I stole this from someone else… but here goes
Ask any group of people where in the Bible one would find a condemnation of homosexuality, and undoubtedly the first answer will be the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
As the story begins, we read that Abraham’s nephew, Lot, who resides in Sodom, is sitting at the city gates when two angels disguised as men arrived. Lot greets them and invites them to his home to spend the night. There were no Hiltons, Motel 6, or even an inn without room in those days, so travelers had to rely on the kindnesses of strangers for lodgings. “Thanks,” they say, “but no, thanks. We’ll just spend the night in the square.” Not a good idea, Lot thinks to himself and urges the strangers so strongly that they relent and follow him home. Ever the gracious host, Lot feeds them, and then they prepare to retire.
Apparently, word of the arrival of the strangers spread through town like wildfire because pretty soon all the men of the town show up at Lot’s door demanding that the strangers show themselves. Verse 5 in the KJV reads, “…bring them out unto us that we may (yadtha’) know them.” In the NIV this same verse reads, “…bring them out to us so that we can (yadtha’) have sex with them.”
Lot goes outside to try to calm the townspeople down. “Don’t do this horrible thing,” he tells them. He even offers his two virgin daughters to the crowd to do with them what they would, if only they would leave the strangers in peace, “Get out of our way. You’re just a foreigner who came here not so long ago yourself, and now you’re trying to act like a judge. We’ll treat you worse than them.” As the crowd moves toward Lot the strangers pull Lot into the house and secure the door. Suddenly all the men outside are struck blind and they wear themselves out trying unsuccessfully to find the door.
With the coming of dawn, the strangers lead Lot, his wife and two daughters out of the city. “Run for your lives! Don’t look back and don’t stop anywhere!” And God rained down burning sulfur (fire and brimstone (KJV)) on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and destroyed them.
Is this condensed version of the Sodom and Gomorrah story about homosexuality? Did God condemn the Sodomites for being homosexual? Would God have destroyed these two cities and all its inhabitants for this one incident of bad behavior? Before we begin to examine this story, I believe it is important to note that in spite of what is written in the first sentence above, except for the most radical of fundamentalists, most religious institutions no longer consider this tale as having any relationship to homosexuality. There is too much evidence to the contrary from several quarters. We will examine them.
Lot was a relative newcomer to Sodom. Genesis 13 tells us that Abraham and his nephew, Lot, had sojourned together, but that their respective entourages had gotten so large that the land they traveled through could not support all of them, so they decided to go their separate ways. Lot and his family chose to migrate toward Sodom. Apparently, they hadn’t been living in the city too long before the strangers (angels) arrived.
It seems to be the nature of people to tend to be suspicious of newcomers. This was especially true in those days where towns often were attacked and raided by roving bands of hooligans. Lot may have been there long enough to have won token acceptance, but when he invited two more strangers to his home, this action drew the immediate attention of the community.
Is it possible that, fearing a threat to the city, the men stormed Lot’s house determined to find out (yadtha’) who these men were and exactly what were their intentions? Did the Sodomites suspect the strangers were a scouting party sent to infiltrate the city to find out its weaknesses and report back to an army waiting outside the city gates to lay siege to it? Could it be that in storming Lot’s door they were saying, “Who are these men? Bring them out here so that we can find out exactly what they are up to?”
Did God decide to destroy the cities because of what the Sodomites said and did as recorded in Chapter 19? No! All the way back in Chapter 13:13 we read that the people of Sodom were wicked sinners against God.
God makes God’s intention known in Chapter 18. There we read that three beings approach Abraham as he rests in front of his tent. Scripture identifies the beings as the Lord and two angels, though Abraham recognizes them as three men. He extends his hospitality to them, and after they eat they tell Abraham that in the next year he will have a son. Sarah, who has been eavesdropping, starts to laugh at the absurdity of her having children at her advanced age. When the Lord confronts Sarah about the laughter she denies it, but the Lord rejects her denial. Now Abraham realizes with whom he is speaking.
Then God tells Abraham that because of their wickedness Sodom and Gomorrah are in danger of being destroyed. God will send the two angels to the city to determine the extent of its wickedness. Immediately Abraham thinks of Lot and his family and begins to try to bargain with God for their safety. “Would you destroy the righteous with the wicked?” Abraham asks. “Would you destroy the city if there were fifty good people there?” “No.” “How about if there were forty good people, would you destroy it then?” “No.” “Thirty?” “No.” “Twenty?” “No.” “Ten?” “No.” God would not destroy the city if ten good people could be found there. However, as Chapter 19:4 tells us, all the men of the town were gathered there, beating on Lot’s door, sealing their fate. But what was their sin? Was it homosexuality, or something else?
