Is it a sin to be gay? What does the bible say about same-sex attraction? In this episode you’ll become familiar with the relevant scriptures that talk about homosexuality. You’ll also learn what arsenokoitai (ἀρσενοκοῖται) means in 1 Corinthians 6.9, a key battleground text for discussions of biblical sexuality. Here the Apostle Paul pulls from the Greek translation of Leviticus 20.13 as well as Roman sexual sensibilities to condemn both active and passive participants of same-sex acts. Whether you believe in accepting gay lifestyles or think homosexual behavior is sinful, it’s important to get a grasp on what the bible says about this incredibly controversial subject.
Creation provides the foundation for what the bible says about human sexuality:
23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
God’s original design was a man and a woman, complementing each other in marriage. However, when our first parents rebelled, humanity fell from its original condition. The serpent asked, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” (Gen 3:1). After Eve confirmed God’s restriction not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the serpent said, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3.5). He wanted the first people to distrust God, to think he’s holding them back, to imagine he’s restricting them from enjoying something good. As a result Adam and Eve committed high treason against their maker in an act of open rebellion. Consequently “fallenness” contaminated them and their descendants ever since.
Romans 5.12, 17, 18, 19
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…17 because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man… 18 one trespass led to condemnation for all men…19 by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners…
Today we are imperfect mirrors stamped with God’s image, but broken in all kinds of ways. Some of us are tempted with losing our tempers, others with adultery, still others with greed. Our fallen condition means that from birth we are out of tune with how God wants for us to think and live. Of course, redemption is available in Christ today and ultimately complete restoration will flood our world when the kingdom comes, healing everyone from sinful impulses, physical sickness, and relational dysfunction.
Although the incident in Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19) is the first mention of same-sex desire, it’s not particularly helpful for figuring out the bible’s position on homosexuality, since the men of the city wanted to rape the visitors. (Rape, of course, is condemned throughout scripture.) Instead, we’ll begin in the Law of Moses with two texts in Leviticus.
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
abomination: something that causes disgust or hatred. Example: “Although once common, torture is now an abomination to the civilized peoples of the earth.”
Lest you think abomination is a radical word, solely used for sexual acts, here are some other abominations in scripture:
- for Egyptians to eat with Hebrews (Gen 43:32)
- the gold and silver on idols (Deut 7:25)
- child sacrifice (Deut 12:31)
- eating unclean animals (Deut 14:3)
- practicing magic or sorcery (Deut 18:9-10)
- prideful eyes, lying, shedding innocent blood, devising wicked plans, running rapidly to evil, perjury, spreading strife among brothers (Prov 7:16)
Note that Leviticus 18:22 focuses on the act of a man lying with a man. We find no mention of attraction, orientation, or identity. Here’s another important text:
10 “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. 11 If a man lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. 12 If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death; they have committed perversion; their blood is upon them. 13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. 14 If a man takes a woman and her mother also, it is depravity; he and they shall be burned with fire, that there may be no depravity among you. 15 If a man lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death, and you shall kill the animal.
Homosexual acts are not singled out as worse than any other sin. Though the death penalty might be shocking to us today, this was pretty typical for the Law of Moses for a whole variety of sins. Here same-sex relations are presented as just another sexual behavior that God forbids. We find no explanation as to why God says it’s wrong other than that it’s an abomination. Nonetheless, as Christians, we are no longer living under these laws (Col 2.16). Even so, the New Testament reiterates these prohibitions:
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Once again the focus is on behavior (both for lesbian and gay sex). These acts are the result of dishonorable passions that go contrary to nature. Sometimes people claim this refers to heterosexuals who are going against their own nature, but the overall context of the chapter indicates that “nature” is talking about God’s created order not one’s sexual predilections. In fact, this whole section is about idolatry, which not only includes bowing to statues, but also refusing to honor God as creator. We should not think we have more wisdom than he does or worship the creature rather than the creator.
