  Paul lays out some guidelines for conduct at public worship, spiritual gifts or offerings, and finally he writes about Christ’s resurrection, the implications of it in Christian life and death, and instructions for church collections and future visitors to the city.

In chapter 5 Paul reports that he has been informed of an incestuous affair taking place between a man of the new church and the man’s stepmother.  Paul writes that this behavior would be shameful even to the sexually immoral Pagans of Corinth.  Not only did the affair take place, but it became known and no punishment occurred.  “They ought to have been a humbled people. They should have mourned; and should have given their first attention to the removal of the evil. But instead of this, they had given indulgence to proud feeling, and had become elated with a vain confidence in their spiritual purity.” (3)

In Chapter 6, Paul is upset by the fact that Christians are bringing petty lawsuits into Pagan courts, rather than settling them amongst themselves.  Local culture was influencing the young church in Paul’s absence.  The Apostle’s letter is written in the hopes that it will stop the regression of the community back into old habits and instead guide the new followers to spiritual maturity.

He asks “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?” (Cor. 6:1) “I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? No, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?” (Cor. 6:5)

Paul is questioning how Christians could allow themselves to be judged by a set of rules that lack a high moral standard when they have the ability to settle minor disputes outside of court, in the midst of fellow believers.

In the previous chapter, Paul is reprimanding the church for an unpunished heterosexual act.  In verse 15 of the chapter at hand, Paul speaks against prostitution.  This is the context in which the verse occurs:  incest, prostitution, and petty disputes being heard in Pagan courts.

“[1 Cor. 6:9] condemns sexual immorality in the context of pagan sex rites.  It condemns prostitution.  It condemns abuse.  It condemns greed, drunkards and slanderers… Paul simply listed the ‘male prostitutes’ and ‘pederasts’ among the list of the most vile people out there to emphasize his point.” (4)

Analysis:

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”    (1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 KJV)

Other English translations interpret the words in bold very differently.  Effeminate is replaced by: male prostitutes, men who have sex with men, those who make women of themselves, men who practice homosexuality, men who submit to homosexual acts, sexual molesters, anyone practicing homosexuality, passive homosexual partners, homosexuals, or any who are guilty of unnatural crime. (5)

We can see that translations vary greatly, and we know that varying translations can call objectivity into question.  The source Greek word, Malakoi from which the KJV Bible derives the word effeminate can also be defined as soft, or delicate.  This word is used in only two other verses in the Bible (Matthew 11:8 and Luke 7:25), each time referring to a man who would wear soft/fancy/fine clothing.  Malakoi’s other Biblical occurrences are not sexual in nature.  Specifically, Jesus is referencing the unflattering appearance of John the Baptist and how it was a manifestation of John’s faithfulness and spiritual conviction.  “This kind of clothing [malakois] was an emblem of riches, splendor, effeminacy, feebleness of character. He meant to say that John was a man of a different stamp – coarse in his exterior, hardy in his character, firm in his virtue, suited to endure trials and privations, and thus qualified to be the forerunner of the toiling and suffering Messiah.” (3)

Abusers of themselves with mankind also varies in translation.  Other English interpretations of the phrase are: abusers of themselves with men, males lying down with males, men who practice homosexuality, masturbators, men who perform homosexual acts, defilers, homosexuals, perverts, or sodomites.

Arsenakoi is the original Greek source word that has become the phrase abusers of themselves with mankind. The phrase also appears in 1 Timothy 1:10, which is another letter written by the Apostle Paul.  These are the only two places in the entire Bible where this word appears.  Some have said that this is a word that Paul himself may have constructed.  Many have said that Paul used the word arsenokoitai because Jews would know exactly what he meant, as the same terminology was used in Leviticus.  One fault with this argument is that while converted Jews may have understood the reference, Pagan Gentiles would not.  We know from Romans 15 that Paul was called to minister to Gentiles as much if not more than to Jews. (6) Secondly, in order for this argument to hold up we must know unequivocally that the verses in Leviticus are truly in reference to homosexuality.

The internet is full of educated, fact filled debate over these two Greek words in question and their Biblical meanings.  Outside of the Bible, the word Arsenokoitai/es appears just over seventy times, mostly referring to temple or shrine prostitution or pederasty.  (7)

Pederasty is a relationship between an adult male and an adolescent boy.  The relationship was usually sexual and sometimes exploitative.  “In his [Geoffrey Gorer’s] study of native cultures pederasty appears typically as a passing stage in which the adolescent is the beloved of an older male, remains as such until he reaches a certain developmental threshold, after which he in turn takes on an adolescent beloved of his own.” (8)  Some argue that if Paul was indeed referring to pederasty, he would have used the known Greek word for pederasty, paiderasste.