We need to examine this word yadtha,’ which is translated to know in the KJV and have sex with in the NIV. There are many Hebrew words that are translated to know. Used in Scripture, yadtha’ means to have complete and thorough knowledge of something or someone, and includes having sexual knowledge. But, of the 943 times yadtha’ is used in the Hebrew Scriptures, only ten times does it refer to having sexual intercourse. That means there are 933 times when this word is used when it does not refer to sex.
Other than trying to find out the intentions of Lot’s houseguests, what were the townsmen up to when you surrounded Lot’s house? It is easy to understand that if they believed that the strangers were infiltrators, they’d want to overpower and subdue them. How would they do that? It was common practice in the Middle East in those days that when you defeated someone in battle, to humiliate your prisoner you would force him into anal intercourse. You would rape him.
It is evident that Lot assumed that the townsmen were bent on rape, because he offered his virgin daughters to them. While we would find Lot’s offer repugnant today, in Lot’s time the Law of Hospitality and protection of guests superceded love and protection of family. In fact, it correctly can be inferred that the damning behavior of the Sodomites was the breaking of their own Code of Hospitality with regard to the strangers.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible states: “…the main issue here is hospitality to secretly divine visitors. Here, however, the sanctity of hospitality is threatened by the men of the city who wish to rape (know) the guests. Though disapproval of male homosexual rape is assumed here, the primary point of the text is how this threat by the townspeople violates the value of hospitality. Hospitality is valued so strongly in this context that this text positively portrays Lot’s offer of his virgin daughters in place of his guests.”
Was the code of hospitality really that serious in those days? When you realize that travelers left alone overnight on byways or in town squares were vulnerable to attack from thieves and marauders–that a friendly open door could mean the difference between life and death–you readily see the importance of a willingness to be hospitable.
Was breaking the code of hospitality really one of the reasons that Sodom was condemned? Jesus thought so. As reported in Matthew 10 and also in Luke 10, Jesus sends out His disciples and gives them authority to heal the sick, drive out evil spirits and preach the good news. He instructs them that when they go to a town they should find a worthy person and stay at that person’s home. Jesus concludes with, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” (Matt.10:14, 15 NIV) Here, Christ has used the comparison of the punishment awaiting a town which lacks hospitality toward the disciples with that of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Is there other scriptural evidence that what the townspeople were intending was physical violence and rape? In the book of Judges, Chapter 19, we find a companion story to that of Sodom and Gomorrah. A man traveling with his concubine arrives at the town of Gibeah, and verse 16 finds them sitting in the town square. As evening approaches an old man coming home from working the fields discovers them and invites them into his home. Beginning at verse 22, the KJV reads: Now as they were making their hearts merry, behold the men of the city, certain sons of Belial (the devil), beset the house round about, and beat at the door, and spake to the master of the house, the old man, saying, “Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know (yadtha’) him.” As before, the NIV translates the quote as: “Bring out the man who came to your house so that we can have sex with him.”
As in the Sodom and Gomorrah story, the old man offers his virgin daughter to the crowd, and the man offers his concubine, but the townsmen aren’t interested. They throw out the concubine anyway, where she is raped and abused the entire night. At daybreak she is freed, but she dies in the doorway of the house.
In spite of the fact that the language used by the crowd in this story is the same as that used in the Sodom and Gomorrah story, I’ve yet to find any scholar or commentary which suggest that the Gibeans were homosexual. Note that while the Sodomites only threatened violence, the men of Gibeah acted on it and caused the concubine’s death. Yet God did not immediately rain down fire and brimstone or sulfur on Gibeah for what the men said. If the language is the same in both stories, why weren’t the Gibeans assumed to be homosexual? Is it because they raped the concubine, which would not have been the behavior of homosexuals, who would probably have merely wanted to trade recipes with her? (Sorry–I just couldn‘t resist.) Perhaps it is because the Gibeah story has one additional piece of evidence which is missing from the Sodom story. When later questioned by the Israelites about what happened, the man replies in chapter 20:5, “During the night the men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house, intending to kill me.” He wasn’t so much worried about a gang-bang as with murder–his. Even though God didn’t rain fire and brimstone on Gibeah, the end of chapter 20 informs us that everyone there was put to the sword and the town set on fire.
Are there any other relevant scriptural references to the reason God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah? Yes. The great prophet Ezekiel was called on by God to chastise Jerusalem. She once had been a Canaanite city, but she became Jewish. God took care of her and she became prosperous, but it all went to her head. She turned to idolatry, sacrificed children, and formed bad alliances with other nations. So Ezekiel calls her to task and compares her to “her sister” Sodom. Speaking for God, Ezekiel explains to Jerusalem why God destroyed Sodom, “Now, this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were disdainful and committed abominations in front of me. Therefore I did away with them, as you have witnessed.” (Ezekiel 16:49, 50).
