Has “Homosexual” always been in the Bible?
THE WORD ARSENOKOITAI SHOWS UP IN TWO DIFFERENT VERSES IN THE BIBLE, BUT IT WAS NOT TRANSLATED TO MEAN HOMOSEXUAL UNTIL 1946.
WE GOT TO SIT DOWN WITH ED OXFORD AT HIS HOME IN LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA AND TALK ABOUT THIS QUESTION.
YOU HAVE BEEN PART OF A RESEARCH TEAM THAT IS SEEKING TO UNDERSTAND HOW THE DECISION WAS MADE TO PUT THE WORD HOMOSEXUAL IN THE BIBLE. IS THAT TRUE?
Ed: Yes. It first showed up in the RSV translation. So before figuring out why they decided to use that word in the RSV translation (which is outlined in my upcoming book with Kathy Baldock, Forging a Sacred Weapon: How the Bible Became Anti-Gay) I wanted to see how other cultures and translations treated the same verses. So I started collecting Bibles in French, German, Irish, Gaelic, Czechoslovakian, Polish… you name it. Now I’ve got most European major languages that I’ve collected over time. Anyway, I had a German friend come back to town and I asked if he could help me with some passages in one of my German Bibles from the 1800s. So we went to Leviticus 18:22 and he’s translating it for me word for word. In the English it says “Man shall not lie with man, for it is an abomination,” In the German version it says “Man shall not lie with young boys as he does with women, for it an abomination.” I said, “What?! Are you sure?” He said, “Yes!” So we went to Leviticus 20:13— same thing, “Young boys.” So we went to 1 Corinthians to see how they translated arsenokoitai (original greek word) and instead of homosexuals it said, “Boy molesters will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Next I went to the facsimile copy of Martin Luther’s original German translation from 1534. So my friend is reading through it for me and he says, “Ed, it says the same thing!” They use the word knabenschander. Knaben is where we get the word boy from. It carried through from there into the next German translation in 1736. This word “boy molestors” carried through the next several centuries of German Bible translations. Knabenschander is in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. So the interesting thing is, I asked if they ever changed the word arsenekotai to homosexual in modern translations. So my friend found it and told me, “The first time homosexual appears in a German translation is 1983.” To me that was a little suspect because of what was happening in culture in the 1970s. Also because the Germans were the ones who created the word homosexual in 1862, they had all the history, research, and understanding to change it if they saw fit; however, they did not change it until 1983. If anyone was going to put the word in the Bible, they should have been the first to do it!
As I was talking with my friends I said, “I wonder why not until 1983? Was their influence from America?” So we had our German connection look into it again and it turns out that the company, Biblica, who owns the NIV version, paid for this 1983 German version. So then Americans paid for it! In 1983 Germany didn’t have enough of a Christian population to warrant the cost of a new Bible translation, because it’s not cheap. So an American company paid for it and influenced the decision, resulting in the word homosexual entering the German Bible for the first time in history. So, I say, I think there is a “gay agenda” after all!
I also have a 1674 Swedish version and an 1830 Norwegian version of the Bible. I asked one of my friends, who was attending Fuller seminary and is fluent in both Swedish and Norwegian, to look at these verses for me. So we met at a coffee shop in Pasadena with my old Bibles. (She didn’t really know why I was asking.) Just like reading an old English Bible, it’s not easy to read. The letters are a little bit funky, the spelling is a little bit different. So she’s going through it carefully, and her face comes up, “Do you know what this says?!” and I said, “No! That’s why you are here!” She said, “It says boy abusers, boy molesters.” And, in fact, in the Norwegian version, she pointed out, that if you were to line up boys of different ages and say which group of these boys is this referring to, it would be the 8-12 year old group. That was how the linguistics were working and it was obviously referring the pederasty.
So then I started thinking that of 4 of the 6 clobber passages, all these nations and translations were referring to pederasty, and not what we would call homosexuality today.
Q:HOW DID THE TRANSLATIONS TEAMS WORK?
Well, they didn’t operate out of a vacuum when they translated something. Last week at the Huntington Library I found a 1483 Lexicon. I looked up arsenokoitai and it gives the Latin equivalent, paedico and praedico. If you look those up it means pederasty, or knabenschander, boy molester, in German. 1483 is the time Martin Luther was born. When he was running for his life translating the Bible and carrying his books, he would have used this Lexicon. It was the Lexicon of his time. This Lexicon came from the past 1000 years before with the church fathers and all of their writings.
SO THERE IS HISTORICAL TRADITION TO SHOW THAT THESE VERSES AREN’T RELATING TO HOMOSEXUALITY?
