Celtic Christian Church
Document On the Question of Homosexuality and Same-Sex Relationships
Biblical Hermeneutics: by Vincent Pizzuto, Ph.D.
The position of the Celtic Christian Church on the issue of homosexuality will necessarily influence the communal life of its members, both privately and publicly, not the least of which will come to expression in the sacramental and pastoral practices of the church. As such, if the church’s position on homosexuality is to bear any merit, it must be grounded in responsible biblical scholarship, attentive to the ever-developing tradition of Christian faith, and open to truth wherever it may be found. It is within this context that that we begin our consideration of biblical hermeneutics vis-à-vis the topic of homosexuality. From the outset, this document, and the polemical and exegetical arguments made herein, are grounded in the catholic teaching which rightly accepts both Scripture and Tradition as comprising one inseparable source of revelation.
Thus, while Tradition is important and necessary for the formation of our faith and ethical teachings, this document takes what is clearly a prophetic stand on the issue of homosexuality, against not “Tradition,” but “traditionalism,” in order to help lay the ground work for new directions in the future. Tradition, as the life-breath of the church, is forever changing and renewing itself, forward-looking, while “traditionalism” is the stagnation that comes with holding on to old vestiges of past religious customs or teachings, which no longer have value beyond, perhaps, that of a faint nostalgia. In order to obtain a better view of the world around us we are to stand upon tradition, not be buried by it. Thus, taking a stand on the issue of homosexuality is not just about who we are as a church, rooted solidly in past Tradition, but moreover, how we are also called to break with entrenched prejudices and oppressive structures in Christian “traditionalism,” in order to put an end to an unjust and unsupportable discrimination, which finds no warrant in Sacred Scripture. This may entail making novel pronouncements, nonetheless consistent with the past, in that even the gospels themselves, despite their historical limitations, demand that we move beyond the cultural and ethical limitations entrenched therein.
Currently, a major obstacle to the development of positive gay Christian theology, is a kind of entrenched heterosexism, which assumes that gay relationships are to be measured by heterosexual standards (i.e., biological procreation). Increasingly, even heterosexual theologies are calling into question these paradigms; a subject which cannot be dismissed in the context of this issue. Thus, theological arguments are mounting in many Christian circles, whereby serious questions are being raised as to why gay unions should be viewed as less binding, less sacramental, or in any way less valid than the sacrament of marriage. Indeed, gay unions are different in many ways from heterosexual unions, both symbolically, and concretely. This diverse reality must be recognized, theologized, properly symbolized, ritualized and celebrated for what it is, distinct from heterosexual unions. Nevertheless, such unions clearly share profound similarities with heterosexual marriages. Thus, if heterosexual and homosexual marriages are not recognized as equivalent in sanctity, all other attempts at theologizing around this issue ultimately become inauthentic and vacuous.
It is impossible to separate an acceptance and validation of an individual homosexual person from an acceptance and validation of their primary relationships. Certainly, at its very core, Christianity is first and foremost about relationship. As Trinity, God is pure relationship without multiplicity of being; a Christian truth which can only imply that we are fundamentally defined by our relationships. Thus, insofar as our relationships are not merely an outgrowth of our individuality, but indispensable to our very personhood, there can be no genuine celebration of homosexual persons while at the same time denying the fundamental moral goodness of loving homosexual relationships. Only from this a priori affirmation can we speak of a “second moment” in which the implications of gospel values and spirituality may come to bear on the ethics of a Christian homosexual union.
Throughout history, and even until today, issues of faith and morals have been argued on the basis of Scriptural passages which have been used as proof-texts to support polemical arguments. It should be clear by now that virtually any theological, social, political, or ethical position can be argued (legitimately or illegitimately) by proof-texting biblical passages. The Bible has been used in support of Nazi Germany’s persecution of homosexuals, Jews and other social “misfits.” The KKK uses Scriptural faith in support of white supremacy. On the other hand, examples as can be found in the 7th century defense of iconography by the Eastern Fathers, the contemporary relevance of Roman Catholic social teaching, and the Anglican church’s defense of women’s ordination, have all used the Bible in ways that are constructive and life affirming.
What is important, therefore, is not that we simply isolate the few scant references to homosexuality in the Bible in an attempt to refute or embrace them, but that we look to the broader context of the question: “What is the underlying hermeneutic of the CCC in its use of Scripture to formulate doctrines and ethical teachings?” This is of paramount importance because it aims to establish an identifiable and normative Scriptural approach to matters of faith and morals, which does not isolate the question of homosexuality as in any way exceptional, but situates it within a particular hermeneutic from which the CCC position becomes consistent and even predictable. In other words, the CCC position on homosexuality should not represent an identifiable break with its interpretation of Scripture and Tradition on other issues, but should be consequent and in harmony with the church’s overall theology.
To this end, I would propose a hermeneutical approach defended by Prof. Reimund Bieringer of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, in which he proposes a foundation for understanding the authority of the Bible for theology in the context of Modern biblical criticism.
Summary of “The Normativity of the Future”
The basic premise underlying Bieringer’s theory is the simple truth that sound theology is necessarily rooted in, and flows from a sound exegesis of the Scriptures. As such, the relationship between the Scriptures and theology is one which presumes that the biblical canon is inspired, and thus, revelatory. This premise leads Bieringer to focus on the basic question regarding “…in which way the Bible, a text of the past, can be meaningful, relevant, maybe even normative and authoritative for people who live today and in the future.” In response to this question, he first turns to the question of terminology which surrounds the theological concern to articulate the unique sacred character of the Bible. Noting in particular that the terms “revelation,” “canonicity,” “authority,” “normativity,” “inerrancy” and “infallibility” each take on different meanings in the various theological systems which employ them, he attempts to provide as broad a description as possible for each term, so to clarify the role each plays in relation to Scripture. We may summarize his definitions as follows:
a. Biblical Revelation is the affirmation that in the Bible, God is communicating something to us and that divine self-communication is happening in the Bible.
