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)
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 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)
“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.
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)
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)
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)
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.
(1) NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries Copyright © 1981, 1998 by The Lockman Foundation.
(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.
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