Paul’s Other Letters:

Paul wrote 13 letters, or epistles, that are included in the New Testament.  The Pauline epistles contain other lists similar to the list in 1 Corinthians that are not presumed to exclude homosexuals from salvation.  “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Ephesians 5:5 KJV) and “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5 NIV) and also “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21 KJV)

Paul repeated himself again and again and yet of the Pauline epistles, only the passage in 1 Corinthians is presented as proof that God does not accept homosexuals.  If we are certain that homosexuals or homosexual practice is an accurate translation, and that what Paul was indeed saying is that homosexuals cannot gain entry into heaven, why didn’t he emphasize this in any of his other letters?  We may also ask why parallel verses by the same author have not been re-translated for uniformity.  If Paul preached against homosexuality, shouldn’t he have always preached against homosexuality?

Conclusion:

People are bitterly divided on this topic.  Who will be denied access to heaven?  The Apostle Paul may have meant male temple prostitutes or their patrons.  He may have meant pederasts, abusive pederasts, or any participants in male – male intercourse.  Should any of the possible meanings of Paul’s words be understood to indicate gay men, sexually active gay men, or homosexuals in general?

“As believers, we take the Bible, though written down by humans, to be the divinely inspired Word of God. We believe that this is the essential information that God wanted us here on earth to know in order for us to lead the best possible lives in this life and give us the best possible chance to spend eternity with Him in the next. For example, we know exactly the meaning of “You shall not murder” or “You shall not steal”. There is no doubt what God wants us to know in these 2 important commandments. So, if these two words, “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai” are so critical for us to understand in order to achieve the previously mentioned goals or rewards, wouldn’t God with all His limitless powers, wisdom and foreknowledge have made it possible for their meaning to be clear to either the lay reader or the scholar today?” (9)

God knows all.  God knew modern readers would struggle with the ambiguity of both the original English translation (effeminate and abusers of themselves with mankind) as well as the original Greek malakoi and arsenokoitai.  God also knew that we would have abundant resources with which to research the terms for ourselves – from a simple library card to the World Wide Web.  God knew that people would disagree on the intended meaning of Paul’s divinely inspired words.  God knew that the modern Church would be divided over whether or not to embrace LGBT people as leaders, members, or anything more than sinners beyond saving, lost under the pull of Satan.

The conclusion therefore is that God left us with a choice. 

Believers can choose to accept translations that have adopted language and/or meanings that excludes LGBT people from the kingdom, and speak hurtfully about or towards them

OR

They can choose to accept LGBT brothers and sisters because the Bible is ambiguous, because Jesus did not address sexuality in His primary teachings, and because we find same-sex oriented animals in nature, and/or simply because our hearts lead us to choose love over persecution.  We can choose the greater message of love, lest we ‘become the evil we deplore’. (10)  “If a man says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20)

Final thoughts:

Is it possible that human assumption and cultural bias could be at work here?  Adultery is among the sins listed by Paul, but is now all but accepted in society.  We almost expect it, and forgive it without appropriate consequences.  The fact is that the Bible is explicit when it comes to the sin of adultery, and yet some believers readily embrace these transgressors but disavow compliant LGBT people of their own faith.  This is nothing short of hypocrisy.

People assume that 1 Corinthians 6:9 is anti-homosexual because they believe that the Bible in its entirety is this way.  We have been told by our earthly religious leaders that homosexual behavior is in the same category with adultery, pedophilia, incest, rape, orgies, and prostitution.  To reach this conclusion definitively requires alteration, assumption, or omission.  Furthermore, if we could reach spiritual maturity exclusively by following earthly religious leaders, we would never have been given the tangible Word to read for ourselves.  And I do encourage believers to read the Scripture, thoroughly, for themselves, with an awareness of translation philosophy in mind and an open heart.

