What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, Daniel A. Helminiak, 1994, Alamo Square Press, San Francisco, CA. 109 pages, bibliography and index.

Notes on this book.
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This book presents the thesis that homosexuality is not proscribed by Scripture. In fact, the author argues, the Bible has nothing at all to say on whether (or not) a person with homosexual tendencies is "sinning," nor does it ever say that homosexual activity, carried on as part of an adult, long term, loving, same-sex relationship, is contrary to the will of God.

A view to the contrary is presented in the book "Straight and Narrow" by Thomas Schmidt. See the file "Gay3.HTM" on this website.

Arguments and counter-arguments are also found in the pages of The Presbyterian Outlook, and other publications and sermons.

One thing seems clear -- those who assert homosexuality to be a sin "because Scripture clearly says so" and do not point out that many Christians have a contrary view are not telling the whole story.

Another thing seems clear -- those who assert that the Bible does not say homosexuality is a sin have a complicated thesis to explain why this is so. I have read through this book three times; I think I understand the arguments; these notes are the result.

The book itself is a "popularization" of the views of several scholars; writing a summary of a popularization is not possible to do if the thrust of the arguments is to be preserved. So the book is recommended for study to any Christian who believes, as I do, and as the author does, that God inspired the Bible, and that, therefore, where it speaks on an issue, that needs to be an end to it. Where it does not speak directly to an issue, Christians of good will can, and wll differ.

A forward to this book is written by John S. Spong, an Episcopal Bishop from Newark, N. J. The author is a Catholic priest.

Thesis: "...the Bible nowhere condemns same-sex acts in themselves." (pg 100).

Five Bible texts are relevant to the discussion:

  1. Lev 18:22
  2. Lev 20:13
  3. Rom 1:27
  4. I Cor 6:9
  5. I Tim 1:10
Three issues emerge:

Note: the words "unclean," "impure" and "taboo" appear to be, generally speaking, synonyms for one another.

  1. The Leviticus passages forbid male homosexuality as a taboo -- a betrayal of Jewish identity; an offense (impurity) against the Jewish religion. "Uncleanness."
  2. The Romans passage refers to it as an example of an impurity, only to insist that impurity issues are of no importance on Christianity.
  3. The I Corinthians and I Timothy passages are a condemnation of sexual abuses associated with homosexuality, not with homosexuality itself.

Forward by Spong. 2 pages. He expresses his love of the Bible, he makes an argument against the "plain reading" or "literal" approach to Scripture interpretation and endorses the book.

Preface by the author. 6 pages. Who he is, a RC priest since 1977 with a ministry to the gay community. Eleven short examples of how homosexuals are oppressed. Discussion of how the Bible has been misused to justify bigotry.

Homosexuality as a human orientation only recently established (about 100 years ago). Writers of Scripture knew of same-sex acts, but not of sexual orientation.

Assertion -- Bible is indifferent to homosexuality, but NOT indifferent to sexual abuse, perversions, adultery, etc.

Chapter 1. 4 pages. Introduction.

An overview of homosexuality in today's culture. Importance of sexuality in definition of human character.

Chapter 2. 14 pages. Interpreting the Bible.

There follows a discussion of the plusses/minuses to both approaches. Conclusion that the H/C approach is harder, but makes best sense.

Next is a discussion of what 100 years of study (of homosexuality) has told us:

Chapter 3. The Sin of Sodom. 7 pages

The author does not agree that this part of Scripture is relevant to a discussion of homosexuality. The sin of Sodom was inhospitality to strangers. The text is concerned with abuse, not sex. Cites Ez 16:48-49, Wisdom 19:13, Matthew 10:5-15 and four other texts to argue the case.

Chapter 4. The Leviticus texts. 12 pages.

Chapter 5. Purity Concerns in the Christian Testament. 5 pages.

Assertion that Christianity rejected the importance of the Jewish "uncleanness rules." Matthew 15:10, 18-20.

