There’s an old adage that seems to get more true the longer I live, which is that only atheists read the Bible.
Now I’m not an atheist but I never fail to be amazed just how poorly most religious Christians understand the central text of their faith. You can say what you like about Jews or Muslims but in both of those faiths there is a heavy emphasis on reading and interpreting their sacred books. Even lay persons in those faiths can quote many passages in the original Hebrew or Arabic.
Christianity has a much different history. By the time it became a large-scale organized religion, most of its adherents spoke Latin (or variants thereof) while the sacred texts were written in Hebrew and Greek. Over the centuries, in western Europe the Bible was translated into Latin, a language fewer and fewer lay people (i.e. not priests) could understand or read. In the eastern part of Europe (including Romania), the texts were translated into what we call Old Church Slavonic today, a language that’s completely incomprehensible to ordinary people.
The result of this is that by design, the vast majority of people who were Christians in Europe were completely unable to read and understand the Bible. Instead they relied on an enormous hierarchy of priests to interpret it for them. This is exactly why the painted churches in Bukovina were created – to literally illustrate what was in the Bible with pictures because ordinary Romanians had no way to read and understand the text.
Today anyone can get a Bible written in a language that they can read. I know of at least 10 different versions in English. Many Christians in Romania today have Bibles written in modern Romanian at their disposal. And yet few people ever bother to crack open the book and actually read what’s inside.
Since the gay baby panic in Timisoara garnered the usual condemnation from the Orthodox Church, I thought it’d be worthwhile to look at what the Bible actually says on the subject. Because I’m writing in English, I’m going to use the English names for the books of the Bible but all the links will go to the Romanian language versions of the passages in question. If you’re truly interested, you can follow the links and select a different language (or version).
There’s only one clear-cut condemnation of homosexuality in the OT and it’s in Leviticus 18:22.
The “problem” with this in terms of modern Christianity is that Leviticus is absolutely chock full of things that are a sin to do, including eating shellfish, entering a temple (church) with an injured penis, having sex with a woman during her period and many, many more (including endless passages about which kinds of animals are okay to be sacrificed and which are not). None of these are enforced today or considered applicable. Therefore what’s going on is that the modern church authorities are going through the list of what’s okay and what’s not okay (and it’s a very clear-cut list) and saying “well this one applies but not this one”.
Furthermore it’s only male homosexuality that’s proscribed. There are injunctions against a woman having sex with an animal but none specifically forbidding lesbian acts, strangely enough.
The City of Sodom
Today in both English and Romanian, the word “sodomy” and “sodomite” refer to male homosexuality. This is based on a story in Genesis concerning a city named Sodom that was ultimately destroyed by God (in Genesis 19) for all of its sins. The presumption here is that one of those sins was homosexuality.
Unfortunately, it’s not exactly clear that the citizens of Sodom were homosexual. Ezekiel 16:49 says that the sins committed by the residents of Sodom were “pride, gluttony, sloth, greed, and failure to help the poor”. There’s never any mention that God destroyed the entire city specifically for homosexuality.
There is, however, a weird story in Genesis 19 (shortly before God decides to destroy the entire city) involving two angels who visit a man named Lot, who was living in Sodom. There’s no way for me to describe it better than this guy did using Lego toys.
Lot goes out of his way to invite these two strangers into his house (not knowing they were angels) and he treats them exceedingly well. For some reason, a crowd of men in Sodom suddenly appear at Lot’s house and demand that he send his visitors out so that they can do something to them.
Au chemat pe Lot, şi i-au zis: ,,Unde sînt oamenii cari au intrat la tine în noaptea aceasta? Scoate -i afară la noi, ca să ne împreunăm cu ei.”
The implication is that, for some reason, the citizens of Sodom urgently want to rape these two male visitors. Lot, protecting his guests from the crowd, then makes a very strange decision. To appease the crowd, he offers to send out his two virgin daughters and encourages the crowd to “do with them what you want to”:
Iată că am două fete cari nu ştiu de bărbat; am să vi le aduc afară, şi le veţi face ce vă va plăcea.
The angels then reveal themselves as messengers from God and strike the crowd blind and so they are (seemingly) unable to get their hands on either the virgin daughters or the angels themselves. And that’s how the story about possible homosexual rape ends.
Whatever else happened in Sodom, nobody knows. The city is mentioned in a single chapter of Genesis and then is utterly destroyed forever and ever, alongside another city named Gomorrah because of the “wickedness” of its inhabitants.