- Inspiration is the affirmation of God’s influence on either the original events, the process of oral tradition, the writer, the text, the reader, the process of reading and interpreting the effective history of the text (the tradition) or a combination of all of them. Upon this is said to rest the sacred character of the Bible.
- Infallibility is the affirmation that the human authors, in writing the Scriptures, were incapable of erring of incapable in failing to bring true and correct judgments to adequate expression. Infallibility is thus a term which refers to the author and the content of the Bible.
In addition, Bieringer notes that the following terms have as their particular focus, the relation of the content of the Bible:
- Inerrancy is the affirmation that the text (not the author) is free from error of any kind. Recently, some scholars have limited inerrancy to matters pertaining to salvation.
- Authority is the affirmation that the content of the Bible makes a claim on the reader.
- Normativity is the affirmation of the status of Scripture as a criterion or rule of faith and life for the reader.
- Canonicity means that in a long and complex process, faith communities have accepted certain books, which were believed to be inspired and normative, as having a unique, sacred character.
Despite the widespread agreement enjoyed by these definitions, Bieringer goes on to observe that exegetes and theologians remain divided over theories about which stage the divine influence is most pronounced in the development of the Sacred texts. Without repeating here the many theories summarized by Bieringer, we will note his observation that these theories can be categorized more or less by the notion of whether the intensity of divine inspiration of the Bible is to be located in an action or person of the past, or secondly, of something that is believed to happen in the present as one engages the text, or finally, of something that is expected to be realized in the future. In summary of these theories, Bieringer notes:
If we try to survey all the positions that were surveyed…we conclude that at one time or another virtually any moment of the entire process of the communication has been identified as locus of inspiration: the actual events, the Jesus of history, the experience of the eyewitnesses or of the early church, the proclamation of the gospel and its tradition, the sources as the earliest layers of the written text, the historical Jesus, the composition by an individual or by a community, the text, the acceptance of the text into the canon, the effective history (tradition), a particular translation or the event of reading. The collective wisdom of all these positions may well remind us that it is not a matter of ‘either-or’ (as most of these authors thought themselves), but of ‘both-and.’ If the process of revelation is really supposed to become a reality, God’s Spirit must be recognized as present in all the stadia.
Thus, despite Bieringer’s attestation to the value of each of these theories, he cautions that none of them go far enough in addressing the more fundamental question of the moral integrity of the Bible as “inspired” literature, in view of post-Enlightenment theology. In other words, religion, and more specifically, the Bible, are not exempt from the post-Enlightenment proclivity to question whether past norms and truths can meaningfully or validly inform the present. If we are to maintain that the Bible is both inspired and authoritative for matters of faith and morals, how do we address the fact that by contemporary Christian standards, the Bible itself is found morally deficient. Bieringer cites Schneiders as having stated the problem succinctly: “…can an ancient text speak normatively to a generation which has criticized the text’s ideology and found it morally wanting? Anti-Semitism, slavery, war, and apartheid, as well as sexism, can appeal to, and actually appealed to biblical warrants of legitimation. In other words, oppression is not accidental to the biblical text but intrinsic to it.” Given this dilemma, Bieringer is not content to deny these allegations in order to save the Bible’s normativity for Christian faith, or by contrast, to accept a guilty verdict, which would effectively deny the Bible its normative status. He argues instead, for a third way, which he calls, the normativity of the future.
Bieringer begins by establishing that revelation does not consist merely in the “imparting of content” but is rather the dynamic reciprocal process of God’s self communication and human response, resulting in an invitation to shared life with God (cf. Dei Verbum, 6). Revelation is therefore, dialogical and reciprocal. We observe here that Bieringer is thus framing revelation in the larger historical context in which it can be demonstrated that the Scriptures grew out of the community of faith (past), have become authoritative (present), and must nevertheless continually be interpreted by the Christian community in light of new situations and experiences (future). Consequently, he notes,
…the authority assumed by revelation can never be unilateral, coercive and absolute…[but] is dialogical and relative. Revelation is, therefore, not to be reduced to an anonymous or vicarious action of the past which is closed because all the possible content is imparted. It is rather an ongoing, ever-new process which involves each participant in the community in a personal way…[thus], while Christians profess Christ as the ultimate revelation of God, this revelation is by no means closed.
As such, Bieringer affirms that the biblical text itself, functions as a dynamic symbol, mediating in visible, tangible form, that which is ultimately ineffable and imperceptible. In this way, the text remains meaningless unless and until it is engaged, read and interpreted by individuals and communities who do so with the intent of encountering the mystery of God symbolized in the Sacred Texts; a process which is fulfilled only when the texts reach their “transformative potential.” However, Bieringer cautions that symbols are two-edged swords which simultaneously reveal and conceal, which bridge us with the Mystery, as well as establish walls. Dynamic engagement and interpretation remains the key to distinguishing between the two. Furthermore, unlike the spoken word, written texts enjoy a ‘surplus of meaning,’ about which he notes, “Written texts enjoy a relative semantic autonomy. What authors create can be or become such an intricate network of meaning that it transcends their original intention. Written texts do have legitimate meanings which were not intended by their authors.”