So now we have the word of God’s great prophet, Ezekiel, as to the reasons why God destroyed Sodom. And not one mention of homosexuality. The Sodomites were arrogant, fat, and self-absorbed. They did not help the less fortunate. They acted superior to others and committed abominations. It would serve us well to find out about these abominations.
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, #8441 tells us the Hebrew word is towebah, or toebah, and defines abomination this way: something disgusting, i.e. an abhorrence; especially idolatry or (concretely) an idol. So Strong’s tells us that the primary (especially) use of the word (toebah) abomination is to describe idolatry. Remember that the First Commandment is: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 10:2-3). In the Hebrew mind this commandment is first and foremost, and anything less than absolute devotion to Yahweh is the worst possible thing you could ever commit–it is detestable. We will examine idolatrous practices when we get to Leviticus.
There is only one other place in the bible where sexual activity is connected with Sodom and Gomorrah and its condemnation, and that is in the book of Jude.
Jude 7 – KJV
Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
Jude 7 – NIV
In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.
The book of Jude is very tiny–only one chapter long. Scholars aren’t exactly sure who the author is, but he identifies himself as a “servant of Christ and brother of James.” This particular passage is the only other place in scripture where sexual activity is connected with Sodom and Gomorrah and their condemnation. On the surface of it, the passage says that the cities were not only destroyed, but its inhabitants apparently sent to hell (the punishment of eternal fire.) What was their sin? According to Jude, and depending on the translation, they gave themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, or gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion.
What was their sin? According to the teachings of many Christian churches, the sin was homosexuality. Was it? The KJV says they were going after strange flesh. Since homosexuals “go after” those of the same gender, the phrase strange flesh would hardly apply. So what could it be referring to?
Remember the importance of keeping scripture in context. Notice the words Even as above in the KJV and In a similar way in the NIV. Those phrases indicate a comparison between what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah with what had happened previously. We need to go back to verse six:
Jude 6 – KJV
And the angels which, kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, God hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.
Jude 6 – NIV
And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned heir own home–these God has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.
Jude is comparing what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah with something that happened with what we would call fallen angels. Whatever the angels did in their time was similar to what the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah did in their time. Do we know what that is? Where did the angels go after strange flesh? Our answer lies in Genesis six:
Genesis 6:1 & 2, 4 – KJV
And it came to pass, when people began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.
There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
Genesis 6:1 & 2, 4 – NIV
When people began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days–and also afterward–when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
Admittedly, these verses are very controversial. There are differing opinions by scholars as to exactly what these verses mean. There’s disagreement as to who the sons of God are. Some believe they are human followers of God. If that were true, though, why would the author differentiate these people from the daughters of men? We do have a scriptural reference to indicate that they were beings in the court of God. Job 1:6 tells us that the sons of God (KJV) came to present themselves before God, and they were accompanied by Satan. Note that the NIV translates sons of God to read angels.
So we see that there was a time when angels came to earth and were attracted to human women. They married them and had children by them. Now we find a peculiar word which was translated in the KJV as giants. The NIV didn’t bother to translate it but simply took the Hebrew letters and wrote them in English: Nephilim. The word is so rare that no one knows what it means for sure, but it has something to do with being strange, weird, grotesque, huge–giant! While its literal meaning is unknown, part of its root is Naw-fal which means, to fall or fallen away. But regardless of the meaning of the word, whatever it was, it was displeasing to God, because the result was the flood.
So Jude tells us that some angels had abandoned their heavenly homes, and whatever they did resulted in their being chained up till the end of time. Genesis 6:1-4 tells us that angels mated with human women and had grotesque, giant children. What was the sin the angels committed? They mated with a different order of creation.
Then Jude says that what the Sodomites did and were punished for was similar to what the angels had done and had likewise also been punished. What was the strange flesh the Sodomites were after according to Jude? Not people of the same gender, but angels disguised as men–a different order of creation.
In addition to what previously has been mentioned about the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, the first chapter of Isaiah indicates that the reason God turned away from the cities was because their hands were full of blood (Is.1:15), and, similar to what Ezekiel wrote, they were unjust and did nothing to help the oppressed, widows or orphans (Is.1:17). Jeremiah lists many irresponsible acts attributed to Sodom and Gomorrah.