“And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life” (Revelation 22:19)

References:

(1) http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/4418.htm
http://www.padfield.com/2005/corinth.html http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/first/missions.html ,
The New American Bible. Hartdegen, Stephen J. NIHIL OBSTST. Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983. Print.
(2) http://www.ibtministries.org/viewcourse.php?crid=109
(3) Barnes, Albert. Barnes Notes on the Old and New Testaments. 19th ed. Baker Books, 1983. Print.
(4) Shelton, David. The Rainbow Kingdom: Christianity and the Homosexual Reconciled. lulu.com, 2007. Print.
(5) http://biblehub.com/1_corinthians/6-9.htm
(6) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/first/missions.html http://firstbaptistchurchoc.org/Sermons_01/paul.htm
(7) http://www.gaychristian101.com/Define-Arsenokoites.html
(8) Gorer, Geoffrey. The Danger of Equality and other Essays The danger of equality: and other essays. Weybright and Talley, 1968.
(9) Scroggs, Robin. The New Testament and Homosexuality. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983. Print.
(10) http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/g/o/godgrace.htm

Further Reading:

Sex in Antiquity: Exploring Gender and Sexuality in the Ancient World. Ed. Mark masterson, Ed. Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz, Ed. James Robson. Routledge, 2014. Print
http://www.tms.edu/m/tmsj3h.pdf
http://canyonwalkerconnections.com/are-you-in-or-out-icorinthians-and-itimothy/
http://stopbibleabuse.org/biblical-references/paul/arsenokoites.html
http://phc.edu/gj_haas_hermen.ph
http://philia.ws/ul/nt/index.htm
https://christianstudies.wordpress.com/2011/05/14/230/
https://mennoknight.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/responding-to-five-arguments-about-arsenokoites/
http://www.gaychristian101.com/Arsenokoites.html

Sodom and Gomorrah, Analysis of Destruction

The Biblical account of the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah is often cited as proof that God vehemently disapproves of homosexuality.  One theory is that the cities were destroyed to punish a population of practicing homosexuals.  Other theories state that the cities’ destruction had little if anything to do with sexuality.  Let’s lay the groundwork and then examine the evidence.

There are four pertinent facts we must keep in mind when examining this passage.  Sexual behavior is not the same as, nor does it determine sexual orientation. (1)   Sexual orientation is not a choice. (2)  Sexual intercourse without consent is rape.  The word homosexual did not appear in any English Bible until 1946.

The term homosexual was coined in 1869 by German-Hungarian Karoly Benkert and was the first move toward homosexuality being perceived as a sexual identity. The term originally only referred to males. (3)  The term was adopted by American doctors in the 1880’s, but did not enter the public vernacular until the 1920’s.  (4)

Backstory:

Lot was the nephew of Abraham (called Abram at the time).  In Genesis Chapter 13, we find Abraham and Lot traveling together, each endowed with livestock and wealth.  They needed to separate because one shared area of land could not support them both, and parting ways would also prevent quarrels that were arising between their herdsmen.  Lot chose to move eastward and settle near Sodom.  It is not known whether Lot knew of Sodom’s reputation: “the inhabitants of Sodom were very wicked in the sins they committed against the Lord.” (Gen 13:13)  Some years passed, in which Lot was taken prisoner of war, subsequently rescued by Abraham, and then returned to reside in Sodom and gain a judicial position of some authority.  “Lot was sitting at the gate of Sodom”. (Gen 19:1)  “It was at the city gates that important business transactions were made, court was convened, and public announcements were heralded.” (5)

Two angels were sent to the city of Sodom to see if there were any righteous people there.  If there were, the city may be saved from impending doom.  The Lord had visited Abraham and told him this “because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous.” (Gen 18:20)

Synopsis:

The Lord found the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to be filled with sin and planned on destroying them.  He told this plan to Abraham and agreed that if ten righteous people could be found there, he would spare the cities.  Abraham pleaded this deal to protect his nephew Lot, who lived in Sodom.

Two angels disguised as human men went to Sodom, met Lot, and were invited into his home.  During the evening, the townspeople surrounded Lot’s house and demanded to ‘know’ the visitors Lot was sheltering.  Lot refused to turn his guests over to the mob.  The mob grew angry.  Lot offered his virgin daughters to the crowd to appease them, but they refused.  The mob then tried to push their way into Lot’s house.  The guests then blinded the mob, revealing their true identity as angels.  The angels then urged Lot to take his family out of the city as quickly as possible because God was now going to move forward with His plan of destruction.  Lot and his two daughters escaped.  Lot’s wife also escaped, but was turned into a pillar of salt because she did not heed the warning not to look back.  (Genesis Chapter 19)

What Were the Sins of Sodom?

The exact sin or sins are not described in the actual passage in Genesis.  The sins of Sodom are however, mentioned in other passages in the Scripture.  The descriptions vary according to the version of the Bible you are reading.  In 2 Peter Chapter 2 the sins are categorized as lawless deeds, wickedness, depraved conduct, shameful immorality, filthy conversation, or sensual conduct of the wicked, depending on the translation you are reading.