In other words, the meaning of a biblical text is not unalterably ‘frozen,’ but is, rather, inexhaustible as it is interpreted by readers in light of new situations and realities. Restricting texts to their own historical circumstances of composition (which, unfortunately, has been and often still is the normative approach to exegesis) presumes the impossibility that a reader or interpreter can be a neutral (i.e., “a-historical”) observer. However, since both the author of a biblical text as well as every reader of the text is historically limited and conditioned, there must be at least a minimal transcendence of historical conditions by both text and reader, so that a “fusion of horizons” becomes possible. Thus, observes Bieringer, “Even though the biblical text is expressing the experience of the first Christians, what it is really about (the real referent of the text), the truth claim of the text, is the world projected by the text.” Each person enters this projected world of the text in a uniquely personal way (i.e., historically conditioned), notwithstanding the context of their tradition and community.
Thus, in the Sacred Scriptures the projected future world of God’s Kingdom is expressed under the limitations of their given historical situations. It is here that the “contingent and therefore necessarily restricted perspective” of the author come into play, and consequently so too the “sinfulness of the author and the sinful [i.e., intrinsically oppressive] structures of his or her world enter the text.” Paradoxically, these same Scriptures, insofar as their primary referent is the future world of the Kingdom, embody a truth claim or criterion by which the very limitations and sinful elements of the text must be corrected. This correction takes place in the dynamic process of revelation, whereby text and reader are in dialogical relationship, overcoming the historical limitations embodied in the text, as well as those limitations impinging upon the reader. And herein lies the balance between two unacceptable extremes: blind obedience to the text on one hand, and lording over it as its final arbiters, on the other. Rather, he concludes, we must critically discern the truth claims of the text and allow ourselves to be transformed according the vision of the world of the text.
Thus, the Normativity of the Future is a forward-looking hermeneutic which places the locus of inspiration not only in the past, but in the alternative world of the future that the Bible projects. In this way, the reader does not re-write the text or too quickly develop a ‘canon within the Canon’ as a simple solution to dealing with oppressive and destructive elements of the text. Rather, he insists, “…the oppressiveness of the text remains both a witness to that from which we have been saved and as a challenge to action on behalf of justice. But just as we must not cling to our sins as a paradigmatic definition of ourselves, just as the Church must not continue to affirm its mistakes as if they were tradition, so we must not propose the oppressive structures in the biblical text as the Word of God.” Thus, the projected future world of God’s Kingdom becomes normative for discerning what is life-giving and death-dealing in the text. The Spirit, then, “is not only to be sought behind the text in the past, but is always ahead of it, drawing us into a new heavens and a new earth.”
The application of a historical-critical hermeneutic to specific biblical passages
which are purported to condemn homosexuality
Old Testament Texts
There is an abundance of literature devoted to the debate about whether or not—or to what extent—the Bible condemns homosexuality. As previously mentioned, Scripture can and has been used to support virtually any polemical argument or ethical position, and the question of homosexuality is no exception. The a priori hermeneutical assumption underlying this document, grounded in the “normativity of the future,” attempts to circumvent just that kind of myopic proof-texting, which clearly seems to have proven itself futile. Certainly, there is little or nothing to be accomplished by proof-texting if the underlying hermeneutical assumptions directing our interpretations are not exposed or agreed upon. Thus, to provide a line by line interpretation of those biblical texts which have often been interpreted to condemn homosexuality, is somewhat antithetical to the underlying hermeneutical foundations of this document. Nevertheless, even the hermeneutic of the Normativity of the Future begins by noting the inextricable relationship between Scripture and theology (above, 2). Thus, in order help us distinguish between the historical limitations (i.e., oppressive structures) of the text, and the world projected by the text (i.e., Kingdom of God), we will briefly demonstrate how the limited biblical references to “homosexuality” can be interpreted in light of the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation.
- Genesis 19:1-11: The Sin of Sodom
The central importance of this passage revolves around the text of Gen 19:5, “…and they [the townsmen of Sodom] called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.’”
Of the 943 times that the Hebrew word “to know” (Hb. hDo√d´n◊w) appears in the OT, the present context represents one of only ten occasions in which the term carries a clear sexual implication, meaning “to have intercourse with.” Although some exegetes want to argue that the Hebrew verb “to know” as it is used here, means simply that the townsmen wanted to acquaint themselves with the two strangers and inquire about their reason for being in Sodom, this interpretation lacks credibility due to the fact that Lot offers his own daughters to be abused instead of the visitors. When we situate this narrative in its proper cultural and historical context, two significant questions immediately present themselves. First, we must inquire about what precisely is the sin of Sodom? What did the townsmen of Sodom want to do with Lot’s visitors and what was their motivation? Secondly, if Lot is being rescued from the destruction of Sodom because of his righteousness before God (Gen 19:29), how are we to reconcile that with the fact the he was willing to offer up his own two daughters to the townsmen (Gen 19:8)? Had these women been raped and survived the brutality, they would have forever remained social outcasts and unmarriageable for having lost their virginity beforehand. How then is Lot’s behavior excusable, much less exemplary? Contemporary Christian ethics could hardly condone his willingness to hand over his daughters to such a fate.
A historical-critical reading of the text will afford some answers. To the first question we simply note that the story of Sodom is not about sexual ethics, (as Lot’s willingness to give up his daughters makes clear), but is rather about inhospitality to strangers, intensified by a most grotesque form of sexually abusive behavior: gang rape. The motivation for wanting to “sodomize” the visitors was to humiliate them by treating them like women, whose social status was limited to that of being merely the “property” of men. In marriage, a woman was “redeemed” (literally, “purchased”) by her husband whose property she now became. In view of this pervasive cultural perception, ancient Israelite society maintained a covenantal code of “sacred hospitality” that was extended to strangers, widows and orphans because of the fact that these three classes of people were the most vulnerable to poverty, abuse and harm. This is the reason that in the narrative presently under consideration, Lot is regarded as righteous; he honors the sacred covenantal code of hospitality with the strangers whom he encounters, unaware that he was entertaining angels (cf. Heb 13:2).