Thus we see that there were many reasons for God to destroy the cities–pride, immorality, lack of care and concern for those who were the most vulnerable in their society, lack of hospitality, and an attempt to rape a different order of creation. Not one word anywhere about homosexuality.
To those who would still argue that what the Sodomites wanted was homosexual sex, I direct you to the story in Judges 19, which parallels the story of Sodom and Gomorrah previously discussed. There we see that when the concubine was thrown out to the crowd, she was raped repeatedly until she died, just as they would have done to the man had the elderly man let him out of his home. It is obvious that their intent was to rape the man, not make love to him. We must remember that rape is always about the commission of violence and never about sex, and definitely not about love between two people who just happen to be of the same gender.
Leviticus 18:22 (KJV)
Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.
Leviticus 18:22 (NIV)
Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.
Leviticus 20:13 (KJV)
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
Leviticus 20:13 (NIV)
If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
Some time ago, circulating over the internet was a so-called “open letter” to a conservative, homophobic radio talk-show host. The fact that she has a PhD and uses the honorific, Doctor, along with her name, said title gives her a certain air of credibility. She bases her very vocal condemnation of homosexuality on these verses in Leviticus. Using other passages also from Leviticus, the “letter” poses questions to the good doctor, questions similar to these:
When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord. (Leviticus 1:5-9) The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. The City Health Department is none too pleased, either. Should I smite them?
Leviticus 11:7 & 8 says that touching the skin of a dead pig would make me unclean. Am I allowed to play football if I wear gloves?
Leviticus 11:12 says that eating shellfish is an abomination. Is it a lesser abomination than homo-sexuality?
I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanness (Leviticus 18:19). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
Leviticus 19:19 tells me I can’t plant two different crops in the same field, nor can I wear clothing woven of two different kinds of material. Will I be condemned if I plant a vegetable garden in my yard while wearing my cotton/polyester-blend tee shirt?
Most everyone I know cuts their hair every once in a while, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus 19:27. Are we all doomed?
Leviticus 21:16-20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect. I have to admit that I wear glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or would the Lord be blind to any exceptions?
Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
One readily can see how incongruent it would be to take certain verses of scripture out of context and try to apply them to today’s world. One must also question the validity of applying specific passages of scripture to a body of people while discarding the rest. If it would be ridiculous to try today to apply the strictures presented by Leviticus 1:5-9, 11:7 & 8, 11:12, 18:19, 19:19, 19:27, 21:16-20, 25:44, to mention just a few, what then justifies the application of 18:22 or 20:13? While we cannot “throw out the baby with the bathwater” as it were, we can be guided by the Ten Commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures, and by Jesus’ great commandments in the Christian. Jesus told us that all of the Hebrew law and teachings of the prophets could be incorporated into the Law of Love–love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self. Obviously, incestuous and adulterous relationships, as well as child molestation violate the Law of Love, but the sharing of love between two people who happen to be of the same gender does not. It is as simple as that.
On the other hand, is it really all that simple? The instruction is very clear: a man must not lie with another man as he would with a woman, because it is abomination. If it is not a condemnation of homosexuality, what is it talking about and why is it there? We want this study to be thorough. Even though it is obvious that the captioned verses do not apply to today’s world, we must ask the question: did these verses ever apply to any particular group of people or to anyone in general? Did these verses ever apply to homosexuals at any time in history? To answer these questions we must look at these verses in context. As you will see, as always happens when there is a discussion about what particular passages of scripture mean, scholars take different approaches to coming to understandings of what the scriptures mean. I will attempt to share the various approaches as I understand them.
First, we must realize that primitive people did not have a concept of homosexuality as it exists today. This was a patriarchal society, where men ruled and women were property. Engaging in sex was not generally about love and tenderness. Sex was the means of procreation, of course, and it could also be about sharing mutual pleasure. But sex was also an able weapon of domination. Victors after battles often forced themselves sexually on defeated foes to humiliate them. Owners could force themselves sexually on their male slaves in acts of domination. For a free man to lie with another free man within the tribe or community was to dominate him–to reduce him to the status of a woman–it would dishonor him, so one wasn’t to do so.
The second thing we need to become aware of is that during the time of the Exodus, Moses assigned to the tribe of Levi the position of priest to the people (Exodus 32:29), and Leviticus was written as instruction to them. According to the Abbington Bible Handbook, the book of Leviticus:
“…pertains to the work of the Levitical priests who guided the worship of the people of God. Chapters 17 to 26 were part of an older independent source now called the Holiness Code. Many of the laws of this code and the rest of Leviticus are ancient, some probably taken from Canaanite practice and transformed in their new setting. This great body of religious law and ritual served as a guide for priestly service in the postexilic temple.” (p. 101)
The first three verses of Chapter 18 tell us: God said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites: I am your God. You must not do as the people do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you cannot do what the people who live in Canaan do, where I am leading you. Don’t behave as they do.” Verses six through eighteen offer a list of proscriptions against having sexual relations with various family members, and verse nineteen instructs the men not to engage in sexual relations with a woman during menses, while verse twenty prohibits sexual relations with married neighbors.
