The following is a question I was asked by a listener of the WWUTT podcast. I mentioned on episode 1185 that I would answer it on my blog. Here is the question and my response.
I enjoy your podcast, especially the Friday editions! I have a question that has to do with an article that was gaining steam around the internet about a year ago and I’ve seen it come back recently. The topic is about homosexuality and the word used in the Bible for homosexuals. The point of the article was that the original language used in the “clobber verses” was a different word in the earlier translations that meant “boy molesters,” and it was changed to homosexual in 1946.
Here’s the link to article. Is that true?
Matt, North Carolina
Thanks for your question, Matt! The article you linked to is entitled Has “Homosexual” Always Been in the Bible? published on March 21, 2019 to the website Forge, a site committed to “resources for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church.” The founder of Forge, Justin Hershey, interviewed Ed Oxford about a new book he is publishing, Forging a Sacred Weapon: How the Bible Became Anti-Gay.
Hershey and Oxford confess to being “gay Christians.” That’s important to know because it reveals their bias up-front. The “gay Christian” movement is notorious for pushing the narrative that there’s been a decades-long conspiracy to make the Bible anti-gay. The reality is that the “gay Christians” are the ones attempting to make the Bible pro-gay. The most prominent voice in this movement has been Matthew Vines, who has refused to engage any true biblical scholar over the way he twists Scripture.
In the interview with Hershey, Oxford makes many broad, nonsense assumptions with no evidence or expertise to back up any of his claims. We’re just supposed to take his word for it. He talks about how he has studied many Bibles in a variety of languages, including “French, German, Irish, Gaelic, Czechoslovakian, [and] Polish,” though he is not fluent in these languages. He uses interpreters whom he doesn’t name, and all these linguists seem to be friendly to his cause.
Oxford says that he has studied many of the verses that call homosexuality sin, like 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10, and Leviticus 18:22. Regarding the Leviticus passage, Oxford says we’re used to reading, “Man shall not lie with man, for it is an abomination.” But in a 19th century German Bible, an interpreter has told him that the text says, “Man shall not lie with young boys as he does with a woman, for it is an abomination.” Many of these older Bibles in other languages were condemning pederasty, Oxford claims, not homosexuality (Vines has made the same argument).
The sum of the article is that Oxford believes he has successfully clobbered all of the “clobber verses” used to condemn homosexuality. “I think there is a ‘gay agenda’ after all!” he exclaims in a fit of irony—an agenda to make the Bible anti-gay.
Now, I don’t know if his claim about old German Bibles is true. I don’t speak German—and unless I missed something, neither does Oxford. But I find his discovery really hard to believe. Nineteenth century German protestant minister Heinrich Meyer wrote in his New Testament commentary that “sodomites, who defile themselves with men” will be excluded “from the Messiah’s kingdom” (his notes on 1 Corinthians 6:9). To this point, he cited Eusebius’s Praeparatio Evangelica, published in the 4th century, which also used the word sodomy. So to say that 19th century Germans or 4th century Mediterraneans believed passages such as this condemned only pederasty is absurd.
Besides, the original languages of the Bible are not German or English or Swedish or Norwegian or any of the other translations Oxford cites. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic and the New Testament in Koine Greek. Oxford’s arguments are easy to rebut, even if the only language you know is English.
Consider just these two verses, Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1:27 respectively, as you would read them in the Geneva Bible from 1599:
“Thou shalt not lie with the male as one lieth with a woman: for it is abomination.”
“And likewise also the men left the natural use of the woman, and burned in their lust one toward another, and man with man wrought filthiness, and received in themselves such recompense of their error, as was meet.”
Lo and behold, that’s the same thing you would read in today’s essentially literal English translations of the Bible (like the ESV, NASB, and NKJV). But what about a passage like 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which is one of the most commonly cited passages in opposition to homosexuality? Here is how we would have read it in English in 1599:
“Know ye that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor wantons, nor buggerers, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
I think it goes without saying that there have been some changes to the English language over the last 420 years. In the modern English Standard Version of the Bible, verse 9 reads, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality” shall receive the kingdom of God. In the New American Standard, we read, “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals.”