In Jude 7 the sins of the city are written as fornication, going after strange flesh, sexual perversion, the pursuit of unnatural desire, or the pursuit of homosexual activities.  Fornication, in Biblical terms, means intercourse between people who are not married.  ‘Strange flesh’ has been interpreted as same-sex flesh by those unaccepting of homosexuals (because ‘knowing’ the flesh of someone of the same gender would be strange).  It has also been interpreted to mean non-human flesh, or even the flesh of foreigners.  Some interpret this to be a reference to the angels visiting Sodom.  However, the text does not support the idea that the townspeople knew that the visitors were angels disguised as humans until after the angels blinded the crowd.  The term ‘unnatural’ [desire] has also been interpreted to mean homosexuality, based on the use of the same word in Romans 1:26.  I do not see this as valid, and will discuss it in a later post.  Only two English versions use the word ‘homosexual’ in this verse.  This is most likely a mistranslation.  (See previous blog post ‘Lost in Translation’.)

Ezekiel 16:49 lists the sins of Sodom as (depending on translation): arrogance, pride, gluttony, and laziness, in conjunction with failing to help the poor/needy/suffering.  In this allegory, the sins of Jerusalem as a whole are considered by God to be far greater than those of Sodom.

The first century scholar Josephus wrote “the Sodomites, overweeningly proud of their numbers and the extent of their wealth, showed themselves insolent to men and impious to the Divinity, insomuch that they no more remembered the benefits that they had received from him, hated foreigners and declined all intercourse with others. Indignant at this conduct, God accordingly resolved to chastise them for their arrogance…” (6)

Was Homosexuality the Reason for Destruction?

There may have been same-sex acts taking place in Sodom and Gomorrah.  However, Scripture tell us that there were also many other sins being committed, including some that were not sexual in nature.  An assumption has been made by some that because the angry mob of men wanted to rape male visitors, the townspeople must have been gay.  “The only reasonable answer is that the city was guilty of regularly participating in homosexual behavior, and the attempt to rape Lot’s guests was just the latest occurrence.” (7)

This is completely illogical.  The townspeople wanted to rape the visitors as a show of power, having nothing to do with their sexuality.  Modern day prison rape is a parallel to this ancient tactic.   “In Biblical times, there were some inhospitable lands (usually Pagan) that practiced gang rape. Their targets were often times travelers or foreigners who came into their city to lodge. This was not about sex, but power. Rape was used as a tool for power, punishment and/or payment, similar to modern-day prison rape. When the travelers or foreigners came into their city, the men were the first targets of gang rape. On occasion they would accept female counterparts as an alternate payment or punishment, but the value was not as high seeing that women were of lower status.” (8)

It is also worth noting that the incident with the angels merely cemented Sodom’s fate.  God had planned to destroy the city prior to this event taking place.

Jeremiah 23:14 compares the prophets of Jerusalem (with whom God is displeased) to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, without mention of homosexuality or same-sex acts.

Inhospitality:

Inhospitality is considered by some to be Sodom’s greatest sin.  Modern readers do not have the same sense of hospitality that ancient people did.  “Indeed, hospitality to the stranger is equated with welcoming God. In the book of Matthew, Christ separates the nations into the cursed, who refused him food and drink, and the blessed, who received him.” (9) “Biblical customs concerning how a person should treat travelers and temporary residents were much different. They were more than simply ways to be polite or friendly, and went beyond entertaining guests. Hospitality customs were a vital part of the culture of the ancient world. The people followed these customs as formal, even sacred, codes of conduct.  (10)

In Matthew 10 and again in Luke 10 Jesus’ disciples are told that any house or town that does not welcome them will suffer a fate worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Inhospitality is directly linked to Sodom and Gomorrah in these verses.

Heterosexuals Destroyed as Well:

In Judges Chapter 19, there is an eerily similar (yet more gruesome) story that takes place in Gibeah.  Corrupt men surround a house with a visiting guest and his concubine inside and demand the visitor be released to them.  Much like Lot, the homeowner refuses, but offers the female concubine to the mob instead.  In Gibeah, the men accept the woman and violently rape her.  She dies from the assault.  The visitor then takes her body home, cuts it into twelve pieces and sends a piece to each of the tribes of Israel as proof of the crime.  The outraged Israelites create an army, attack the Benjamites at Gibeah, and utterly destroy them leaving only six hundred Benjamite men alive.