This interpretation is further confirmed within the context of the Scriptures themselves, by Isaiah’s direct condemnation of the rulers of Sodom and Gomorrah for not having upheld this code of hospitality, “Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Is. 1:10-11, 16-17). Employing a hermeneutic in which the normativity of the future becomes our guiding principle, it cannot escape us that even the current Christian conviction regarding that which constitutes ethical behavior is at once rooted in Scripture, and yet must clearly transcend that which is contained in the biblical texts themselves. If this were not so, we would still regard Lot’s willingness to offer his daughters to the mob as ethically acceptable. As this is clearly not the case, the Genesis 19 narrative represents a case in point, in which the biblical canon as a whole transcends the limitations of its own historical trappings, so to move the contemporary reader to a higher ethical standard than the biblical characters themselves possess.
In conclusion, Gen 19:1-11, taken in its proper historical context, cannot be cited legitimately as a sanction against homosexuality. It is, rather, a clear and unequivocal condemnation of abusive and denigrating behavior toward another human person, which in this case takes the form of attempted gang rape. As such, the Genesis 19 narrative condemns what amounts to a grave breach of the sacred covenantal code in which Israel came to understand its relationship with God and humanity.
- Leviticus 18:22; 20:13: The Holiness Code
These two texts, found in close proximity to one another, read as follows:
Lev 18:22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
Lev 20:13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.
Among all of the OT citations which apparently condemn homogenital acts, it may be argued that these two texts are the least ambiguous. While there is little doubt that we have here a clear prohibition of male homogenital activity, there is nevertheless, a conspicuous absence of any condemnation of lesbian sexual activity. More telling, perhaps, is the fact that in both prohibitions, the reference to male-male sexual activity makes the comparison of one man lying with another to that of lying “with a woman,” or more literally, in the case of Lev 20:13, “With a male you shall not lie the lyings of a woman.” Once again, therefore, the text betrays the idea that that for a man to engage in homosexual activity, he is being denigrated to the socially inferior status of a woman (above, 7; below, 11). Again, the entrenched patriarchalism found within much of our biblical literature must be recognized here, and contextualized historically-critically. In doing so, we are better able to clarify that a hermeneutic which embraces the “normativity of the future,” relies on the very ethical demand of the Scriptures to call us beyond the social-historical limitations which they, themselves, contain.
We begin then, by noting that these prohibitions are found in a section of Leviticus that has, by scholarly consensus, been labeled, “The Holiness Code,” extending from Lev 17-26. Generally considered to be an originally independent legal document dating to the end of the Israelite monarchal period (c. 6th Century BCE), it was later edited by the Priestly [P] tradition of the Torah and incorporated into the larger corpus of what we now know as Leviticus. As has been noted by A. Klostermann, the prophetic literature of Ezekiel (also a product of the same era), emphasizes “holiness” as one of God’s quintessential attributes, and thus, seems to have significantly influenced “The Holiness Code,” which betrays the same theological presuppositions.
Under the Priestly [P] influence, this “Holiness Code” was eventually related to the concept of ritual purity, and as such transformed gradually into the realm of ethical purity:
Because holiness is thought of in relation to worship, it is connected with the idea of ritual purity: the ‘law of holiness’ is also the ‘law of purity.’ But the God of Israel makes moral demands and under this influence the primitive notion of holiness undergoes a transformation: avoidance of what was ritually impure becomes abstention from sin; ritual purity develops into purity of conscience…
The establishment of this link between ritual purity and purity of conscience is an important element in attempting to historically-critically situate the texts in question. Both citations, Lev 18:22 and 20:13, clearly condemn male same-sex relations as an “abomination,” and the latter verse goes even farther as to evoke the death penalty on those who are found guilty. When contextualizing this penalty within the “Holiness Code,” the severity of the punishment is tempered by the fact that in the midst of these two injunctions we find the same penalty prescribed for a child, guilty only of cursing his parents! Cleary, the severity of this penalty betrays the fact that cursing one’s parents in ancient Israelite society had radically different connotations in that culture than in our own. In short, the patriarchal societal order of ancient Israel was dependent on a clear line of expected obedience within the family hierarchy. To threaten that chain of command, was to threaten the larger social order itself. Similarly, homogenital acts between two men, carrying the same severe penalty of death, also had different implications in the world of ancient Israel than it does in our world today.
“The Holiness Code,” as such, was concerned with just that, the holiness of God, and subsequently that of the People of God. The etymological origins of the Hebrew root for the word “holy” (Hb. qds) means literally, “to cut;” that is, something which is separated, set apart, consecrated to God; a concept which still manifests itself in the near universally recognized distinction between the so-called “sacred” and the “profane.” In the “Holiness Code,” therefore, Israel is being instructed to set itself apart from the surrounding nations, to be pure and holy before God. This means that Israel was to refrain from ritual behaviors and social practices that would be tantamount to an observance of the statues of alien gods and their people:
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not follow their statutes. My ordinances you shall observe and my statutes you shall keep, following them: I am the LORD your God. You shall keep my statutes and my ordinances; by doing so one shall live: I am the LORD (Lev 18:1-5).
