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The Word “Homosexual” and the Bible

The idea of homosexuality has become quite a politically-charged topic in the West in the past decade or so, especially since the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples have the right to marry on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples. Since then, we’ve seen a steady incline of support by those in the West, particularly in the United States, in support of same-sex unions, and even many Christian churches are expressing their support of same-sex unions and homosexual inclinations by arguing that the Bible actually doesn’t condemn either of these two things and that anyone who believes that the Bible does condemn them are relying on outdated and flawed interpretations of a few passages of Scripture. But do these claims of antiquated interpretations hold up to scrutiny?

There has arisen an argument in liberal circles recently that the word homosexual is a word truly absent from the text of the Bible and that it was only “added” first in 1946 to modern translations when it appeared in the Revised Standard Version (RVS). While it is true that the English word homosexual and its derivatives first appeared in English translations in 1946, that does not mean that the concept of homosexuality is absent in the Bible. The reason that it did not appear until this time is because the English word homosexual is actually quite a new word, though the concept of homosexual has been present for much longer than before first usage of the word being used by Karl-Marian Kentbury in 1869. Later in 1886, the word was used alongside heterosexual and became the most widely-accepted terms for sexual orientation among medical professionals.

So if the presence of the English word homosexual coming into English translations within the past 100 years is explainable with by the etymology of the word itself, why are so many opposed to its usage in translations? The two main verses in question are 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 where Paul lists several different acts which are contrary to God’s Law and are the reason many are condemned before the eyes of God. 

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
— 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV (emphasis added)

8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
— 1 Timothy 1:8-11 ESV (emphasis added)

The argument from the liberal scholars and those who read their work is that the word here translated in the ESV as “men who practice homosexuality” (ἀρσενοκοίτης) actually refers to pederasty (sexual activity involving a man and a young boy) as a sort of power trip rather than a loving and committed same-sex relationship, but that could not be further from the truth considering the source from where this word derives. This word is actually unique to the New Testament at the time of Paul’s writing and is probably a word that the Apostle coined himself by combining two independent Greek words together (ἄρσην – male & κειμαι – to bed/intercourse) to form a new word.

Paul’s coining of and use of this word finds its source in the Bible itself. In Leviticus 18, Moses lists various prohibited sexual acts that Israel was to avoid and that the inhabitants of Canaan had been practicing, which is why God chose to drive out the Canaanites from their land. Within these prohibitions we find Moses prohibiting men from having sex with other men:

22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
— Leviticus 18:22 ESV

This verse is clear that God prohibits men from having sex with other men as with women and that it is abhorrent to God to do so. The fascinating thing about this verse, however, is that Paul forms the new word used in 1 Corinthians 1:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 (ἀρσενοκοίτης) from two of the Greek words present in this verse.

Καὶ μετὰ ἄρσενος οὐ κοιμηθήσῃ κοίτην γυναικείαν, βδέλυγμα γάρ ἐστι.
— Leviticus 18:22 Brenton LXX.

Καὶ (and) μετὰ (with) ἄρσενος (a male) οὐ (not) κοιμηθήσῃ (you will lie) κοίτην (in intercourse) γυναικείαν (as with a woman), βδέλυγμα (an abomination) γάρ (because) ἐστι (it is).
— Leviticus 18:22 Brenton LXX (translated)

This verse says explicitly in the Greek version of the Tanakh (which is the Bible most often quoted by Paul and the Apostles) that we are not to lie (literally, to bed) males as we do females, for it is an abomination to God. Paul takes the two present words in this passage (ἄρσενος – male & κοίτην – to bed, to have intercourse) and creates a new word which he uses in 1 Corinthians 1:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. The reason he does this is because the passage from Leviticus did not contain a single word for homosexual simply because Greek did not have such a word in existence at the time, so Paul goes to the source of the prohibition in God’s Law against men having sex with other men and coins the term himself, not because the Bible didn’t condemn the practice, for that is clear in the passage from Leviticus 18:22.

Usages of these two Greek terms elsewhere in the New Testament support the conclusion that this new term is to be understood as men having sex with other men. Here are a few examples:

  • ἄρσενος – Strongs 730 – male
    • Matt 19:4 – 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female”
    • Luke 2:23 – (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”)
    • Galatians 3:28 – There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
  • κοίτην – Strongs 2845 – bed, marriage bed
    • Luke 11:7 – and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed.
    • Romans 9:10 – And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac
    • Hebrews 13:4 – Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.

It is clear, then, that this new word was created by the Apostle Paul using the terms in the Law of God to explain the prohibition against a male lying with another male as one does with a female and not that there was some conspiracy in the translation committees of recent English Bibles to insert a foreign idea into the text with the new English word homosexual

But where does that leave female homosexuality? Does this term only prohibit the practice of male homosexuality and not female homosexuality? Paul actually condemns female homosexuality elsewhere in his epistles just as he has condemned male homosexuality.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
— Romans 1:26-27 ESV (emphasis added)

In speaking of the debaucherous practices of those around him, Paul condemns both women and men who “exchange natural relations for those contrary to nature”. In the same way that men abandoned natural relations with women in favor of other men, women were abandoning natural relations with men in favor of other women. This passage, therefore, puts female homosexuality on equal ground with male homosexuality in condemning them both in the sight of God.

So in short, there was no conspiracy to insert a prohibition into the Bible in 1946 against something that was always an acceptable practice. Rather, those who are insisting that this is the case are the ones being dishonest with the text and conspiring to change the words of Scripture to fit their own liberal and progressive narrative.

For further learning on this topic, please check out The Word Made Fresh S1:E5.

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