In 16th century English, what was a wanton or a buggerer? Keep in mind that we have to understand these terms according to their usage in the generation the text was translated, not according to how we might hear someone use those words today. (This is something else lacking in the Forge article. Hershey and Oxford might tell us the English translation of a German text from the 19th century, but they don’t tell us what those words meant to a German in the 19th century.)
To be “wanton” was to be driven by an insatiable sexual appetite. That’s pretty self-explanatory. A buggerer was “one who buggers.” Alright, what does that mean? It meant a man who has anal sex with another man. The word “bugger” comes from the Medieval Latin word Bulgarus which meant “a Bulgarian,” the old English version of a sodomite. Apparently, the English had such contempt toward the Eastern Orthodox and their doctrine, they thought of them as low as men fornicating with other men, and “bugger” was the slang derogatory term for a heretic sodomite.
It seems the protestant reformers of the 16th century were even more harsh in their condemnation of homosexuality than the English-speaking western culture of today! If anything, you would have to argue that the language has become softer over the years in its condemnation of homosexuality. But I digress. Admittedly, that is an over-simplification.
Like buggerer, the word homosexual has an origin story. It is said, as Ed Oxford also claims, that homosexual comes from the German word homosexualität used in the mid 19th century. But both the German and English word have a common ancestor: homo comes from the Greek term meaning “same,” and sexual comes from the Latin word for sex. Homosexual did not make it into the English lexicon until 1901, and the first time it was used in an English translation of the Bible was 1946. Oxford mentions this, but he makes it sound like there was some conspiracy to pull this German word into English Bibles in an effort to gay-bash. Nothing could be further from the truth.
There is no universal, timeless word to define men who have sex with men. If there’s any word that comes the closest, it’s sodomite. As you might know, this word is derived from Genesis 19 where the men of the wicked city of Sodom demanded to have sex with the two men who were sent by the Lord to rescue Lot before God destroyed Sodom with fire and brimstone. Sodomite comes up several more times in the Old Testament, describing the male temple prostitutes who had sex with each other or with other men (for example, see Deuteronomy 23:17 and 1 Kings 14:24 in the King James Version, where the word sodomite is used in English). First century Jewish historian Josephus also used this word.
So why didn’t the Apostle Paul use it in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 when he said homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God? Well, he did. The Greek word for homosexual is arsenokoites. That is the Greek word for sodomite. The word is literally taken from Leviticus 18:22—remember, that’s verse where it says a man shall not lay next to another man as one lays with a woman. In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), the words arseno and koites lay next to one another (no pun intended). In using this neologism, Paul was making a reference to the Law of God where it says a man having sex with another man is worthy of death.
Matthew Poole (1624-1679), Matthew Henry (1662-1714), John Gill (1697-1771), Joseph Benson (1749-1821), and the aforementioned Heinrich Meyer (1800-1873) all used the word sodomite in their New Testament commentaries to refer to men who have sex with men. No, the Bible has not become progressively anti-gay. The true church’s commitment to the text of Scripture has always been to be as faithful as possible to what the original authors said and meant. Ultimately, we know there is only one author of the Bible—God Himself. “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
God did not intend for men to have sex with men or women to have sex with women. This is not only according to Scripture, it’s obvious! You don’t need to have an advanced degree in biology to know how sex is supposed to work. In plain English, hetero-sexuality is natural, homo-sexuality is not. In the Bible, we learn that God created sex to be enjoyed only between a man and his wife. Any kind of sex outside of the marriage bed is sin, even to desire it (Colossians 3:5-6). Men like Justin Hershey and Ed Oxford love their sin so much, they would be willing to blaspheme God and manipulate His word, lying to themselves and to everyone else, in order to justify their sinful passions.
We read in 2 Peter 3:16 that the ignorant and unstable twist the Scriptures to their own destruction. I pray that Hershey and Oxford will know the truth and repent of their Bible bending and other bent behavior, humbling themselves before the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, before it’s too late.
Be vigilant, Christian! Thank you for your question.