Of particular relevance to our subject matter, then, is that the injunctions of Lev 18:22 and 20:13 were not sexual prohibitions as such, but were ritual prohibitions leveled against sexual activity which would seem to involve the religious rites of foreign nations and the worship of their gods. As Helminiak aptly summarizes, “The argument in Leviticus is religious, not ethical or moral. That is to say, no thought is given to whether the sex in itself is right or wrong. All concern is for keeping Jewish identity strong.” He goes on to cite a contemporary example of the moral reprehensibility of a satanic ritual involving sexual acts—even between a husband and wife. Modern Christians would not object to their sexual relations as such, but to the fact that in this context, their sexual act was tantamount to worship of the devil. It is in this context that we must interpret the Levitical prohibitions of homogenital activity.
In close connection with the concept of “separateness,” we note, finally, that both injunctions refer to the act of male sexual activity as an “abomination.” Abomination, in this context suggests that which is “unclean,” as is made clear in the following passage:
You shall therefore make a distinction between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean; you shall not bring abomination on yourselves by animal or by bird or by anything with which the ground teems, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. You shall be holy to me; for I the LORD am holy, and I have separated you from the other peoples to be mine (Lev 20:25-26).
Understanding the texts in question, in light of this passage, it becomes evident that the prohibitions against male, same-sex relations are not moral or ethical in nature, but rather religious and cultural. The reference to them as “abominations,” then, have nothing to do with the sexual act in itself, but with the their specific religious context within ancient Israelite culture, as acts of ritual impurity.
New Testament Texts
It is particularly notable that among the sacred literature of the NT, our most central documents—the gospels—are silent on the issue of homosexuality. There are no allusions to OT citations on the subject, nor are their any novel teachings either for or against homoerotic love in any of the four gospels. We begin our examination of relevant NT texts, then, with the acknowledgement that the documents which most readily put us in touch with the traditions of Jesus’ teachings seem to convey no particular concern over the issue of homosexuality. However, this should come as no surprise to us, for as our review of the OT texts have shown, Leviticus forbade homogenital acts only for reasons of ritual purity, not because such acts were necessarily wrong in and of themselves. As it is, the gospels portray Jesus as one who is very much unconcerned about ritual purity:
“Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles…Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile” (Mt 15:11, 17-20).
Thus, having rejected the reason for which homogenital acts were condemned in the OT Holiness Code (i.e., ritual purity), it stands to reason that if the issue of homosexuality were of particular concern to Jesus or the primitive church, we should expect to find in the gospels either an alternative reason for condemning homosexuality, or an attempt to demonstrate why these acts are wrong in themselves. Neither is the case. There are however, NT texts outside of the gospels which must be addressed and contextualized historically-critically if they are to be properly understood and interpreted for the contemporary church. It is to these texts that we now turn our attention.
- Romans 1:26-27: The Meaning of para/ fu/sin (“contrary to nature”)
The most extensive biblical text in either the OT or NT which refers to same-sex relations is found in Rom 1:26-27, and is the only place in the NT where there is an entire sentence given over to the subject at all. In English translation, the text reads as follows:
26For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural (Gk. para/ fu/sin)27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
When read in the larger context of Rom 1:18-32, it becomes evident that the subject of the pericope is not homosexuality, but grammatically speaking, is “God” (vs 26, “For this reason God…”). Paul argues that God “gave up” the gentiles to “unnatural” passions for failing to recognize God in Creation, wherein he has always been revealed (vs 20-22). The implications of this statement are rooted in several beliefs about homosexuality commonly presupposed in ancient Greco-Roman culture. We may summarize these as follows:
- Anyone who engaged in homosexual activity was intentionally overriding their natural sexual desire for persons of the opposite sex. The contemporary category of “sexual orientation” (coined only in the last century), had not been in any way conceived in Paul’s time. Nor was there any conception that biology, psychology or sociology played a role in shaping and determining one’s sexual orientation. Paul’s own language in Rom 1:26, wherein he maintains that “women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural…,” and men were said to be “giving up natural intercourse with women…” betrays this very conceptual error.
- Since homosexual acts were thought to be a willful denial of one’s natural sexual desires, they were also commonly presumed to be intrinsically lustful.
- Homosexual activity was presumed to require one of the partners to exchange their natural role as dominant/active (in the case of men) or submissive/passive (in the case of women), thereby “giving up” their natural role as men or women. As was noted earlier, this was the very reason, victorious soldiers would sometimes rape their enemy soldiers: in order to force them into the submissive sexual role of women, thereby denigrating them as weak, effeminate, womanly (above, 8)
- Finally, it was widely believed that homosexuality was a potential temptation for all people and that to engage in such activity would render its participants sterile. Thus, there was an ongoing fear that unbridled homosexuality could lead to the extinction of the human race!
Looking at this broader social and cultural context concerning beliefs about homosexuality, it becomes evident that Paul’s statements are neither unique nor particular to Christianity. Rather, he is merely reiterating the presumed truths of his contemporary culture; presumptions which, on virtually all levels of human advancement, have since been rendered inadequate, untenable, and completely erroneous. Simply stated: on the question of the ethical implications of homosexual relationships in the contemporary church, Paul’s statements in Rom 1:26-27 are inconclusive because the cultural assumptions upon which he bases them have been proven false. Like so many other instances where cultural trappings and historical limitations have been weaved into our Sacred Scriptures, proper exegesis of any given text demands that we critically discern that which is divinely inspired and therefore, universally true, as opposed to that which is a product of human shortsightedness, and therefore subject to “the law of diminishing relevancy.”