No one claims that the men of Gibeah were homosexual, although just as in Sodom, they first called for the male guest to be turned over to them.

“If the lesson of Sodom is about the threatened rape of the guests, then surely the real rape and murder in Gibeah is far more scandalous. If the assault in Sodom was the excuse for its destruction, and the condemnation of homosexual intercourse, then surely the sin of Gibeah should lead to equally strong condemnation of heterosexual intercourse?  Yet it does not.  Whereas Sodom is frequently condemned elsewhere in Scripture for its “sinfulness”, Gibeah disappears, after its appearance in Judges 19, without [a] trace.” (11)

Conclusion:

“The word sodomy was invented to name a shared evil of Sodom and Gibeah… [Sodomy] does not signify same-sex desire but cruel delight in victimizing others, including sexual violence directed at men and women alike.” (12) Over time, it has come to mean male homosexuality, linking it to the ancient city of Sodom thus sustaining the idea that Sodom was destroyed because its inhabitants were homosexuals.

Sadly, many believers do not take the time to analyze the Scripture for themselves.  Many of us have been told that the Bible condemns homosexuality, period.  Furthermore, fear is instilled in us by stories like the one of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Changes, omissions, and differing interpretations allow the truth to get lost.

The fact that the men of Sodom wanted to rape male visitors is not conclusive proof of homosexuality.  Neither is the fact that the men refused Lot’s daughters as substitutes.   The Bible tells of many sins other than same-sex acts being committed there.  Additionally, we know that there were men living in Sodom who were not exclusively same-sex oriented.  Both of Lot’s daughters were engaged to be married to men.  (Gen 19:14)

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed because of homosexuality.  There is no Scriptural evidence I can find to support this notion.  There is no Scriptural evidence I can find that there were any homosexual citizens living in these cities to begin with.  Let us remember that non-consensual acts are not equivalent to loving, committed, consensual LGBT relationships.  There were sins of all kinds being committed in Sodom and Gomorrah, and we cannot responsibly draw the conclusion that sexual orientation was the reason for their destruction.

References:

(1) http://www4.ncsu.edu/~bsscott2/GenderDefinitions.htm
Gray, Peter B. Evolution and Human Sexual Behavior. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013. Print.
http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674072732
(2) http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/marco-rubio-sexual-preference-not-choice
http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/gay-gene-discovery-suggests-sexual-orientation-not-choice-1436389
http://www.livescience.com/50058-being-gay-not-a-choice.html
http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/10443/20141118/homosexuality-genetic-strongest- evidence.htm
(3) Duggay, Marian. Queering Conflict: Examining Lesbian and Gay Experiences of Homophobia in Northern Ireland. Farnham: Ashgate, 2012. Print.
(4) Stambu, Andrew. The Man who is and is Not There: The Poetry and Prose of Robert Francis.
Thomson-Shore, Inc., 2011. Print.
(5) http://www.gotquestions.org/city-gate.html#ixzz3g0VU8bxA
(6) Josephus, Flavius. The Antiquities of the Jews: Complete and Unabridged. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013. Print.
(7) https://answersingenesis.org/family/homosexuality/pro-gay-theology-does-the-bible-approve-of-homosexuality/
(8)https://moanti.wordpress.com/2013/07/07/the_bible_verse_most_christians_dont_like_to_quote/?blogsub=confirmed#blog_subscription-3
(9) http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/iie/v11n1/hospitality.html
(10) http://www.crivoice.org/travelers.html
(11) https://opentabernacle.wordpress.com/2010/01/07/the-abomination-of-heterosexual-intercourse-the-sin-of-gibeah-judges-19/
(12) Carden, Michael. Sodomy: a History of a Christian Biblical Myth. Routledge, 2014. Print.

Earth photo courtesy of xedos4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lost in Translation

The general population has not always had direct access to the Bible like we do today.  The Scriptures were originally read and recited exclusively by priests and rabbis.  It wasn’t until 1539 that “the Archbishop of Canterbury, at the bequest of King Henry VIII, hired a publisher to publish the ‘Great Bible’. It became the first English Bible authorized for public use, as it was distributed to every church, chained to the pulpit, and a reader was even provided so that the illiterate could hear the Word of God in plain English.” (1)  Now, there are literally hundreds of versions of the Bible written in English.  Each version has its own translation philosophy.  Each translation is subject to contradictions and omissions.

