What the Bible Says About Homosexuality

Steve Wells is the author of the brilliant Skeptics Annotated Bible website. Last year, he published a print version of the site, which I said was the best book of the year.

He wrote another book last year, too, documenting all the people God kills in the Bible. It was called Drunk with Blood.

Now, he’s back with a new book (I don’t know how he does it) all about what the Bible says about homosexuality. It’s called Strange Flesh:

In the excerpt below, Wells explains the so-called “Clobber Verses” and how conservative and liberal Christians interpret them:

There are only five passages in the Bible that deal explicitly with homosexuality. It just doesn’t come up very often. But whenever it does, it is condemned in no uncertain terms.

Conservative Christians, of course, love these verses, although most acknowledge that God went a bit too far in Leviticus 20:13. Sure, they say, homosexuality is an abomination worthy of death, but must they really execute all male homosexuals? Can’t they just wait until the “sodomites” die and let God apply the punishment (endless torment in hell)?

Liberals hate these verses, calling them “clobber verses,” since they are the verses that conservatives clobber them with. They claim, however, that none of these verses have anything to do with the issue of homosexuality. Since that obviously isn’t true, their views require some nuanced and refined explanation. I’ll do my best to provide that for each passage below. (Verses are presented in biblical order.)

1. It is abomination

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. Leviticus 18:22

It just grosses God out for some reason. He is completely disgusted by it, like he is with these things:

Lobsters, shrimp, clams, snails, and squids

Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you. Leviticus 11:12

Four-legged fowls

All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be an abomination unto you. Leviticus 11:20

Four-footed flying, creeping things

But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you. Leviticus 11:23

Creeping things

Every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth shall be an abomination. Leviticus 11:41

Whatever crawls on its belly, goes on all four, or has lots of feet

Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth … are an abomination. Leviticus 11:42

Sacrificing a blemished sheep or goat

Thou shalt not sacrifice unto the LORD thy God any bullock, or sheep, wherein is blemish, or any evilfavouredness: for that is an abomination unto the LORD thy God. Deuteronomy 17:1

Crossdressers

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God. Deuteronomy 22:5

Taking back an ex-wife after she’s been “defiled”

When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife; Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD. Deuteronomy 24:1-4

The work of a craftsman

Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman…. Deuteronomy 27:15

Whatever people value the most (kindness, wisdom, courage, love, money, power, sex, and cell phones)

That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God. Luke 16:15

Conservatives point out that the only sexual practice that God calls an abomination is same-sex intercourse. Leviticus 18 has a long list of sexual sins, but only one is referred to as an abomination (sexual relations between males) and this designation is repeated in Leviticus 20:13, which imposes the death sentence for those who engage in it.

Liberal responses:

  • Leviticus 18:22 refers only to sexual activity between males. It says nothing at all about lesbian sex.
  • The “abomination” in this verse refers to only one type of male-male sexual activity: the penile penetration of the anus of one male by another. There’s nothing abominable about other types of male homoerotic sex.
  • Since the previous verse (Leviticus 18:21) condemns child sacrifice to Molech, the context suggests that God’s main concern is with sexual activity in idolatrous religious ceremonies. God is okay with sexual intercourse between males as long as it’s not done in a pagan temple. That would be an abomination.
  • The word “abomination” was used to identify ritually impure practices, like eating pork or having sex with a menstruating woman. It had nothing to do with morality and should not be used today to condemn homosexuals or homosexuality.
  • In this verse God is telling male homosexuals to “man up” about their gay sex. It is an abomination to pretend like one partner is a female when both are males. Come out of the closet and have sex openly as men for God’s sake!
  • This verse applied to a particular place and a particular time (ancient Israel); we can therefore ignore it (along with everything else we dislike or find inconvenient in the Hebrew scriptures) today.
  • This verse does not condemn sexual activity between males in loving, stable, committed relationships.
  • Since the condemnation of homosexual erotic activity is only repeated a few places in the Bible, it is not important to God and can be ignored.
  • The abominations in the Old Testament are no longer relevant in light of the New Testament’s teachings.
  • God called many things abominations in the Bible that we are fine with today. So we can safely ignore Leviticus 18:22.17
  • Leviticus 18:22 is simply wrong about homosexuality.

2. Their blood shall be upon them

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:13

This is one of the clearest verses in the Bible; it is ignored by virtually all Bible believers. Not even members of the Westboro Baptist Church are willing to obey God on this one.

Its meaning, however, is simple and indisputable: God commands believers to kill male homosexuals. The only question is, how?

That’s not really much of a question, though. There are only two means of execution in the Bible: stoning and burning, and there are examples of both in the same chapter of Leviticus.

If a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they. Leviticus 20:14

A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:27

So should gay men be burned to death, like the strange threesome in verse 14, or stoned to death, like the witches and wizards in verse 27?

Or maybe we should stone them and burn them as God did to the original Sodomites.

The LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven. Genesis 19:24

And as Joshua did to Achan and his family to punish Achan for taking the accursed thing.

And Joshua… took Achan… and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his sheep… And all of Israel stoned them with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones… So the LORD turned from the fierceness of his anger. Joshua 7:24-26

We may never know the answer for sure, but the chosen method should be bloody, since the phrase “their blood shall be upon them” is used in Leviticus 20:13. (So lethal injection, electrocution, the gas chamber, strangulation, boiling, drowning, or hanging are not biblically correct options.)

Liberals tend to ignore this verse since even conservative Christians admit that God went way too far on this one. When the conservatives start executing their disobedient children, as required by Deuteronomy 21:18-21, then the liberals will start worrying about the application of Leviticus 20:13.