However, the theme appears to change from sexual relations with relatives and neighbors to idolatry, starting with verse 21 and including verses 22 and 23, which read:
Leviticus 18:21-23 (KJV)
21: And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord.
22: Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination
23: Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith; neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.
Leviticus 18:21-23 (NIV)
21: “Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am your God.”
22: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”
23: “Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.”
Who was Molech? In Leviticus, chapter 20, verses one to five we read:
God said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: “Any Israelite or any alien who sacrifices any of his or her children to Molech must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone them. I will set my face against that man or that woman and I will cut them off from their people; for by sacrificing their children to Molech, they have defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. If the people of the community close their eyes when those people give one of their children to Molech and they fail to put them to death, I will set my face against them and their family and will cut off from their people, both the perpetrators and all who follow them in prostituting themselves to Molech.”
Who was Molech? Molech was a very popular, colorful, Ammonite fire god. Followers of Molech often would paint their bodies with flames. Note that chapter 19, verse 28, instructs the Israelites not to tattoo their bodies. Many of the men would trim their beards in patterns that looked like flames. Chapter 19, verse 27 instructs men not to similarly cut their hair or trim their beards.
Molech was a very demanding god, and one of the demands was child sacrifice. A child had to be burned to death on a regular basis in order to appease Molech. It was not unusual for pagan gods to demand human sacrifices. But the Hebrew religion was very different. God called the people to be set apart–to be different from their neighbors. While the pagan gods demanded human sacrifices, in the Hebrew religion the opposite would be true. God would be sacrificed for humanity. (Isaiah 53).
Remember that the first commandment, and according to Jesus, the greatest commandment is this: Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One! If this is the greatest commandment, then the greatest sin is idolatry. One must never do anything to dishonor God, so that sacrificing to Molech elicited the death penalty. As sad as it might seem today, the sin wasn’t so much the sacrificing of the children–it was the idolatry that was considered so evil, as we see in the last line above–those who prostitute themselves to Molech.
In keeping with the theme of idolatry with respect to verse 22, note the instruction above in verse three not to do what the people who live in Canaan do. Remember that the Hebrews were a nomadic people, while the Canaanites were agricultural. The Canaanite religion revolved around the fertility of the land, as well as of the people. The expression of that fertility in their religion involved going to the temple of the god or goddess and engaging in sexual activity with a (usually same sex) priest or priestess employed at the temple. So, verse 22 instructs the Hebrews not to lie with a man as a woman in a cultic sense, because it is toebah–it is abomination–it is idolatry.
In the same way, verse 23 instructs the people, and especially women, not to engage in sex with animals, because it was considered a form of idolatry. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia notes:
This anti-bestiality proscription may well have been formulated to distinguish the Israelites from the Canaanites, who are thought by some to have practiced a ritualistic copulation with beasts.
(Vol. 1, pp. 443)
Another point to note: the word that the KJV translates confusion, in the Hebrew language it was tebel, which means mixture, unnatural. As we saw in the study of Jude/Sodom, the sin involved the mixture of different orders of creation.
In the KJV of Deuteronomy, 23:17 we find the following: There shall be no harlot of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel. The wording in modern translations, such as the NIV however, reads very differently: No Israelite man or woman is to become a temple prostitute. What caused the wording to change? When did a sodomite (assumed by many churches to mean homosexual), become a temple–or cult–prostitute?
Deuteronomy 23:17 (KJV)
There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel.
Deuteronomy 23:17 (NIV)
No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute.
In the passages shown above, note that the King James Version translates Deuteronomy 23:17 forbidding harlotry by the daughters of Israel, or sodomy of the sons of Israel. The KJV was written in 1611. However, the NIV which was produced in the twentieth century translates this same verse as forbidding shrine or temple prostitution. What caused the wording to change? When did a sodomite (assumed by many churches to mean homosexual), or a whore become a shrine–or cult–prostitute?
We have to remember that the Hebrew scriptures of the bible tell the story of the history of the Hebrews and their relationship with God. While there are many references to Canaan and the Canaanites in the bible, the bible is not their story. Nowhere in the bible does it tell us how the Canaanites lived–their history or what their practices were. Until the twentieth century, knowledge of the Canaanites was limited to three sources:
Literature of contemporary people who lived outside of Canaan, but these provided very little information about Canaanite customs.