Later in the Old Testament there are many injunctions against people being Sodomites, or like the citizens of Sodom. The word “sodomite” is used as a blanket term for people who engage in sinful acts. As linked above, it’s really not clear whether the sin of the Sodomites was homosexuality or whether it was pride, gluttony and a lack of charity for the poor (or all of the above).
There are numerous references to how awful prostitution is in the Old Testament. Today we think of prostitution as (mostly) women who have sex for money in a kind of capitalistic endeavor.
However in Biblical times most of the prostitution being referred to was religious prostitution, which doesn’t exist today. It’s often called hieros gamos to distinguish it from “sex for money” style prostitution. In essence, it was believed that having sex with a temple prostitute was a way of gaining blessings from the gods and it was considered a sacred act, not an act of depravity and perversion. And yes, sometimes this prostitution was likely homosexual in nature although it’s never specified.
Just about all of the religions that the Israelites were competing with in the Old Testament engaged in this style of religious prostitution and that is why it is given so much “coverage” in the texts. It’s repeated over and over, actually, just how much this is an abomination to God and should not be something the faithful should engage in. But the injunctions against prostitutes (they can’t even be let into the temple or church) is not specific against male prostitutes (aka homosexual).
Jesus himself, in all of his speeches and teaching, never mentions the subject of homosexuality even once.
The only person who mentions the subject is Paul. He seemingly rails against both female homosexuality as well as male in Romans 1:26-27:
Din pricina aceasta, Dumnezeu i -a lăsat în voia unor patimi scîrboase; căci femeile lor au schimbat întrebuinţarea firească a lor într’una care este împotriva firii;
Tot astfel şi bărbaţii, au părăsit întrebuinţarea firească a femeii, s’au aprins în poftele lor unii pentru alţii, au săvîrşit parte bărbătească cu parte bărbătească lucruri scîrboase, şi au primit în ei înşişi plata cuvenită pentru rătăcirea lor.
That passage might’ve made more sense to his contemporaries but it’s a little vague in terms of modern phrasing.
Paul also seemingly mentions homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9:
Nu ştiţi că cei nedrepţi nu vor moşteni Împărăţia lui Dumnezeu? Nu vă înşelaţi în privinţa aceasta: nici curvarii, nici închinătorii la idoli, nici preacurvarii, nici malahii, nici sodomiţii.
Clearly the Romanian version mentions “sodomites” here but I’ve seen several translations for that word. In English it’s often “abusers of themselves” which could mean many things. The specific word “homosexual” is not actually used.
I’m not quite sure what it means to be “effeminate” (malahii) since it’s not specified. Prostitutes are clearly forbidden here as well as idol worshippers and other things. The next line (verse 10) specifically condemns drunks and thieves.
While I’m sure all of these behaviors are undesirable to Paul, modern Christian doctrine would say that indeed drunks and thieves can be admitted to Heaven under the right circumstances. What is clear is that homosexuals (if that’s even the term Paul was using) are on par with drunks and thieves, two things in abundance in modern Romania today even amongst the faithful.
The only clear-cut reference to (possible) homosexuality is in 1 Timothy 1:10:
Pentru curvari, pentru sodomiţi, pentru vînzătorii de oameni, pentru cei mincinoşi, pentru cei ce jură strîmb, şi pentru orice este împotriva învăţăturii sănătoase
Again the Romanian translation uses the word “sodomites” but many other translations use “defilers” or people who engage in “perverted” acts. This passage, more than any other in the New Testament, comes closest to forbidding certain sexual acts (including that temple prostitution) but it’s still a little vaguely worded.
And that’s it, really. There are other even more vague passages like Jude 7:8 which talk about people being perverted and engaged in prostitution but don’t mention homosexuality specifically.
Strangely enough though, there are several passages in the Bible which seem to support homosexuality, although of course that’s hotly contested by many of the faithful who have no desire to accept such interpretations.
Şi ele au ridicat glasul, şi iarăş au plîns. Orpa a sărutat pe soacră-sa şi a plecat, dar Rut s’a ţinut de ea.
Not quite sure what this means and it’s equally unclear in other translations as well. The King James Version says Ruth “clave onto her” after kissing her. I wouldn’t say this constitutes “proof” of a homosexual relationship or something but these two women were evidently quite close.
David and Jonathan
David, the famous king of ancient Israel, is a subject of much interest in the Old Testament. And starting in 1 Samuel, it’s clear he has a very close relationship to a man named Jonathan. Whether this constitutes a sexual closeness or a “just friends” closeness is never specified with absolute certainty.