Of particular relevance to our interpretation of Rom 1:26-27, then, is the term often rendered “contrary to nature” or “unnatural” (para/ fu/sin) in vs 26, and which is reflective of the first cultural presupposition enumerated above. There is much debate as to what Paul meant here by the term “nature” (fu/sin). Did he intend the Stoic sense of the term, common in his day, which carried the abstract meaning of “Nature and the Laws of Nature”? Or did he have in mind a more concrete meaning, likely to have stemmed from his own Jewish background, in which something’s “nature” referred to its essential character and identity? We know from other Pauline literary contexts that the latter meaning is often intended. Thus, it would seem that if this is the meaning Paul had in mind, he was not making an ethical statement about homosexual activity, as much as arguing that it was “uncharacteristic,” or atypical for heterosexuals to act in a homosexual manner. To act “unnaturally,” according to this view, is to act in a such a way that is inconsistent with that which was expected. God, himself, is said to act contrary to the divine nature in Rom 11:24, in grafting the gentiles into the Olive tree that is Israel. Thus, Helminiak correctly concludes, “If to act [contrary to nature] is immoral, then God must be immoral—and that is patently absurd.”
Furthermore, if it is to be argued with some degree of conviction that Paul was indeed adopting the Stoic, abstract usage of the term “nature,” we must still contend with the ancient Greco-Roman cultural assumption that homosexuals were “naturally” heterosexual, who lustfully chose to give themselves over to homosexual relations (above, 11). The recognition of the nature of “sexual orientation,” arrived at through modern sciences, confirms the falsity of these ancient cultural presumptions hinted at within this passage, and conversely, suggests a surprising affirmation for the homosexual community. Namely, that homosexuals are ethically bound not to act contrary to their nature as homosexuals. Or, to state this more positively, the ethics of homosexuality begins with an honest recognition, admission and integration of one’s God-given homosexual orientation, and results in a life lived in gratitude for, and loving expression of one’s sexuality. Thus, homosexuals should not be coerced, pressured, or otherwise encouraged to establish sexual relations with members of the opposite sex. To do so, would be to encourage behavior that is contrary to their nature; the ethical implications of which, include most significantly a rejection of one’s self and of God’s gift of sexuality.
- 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10, Interpreting malakoi÷ and a˙rsenokoi¥tai.
Building upon this understanding of the contemporary notion of “homosexual orientation,” we turn, finally, to two passages in the NT which will be taken together because both raise the question of how best to interpret the Greek terms malakoi÷ and a˙rsenokoi¥tai. The passages in question read in English translation as follows:
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes (ou¡te malakoi÷) sodomites (ou¡te a˙rsenokoi÷tai), 10thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God (1Cor 6:9-10).
This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, 10fornicators, sodomites (a˙rsenokoi÷tai), slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me (1Tim 1:9-11).
These Greek terms malakoi÷ (malakoi) and a˙rsenokoi÷tai (arsenokoitai), here translated as “male prostitutes” and “sodomites” respectively, have undergone many and various translations in English Bibles; a fact which, itself, lays bear the reality that each of these terms presents a crux interpretum that cannot be easily settled upon. Among these interpretations we can locate renderings such as, “adulterers and homosexuals” (RSV, 1952); and “sexual perverts” (combining both words into one description, RSV, 1977). Furthermore, Helminiak, notes that malakoi÷ in other English translations has been variously translated as “catamites,” “the effeminate,” “boy prostitutes,” “masturbators,” and even “sissies.” The term, a˙rsenokoi÷tai, on the other hand, has seen translations including, “homosexuals,” “sodomites,” “child molesters,” “perverts,” and “people of infamous habits,” to name a few. In view of this ambiguity, we can conclude at least this much: that any attempt to interpret these texts as expressive of a contemporary understanding of “homosexual orientation” cannot be substantiated and is ultimately without warrant. The best that can be determined here is that sexual activity which involves exploitation, inequality, or abuse, is ethically reprehensible, regardless of the gender of its participants. However, these texts, once again, are simply incapable of speaking to any contemporary understanding of sexual orientation, and its ethical implications for same-sex relations.
Conclusion and Implications for the CCC teaching on homosexuality and same-sex relationships
By way of conclusion then, we note several points, implied by the exegetical analysis in this document:
- Homosexuality as a perceived “orientation” is only recently understood and is, thus part of the historical limitations of the world behind the biblical text.
- It is essential to stress that the Bible offers no condemnation of homosexuality expressed within loving, committed unions. We need not look very far into Scripture to find affirmations of love, faithfulness, and community which all speak to the reality toward which Christian same-sex couples attempt to strive. It is part of the historical limitations of the world behind the biblical text that is responsible for the lack of understanding of a sexual “orientation,” and thus, sexual condemnation in the Bible never involves two people expressing a mutual bond of love. However, we do find condemnation of rape, sexual abuse and exploitation, idolatry, hypocrisy, and oppression; all of which are clearly contrary to the Christian gospel and none of which have any relation to loving, committed relationships. We must, therefore, never allow any Church teaching to reduce gay relationships to matters of sexuality apart from the context of love. It is not sex, but love that most centrally defines the Christian homosexual union.
- To continue to ignore advances in human sciences regarding human sexuality inevitably results in an inadequate interpretation of references to homosexuality in the Bible, which in view of modern science can only be seen as two-dimensional, inadequate and ultimately oppressive.
- In many areas of faith and morals the world projected by the Bible (i.e., The Kingdom of God), demands that we surpass its own historical limitations in working toward the Kingdom of God. This is not unique to the question of homosexuality, but rather places this issue in line with a host of others that have already been recognized (i.e., patriarchy, sexism, anti-Semitism, slavery, etc).
ALEXANDER, Marilyn Bennett and James Preston. We Were Baptized Too: Claiming God's Grace for Lesbians and Gays. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.
APA. Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues: Fact Sheet. http://www.apa.org/pubinfo/answers.html#whatis.
BAWER, Bruce. Stealing Jesus: How fundamentalism Betrays Christianity. New York: Crown Publishers,1997.