However, none of these sources could provide information on Canaanite philosophy, religious beliefs or practices.
In 1928 a Syrian peasant was tilling his field when his blade sliced off the top of an unusually large hole in the ground. That hole turned out to be the buried Canaanite city of Ugarit. In this city was a library, where were uncovered among other things what we know today about Canaanite religious practices. Not only was there a library, homes in Ugarit contained many texts. In one home alone were found over 80 texts dealing just with the Canaanite religious practices.
Students of the bible, even those with only a minor interest have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but comparatively few have heard of the discoveries at Ugarit. However, go onto the internet and conduct a search of the word Ugarit and you will discover over 8500 websites and articles. Texts found in Ugarit were written in six languages. Only a relatively small part of the enormous amount of material there has been translated to date, but the material has had great impact on bible knowledge, reflected in changes in modern translations. Many obscure and confusing passages have in some instances been corrected; in others, the passages have been made clearer.
At the time the KJV was written, no one in those days had ever heard of cult prostitution. On the other hand the NIV, written after the discovery, demonstrates in the above verse just one of the changes made because of the findings in Ugarit.
The Bible Almanac copyrighted 1980 states:
Fertility religions such as Ugarit’s place great emphasis on reproduction in the land, in crops, and in the womb. This emphasis helps explain their stress on sexual unions. The Bible and the Canaanite texts at Ugarit use the words qadesh and qedesha, which mean “holy one”–the first masculine, the second feminine. At Ugarit these “holy ones” were homosexual priests and priestesses who acted as prostitutes. We find strong Hebrew reaction against this “cultic prostitution” in passages such as Leviticus 19:29, “Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a harlot,” and Deuteronomy 23:17, “There shall be no whore (qedesha) of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite (qadesh) of the sons of Israel.” (pp 146)
We have seen here in the modern translation of Deuteronomy 23:18, the condemnation was not a condemnation of homosexuality (sodomy), but of cultic prostitution. Now, when we remember the words which began Leviticus 18, “…do not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices,” and compare it with the above, it becomes clear that not only the condemnation of Deuteronomy 23:18, but also of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are condemnations of idolatry, not homosexuality. In fact, as we soon will see, this theme of cultic prostitution will arise again in our study of the so-called clobber passages in the Christian scriptures.
This is the answer to the question, where is the evidence of that activity? Now, to answer the second question, if that is true, why doesn’t that information show up in scripture? As we have seen above, we find the evidence when we compare the KJV with the NIV, or with other modern-day translations. Please note that some modern bibles still use the word homosexual instead of cult prostitute. It is imperative, in order to know what the original writers were intending, that you use an exhaustive concordance/bible dictionary, so that you can look up the word(s) and their definitions in the original languages. You need not know the original language to use this tool, though it sometimes might mean having to read more than one translation to track down the original word.
Why does it seem that the bible treats the passages as having to do with homosexuality and not idolatry? As we have seen, it is various interpretations of the passages, as well as misinformed translations that lead us to believe that the passages address homosexuality. We must remember that scripture must be read in context, and context refers not only to keeping the passages in order in scripture, but they must be examined in the context of the times and the culture and the peoples addressed. Often, it is necessary to go to sources outside of the bible and having a willingness to do the research in order to know and understand what certain passages really mean. That is the purpose of bible studies.
If the Ugaritic texts show that the passages in question are about cultic prostitution and not about homosexuality, why do so many churches still hold onto their old condemnations? Tradition is the homage that we pay to the dead. It is very hard to convince some people to give up their time-honored, cherished beliefs, ideas or understandings. After all, they have spent years researching, studying and learning certain interpretations, and once they’ve come to a place of acceptance of what they consider is truth; the very idea of a contrary interpretation can seem a challenge to them of their very faith. Instead of being able to be open-minded to a new way of looking at things, they feel their faith is being threatened and often become angry and close their minds. (See hermeneutical circle in the fifth paragraph of the Overview of our study on Homosexuality and the Bible.) A new idea or interpretation might cause them to doubt what they’ve already accepted, and many feel that doubt is contrary to faith.
Yet, faith without healthy doubt is no faith at all. Faith grows through doubt–when you‘re willing to challenge the doubt, do the research, and trust in the Holy Spirit to guide you “into all the truth.” (John 16:13). Remember that when Thomas expressed his doubts about the risen Christ, Jesus did not ridicule him or condemn him. Jesus opened His arms and invited Thomas to touch the wounds (John 20:29). Jesus offered the proof Thomas needed. Serious students should not be afraid to have their spiritual paradigms challenged. Trust the Holy Spirit to be there for you. Your faith will grow!