This reaction is similar to that of Jesus in Matthew 15:1-7, in which he is criticized by the Pharisees for not washing his hands before eating. He defends himself by attacking them for not killing disobedient children according to the commandment: “He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.” When the Pharisees start executing disobedient children, Jesus will start washing his hands before eating.

3. Worthy of death

In the Bible’s longest explicit passage on homosexuality (and the only one that mentions lesbians) Paul explains it all for you.

The invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; that they are without excuse. Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools… Wherefore… God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another. God gave them over to a reprobate mind … Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful… they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. Romans 1:20-32

So how do people become homosexuals? Is it a choice or are they born that way? According to Paul in the above passage, neither is true. God makes men and women homosexuals to punish them for not thanking and glorifying him enough.

When they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful… Wherefore… God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another. Romans 1:24-27

After God makes people gay, he gives them reprobate minds and fills them with all kinds of fornication and wickedness, making them murderers and debaters and inventors of evil things. They become proud, unmerciful, God-hating boasters. They disobey their parents and lack understanding and natural affection. Once God makes you gay, one thing just leads to another.

God gave them over to a reprobate mind… Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful. Romans 1:28-31

So it all starts with a lack of gratitude toward God. God then makes ungrateful people gay and pushes them down the slippery slope of the reprobate mind. In the end, the ungrateful wretches commit all sorts of vile deeds. Besides their abominable homosexual acts they gossip and boast and disobey their parents — all crimes that, to Paul, are worthy of death.

They which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. Romans 1:32

So according to Paul, homosexuals and their supporters (those “that have pleasure in them”) are “worthy of death” — along with gossips, boasters, and disobedient children.

This long passage from Romans 1 is a conservative favorite. Not only does it condemn homosexuality for both males and females, it does so in the pages of the New Testament, leaving no wiggle room for liberal Christians.

But conservatives get a little squeamish with the “worthy of death” part. The Bible says people who are “worthy of death” should be killed and hung on trees (“If a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree.” Deuteronomy 21:22), which is a little creepy, even for fundamentalists.

Liberals hate this passage as much as conservatives love it. Here are some liberal responses:

  • Paul is not condemning true homosexuals here. He
    is condemning heterosexuals who pretend to be gay, going against their God-given sexuality. (If you’re gay, be gay; if you’re straight, be straight.)
  • It is bisexuality that Paul condemns in this passage. God made some people gay and some people straight, but he didn’t make anyone bisexual. (Bis just gross God out for some reason. And don’t get him started about trans!)
  • Paul didn’t mean what he said in Romans 1. He was simply employing the sophisticated rhetorical technique of arguing against one’s own beliefs. This is made clear in Romans 2:1, where he says, “Wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself.” (Judge not, bitches!)
  • Despite the plain words in this passage, it actually says nothing about homosexuality. Paul was talking about homosexual orgies in pagan temples, promiscuous homosexual affairs, sex between men and boys/male slaves, and various other behaviors that Paul didn’t actually mention in this passage. You’ve got to read between the lines. It’s all about context. Context, context, context!
  • In this passage, Paul implies that homosexuality is a punishment from God and that boasters, gossips, and disobedient children should be executed. Elsewhere, he discouraged marriage and sex in marriage because Jesus is coming soon. Paul said a lot of silly things that we all ignore today. Let’s ignore him on this one as well.

4. Abusers of themselves with mankind

In this passage, Paul tells us who shall not inherit the kingdom of God — which I assume means who will not be going to heaven when they die. (Guess where they will be going…)

The unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God… neither fornicators… nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind… shall inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Unrighteous fornicators, effeminate men, and “abusers of themselves with mankind” will all be excluded from God’s magic kingdom.

I’m not sure what Paul meant by “effeminate men” but I’m pretty sure I know what he meant by “abusers of themselves with mankind.”

Liberals, however, interpret this passage differently. Here’s what they have to say:

  • The greek word that the KJV translates as “abusers of
    themselves with mankind” is “arsenokoitai,” a word that was coined by Paul and literally means “man-beds.” Whatever he might have meant by this word, there is one thing we know for sure: he didn’t mean “male homosexuals.”
  • And what about the “effeminate men” thing? What was Paul referring to there? Well, the Greek word is “malakoi”, which means “soft.” In context, then, it would mean a weak or unmanly man. It is regrettable that such men will be excluded from the kingdom of God, but it is consoling to know that male homosexuals will be welcome there so long as they are manly men.

5. For whom the law is made

Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine. 1 Timothy 1:9-10

In this passage, we learn for whom the law was made. It was made for homosexuals! Well, OK, not just for homosexuals. It was also made for other ungodly, disobedient, lawless sinners; for whoremongers, and mother/father murderers.

Liberal responses:

  • The same word “arsenokoitai” is used in this verse as in 1 Corinthians 6:9, so we can be sure that what the KJV translates as “them that defile themselves with mankind” does not refer to male homosexuals.
  • And even if “arsenokoitai” does refer to male homosexuals we can safely ignore this verse since 1 Timothy is a forgery.

Personally, there’s a clear takeaway from all this. The Bible may condemn homosexuality, but as with many texts, there are ways to work around that if that’s your desire. If you want to believe the Bible is truly a good book, you’ll have to do a lot of rationalizing. And if you want to believe the Bible supports your anti-gay bigotry, you can make it do that, too.

Which is exactly why it’s silly to say the Bible should be a rulebook for life. With so many ways to interpret it, it’s not very helpful at all.

Strange Flesh is now available on Amazon.

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