Akilah Holder’s impassioned column—in which she took umbrage at a gay man sharing his feelings of self-acceptance and his spiritual certainty about being loved and accepted by God—generated a lot of buzz, most of it negative and condemnatory.
While I agree with those who pointed out the poor reasoning skills—the poor exegesis and the dehumanizing implications of comparing all LGBT people to gang rapists deserving of violent death, like those in Sodom—I support her right to freedom of speech. Thank you, Lasana and Wired868, for opening up a dialogue on the issue which is clearly needed.
A’ Level English Lit was where I first saw there was a big difference between being able to quote from a piece of writing to argue a case and truly understanding what a piece of writing means on its own merit, in its own context.
To be able to grasp fully the meaning of Chaucer or Shakespeare or Austen, I was expected to understand old English words and phrases, understand the society, economics, politics and culture of the Middle Ages or the Elizabethan era or the Regency era. To understand their meaning, I also had to learn about the authors’ lives and their motivations.
All that work to bridge the comprehension gap of just a few 100 years in the same language.
Now, imagine the effort of bridging over 2000 years in two ancient and foreign languages in tribal warlord, desert, Northern Palestinian cultures far more alien than ours. Surely, some serious effort would be involved in Christians learning their scripture, right? Wrong!
My experience of so-called “bible study” was not about scholarship but affirmation of pre-existing theology. The interpretation of the scriptures was already done for you and drilled into your head, with lots of fervour and emotionalism and authoritarianism. Then you were given pre-selected verses to apologetically defend what you had been indoctrinated—with lots of fear and peer pressure—to believe is true.
That is what was being passed off as “study” of the bible.
Imagine how my world turned upside down when I finally got access to actual academic biblical scholarship materials. I learned how the bible was constructed, the actual chronology of the writings, the re-writing over previous writings to reshape narratives post Babylonian exile.
I learned about doublets, about mis-translations across various editions, about the fact that the name of many books are not the names of the actual authors but pseudonyms.
Biblical scholars in Harvard, Yale and Oxford, for instance, know these things but the common man does not. Why is that? Clergy who attended seminary know these things but never tell their laypeople. Why is that?
I decided to be humble and admit that just because I was religiously indoctrinated did not mean I was biblically literate and I set out to remedy that situation immediately. That was over 20 years ago.
What you are about to read is exegesis, which is how biblical scholars approach the bible. They look into the meaning of verses in their original language and context and the contemporary supporting texts of that time, corroborating historical records, culture and the authors’ intended meaning for their audience back then.
Let’s apply this approach to the verses Akilah picked for her column.
First, we need to agree on what homosexuality is and is not. It is not a Hebrew or Greek word/concept found in the original Old or New Testament.
Homosexuality/homosexual is a 19th Century medical definition popularized (though not coined) by Richard von Krafft-Ebing, who first put forward in his book Psychopathia Sexualis the hypothesis that there were people congenitally oriented exclusively towards the same sex instead of the opposite sex.
So, if you are using a translation of the bible that has the words “homosexual” or “homosexuality” in them, I will bet you a million dollars it was an edition created after 1945 when it became lucrative in Western societies to subject homosexuals to “treatment”—such treatments are now condemned by the World Psychiatric Association, PAHO and WHO.
If your edition of the bible contains such a biased anachronistic error, you can be sure there are more human errors in there.
A homosexual is someone innately sexually oriented towards the same sex instead of the opposite sex. Just like heterosexuals, homosexuals can be male or female, virgins or sexually experienced, sexually active or celibate, promiscuous or monogamous, ethical or unethical, responsible or irresponsible, empathetic or abusive, single or in relationships, with someone whom they are attracted to or not, etc.
There is no singular personality, behaviour, sex act, sexual role or sexual action that typifies homosexuals or heterosexuals; they are typified only by their psycho-sexual orientation.
You also cannot assume someone’s sexual orientation based on described sexual actions or roles only, particularly in biblical times. Why? Sexual acts aren’t always motivated by sexual or romantic attraction. Rape is motivated by violence, prostitution by desperation or being sold as a sex slave and pagan orgiastic rites were motivated by sheer religious frenzy and drugs.
Clearly, the people Paul was referring to in Romans Chapter 1 were not homosexuals. How do we know? Read the verses again, carefully. Note Paul said, “…likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman…” (emphasis added).
The Greek words used in Romans Chapter 1:26 and 27 translated as “natural” and “unnatural” have nothing to do with “the laws of Nature.” The original Greek terms “physin” and “paraphysin” refer to customary/usual or uncustomary/unusual. You can find the same Greek term used to describe men having long hair in 1 Corinthians 11:14. A man having long hair is 100% natural but Paul called it “paraphysin” (translated “unnatural”) because the meaning intended is that long hair was unusual or uncustomary for the Corinthian people to whom Paul was writing.
What caused the men to change their usual/customary sexual behaviour with women and instead “burn with lust for men?”
We know there was a cause because Paul begins Verse 26 with, “For this cause…” (emphasis added) before describing the effects of that cause. You will find the cause in Verse 24 where he describes in Greek something called “akatharsian,” which is translated “uncleanness” in most bibles. You will find it in Paul’s description of “worshipping the creation rather than the Creator.” Simply put, it refers to pagan idolatry.
Those familiar with Roman culture and religion know that their worship of creation deities such as Cybele and Saturn would involve frenzied, intoxicated, orgiastic pagan rites within the temple with male and female temple prostitutes. People would ingest hallucinogens and intoxicants and literally lose their minds and, of course, act contrary to their usual selves. This change was not permanent because the tense of the Greek verb used shows that Paul was describing a one-off incident, not a perpetual state of being, as a sexual orientation would be.
The morning after, of course, once they had sobered up, they would realize all the damage they had caused themselves and others. It was not unusual for people to get killed or maimed in those frenzies of ritualistic devotion.
This is not some new-fangled, SJW, Millennial interpretation either; it is actually very old. The earliest Christian philosophers never applied scriptures like Romans 1 in the manner anti-LGBT Christians—particularly those from American Evangelical sects—use it today.
From Aristedes’ commentaries of Romans 1 in his work The Apology to the early Church fathers like Clement of Alexandria to Saint Augustine, their understanding was that Paul was talking about the pagan fertility rites of the Romans, not romantic attraction and love between men, let alone between women!
In fact, the verses never said women had sex with women, they said the women changed their natural (usual/customary) use—the passive rather than the active form of “use”. In other words, women allowed themselves to be used by men in ways that were not related to reproduction. It is a reference to male-female anal and oral sex, which was popular among the Romans as well.
“Clearly they (the females referred to in Romans 1:26 do not go into one another but rather offer themselves to the men.” (Anastasios, an early Church Father.)
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a four-part series on the way the Bible has been mistranslated in relation to the LGBTQI movement. Click HERE to read Part Two.