Deuteronomy 23:18 (KJV)
Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the Lord thy God for any vow: for even both these are abomination unto the Lord thy God.
Deuteronomy 23:18 (NIV)
You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the Lord to pay any vow, because the Lord your God detests them both.
The term translated dog in the KJV, in the original language was keleb, which means to yelp or else to attack; a dog; hence (by euphemism) a male prostitute. (Strongs #3611) The question is: what kind of prostitute? Scholars differ in their opinions. In The Daily Study Bible Series the author of the study on Deuteronomy, David F Payne, writes of these passages only this:
“Verses 17-18 turn to the practice of religious rites, and prohibit the practice of religious prostitution in the name of Yahweh. (The word ‘dog’ is thought to mean a male sanctuary prostitute, familiar in Canaanite religion.)
On the other hand, the New Oxford Annotated Bible, writes for verses 17-18:
“These verses presuppose the inevitability of prostitution, while proscribing it for Israelites and regulating it in such a way as to preserve the Temple’s sanctity. (For verse 17) Temple prostitute (Hebrew “qedesha”), the translation reflects belief in the existence of sacred prostitution in Israel and in the ancient Near East, for which there is scant evidence; more likely “qedesha” is a standard euphemism for the coarser term for prostitute (vs. 18). The same alternation between the two terms appears in Gen. 38:15,21. The word might better be translated as “one set aside.” (For verse 18) Prostitute (Hebrew “zonah,”) closer to “whore”. Male prostitute (literally “dog”), in context, the male counterpart to a common female prostitute. To maintain holiness, the law proscribes the donation of income from prostitution to the Temple.
It is interesting to note that while the Oxford appears to discount the information provided by the Ugaritic texts and presupposes that both verses 17 and 18 above refer only to common prostitutes (those with no connection to a temple), yet in its own translation of the verses it uses the phrase temple prostitute. One would find the same parallel of words (prostitute and temple (or shrine) prostitute) in Gen. 38:15, 21. More interesting is the comment above that the word “qedesha” might better be translated as “one set aside,” which term commonly means “one set aside for the service of God or ‘the god.’” Do note especially that while the two schools of thought differ on what the verses represent, neither drew any conclusion that the subject was homosexuality.
I did not offer these two conflicting scholarly theories to confuse you, but to demonstrate that even the most learned of bible scholars, teachers and teaching institutions disagree on exactly what many scripture passages mean, and to note how the hermeneutical circle might be in play.
My own personal take on the subject of the two passages is as follows: Israelites are not to engage in temple prostitution because such practices are idolatrous (note: abomination); nor even is money to be received by the temple which comes from any wages earned as a result of prostitution of any kind. The temple must be kept ritually pure in every sense.
Deuteronomy 22:5 (KJV)
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 (NIV)
A woman must not wear men’s clothing, or a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.
The only passage in scripture that addresses cross-dressing. The New Oxford Annotated Bible states, “The prohibition against cross-dressing seeks to maintain gender boundaries; a similar concern for boundaries is evident in verses 10-12. These verses read: You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together. You shall not wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together. You shall make tassels on the four corners of the cloak with which you cover yourself. (NIV)
While verses ten and eleven appear to be taking the concept of not mixing “different orders of creation” to the extreme, verse twelve lets us know that it is the concept of separateness that the passages are trying to teach. The Israelites were to be a people set apart–to be a people distinct from others in the lands to which they moved.
Too, we must remember that in this patriarchal culture, for a man to do anything that might in any way be considered womanish would be a degradation of his manliness and, by extension a degradation of masculinity in general. Gender hierarchy in that society was biblically based. God fashioned man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being. (Gen. 2:7 NIV) Man was filled with the very breath of God, thus man was the closest thing to God there was. But man was alone, and God realized that was not good. A suitable helper must be found. (Gen. 2:18, 20a) Verses 21-22 tell us that God caused the man to fall asleep, then took one of his ribs and from it formed woman.
The interpretation of these passages was that since God breathed directly into the man to form him, he was the closest thing to God. Woman, however, was formed from out of man, so she was one step lesser than man to God. Further, since the woman was created to be a helper to man, it was interpreted that she was the servant to man, again making her one step lower than the man. Therefore, for a man to dress in woman’s dress would be to lower himself, and by implication all men, to the level of woman. Conversely, a woman was not to wear the attire of the man because by doing so she attained to the status of the man and disgraced it.
