What the Bible really says on homosexuality
Studying scripture accurately means acknowledging you’re reading a translation
I’m going to start this piece off with a few facts about me to give a fair picture of my background and stance (transparency is key, right?). My parents put me in Christian education in grades 1-12 at both Harvest City Christian Academy and Regina Christian School. I was a Jesus Freak™-level Christian up until about age 18, and spent 15-20 hours a week in church-related activities, chapel sessions, devotional periods, or studying and memorizing the Bible in what my school called Christian Ethics class.
I am currently pursuing a minor in religious studies, so I am learning to study religion from a more objective stance, which has opened the approaches I take when studying scripture. Presently, I am not a Christian, and as my friend Chris likes to joke, I’ve forgotten more about the Bible than most people ever learn. I did a good brush up this week though to unite those sides for this article, so strap in.
A grossly underrated yet essential aspect when reading the Bible is to remember that, if you are reading it in English, you are reading a translation. To be more precise, you’re likely reading the aftermath of several translation periods, each increasing the potential for a mistranslation, accidental or otherwise. To be true to scripture – to what Christians view as the living and breathing word of God – you need to take into consideration what the original text was saying when interpreting the translation.
A second grossly underrated yet essential aspect when it comes to receiving religious teaching is not automatically believing everything you hear from preachers – a concept that is scripturally based. Acts 17:11 in the New International Version (NIV) says:
“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
These people questioned the teachings of Paul, The Apostle Paul™, and were praised for doing so because that fine line of curiosity without naivety is the perfect approach. If honouring the word of God in the way it was written is of value to you, then approaching messages with critical thought enables you to better identify when the person preaching them is twisting that word for their own benefit or comfort.
With that foundation established, we’re going to take a look at Leviticus 18:22 which, in the NIV, says:
“Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”
Now I know what you’re thinking – that verse seems pretty straightforward in its message. I will remind you however, that it is a translation of what the original message was, and not an accurate one.
In his article How can you be gay and Jewish?, Jay Michaelson takes a linguistic approach to analyze this scripture in the original Hebrew and reveals a verb difference. In the original Hebrew, “et adam” which contextually translates as “to/at a man” is used; in most Biblical accounts of consensual sexual activity, the verb “im adam” or “with a man” is used. Now, what’s the difference between doing something sexual with someone versus to someone? Consent.
This scripture is not prohibiting homosexual sex or relationships in any way – this scripture was telling people to not rape men in the way they were already raping women. Through mistranslation, it has led to a widely (and harmfully) held belief that anyone identifying as queer is choosing to live outside of the will of God, but that claim is not based on the message in the original scripture that Christians view as the word of God.
I interviewed Dr. Bill Arnal from the Religious Studies department at the University of Regina who brought up another great point: “why the hell would anybody want to live their lives in 2021 according to the dictates of a law code that was written in the Iron Age?” Some other things described as detestable or abominations in that passage include eating shellfish or pork, women cutting their hair, men cutting their beards, and wearing clothing made from combined materials. Yet, for some reason, you don’t see preachers at pulpits screaming about polyester, or conversion therapy for people who can’t quit bacon.
I will be including more information from my interview with Dr. Arnal in future articles as there is much more worth covering on this subject, but I’ll leave you with this: if the God you worship despises all the same people you do, it’s safe to say you’ve created God in your own image.