BIERINGER, Reimund. “The Normativity of the Future: The Authority of the Bible for Theology,” Bulletin Ephemeredes Theologicae Lovanienses 8 (1997): 52-67.
BOSWELL, John. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe From the Beginning of the Christian Era to the 14th Century. Chicago: University Press, 1981.
BOSWELL, John. Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. New York: Villiard Books, 1994.
BOULDREY, Brian, ed. Wrestling With the Angel: Faith and Religion in the Lives of Gay Men. New York: Riverhead Books, 1995.
BOYD, Malcolm and Nancy Wilson, eds. Amazing Grace! Stories of Lesbian and Gay Faith. Freedom: The Crossing Press, 1991.
BOYD, Malcolm. Take Off the Masks. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.
BRAWLEY, Robert l., ed. Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality: Listening to Scripture. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.
BROOTEN, Bernadette. Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism. Chicago: University Press, 1998.
COMSTOCK, Gary D. Gay Theology Without Apology. Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1993.
COUNTRYMAN, L. William. Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988.
COUNTRYMAN, L. William. The Good News of Jesus: Reintroducing the Gospel. Boston: Cowley Publications, 1993.
COUNTRYMAN, L. William. Biblical Authority or Biblical Tyranny?: Scripture and the Christian Pilgrimage. Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1994.
CROMEY, Rev. Robert Warren. In God's Image: Christian Witness to the Need for Gay/Lesbian Equality in the Eyes of the Church. San Francisco: Alamo Square Press, 1991.
FREEDMAN, David. N., Gen. ed. ABD, I. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
FRONTAIN, Raymond-Jean, ed. Reclaiming the Sacred: The Bible in Gay and Lesbian Culture. New York: Harrington Park Press, 1997.
GALLAGHER, Nora. Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.
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HELMINIAK, Daniel A. What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality. San Francisco: Alamo Square Press, 1994.
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NISSINEN, Martti. Homoeroticism in the Biblical World. Augsberg Fortress Publications, 1998.
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RICOEUR, Paul. From Text to Action: Essays in Hermeneutics, II. Evanston, 1991.
RIGHTER, Walter C. A Pilgrim's Way. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.
ROGERS, Eugene F. Sexuality and the Christian Body. Malden: Blackwell, 1999.
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SCHNEIDERS, S.M., Sandra. “Feminist Ideology Criticism and Biblical Hermeneutics” in BTB 19 (1989).
SCHNEIIDERS, S.M., Sandra. The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scriptures. New York, 1991,
SIKER, Jeffrey S., ed., Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate. Louisville: John Knox, 1994.
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Affirming Biblical Quotes
for the Gay and Lesbian Community
Over and above the need to defend the biblical text from misguided interpretations about the ethics of homosexuality and same-sex relations, is the task of noting some of the various texts that offer a positive and life-affirming view on same-sex love and the beauty and uniqueness of each human person. As an appendix to this document, therefore, we include a sampling of these texts for reference and reflection.
Some Biblical texts
1 Sam. 18:1-4
When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. 3Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.
1 Sam. 20:41-42
As soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He bowed three times, and they kissed each other, and wept with each other; David wept the more. 42Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, since both of us have sworn in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants, forever.’” He got up and left; and Jonathan went into the city.
But Ruth said [to Naomi],
“Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
Where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
17Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the LORD do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!”
2 Sam. 1:23-26
Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
In life and in death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles,
they were stronger than lions.
26O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you with crimson, in luxury,
who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
25How the mighty have fallen
in the midst of the battle!
Jonathan lies slain upon your high places.
26I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful,
passing the love of women.
For you love all things that exist,
and detest none of the things that you have made,
for you would not have made anything if you had hated it.
25How would anything have endured if you had not willed it?
Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved?
26You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living.
12:1 For your immortal spirit is in all things.
American Psychiatric Association
Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues
 Reimund BIERINGER, “The Normativity of the Future: The Authority of the Bible for Theology,” Bulletin Ephemeredes Theologicae Lovanienses 8 (1997): 52-67. Professor Bieringer agreed to establish a hyperlink between the CCC website with his personal web page whereby his entire article will be made available to those who wish to consult it.
 ibid., cf. Sandra SCHNEIIDERS, S.M., The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scriptures, (New York, 1991), 53
 BIERINGER, 61, cf. Sandra SCHNEIDERS, “Feminist Ideology Criticism and Biblical Hermeneutics” in BTB 19 (1989): 4.
 ibid., Cf., P. RICOEUR, From Text to Action: Essays in Hermeneutics, II, (Evanston, 1991), 148.
 Sandra SCHNEIDERS, S.M., “Feminist Ideology Criticism and Biblical Hermeneutics,” in BTB 19 (1989): 6. Cf. H.-G. GADAMER, Truth and Method, (New York, 1993), 277-307.
 BIERINGER, 65. This future world is somewhat synonymous with what we may traditionally call, the “Reign” or “Kingdom” of God.
 See, Daniel HELMINIAK, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, (San Francisco: Alamo Square Press, 1994) to whose scholarship and concise presentation of material on this subject, this document is greatly indebted.
 All biblical citations in this document are taken from the NRSV, unless otherwise noted.
 We know, for example, that in the ancient world, defeated soldiers were often raped by their victors, not merely to denigrate them but also to demonstrate that they were now the “property” of their aggressors; reduced to the subservient social status of a woman.
 Cf. Ez 16:48-48; Wis 19:13; Jer 23:14; Zeph 2:8-11; Mt 10:5-15 which all reference Sodom and Gomorrah as having been guilty of oppression, injustice, partiality, encouraging evil, adultery, but never identify homosexual activity as the “sin” of which they were guilty.
