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Homosexuality in the New Testament

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The negative interpretations of homosexuality in the New Testament have long been at the heart of the condemnation of homosexuality by many Christian Churches and denominations.

Views on inspiration

The attitude of Pauline and sola scriptura Christians to the Bible is based on 2 Timothy 3:16 (TNIV):

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
Fundamentalists interpret this to mean that the bible is God's actual words and therefore not meant to be interpreted.


James the Just, whose judgment was adopted in the Apostolic Decree of Acts 15:19-29, c. 50 AD: "...we should write to them [Gentiles] to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood..." (NRSV)

Matthew 15; Mark 7: What defiles

In Matthew 15: 19-20 (KJV) Jesus is reported as saying:

For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual impurities, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

In Mark 7: 20-23 (KJV) it says:

And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, sexual impurities, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

Whether these lists include homosexuality depends on the translation of porneia (sexual impurity). Translations of these passages generally translate porneia incorrectly as fornication rather than sexual impurity (see Leviticus). As Jesus does not specifically include homosexuality, it has been argued that he did not condemn it. However, it has been pointed out that this is an argument from silence which has also been criticized on the grounds that the rabbis of the 1st century generally included homosexuality within their condemnations of sexual immorality (Satlow 1995), although Jesus did not necessarily agree with the conclusions of the Jewish authorities of the time (e.g. his views on divorce).

Porneia appears a number of times in Paul's letters, always with arsenokoitais. In, "Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality", John Boswell argued that the word 'arsenokoitais' in 1 Corinthians 6:19 and 1 Timothy 1:10 refers to male prostitution specifically. Various conservative scholars have presented countering arguments.[1][2][3]

Matthew 8; Luke 7: "pais"

This event is referred to in both Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10 and tells of Jesus healing a centurion's servant.

Luke 7:2 (TNIV) says:

There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.

The term translated from the Greek as "servant" is pais. This can be translated in a number of different ways including "child" (eg., Matthew 2:16; Lk 2:43, 8:51-54 where it refers to a girl), "son" (John 4:51), "servant" (Lk 15:26, Acts 4:25), or be unclear whether "son" or "servant" is meant (Acts 3:13, 3:26, 4:27, 4:30) (Marston 2003).

There are several instances in Ancient Greek literature of the term also having been used to denote a homosexual partner. For example, it is claimed that the connotation arises in the written work of individuals such as Thucydides (460-400 BC), Eupolis (446-411 BC), Aeschines (390-314 BC), Plato, Plutarch and Callimanchus (305-240 BC). However, every other instance of the term's use within biblical scripture has been rendered true to the precision of the Greek lexicon, excluding any sexual connotation, thus marking the alternative interpretation to be somewhat of an inconsistency. It is also unclear to what degree and in what precise manner such connotations were linguistically acknowledged in the ancient world. Such observations are much more relevant, bearing in mind the interim period of several hundred years and the ensuing significant cultural changes prior to the creation of the scriptural texts.

Horner (1978) and Helminiak (2000) suggest a homosexual theme to this text. Helminiak argues that this is implied by the broader context of the narrative suggesting an unusual level of concern about the servant, whereas Horner suggests that use of the term "valued highly" implies a sexual relationship. Horner goes on to argue that, as Jesus commended the centurion for his faith (Matthew 8:10; Luke 7:9), it shows that Jesus approved of their relationship, otherwise he would have condemned him.

Other biblical scholars largely dismiss such opinions as deliberately distorted interpretations of the text (Marston 2003). Furthermore, the Greek term for "valued highly" (ἔντιμος; entimos) clarifies the absence of any sexual connotation (NET Bible 2005, Luke 7). Marston argues that Jesus would not have condoned any homosexual relationship, in line with the weight of other scriptural evidence; while Chapman (2005) suggests that even if the relationship had been homosexual, his lack of condemnation does not necessarily equate to his approval of them.

Romans 1

In the Epistle to the Romans 1:26-27 (EMTV), Paul writes

For this reason [idolatry] God gave them up to passions of dishonor; for even their females exchanged the natural use for that which is contrary to nature, and likewise also the males, having left the natural use of the female, were inflamed by their lust for one another, males with males, committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the recompense which was fitting for their error.

