August 19, 2013
Well, we’ve gotten this far, and not without some bruising. Truth be told, this has taken a lot longer to do than I had originally intended.
I was going to bang out a couple of posts and that would be that. I knew it would be controversial, but I didn’t stop to think about just how impactful it could be…for all sides.
I’ve been blessed to have had the opportunity to study this and share it with you, even as the chips have fallen where they have fallen.
Let’s move on, then, to the final verses in the New Testament portion of this argument and put this to bed.
The verses in question are: I Corinthians 6: 9-11 and I Timothy 1: 8-11, and what has been made clear to me more than anything else during the course of this study is that so very much can be lost in translation. Translate a particular word to mean a particular thing and that word can become a feather or a sledgehammer.
So, while context means everything, it is not the only thing. Translation of particular words goes a long way in the direction of holding tight to a particular agenda.
In prior posts, I’ve gone into some detail about the etymology of the word homosexuality and its derivatives, and my argument throughout this entire series has been that, specifically regarding these words, we have interpolated meaning into texts that wasn’t there at the time of their writing.
With respect to I Corinthians 6 and I Timothy 1, there are two Greek words that are at the core of this translational juggernaut. They are: “arsenokoitai” and “malakoi” , and some scholars speculate the former seems to be a word coined by St. Paul, himself.
“Malakoi” is translated in modern Bibles as:
- effeminate (NASB)
- men who practice homosexuality (ESV)
- male prostitute (NIV)
- pervert (CEV)
- homosexual (NKJV)
Arsenokoitai” is translated in modern Bibles as:
- sodomites (NKJV)
- men who practice homosexuality
- homosexuals (NASB)
- men who have sexual relations with other men (ESV)
- one who behaves like a homosexual
- those who practice homosexuality
- those who participate in homosexuality
- people who have sexual relations with people of the same sex
- people who live as homosexuals
- those who abuse themselves with men
- perverts (NIV)
So, clearly, what we have here is a vast range of meanings, from effeminate to prostitute, sodomites to perverts, and quite a bit in between. That is a very wide berth and none of those meanings have anything to do with loving, committed relationships.
With this many possibilities, it seems that interpretation of the two texts only makes sense within the situations that Paul is correcting when directly addressing the Corinthians and Timothy. This takes us back to context.
In both I Corinthians and again in I Timothy, Paul is listing behaviors that are unrighteous, behaviors that are unlawful. The Law, Paul says, is made for the unlawful not the righteous. In other words, the only reason there is a Law in the first place is to hold accountable those who live in opposition to the will of God. The Law makes straight the paths of those who stray from God and guides them back to communion with God.
But Paul’s ultimate argument is always that righteousness is not found in the Law but only in the fulfillment of the Law; and that fulfillment of the Law is Jesus.
Over and over again, in the New Testament and the Old Testament, the overarching will of God is that Humankind should love one another. If God is Love, then to be like God is to love, to live a life full of love. If Jesus was God made flesh, then in Jesus, we see what a life filled with God looks like. If in Jesus, God has reconciled the world to God’s self by fulfilling the Law, then what does Humankind have left to do but live lives filled with love?
To those who seek to use the Law as a tool to repress, separate and subjugate, Paul reminds them of the fulfillment of the Law:
Romans 13:8-10 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
So, where am I going with this?
To be entirely truthful, part of what’s taken me so long to write these seven pieces is the fact that I honestly felt like I was basically done at the end of the first post. I’m not in the habit of quoting myself, but by way of reminder, here is what I wrote the day before Easter of this year:
“For me, God is love. Even the most conservative Christian would agree that God is described as being like a “refiner’s fire.” Therefore, love, itself, is a refiner’s fire. That is to say, love burns away hate. Love is more powerful and overcomes all evil, leaving only love standing in the end. When hate is confronted by love, it cannot stay. Hate cannot exist where love continues to reside.
And so, I begin with love, and thus, I begin with God.”
When all of these verses on homosexuality are broken down, and arguments on hermeneutic have been made, what comes out on the other end for me is, Where is love in all of this?
At the end of the day, when I seriously consider Paul’s writings on this subject, I see Paul’s list of vices and problems of unrighteous living, and then I see him offer a solution to those problems. The solution is always found in love. Paul exhorts his readers to change their unrighteous ways by returning to the ways of God. If God is Love, then, following the way of love is following the way of God.
So, if there are those in the gay community who live their lives with the claim of truly seeking to be the authentic and complete version of what God created them to be, and in their searching find another with whom they desire to spend the rest of their lives living in a committed and God centered relationship (and there are many!), those who defend a traditional reading of the Bible on homosexuality can conclude nothing less than those people are simply lying; they are not truly following the convictions of their hearts but are actually deliberately perverting what they know deep down in their hearts to be the truth, that they are not actually homosexual, but have simply given themselves over to a perverted and unrighteous way of behaving.
I cannot buy that argument.
I know too many people who have so painfully struggled with who they truly are and have spent many an hour trying to “pray away” their homosexuality. I cannot disagree with the notion that we all have our own individual struggles to work through in this life, while on our way to trying to grow into what God has truly intended for us to be. But, I cannot put homosexuality alongside a bad temper or a proclivity toward gambling as vices on which one needs to work and pray about.
So, I conclude this series here and will move on to other things. I have never considered that I have the definitive scholarly view on this subject, but only claim that I have done all I can to see this situation with my heart and mind committed to love.
If this subject is a struggle for you, please study it for yourself. Pray for guidance and compassion as you also pray for wisdom, and keep your compass always pointed in the direction of love. It is only in love that we find peace, compassion, understanding and hope.
For it is in love, and only love, that we find God.
I wish you peace,