Chapter 6. The Unnatural in Romans: Socially Unacceptable. 22 pages.

(Note: This appears to be a key section. If Helminiak is correct in this section, the others follow. To some extent, though, if he is correct in Chapters 4 and 5, this chapter follows.)

Assertion -- consider to whom Paul is writing, and the point he is making. And understand the specific words he uses -- and does not use. The NRSV text is used in what follows:

(note -- in the past 50-75 years, much work has been done to better understand the "street Greek" in which much of the Bible has been written. In some instances, I am told, we now have better translations of certain terms and phrases than we had, say, in the times in which the KJV was translated. The author implies some of this; don't know to what extent this argument applies, however.)

Rom 1:18 -- "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness (asabeia) and wickedness (adikia) ... "

Rom 1:26 -- "For this reason God gave them up to degrading (atimas) passions. Their women exchanged natural (physiken) intercourse for unnatural (para physin)...Men committed shameless (aschemosyne) acts with men..."

Paul uses the Greek word "physis" to signify what is the "usual," nothing to do with physical laws, or science. Thus the phrase "para physis" means "unusual," or "uncharacteristic." There is no ethical consideration involved. For example, in Romans 2:27 Paul speaks of gentiles as "uncircumcision by nature," which clearly means "the usual." Again, in I Cor 11:14 Paul writes: "Does not nature (physis) itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him?" Rather than think Paul is a poor scientist, it is much more likely he spoke here (and in other places) of "physis" as simply "the usual."

Thus, lesbianism may, or may not, probably not, be what he was thinking about in Romans 1:26. Paul calls homosexual acts "socially disapproved," but he does not classify them as morally wrong. Even God sometimes acts "para physis," such as in Romans 11:24, speaking of grafting the Gentiles into the olive tree that is the Jews! Not the ordinary/usual, to be sure!

Paul is not to be understood in terms of Stoic philosophy. About two pages of discussion on this

Finally, Paul uses "atimia" and aschemosyne" in verses 26 & 27. Atimia is also used in 1 Cor 11:14. And applied to Paul, himself, in 2 Cor 6:8 and 2 Cor 11:21. It means "not highly valued." It has no ethical dimension at all. And "aschemosyne" means "not according to form," or, "inappropriate." That word appears in I Cor 7:36 referring to a father who won't give his daughter in marriage; in I Cor 12:23 to refer to Paul's "unpresentable" body parts.

Had Paul wanted to point out sinful acts, there are useful words to convey this meaning in both instances. He did not use them. For he is not speaking here of sin.

What, then, is this all about? Helminiak explains Paul's argument, which is concerned with getting the Jewish Christians & the Gentile Christians to come together over essentials. Read the book.

The conclusion -- Paul points out social (Jewish) disapproval of homosexuality, not an ethical condemnation of it. It is, to the Jew, "taboo." Not so, to the Gentiles. And, in the end, the Jewish taboos are to be discarded.

Chapter 7. I Corinthians & I Timothy. Abusive acts. 12 pages.

The letters here condemn abusive sex in the context of male prostitution. Not homosexuality in general. (Condemnation of adultery is condemnation of infidelity, and has no condemnation of sex between man and wife). People of the time would think of the practice of pederasty (man-boy sex) and not homosexuality as we understand (or misunderstand) it. An obscure Greek word, "arsenokoitai," is discussed in this regard.

Chapter 8. Other possible Scripture references. 9 pages.

Chapter 9. Summary/Conclusion. 3 pages.

The bibliography is short; a few citations (not all support his thesis):

Bailey (1955) Homosexuality & the Western World

Furnish (1979) Homosexuality in the moral Teachings of Paul

Boswell (1980) Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality

Scroggs (1983) Homosexuality in the New Testament

Countryman (1988) Dirt, Greed and Sex

Also several references to articles by Wright, Petersen & Hays, in Vigiliae Christianae and the Journal of Relational Ethics

John W. Burgeson.

A contrary view
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