Many churches view the King James Version, originally published in 1611, as the only accurate or true interpretation of the Scriptures.  Others feel that the KJV is too difficult to read and is therefore misunderstood and/or simply unappealing to the average reader.  This opinion, as well as widespread literacy, has led to many new translations over the years.  Where the various translations seem to vary the most is in regard to the passages dealing with sexuality.  The word ‘homosexual’ did not appear in any Bible until 1946.   Sexual orientation is a modern concept that translators are impressing upon ancient Scriptures more and more.   Are translators deviating from, or moving towards the original ‘God-breathed’ meaning and intention of these passages?   I’d like to offer a few notes on the translation philosophies of four modern versions of the Bible, followed by a comparison of how each version interprets three select verses.

New International Version:

The NIV Bible has met with major opposition from its inception in the 1970’s.  The 2011 version controversially declared itself ‘gender neutral’ or gender inclusive, but also rewrote many verses on homosexuality.  This version made its denunciation more clear. (2)

The NIV was one of the earliest to create a more modern English Bible by removing the Old English thou, thee, thy, etc.  Thanks to this it would eventually outsell the King James Version.  The NIV Bible is the most widely utilized translation today.  On their website, they point out that “other Bible translations (emphasis mine) focus on the meaning of Scripture, helping you grasp the message of the Bible in your own words. The challenge with this approach is that if you stray too far from the form of the text, you might miss some of the subtle nuances—literary devices, wordplays, etc.—found in the original. Even the best literal translation can’t follow the original form all the time. And even the best meaning-based translation can’t capture every detail of meaning found in the original (emphasis mine).” (3)  The philosophy behind the NIV translation is an attempt to balance literal with thought for thought.

New Living Translation:

First published in 1996, their website says that while they are ‘reluctant to clarify the meaning of the text, they are open to doing so when absolutely necessary.’  They go on to say that an individual translator (rather than a committee of scholars) may also clarify and/or paraphrase to ‘catch the attention of readers in a fresh way, seeking to jolt and surprise them into understanding (emphasis mine)’.  A second edition was published in 2004, with the purpose of increasing its precision without sacrificing its easy-to understand quality. (4)  This translation is a mix of formal and dynamic equivalence, similar to that of the NIV.  The NLT Bible seeks to be moderately literal without over simplifying.

International Standard Version:

First published in 2011, it states on their website “when the text can be understood in different ways, an attempt is made either to provide a rendering in which the same ambiguity appears in English, or to decide the more likely sense and translate accordingly. In the latter case, a footnote indicates the alternative understanding of the text. In general, the ISV attempts to preserve the relative ambiguity of the text rather than to make positive statements that depend on the translators’ judgment (emphasis mine) or that might reflect theological bias.” (5)  This translation is also a mix of both formal & dynamic equivalence.

God’s Word Translation:

The translation theory behind this Bible is the ‘closest natural equivalent’.  CNE “provides readers with a meaning in the target language that is equivalent to that of the source language.” (6)

The preface of this 1995 Bible states “God’s Word is intended to be read by those who are well-versed in Scripture as well as first-time Bible readers, Christians as well as non-Christians, adults as well as children.  And so, as in the case of the GNB [Good News Bible], an attempt is made to promote the use of the version by all kinds of readers. But it is obvious that the translation is designed more for the first-time readers and children (emphasis mine). The style is informal. Sentences are broken up so as to make them shorter and less complicated.” (7)

“Translation can never be completely objective. It involves subjective judgments. Even when operating under the guidelines of closest natural equivalence, translators cannot produce a perfect translation. Translators use cautious judgment and maintain a keen awareness of all the factors needed for a full understanding of the source text. Among other things, translators need to understand the original language’s grammar and syntax, appreciate and understand literary devices used by the original authors, understand what kind of audience the original author had in mind when writing, and understand the modern target audience and its language (emphasis mine).” (8)

Contrast & Compare:

I.

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he describes who will and who most certainly will not be allowed to enter into heaven.  1 Corinthians 6:9 reads:

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind” (KJV)

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men” (NIV)

“… Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality” (NLT)

“… Stop deceiving yourselves! Sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals” (ISV)

Part one of the verse is fluid between these versions; wrongdoers, wicked people, and the unrighteous are all synonyms.  Part two however, is translated very differently by comparison.  The original Greek word is ‘arsenokoitai’.  Its exact meaning is debatable and thus it is up to the translators to interpret.   Men who have sex with men is not the definition of homosexuality.  The act is not the orientation.  In ancient times, there were male temple prostitutes and men who engaged with them.  This behavior did not mean either man was necessarily homosexual.  There was also the practice of pedastery.  Furthermore the language excludes women, which makes the term ‘homosexual’ an even less accurate translation.  Modern churches who detest homosexuality do not excuse lesbianism.  It is possible that Paul is saying that sexually active gay men cannot enter the kingdom, but celibate gay men could.  However, this theory is doubted by most as the idea of sexual orientation did not exist in Biblical times.  The modern insertion of the word ‘homosexual’ in this verse seems to be an inaccurate inference.