This has been described as "the most important biblical reference for the homosexuality debate" (Hilborn 2002, p. 5). It is also the only apparent reference in the Bible to female homosexuality, though some maintain that this prohibition applies only to male homosexuals.[1] Hilborn (2002, p. 6) argues that in the wider passage (Romans 1:18-32) Paul writes that the "global scope of salvation history has been made manifest not only in ‘the gospel of God's Son’ (cf. v.9), but also in the very ‘creation of the world’ (v.20)." In common with many traditional commentators, Hilborn (2002, p.7) goes on to argue that condemnation of homosexual activity is derived from the "broad contours" of Paul's argument, in addition to the selective reading of individual words or phrases.

Gay activists (eg., Boswell 1980, p. 109f; Vasey 1995, p. 131f) speculate that the text does not condemn homosexual acts by homosexuals, rather "homosexual acts committed by heterosexual persons" (Boswell 1980, p. 109), or heterosexuals who "abandoned" or "exchanged" heterosexuality for homosexuality (McNeil, 1993). Boswell argues that the conceptual modality (natural laws) which would provide the basis for the blanket condemnation of homosexuality did not exist prior to the Enlightenment era In his series "Responding to Pro-Gay Theology", Christian apologist Joe Dallas contends that the apostle Paul is condemning changing "the natural use into that which is against nature" as being biologically contrary to nature—not just unnatural to heterosexuals, and to require this to mean heterosexuals experimenting with homosexuality requires unreasonable mental gymnastics.

Gay activist West argues that Paul is condemning specific types of homosexual activity (such as temple prostitution or pederasty) rather than a broader interpretation (West 2005, p. 3). West argues that Paul is speaking to a Gentile audience in terms that they would understand to show that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

Another area of contention is the apparent reference to female homosexuality. Most interpreters assume that, due to the analogy with same-sex lust between males, that Paul is referring to female same-sex behavior. This assumption is not conclusive, and it remains difficult to discern exactly what Paul meant by women exchanging natural intercourse for unnatural (Nissinen 1998, p. 108).

The more conservative biblical interpreters maintain that "the most authentic reading of Rom 1:26-7 is that which sees it prohibiting homosexual activity in the most general of terms, rather than in respect of more culturally and historically specific forms of such activity" (Hilborn 2002, p. 9; also Howard, 1996, p. 50). That "nature" in Rm 1:26 refers to acting contrary to design and man's normality is seen as evidenced by its use in Romans 11:21,24. Hays argues that Romans 1:26,27 is part of a general condemnation of humans, in which males and females, have rejected their creational (as in Genesis) distinctions, with homoeroticism being intrinsically wrong.[4] A statement by the General Synod of the Church of England (Issues in Human Sexuality) illustrates a categorisation and understanding of homosexuality, claiming that in ancient times "society recognized the existence of those, predominantly male, who appeared to be attracted entirely to members of their own sex." (Issues in Human Sexuality para 2.16, lines 8-9) which almost parallels that of modern ideation.

The same study is careful to point out that "the modern concept of orientation has been developed against a background of genetic and psychological theory which was not available to the ancient world."(Issues in Human Sexuality, para 2.16, lines 16-18) Although some ancient Romans (i.e. doctors, astrologers, etc.) discussed congenital inclinations to unconventional sexual activities such as homosexuality, this classification fails to correspond to a modern psychological, biological and genetic distinction between homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual orientations (Brooten 1998, p. 242). In addition, the concept of sexual orientation as being separate from one's perceived masculinity or femininity (i.e. gender identity) did not take shape until the 19th century (Halperin 1990, p. 9). A argument based upon this concept is responded to by Gagnon, in upholding the traditional position.[5]

1 Corinthians 6; 1 Timothy 1

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (TNIV), Paul says:

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 male prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

