Gays and the New Testament




“It’s hard to see how
[faithful, loving homosexual] relationships…
would violate the teachings of Jesus
or any larger biblical principle.”
Mark Olson


Many Christians believe the Bible condemns all gays. Is this true?

Last week’s article concluded the Old Testament opposed Sodom’s violations of the sacred duty of hospitality as well as gang rape, not homosexuality. Also, the Holiness Code in Leviticus refers to homosexual idolatry, not all same-sex acts.

The first of three New Testament passages addressing homosexual acts states wrongdoers include “[f]ornicators, idolators, adulterers, malakoi, arsenokoitai, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers…” (I Corinthians 6:9). This list of sins indicates a Christian’s transformation must be genuine.

Malakoi “is never used in Greek,” writes History Professor John Boswell, “to designate gay people as a group.” Meaning “soft” or “effeminate,” malakoi virtually always refers in sexual contexts to male “call-boys,” catamites selling themselves to adult males.

Arsenokoitai is translated “child molesters,” “perverts,” “sodomites,” or “homosexuals.”  Which is correct?  This word, used only among Greek-speaking Jews, is rare.  Scholars suggest it most likely refers to a male prostitute or pederast, a purchaser of sex from a malakoi. Boswell’s impressive study concludes, “To assume that either of these concepts necessarily applies to gay people is wholly gratuitous.”

A similar list of sins is found in I Timothy 1:10. Two sexual terms are added to arsenokoitaipornoi (brothel slave or male prostitute) and andrapodistai (slave kidnapper or dealer). Most likely, these three terms condemn the sex-slave dealer as well as the buyer and seller of sex. None of these terms refer to same-sex partners in faithful relationships.

The scripture most often cited to condemn gays is Romans 1:26-27: “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 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.”

The narrative from Romans 1:18 – 3:31 concludes “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23, emphasis mine). So, as Letha Scanzoni writes, Paul’s purpose was “not to set apart some category of persons as the worst kind of sinners possible.”

The context of this passage on same-sex acts was idolatry: “[T]hey exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…” (Romans 1:25). As with Leviticus, this suggests the focus of God’s wrath was homosexual idolatry—-practiced for centuries through temple prostitution. Pagans believed the gods and goddesses imitated human sex acts performed in worship. These idolatrous acts “served the creature” by supposedly increasing the fertility of fields, herds and families, a repugnant notion to both Jews and Christians.

Robin Scroggs believes the same-sex sin Paul identifies in Romans is, again, pederasty. Secular homosexual activity was little known, but male adolescents selling sex were both common and controversial. Moreover, the Jewish philosopher Philo (died, 40 AD) repeatedly used the same Greek phrase as Paul to discuss pederasty.

Romans 1 addresses homosexual idolatry, pederasty or perhaps both. Understood in context, Paul is not stating that all gay sex acts are sinful. Indeed, his argument is that heterosexuals, against their nature, are committing these heinous homosexual acts.

An apt footnote for Romans 1:27 would be: “The most widely known same-sex practices throughout the Greco-Roman world were pederasty and temple prostitution.” The ancients knew this—-as should readers of scripture today. 

A United Methodist study of homosexuality concludes, “There are substantial numbers of persons of homosexual orientation within the church whose gifts and graces manifest the work of the Spirit among us.” I have gay friends whose lives evidence their faithfulness to God. Indeed, one such person was my former pastor for several years.

Pastor Gary and the vast majority of gays are not homosexual idolaters or pederasts. The Bible says nothing against these faithful people whose sexual orientation is gay. Neither should we. Instead of issuing blanket condemnations and conferring second-class status upon gays, the church must welcome the gays in our midst.

©2006 Harry Rix.  All rights reserved. 

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