Yes. Sometimes I’m frustrated when I talk to pastors today and they say, “Well I believe the historical tradition surrounding these verses.” My response is, “Which Bible do you use? Oh, you mean the past 50 years of tradition. My Bible is 500 years old.” The ignorance on their part and the arrogance on their part, “2000 years of history!” It just doesn’t line up. The truth needs to come out. Please don’t talk to me about history when you don’t even know history. That’s why I’m collecting these Bibles.
YES! MY BROTHER, WHO IS A PASTOR, ALSO TOLD ME THE SAME THING: THAT EVERY SECTOR OF THE CHURCH HAS SEEN SAME-SEX RELATIONSHIPS AS SINFUL FOR 2,000 YEARS. BUT THE MORE I READ AND STUDY THOUGH, THE MORE I JUST DON’T SEE THIS BEING TRUE.
WHAT WAS USED BEFORE HOMOSEXUAL SHOWED UP IN THE RSV VERSION?
King James Version triumphed the land and they used the phrase, “Abusers of themselves with mankind” for arsenokoitai. If you asked people during that time, they would ask “What does this mean? Masturbation?” No one really wanted to tackle it. So that’s why I’m collecting Bibles, Biblical commentaries and Lexicons.
Q: IN YOUR OPINION, HOW WOULD THE CHURCH BE DIFFERENT IF THE RSV DIDN’T CHANGE ARESENKOITAI AND MALAKOI TO HOMOESEXUAL IN 1946 ?
In my opinion, if the RSV did not use the word homosexual in first Corinthians 6:9, and instead would have spent years in proper research to understand homosexuality and to really dig into the historical contextualization, I think translators would have ended up with a more accurate translation of the abusive nature intended by this word. I think we could have avoided the horrible damage that was done from pulpits all across America, and ultimately other parts of the world.
Q: AND DO YOU THINK YOUR LIFE WOULD HAVE GONE DIFFERENTLY AS A RESULT?
Yes, absolutely! I think my life would have been starkly different if the translation would have been translated with the accurate historical contextualization - especially within my own family, since they rely so heavily on the English translation and put a lot of faith in the translators for the final product in English. Since they haven’t studied Greek or Hebrew, they have no concept of challenging a translation, and any potential errors that may have occurred during translation. Therefore, they are unable to think beyond the English translation in front of them.
Q: BASED ON YOUR RESEARCH, WHAT ADVISE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR LGBTQ CHRISTIANS TODAY?
My advice to LGBTQ Christians today would be three things:
1.) As difficult as it may be, try to extend grace and patience to the Church. The vast majority of pastors in America have not done their due diligence on this topic, so we can’t expect them to be any further along than they are currently. In the same way that God has extended grace and patience with us when we sin, we need to extend grace and patience toward others regarding their error on this topic. Bitterness will only manage to create further damage.
2.) Seek out other LGBTQ Christians who have already done their due diligence on this topic and reached a point of peace between their sexuality and God. We can learn a lot from others who are a little further up the trail.
3.) Often remind yourself that this mess is not caused by God, but instead is the result of people who have been entrusted with free will.
Ed Oxford is a gay Christian, a graduate of Talbot School of Theology, and a researcher in how the Bible has been weaponized against LGBTQ people. His first book written with Kathy Baldock, Forging a Sacred Weapon: How the Bible Became Anti-Gay will be released in 2020.
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Leaving and joining the Episcopal Church: the importance of demographics, belief orthodoxy, and LGBTQ issues
According to the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Survey, more than half of Americans (56%) currently identify with a religious denomination that is different than the one they were raised in. This decreases to 42% if you count only those who have switched from one wider religious tradition (such as Catholic to Jewish or Evangelical to “none of the above,”) to another. Where do Episcopalians fit in this picture of religious change?
The RLS survey reveals that of those raised Episcopalian, about 61% continue to identify as Episcopalian/Anglican as adults, a slightly higher retention than the national average. Nearly two in five (17%) now identify as “none of the above.” Another 6% have joined another denomination within Mainline Protestantism while 7% now identify as Evangelicals and 4% as Catholic. Roughly 5% now identify as either Muslim, Jewish, Mormon, Buddhist, Hindu, or something else. Looking at it another way, about 60% of those who have left the Episcopal Church still claim some form of religious identity while the other 40% does not.
Who leaves the Episcopal Church?