The word translated as "practicing homosexuals" has challenged scholars for centuries, and has been alternately rendered as "abusers of themselves with mankind" (KJV), "sodomites" (YLT), or "men who practice homosexuality". The original term is very unusual, ἀρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoitēs), thought to mean "one who has sexual intercourse with a male" (Greek ἄῤῥην / ἄρσην [arrhēn / arsēn] "male"; κοίτην [koitēn] "sexual intercourse"), rather than the normal terms from the Greek culture. Within the Bible, it only occurs in this passage and in a similar list in 1 Timothy 1:9-10. Paul may have been drawing from the Greek (Septuagint) translation of Leviticus 18:22: καὶ μετὰ ἄρσενος οὐ κοιμηθήσῃ κοίτην γυναικός· βδέλυγμα γάρ ἐστιν (kai meta arsenos ou koimēthēsē koitēn gunaikos. bdelugma gar estin "And you shall not have sexual intercourse with a male as with a female. For it is unclean.") Boswell (1980) argues that this is a term specifically created by Paul. Given its unusual nature, the fact that Paul did not use one of the more common Greek terms, and given its direct reference to the Levitical laws, it is a matter of debate whether Paul was referring generally to any person having homosexual sex, or whether (as discussed below) it referred only to anal sex of any form (cf. Elliott 2004). Other translations of the word include Martin's (1996), who argued it meant "homosexual slave trader" and Boswell (1980) who argued it referred to "homosexual rape" or homosexual prostitutes. Scroggs perceives it as referring to pederasty.[6] Opposing these views are extensive examinations by D. F. Wright[7], James B. De Young[8] and Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon.[9]

The term arsenokoitai was rarely used in Church writings (Elliott 1994), with Townsley (2003) counting a total of 73 references. Most are ambiguous in nature, although St. John Chrysostom, in the 4th century, seems to use the term arsenokoitai to refer to pederasty common in the Greco-Roman culture of the time and Patriarch John IV of Constantinople in the 6th century used it to refer to anal sex: "some men even commit the sin of arsenokoitai with their wives" (Townsley 2003). Moreover, Hippolytus of Rome in his Refutation of all Heresies describes a Gnostic teaching, according to which an evil angel Naas committed adultery with Eve and arsenokoitēs with Adam[10]. The context suggests the translation of arsenokoitēs as pederasty[11], although it might have a different meaning[12].

Perhaps even more challenging is the word translated as "male prostitutes" (TNIV), "effeminate" (NASB), or "catamites" (in the footnotes of the NKJV). The Greek word μαλακόςmalakos carries a root meaning of soft, luxurious or dainty, but here it used in a much darker way, most likely referring to the more passive partner in a homosexual relationship.[13] The two terms are sometimes rendered as "men who practice homosexuality" in the ESV, which notes that together they "refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts". One major problem with this interpretation lies in the fact that arsenokoitai appears on its own in Timothy, without malakos, demonstrating that the two words do not necessarily form a fixed word-pairing (Nissinen 1998, p. 114, 118). It is difficult for some to understand why Paul would condemn both the active and passive partners in male homosexual activity in 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 but then in 1 Timothy 1: 9-10 he would only condemn the active partner, if the ESV and other similar translations are indeed accurate in their assertions.


  1. The source and NT meaning of Arsenokoitai, with implications or Christian ethics and ministry James B. De Young
  2. The Condemnation of Homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9 David E. Malick
  3. Homosexuality Revisited in Light of the Current Climate, by Calvin Smith
  4. "Relations Natural and Unnatural: A Response to John Boswell's Exegesis of Romans I, by Richard B. Hays in the Journal of Religious Ethics, Vol. 14 (1986), pp. 199-201.
  5. The Faulty Orientation Argument of Anglican Archbishop Harper of Ireland
  6. Robin Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality
  7. "Homosexuals or Prostitutes? The Meaning of ARSENOKOITAI
  10. Hippolytus. Refutation of all Heresies. Book V, Ch 21
  11. See, e.g., Pearson, B. A. Ancient Gnosticism (Fortress Press, 2007), Ch. 6, p. 44. ISBN 0800632583
  12. Martin, D. B. Arsenokoités and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences
  13. Fee, G. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, p. 243
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Homosexuality in the New Testament. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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