 One cannot help but note, almost ironically, that the Bible’s undeniable patriarchal perspective has all but spared lesbians of condemnation for same-sex relations (but see, Rom 1:26-27, discussed below, 11). Indeed, the male bias is so prevalent in most biblical texts, that women are by and large forced to infer from the condemnation of male homogenital activity, that they are to be included in this condemnation as well.
 See, Daniel HELMINIAK, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, (San Francisco: Alamo Square Press, 1994), 43.
 Such was the name given by, A. KLOSTERMANN, “Ezechiel und das Heilgkeitsgesetzes” in Der Pentateuch: Beiträge zu seinem Verständnis und seiner Entsehungsgeschichte (Leipzig, 1893), 368-418, esp. 385.
 Cf. Ezek. 20:41; 28:22, 25; 36:23; 38:16; 38:23; 39:27; 44:19; 46:20.
 Cf. Lev 19:2, “…You shall be holy, for I, YHWH your God am holy” (NJB). Also, 20:7, 26; 21:8; 22:32, etc.
 Henry WANSBROUGH, Gen. Ed., The New Jerusalem Bible, (New York: Doubleday, 1985), 157, n. 17a.
 Lev. 20:9, “All who curse father or mother shall be put to death; having cursed father or mother, their blood is upon them.”
 Cf. HELMINIAK, 48. See also, David WENHAM, “Abomination of Desolation,” in David. N. FREEDMAN, Gen. ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 1, (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 30, who notes that in the book of Daniel, the word “abomination” also plays a significant role (see: Dan 11:31; 12:11; cf. 9:27) in which the meaning in all three cases is clear: foreign invaders of Jerusalem will forcibly end the ritual worship of the temple. Again, the notion of abomination is associated with the loss of ritual purity.
 References to Sodom found in Mt 10:12-15; and parallel Lk 10:10-12; Mt 11:23-24 do not specify the nature of the city’s sin. Cf. Victor P. FURNISH, “The Bible and Homosexuality: Reading the Texts in Context, “ in Jeffrey S. SIKER, ed., Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate, (Louisville: John Knox, 1994), 23.
 An even broader contextualization of this passage through a comparison with Acts 17:22-34 betrays the fact that early Christian tradition appropriated this condemnation by Paul in a far gentler light.
 For further information on the category of “homosexual orientation” as presented by the American Psychological Association, see http://www.apa.org/pubinfo/answers.html#whatis. See also, Appendix 2 of this document for a complete copy of the APA fact sheet on “Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues.”
 The law of diminishing relevancy is discussed in FURNISH, 32, in the following manner: “The more specifically applicable an instruction is to the situation for which it was originally formulated, the less specifically applicable it is to every other situation.” Thus, while we cannot fault Paul for being a product of a his geographical, historical and temporal limitations, we have an ethical responsibility to interpret his own texts in such a way as to unmoor them from Paul’s own human limitations in order to discern that which is universally true, relevant and divinely inspired. Clearly then, authorial intent cannot be the final arbiter in discerning the meaning of a sacred text. Rather, insofar as the Bible interacts in an ongoing and dynamic relationship with the Christian community who is entrusted with the sacred task of its interpretation, the meaning of the text can and must transcend its author’s own intended meaning, so that the Bible may continue to be for the church, the living Word of God in their midst. Like the “weeds and the wheat” of which Christ, himself, spoke, left to grow side by side until the Parousia, so too do we find the weeds and wheat of the sacred writers side by side in the Scriptures (cf., Mt 13:24-30). This, inseparability is an unavoidable outcome of the incommensurability between the Infinite nature of God and the finite nature of humanity.
 For further analysis on this distinction and its implications for our subject, see, HELMINIAK, 63-83.
 See, for example, Rom 2:27 where Paul refers to those who are Gentile by “nature;” Gal 2:15 where he refers to those who are Jews by “nature;” Gal 4:8 where Paul refers entities “that by nature are not gods;” and finally in 1 Cor 11:14 he asks, “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him…?”
 HELMINIAK, 86, tellingly observes that a recent Roman Catholic publication of the New American Bible, translated a˙rsenokoi÷tai as “practicing homosexuals,” apparently in order to confirm to the Church’s twentieth Century teaching that while being homosexual is not sinful in itself, the practice of homosexual behavior is morally wrong. “How amazing!” notes Helminiak, that “a first-century text would now seem to teach exactly what Roman Catholicism began teaching only in the mid-1970’s….”
About the Author
Rev. Vincent Pizzuto, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor in the Department of Theology and
Religious Studies at the University of San Francisco. He has a Masters of Education in
Religious Education from Boston College (1995), as well as a Masters (STL) and Doctorate
(STD) in New Testament exegesis from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Louvain) in
Belgium. Currently in publication is his first book entitled, A Cosmic Leap of Faith: An
Authorial, Structural, and Theological Investigation of the Cosmic Christology in Col 1:15-20, as well as a recent article entitled, “Religious Terror and the Prophetic Voice of
Reason: Unmasking Our Myths of Righteousness,” BTB 37 (June 2007). His primary
theological interests lie in New Testament theology and historical-critical methodology;
christology; trinitarian theology; the Christian mystical tradition; and Celtic Christian
spirituality. In addition to his teaching, Prof. Pizzuto lectures in local parishes on areas of
prayer and spirituality with particular outreach to the gay and lesbian community.
Vincent was ordained to the priesthood in July 2006, by the Most Rev. Joseph Grenier,
Ph.D., presiding bishop of the Celtic Christian Church (CCC). He presides over a small
contemplative faith community called “New Skellig.” To find out more about New Skellig,
the CCC and independent catholic churches, please visit our website at