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An excellent popularization of modern biblical scholarship
on March 3, 2002
As Father Helminiak points out, the Bible has no concept of homosexuality, which is a modern concept and word. What one can study is what the Bible says about what we would class as some forms of homosexual behavior. But the biblical authors lacked the concept, and so could not classify anything as homosexual. Therefore, there can be no general condemnation of homosexual behavior (our concept) in the Bible, like it or not. That's the fact.
There are only a few texts in the Bible that clearly refer to homosexual behavior, and a few others, which may do so. However, to mention something, even in the Bible, is not always to condemn it. The contrary assumption is simply the fallacy of special pleading.
Most of the points Dr. Helminiak makes are nothing new to anyone who has seriously looked into the subject.
The Sodom story in Gen. 19:1-29 is really about the abuse of strangers, who according to the mores of the area should be offered food and shelter. It is well known that no text in the Bible interprets the sin of Sodom as homosexual behavior, but a whole host of other things. Helminiak makes the very apt point that it is really those who give a hard time to the strangers and outsiders in our time (which would include homosexuals in great part) are the ones really guilty of the sin of Sodom.
Lev 18:22 and 20:13 are parts of the Holiness Code, a body of (ritual) uncleanness laws. The Holiness Code explicitly tries to keep the Israelites different from the pagans whose practices were considered impure, and probably involves a religious aversion to mixing of kinds (as sewing two kinds of seeds in a field or using to kinds of thread to make a cloth). The term translated as "abomination" in the King James Version is simply a term for uncleanness. Easily provable.
Helminiak makes a good case that the only thing that would have really counted as sexual intercourse for the ancient Hebrews was penile penetration in either vaginal or anal sex. This would explain why the ancient Jews had little concern for lesbianism or many other sexual activities.
In Romans 1:24-27, we find that Paul does not actually say that the sexual activity referred to is wrong, simply that it is a consequence and even punishment for idolatry. Paul was at that point addressing the Jewish Christians in Rome. Helminiak plausibly maintains that Paul maintains there are two sorts of consequences of idolatrous worship. There are impure, socially disapproved activities, as in 1:25-27, and there are other things which really are wrong, as in the listing in 1:28-32.
The sin lists in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 and 1 Tim. 1:9-10 may not even refer to homosexuality at all. "Malakos" simply means soft, and in times past was regarded as referring to the self-indulgent or even those who masturbate. "Arsenokoites" occurs in the Bible these two texts only, and no one really knows for sure what it means.
There seem to be some positive accounts of homosexual relationships in the Bible, although the Bible could not categorize them in that way. It seems quite likely that David and Jonathan had a love relationship, as can be gleaned from 1 Sam 18:1-4, 1 Sam. 20:16-17. Saul himself may have had a sexual relationship with David, if an alternate reading of the vowelless Hebrew text in 1 Sam 16:21 is correct. His outburst in 20:30-31 may indicate he is jealous of Jonathan's relationship with David. David's lament for both in 2 Sam. 1:19-27 is very revealing, especially that the love of Jonathan was better than the love of a woman.
There have been more speculative interpretations of the relationship between Ruth and Naomi, and also between Daniel and the chief eunuch in Nebuchadnezzar's court, but the evidence is scant.
However, it is quite likely that Jesus encountered a man in homosexual relationship. The Centurion who pleaded for a cure for his very dear servant in Matt. 8:5-13 and Lk. 7:1-10 may well been in love with him. It was common for a Roman slave owner to use slaves for sexual purposes, and soldiers often took along a male sexual partner. Matthew and Luke do not relate that Jesus reacted to any of this, but simply commended the Centurion's faith and told him his dear youth was healed.
Among the spurious texts, the old King James Version mentions "sodomites," a clear mistranslation, in Dt. 23:17; I Kgs 14:24, 15:12, 22:47; and 2 Kgs 23:7; although the same term in Gen 38:21 clearly means some kind of prostitute. The usual translations are cult prostitute, temple prostitute, or sacred prostitute.
How one evaluates something depends on the standards used. This is a work of popularization, depending in great part of research done by others, and it's a remarkably good one. It introduces one into biblical interpretation, placing a text in its historical context, determining the meaning of the actual words, and shows how such methods of study apply to the biblical texts that mention some sort of homosexual behavior. Dr. Helminiak also briefly summarizes some of the research into changing Christian attitudes toward homosexual behavior over the centuries and provides some references.
Helminiak does not cover all the scholarly interpretations of the texts, but then neither does any other book I am aware of. Sometimes, I prefer other interpretations, but I cannot exclude his. John Boswell and Robin Scroggs are well worth reading, as well. But he raises most of the major questions and provides intelligent answers. Also, it's a very clear read. It fully merits a 5 star rating.