There are a variety of factors that can correlate with religious disaffiliation. To identify which ones matter for Episcopal disaffiliation, I used a statistical tool called regression analysis that can tease out the independent effect of one factor on a particular outcome while simultaneously controlling for several others. Specifically, I analyzed the independent effect of demographics (gender, age, race/ethnicity, education, income), social attitudes (including political partisanship and same-sex marriage attitudes), and religious factors (strength of belief in God, frequency of prayer, importance of religion, religion as a source of morality, frequency of spiritual experiences, Biblical literalism, frequency of worship service attendance, desire to preserve tradition vs. modernize in one’s religious community, how exclusive one sees their own religious tradition in terms of salvation, and how they view questions of right and wrong).
This analysis revealed only three variables that consistently predicted who currently identifies as a former Episcopalian vs. a current Episcopalian.
Belief in God: in general, current Episcopalians are more likely to believe in God than former Episcopalians (96% vs 78%, respectively), but once we control for the differences mentioned above (e.g. between people who reaffiliate into another tradition and continue to participate in a religious life vs. those who disaffiliate and no longer participate), stronger belief in God is actually associated with a higher likelihood of having left the Episcopal Church. Those with the firmest belief in God are about 15% more likely to be former Episcopalians compared to those who are unsure about their belief, and 30% more likely than those who are certain that God does not exist.
Absolute morality: about a third (34%) of former Episcopalians believe that there are “clear and absolute standards for what is right and wrong” instead of “what is right and wrong depends on the context.” This is only slightly higher than the 29% of current Episcopalians who believe in absolute morality, but after controlling for demographics, religiosity, etc., those who believe in clear and absolute morality are about 12% more likely to be former Episcopalians than current Episcopalians.
Same sex marriage: 28% of former Episcopalians oppose same sex marriage (either strongly or somewhat) compared to 20% of current Episcopalians. After statistically controlling for the other factors as discussed above, however, those who strongly oppose same-sex marriage are 20% more likely to have left than those who strongly support.
Who joins the Episcopal Church?
Roughly half (48%) of those who today call themselves Episcopalians said that they were raised in some other religious tradition or denomination. Of those who are Episcopalian “converts,” the vast majority (93%) were raised in another Christian denomination, with 37% coming from Mainline Protestantism, 29% from Catholicism, 24% from Evangelical Protestantism, and 3% from some other Christian tradition. Who are these Episcopal converts? It turns out there are a few consistent predictors.
Demographically, those who join the Episcopal Church tend to be a little older, whiter, and better educated than other Americans, largely in line with the demographic profile of Episcopalians in the U.S. as a whole. Religiously, they tend to be less prayerful (in terms of frequency of personal prayer) and less likely to interpret the Bible literally, “word for word.” They are also more likely than the average American to say that religion in an important part of their lives.
The single strongest predictor, though, is one’s attitude toward same-sex marriage. Those who strongly support same-sex marriage are roughly five times more likely to be an Episcopal convert than the average American. Or looking at it another way, 80% of Episcopal converts favor same-sex marriage compared to 58% of Americans as a whole. (Keep in mind these are still small numbers in an absolute sense. Strongly supporting same-sex marriage instead of strongly opposing increases the odds of being an Episcopal convert from about 1 in 400 to 1 in 100.)
The Episcopal Church experiences similar rates of membership churn as the country at large: about 40% of those raised Episcopalian now identify as something else, and about 50% of those who are now Episcopalian were raised in another religious tradition.
Statistically controlling for several demographic, social, and religious factors, those who have left the Episcopal Church tend to have more certain beliefs in God, are more “black and white” in their moral thinking, and are opposed to same-sex marriage. On the other hand, those who have joined the Episcopal Church tend to be a little older, whiter, and better educated than the average American. They tend to place a higher importance on religion while being less literal in their views of the Bible and engaging in personal prayer less frequently. Above all, they support same-sex marriage.
There is, of course, the question of correlation and causation. It could be that those who switch denominations for one reason or another adopt the prevailing views and behaviors of those in their new congregations. Research has shown, however, that Americans choose religious communities that fit their political and religious beliefs much more often than they change their political views to match their church’s teachings.
Thus, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the Episcopal Church’s more inclusive and thoughtful approach to spirituality as well as its prominent advocacy of marriage equality/LGBTQ rights are the most influential factors right now that are driving some people away from the Episcopal Church while simultaneously drawing newcomers in.
Dr. Benjamin Knoll is the John Marshall Harlan Associate Professor of Politics at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. He is a political scientist specializing in American public opinion and voting behavior, specifically in the fields of religion and politics and race and politics. He is the co-author of She Preached the Word: Women’s Ordination in Modern America, (Oxford University Press, 2018). @benjaminknoll28
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