They become soul brothers in 1 Samuel 18 and David gives him a lot of precious gifts including his own sword:
David sfîrşise de vorbit cu Saul. Şi de atunci sufletul lui Ionatan s’a alipit de sufletul lui David, şi Ionatan l -a iubit ca pe sufletul din el.
În aceeaş zi, Saul a oprit pe David, şi nu l -a lăsat să se întoarcă în casa tatălui său.
Ionatan a făcut legămînt cu David, pentrucă -l iubea ca pe sufletul lui.
A scos mantaua pe care o purta, ca s’o dea lui David; şi i -a dat hainele sale, chiar sabia, arcul şi încingătoarea lui.
A chapter later, there’s a reference to the fact that Jonathan’s feelings were reciprocated:
Ionatan, fiul lui Saul, care iubea mult pe David…
In the following chapter Saul gets mad at Jonathan about his relationship with David:
Atunci Saul s’a aprins de mînie împotriva lui Ionatan, şi i -a zis: ,,Fiu rău şi neascultător, nu ştiu eu că ţi-ai luat ca prieten pe fiul lui Isai, spre ruşinea ta şi spre ruşinea mamei tale?
Saul is so angry about this relationship, in fact, that in the next three lines he vows he will kill Jonathan.
By the time we get to verse 41, David and Jonathan have joyfully reunited:
David s’a sculat din partea de miazăzi, apoi s’a aruncat cu faţa la pămînt şi s’a închinat de trei ori. Cei doi prieteni s’au îmbrăţişat şi au plîns împreună. David mai ales se prăpădea plîngînd.
The Romanian version neglects what other translations include, which is that they kissed as well as hugged and cried together. Regardless, it’s obvious these two are incredibly close, whatever the nature of their relationship.
Much later, as David is growing in power, in 2 Samuel 1:26 he once again states his feelings towards Jonathan:
Mă doare după tine, frate Ionatane! Tu erai plăcerea mea; dragostea ta pentru mine era minunată: mai pe sus de dragostea femeiască.
I think just about every one is familiar with David’s multiple relationships with women (including killing a man just so he could have sex with his wife). Stating that he loves Jonathan “more than women” is an extremely bold statement to make in this context.
So David is hugging and crying with Jonathan, giving him lots of valuable gifts and he declares he loves him more than woman, all of which angers Saul so much that he’s ready to kill Jonathan. It’s never specifically stated that there’s a sexual component to their relationship but it is pretty well intimated by all of the above passages.
Again, Jesus never once condemns sexuality (of any kind) during all of his speeches and sermons.
I’m not implying that Jesus was gay. There’s no mention whatsoever of Jesus having a sexual relationship with anyone. What I am saying, however, is that Jesus was touching and comforting a variety of men, including a half naked one, all acts that today would be considered “gay” and abhorred by many Christians.
Condemning homosexuality purely on “what the Bible says” seems to me to be slightly absurd. A wide variety of acts, from eating shellfish to general acts of perversion and wickedness, not to mention being a drunkard or a thief, are all proscribed. It’s certainly true that living in a moral way, speaking the truth, being fair and honest and treating other people well is the right way to go for a Christian.
But focusing on homosexuality as some kind of especially outrageously sin or perversion is ludicrous. Clearly there were people who were openly homosexual in Jesus’ own lifetime as Israel was immersed in a sea of Greek culture. Yet Jesus never once spoke on the topic. Indeed, he regularly kept company with a whole host of people who were guilty of other sins and made a career, if you will, of embracing and forgiving the downtrodden, outcast and immoral members of society.
What’s actually going on today with the modern Orthodox church (and many others) is that first comes a revulsion towards homosexuality and then the use of Bible passages as a blunt weapon to support this position on the matter.
I am reminded of something similar which happened in the United States 150 years ago when churches used the Bible to defend slavery. There are countless passages in the Bible (including in Leviticus) to support slavery and yet the modern Orthodox church would never support such a thing.
So how can you ignore Biblical encouragement of slavery and then use different passages (often from the same book) to defend an anti-homosexual position? You can’t. It’s a form of cognitive dissonance, wherein an instinctual intolerance of homosexuality is clothed in a lot of religious justification.
Yesterday I was talking to a European diplomat and we were discussing another subject unrelated to homosexuality. But he said the same thing I said in my original article on the gay baby panic, “Romania is now in the European Union. It’s time to start acting like it.”
Homosexuality is neither a disease nor some kind of freakish biological defect. It’s certainly not one of the bigger sins of the Bible. You may not like it but if you want to be a modern society, it’s time to find a way to accept it.