Of Deuteronomy 22:5, David Payne in The Daily Study Bible Series, writes:
There is good reason to suppose that the law of verse five is not concerned with the mild sexual aberration (sic) known as transvestism, but is a repudiation of certain pagan religious practices of that era; so this law is no more a fashion guide for today than is the law about tassels in verse twelve. These tassels, whatever their origin, were intended as a visible reminder to every Israelite of the duty to obey God’s laws. In effect, they made the Israelites distinctive in their dress.
There is evidentiary material which indicates that temple prostitutes, especially males, wore clothing of the opposite gender. If we accept this position, then we can infer that the multiple reasons for the instruction in Deuteronomy 22:5 not to cross-dress are:
Israelites must readily be seen as separate and distinct from non-Israelites; i.e. they must not do as was done by non-Israelites in the lands where God brought them.
Israelites must maintain gender separation in order not to taint the image of masculinity with femininity.
Israelites must not engage in idolatrous practices.
Jesus apparently wasn’t so uptight about clothing. In fact, in His Sermon on the Mount we find this teaching: “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will God not much more clothe you. O you of little faith?” (Matt. 6:28-30 NIV)
N.B. Lest the author be accused of taking things out of context, I realize that the people to whom Jesus was speaking were, many of them, living from hand to mouth and struggling to survive. Jesus was telling them not to worry but to place their faith in God to supply their needs. The point the author is attempting to make is that God doesn’t worry about the attire people do or don’t wear, so people shouldn‘t either.
SUMMARY OF RELEVANT PASSAGES IN THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES
Note well that of all of the books of the Hebrew scriptures, which consist of twenty-four books in the Jewish Bible and thirty-nine books in the Protestant Bible, (Catholic Bibles have additional books and passages)–out of all of that material–there are only four relevant passages which wrongly purport to condemn homosexuality, and one which addresses cross-dressing. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah condemns not homosexuality, but the Sodomites’ repeated acts of inhumanity to others, culminating in their attempt to rape Lot’s angelic visitors. The cited passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy are condemnations, not of homosexuality, but of sexual activity performed during the course of idol worship. This condemnation, in keeping with the strictures of the First Commandment, is the condemnation of idolatry. There are several additional passages in which the KJV used the word sodomites, but in all these cases the modern translation of the term is corrected to temple, cult or shrine prostitutes.
Unbelievable as it may seem to some, not only is there no condemnation of homosexuality in the Hebrew Scriptures, there are several stories/passages which provide a positive image to homosexuals. We will deal with these in the second half of this study, in weeks to come.
THE CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
Christians, who at any time attempt to apply their interpretation of certain passages of the Jewish Law to themselves or to others, are themselves in violation of Christian teachings. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians addresses the subject of the Law and says: “All who rely on observing the Law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the Law.’ Clearly no one is justified before God by the Law, because the righteous shall live by faith.” (3:10,11NIV). Paul goes on to explain: “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the Law, locked up until faith could be revealed. So the Law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith (Christ) has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the Law.” (3:23-25 NIV).
Do not misunderstand this teaching. Paul in no way intends to demean or disparage the Jewish Law. Paul was himself Jewish and a Pharisee. Of his younger days he said that he excelled his peers in his zealousness to uphold the Law (Galatians 1:14). But the Law was meant for a certain time in the world prior to the coming of the Messiah.
Jesus, in Matthew 5:17 explained, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, had completed the requirements of the Law. In other words, followers of Jesus are no longer under the Jewish Law but are under God’s grace. Paul explains, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the Law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21)
Consequently, since Christians are no longer bound by the Law, they are under obligation not to attempt to bind themselves or others to this same Law. Those who do so, as Paul so eloquently put it, are “under a curse.” They condemn themselves to be bound by the entire Law.
As we previously have seen, it would be quite impossible to obey the Law in its entirety. Wave, burnt, and grain offerings, as well as animal sacrifices for the most part are no longer legal or permissible in our world. In the book of Acts, tenth chapter, we find a little story which demonstrates that the requirements of the Law have been completed and no longer apply. Peter had a vision, in which he was hungry, and heaven opened up and a sheet came down to earth on which were all kinds of animals–clean and unclean–and…a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat. ‘Surely not, God.’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ The voice replied, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’” Acts 10:13-15 NIV)
Further, Hebrews 10:4 tells us it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins, and continues on in verse ten to tell us that by God’s will we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all. So we see according to both the book of Acts as well as the book of Hebrews that the practices dictated by the Law have been completed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and no longer apply.
Christians, if the Law no longer applies, then you are wrong to try to apply ANY PORTION of it to anyone! The only Law Christians are required to follow is the Law of Love as taught by Jesus–that we are to love God, love our neighbor, and love ourselves.