II.

Similarly, in the Old Testament, male cult prostitution has been retranslated to ‘homosexuality’.              1 Kings 14:24 says:

“And there were also sodomites in the land: and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the LORD cast out before the children of Israel.” (KJV)

There were even male shrine prostitutes in the land; the people engaged in all the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites.”  (NIV)

“There were even male and female shrine prostitutes throughout the land. The people imitated the detestable practices of the pagan nations the LORD had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites.” (NLT)

“There were even male prostitutes in the temples of idols throughout the land. The people of Judah did all the disgusting practices done by the nations that the LORD had forced out of the Israelites’ way.” (GWT)

The term sodomites has been said to imply ‘homosexuals’.  And yet the same original word or phrase has also been translated as male prostitutes and even female and male prostitutes together!  In the examined versions, there is no version where the word ‘homosexual’ is used.  Why then has it begun to be used in other passages?

III.

One final example of how varied English translations of the Bible can be is Jude 1:7.  The sins of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are expressed here.

“Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” (KJV)

“And don’t forget Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, which were filled with immorality and every kind of sexual perversion. Those cities were destroyed by fire and serve as a warning of the eternal fire of God’s judgment.” (NLT)

Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities near them, which like them committed sexual sins and pursued homosexual activities, serve as an example of the punishment of eternal fire.” (ISV)

“What happened to Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities near them is an example for us of the punishment of eternal fire. The people of these cities suffered the same fate that God’s people and the angels did, because they committed sexual sins and engaged in homosexual activities”. (GWT)

Strange flesh, angels, homosexuality, and/or sexual sins in general, are wildly varying interpretations of the same original text.  The other interesting observation here is that the notion of Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed because of homosexuality is disproven after examination of this verse.  The three modern translations also mention other sexual sins, meaning that God destroyed the city because an array of sexual sins were being committed, not exclusively gay male sex, as many churches falsely believe and teach.

Conclusion:

Each new version of the Bible may vary subtly or greatly from its predecessors, and indeed from the original sources.  Your Bible may say things that mine does not.  The opposite is true as well.  Believers, therefore must understand this and read with an open heart and a critical mind.  All humans are fallible.  We must demand accuracy in translation, not justification for preexisting bias.   Obviously, translation is not an exact science.  What this leads to is inexact religion.

References:

  1. http://www.greatsite.com/timeline-english-bible-history/
  2. http://www.christianpost.com/news/latest-niv-bible-translation-clearer-on-homosexual-sins-says-theologian-66393/#3fCPIIPJ1bJ5LPX1.99
  3. http://www.thenivbible.com/about-the-niv/niv-translation-philosophy/
  4. http://www.newlivingtranslation.com/05discoverthenlt/philosophy.asp#sthash.AIy36Q3M.dpuf
  5. https://www.isv.org/bible/translation-principles/ 
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God%27s_Word_Translation
  7. http://www.bible-researcher.com/godsword.html
  8. http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/bibles/translation-philosophy

Further Reading:

Taken Out of Context

Communication in our modern world is often reduced to small catchy ‘soundbites’.  This trend has not excluded the Bible or the modern Church.  We have all read online commentary that quoted a Bible verse to substantiate a point of view.  Many times these verses are taken out of context, mistranslated, misunderstood, or simply misused.  I’m not saying this is done intentionally or with malice.  Often it is not.  What I am saying is that we must insist that those who quote the Bible go beyond mechanical repetition.  We must encourage others to read for themselves firsthand, and fully understand the Word if it is to be used wisely and appropriately and we must demand the same of ourselves.  Informed belief is preferential to blind faith.  (Proverbs 2:2-3, 3:13, 4:7, 8:1, Colossians 2:2-3, James 1:5, 1 John 4:1)

Furthermore, “because the Bible says so” is not a responsible argument for or against the issues we face in modern times.  Many laws, codes, and Biblical customs no longer apply.  For example, Christ’s death nullified Mosaic Law, or the Law of Moses.  (Matthew 5:17, Romans 10:4, Galatians 2:21, 5:4, Ephesians 2:15)  Included in these are the laws that forbade wearing clothing made of two fabrics, or eating shellfish.  Clearly, not every law or moral code that is written in the Bible is applicable to Christians today.

