Understanding the word ‘Homosexuality’ in the Bible
I am planning to do several posts on how we as Christians address the rising acceptance and popularity of the non-traditional view of marriage and sexuality. We Christians know that we are in a culture war with the world when it comes to these subjects, but it’s not just outside the church walls these debates are happening anymore. A growing number of Christians feel as though they can be faithful to what Scripture teaches while acknowledging homosexuality as a God-glorifying lifestyle.
Some people make the claim that as long as a couple is in a committed marital relationship the church should not view their same-sex relationship as sinful. Though we tend to assume their only argument, of which I disagree, is merely a cultural one, attempts have been made to justify this position using Scripture. This is done by trying to argue that the word “homosexuality” has been poorly translated.
Critics of the historical Christian view have several verses that cause a fair amount of trouble when it comes to making their case. After all, Paul condemns such a lifestyle in a very direct and clear way in 1 Corinthians 6 when he states, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God” (NET Version).
The objection comes by questioning if the word that gets translated actually means homosexual or if it had another meaning. This is important because it would mean that we have misunderstood and mistranslated the word Paul uses for homosexuality.
The word in question is the Greek word “arsenokoitai,” and it does appear that Paul may have coined this word. We do not find any prior use of this word before he used it. It wasn’t until 1946 that translators used the word “homosexual” to express the meaning of this word, before that words like “sodomites” were used. So the question must be asked what does that word really mean and from where did Paul get it?
I would suggest that it’s not really as confusing of a word as critics would like to claim. There is a very clear and obvious connection to the Old Testament and it makes a strong case for why Paul would use this new word for the first time. First we need to realize that Paul, like Jesus, likely read the Septuagint. The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Many Jews could not read Hebrew, but they could read and speak Greek. When Jesus quoted the Old Testament, 90 percent of the time He quoted from the Greek instead of the Hebrew.
Why is this so important? When we read Leviticus in the Greek we notice something very important. Leviticus 18 and 20 both state that a man must not bed with another man in the way that he would lay with his wife. If you were to read it in Greek, there are two words right next to each other. The first word is “arsen”which means man, and the word“koitas”or “koite” which means bed or to lay. This is the Old Testament way of telling us that same-sex relationships are against God’s design.
This shows us that“arsenkoitai is a new word, but it’s obviously a compound of the two words from the Old Testament that referred to homosexuality. Paul spoke and wrote in Greek, so it makes sense that he would combine these two Greek words into one.
We use similar compound words all the time with words like “database” or “matchbox.” We take two words and combine them to simplify matters. There is no other interpretation that is as consistent or obvious as the one I just presented, although many other alternatives have been offered.
Some say that the word was about temple prostitutes, but there are other words that address that offense more accurately. Paul knew that, by using this combination of words, his readers would have their minds taken back to the verses in Leviticus.
It’s easy to understand why some Christians have a difficult time with this. After all, we are called to be loving and compassionate, and that can seem to run contrary to the idea that not all sexual orientations glorify God.
Scripture has been used many times to defend things like slavery and war, but if we examine it closely, we can see that these people had to twist Scripture to justify their ideas rather than letting scripture be their foundation.