1 Timothy 1.8-10
8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine
Here we have a vice list. Note that homosexual acts are just one sin among many others. It is not the worst sin nor is it unforgiveable. Now we turn to the most important passage on this subject.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Some have argued Paul is arguing against participating in male temple prostitution in Corinth. However, there is no indication of that here. Others say he’s condemning the Greek practice of pederasty. Yet, this overlooks the fact that by the first century, Corinth had long been a Roman city. The clue we need to interpret 1 Cor 6:9 lies in understanding the word arsenokoites (ἀρσενοκοίτης). This word is quite rare and Paul may have even coined the term himself, but I’m convinced he has Lev 20:13 in mind here.
arsenokoites (ἀρσενοκοίτης) is a compound word:
- arsen (ἄρσην): a male
- koite (κοίτη): bed, sexual intercourse (Latin: coitus)
|English Standard Version||If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.|
|Greek Septuagint||καὶ ὃς ἂν κοιμηθῇ μετὰ ἄρσενος κοίτην γυναικός βδέλυγμα ἐποίησαν ἀμφότεροι θανατούσθωσαν ἔνοχοί εἰσιν|
|Literal Translation||and whoever may sleep with a male (in the) bed of a woman; they have done an abomination; let them both be put to death; they are guilty|
It’s easy to see how arsenos koiten became arsenokoiten. So, Paul has Leviticus in mind, which focused on the sex act, not temple prostitutes or Greek cultural practices, though it would certainly include them as well. It’s really important to understand how the Corinthians would have perceived same-sex relations so we don’t just read in our modern ways of thinking about homosexuality. Coming to grips with the pair of words Paul used here will open us up to how the ancient Romans thought about this subject.
malakoi (μαλακοὶ from μαλακός): “(1) pertaining to being yielding to touch, soft, (2) pertaining to being passive in a same-sex relationship, effeminate especially of catamites, of men and boys who are sodomized by other males in such a relationship”
arsenokoitai (ἀρσενοκοῖται from ἀρσενοκοίτης): “a male who engages in sexual activity with a person of his own sex, a pederast…of one who assumes the dominant role in same-sex activity.”
Homosexuality in Ancient Rome (Wikipedia):
“The primary dichotomy of ancient Roman sexuality was active/dominant/masculine and passive/submissive/”feminised”. Roman society was patriarchal, and the freeborn male citizen possessed political liberty (libertas) and the right to rule both himself and his household (familia). “Virtue” (virtus) was seen as an active quality through which a man (vir) defined himself. The conquest mentality and “cult of virility” shaped same-sex relations. Roman men were free to enjoy sex with other males without a perceived loss of masculinity or social status, as long as they took the dominant or penetrative role. Acceptable male partners were slaves, prostitutes, and entertainers, whose lifestyle placed them in the nebulous social realm of infamia, excluded from the normal protections accorded a citizen even if they were technically free. Although Roman men in general seem to have preferred youths between the ages of 12 and 20 as sexual partners, freeborn male minors were strictly off limits, and professional prostitutes and entertainers might be considerably older…It was expected and socially acceptable for a freeborn Roman man to want sex with both female and male partners, as long as he took the penetrative role.”
You might be surprised to see how accepted homosexuality was in the ancient world. They didn’t think about sexuality the way we do. In light of their historical setting, what is 1 Corinthians saying? It’s saying not to participate in male to male sex whether in the active or passive roles.
Thus, the biblical witness is clear. Sex between people of same gender is a sin and it will keep those who practice it from eternal life if they don’t repent. However, this leaves us with a ton of questions. Can someone experience same-sex attraction and still be a Christian? How should we, as Christians, approach LGBTQ people? Is it fair that a same-sex attracted Christian has to remain celibate? What causes homosexuality? Can you change your sexual orientation? We’ll look at issues like these next.
 “abomination,” 2017. Merriam-Webster.com, merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abomination, accessed February 14, 2017.
 The word “catamites” refers to the Greek practice of pederasty whereby a man (pederast) would engage in sexual activity with a boy (catamite). According to Wikipedia, “Pederasty in ancient Greece was a socially acknowledged erotic relationship between an adult male and a younger male usually in his teens.”
 Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich (BDAG) Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, third ed., (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).
 “Homosexuality in Ancient Rome,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_in_ancient_Rome , accessed February 13, 2017.
Intro music: “District Four” by Kevin MacLeod. Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License.