The Bible is an immensely large volume which contains many laws, codes, commandments, and stories to help guide its readers through life.  There are two testaments, Old and New, sometimes complimentary and sometimes contradictory.  The Old Testament is the Biblical record of creation, a history of man, mankind’s struggle and need for a Savior, and many prophecies later fulfilled by Jesus Christ in the New Testament. The New Testament is a guide for worship, spiritual living, and growth.

“The following are some comparisons between the Old and the New: Death versus Life (II Corinthians, 3:6-8). Bondage versus Freedom (Galatians 5:1). The Old was to Jews only (Mal.4:4) while the New is to all men (Matt.28:18-20). Temporal versus Eternal (Galatians 3:19 and Matthew 24:35). Carnal versus Spiritual (Hebrews 9:10 and John 4:23-24). Continued Guilt versus Pardon (Romans 8:2 and Hebrews 9:12-14).” http://www.bible.ca/b-Why-OT-NT.htm  “The Old Testament shows the wrath of God against sin (with glimpses of His grace); the New Testament shows the grace of God toward sinners (with glimpses of His wrath).” http://www.gotquestions.org/difference-old-new-testaments.html

I would also like to speak about the danger of quoting a single verse as if it were the definitive Word of God on a subject, without taking its context into account.  Let me give an example.  Ephesians 5:22 says “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” This verse (as well as Colossians 3:1, and 1 Peter 3:1) has been used to justify misogyny, domestic violence, and gender inequality in general.  However, read in its full context, the chapter in Ephesians is encouraging love and mutual respect in spousal relationships, not obedience and/or persecution.  I cannot stress enough the importance of context!

Women have become equal to men in most modern countries.  Women are able to get an education, provide for themselves, and even hold positions of authority over men.  Most marriages are not arranged.  First world women are not property and are no longer expected to be submissive or subordinate.   Women are no longer vehicles for continuing patriarchal blood lines.  The Biblical ideal of a wife is therefore not identical to our modern definition.  This fact does not alter or de-value the Scripture, or require that women give up their equality.   What it means is that believers must go beyond the words to find the deeper meaning of the passages.

Here’s another example: The Bible says in Deuteronomy 7: 3-4 “You shall not intermarry with them…” and in Daniel 2:43 “they will mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together” and also the New Testament in Matthew 25:32 it says “Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another…”  Does this mean God is against interracial relationships and believes people should be segregated?  That’s debatable, especially when referring to the Old Testament.  That is my point.  The Bible says many things that are now peripheral or even seemingly contradictory.  Taken out of context, the Bible can be used to affirm or condemn almost anything.

So how do ancient Biblical laws and codes of conduct apply today?  Biblical laws, rules, and codes should be understood as either passive or active.  Those that apply today and should continue to be followed (such as the Ten Commandments) should be considered active.  Those rules that are no longer applicable and consequently need not be followed, should be considered passive.  We may refer to passive rules as historical record and appreciate their past purposes and applications.  In order to consider the Word to be ‘living’, which indeed most believers do, we must rectify the idea that every rule is to be followed literally simply because it is written.  Believers must understand that because the Word is timeless, it is therefore adaptable.  We must read the Bible carefully, fully understand the rules, and discover their purpose from the context of the passage.  Language is equivocal.  We cannot draw accurate conclusions if we only read a fraction of the story.  We cannot gain insight from repetition, shallow reading, or having our ears tickled.  (2 Timothy 4:3)

The Bible tells us not to add to or subtract from it.  “If anyone takes away any words from the book of this prophecy, God will take away his portion of the tree of life and the holy city that are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:19)  I believe this to summarize my point clearly.  The Bible has tolerances and intolerances that we do not, and some of those ideals continue to be used in harmful ways.  Reciting portions of verses and/or passages to convey a message that was never intended is wrong.  If believers understand the Scripture better, it will bring God closer.  I would like to see a more embracing, compassionate church filled with loving rhetoric where ALL are welcome.

This blog will be my attempt to educate.  If you take this journey with me, please do not take my words for fact.  Read the passages I site for yourself to see if you come to the same conclusions.  I will document my sources so that you can follow my research.  The Bible says a lot.  There are nearly 800,000 words in most English versions.  It’s time to seek the true meaning behind those words.  Only then can we apply Biblical rules appropriately to our modern lives.