There are two recent books which address this issue which Mike asserts I am
ignorant about or deliberately being misleading. One, by Helmeniak, an R.C.
makes the case that the Bible is silent on the subject; the second, by Schmidt,
A review I have written on the first is attached; I will send a review on the
The issue comes down to this, is a long-term committed sexual bonding between
something that Scripture declares "sinful" unless the pair is male/female?
says "no," Schmidt says "yes."
Both sides of this issue need to be explored. And I am only "raising the
question," not providing an answer.
There are those in my faith community (PCUSA) who are firmly positioned with
Schmidt; there are also those who are positioned with Helmeniak. Most of us,
knowing people of good will in both positions, are simply seeking to explore the
Well, here is the review on Helmaniak's book. There are a number of other books
supporting his basic position; I have not read them, though Schmidt claims to
have read them.
What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, Daniel A. Helminiak,
1994, Alamo Square Press, San Francisco, CA. 109 pages, bibliography and index.
This is more a collection of notes on this book than a book review.
But I mean it to have some of the attributes of both.
This book presents the thesis that homosexuality is not proscribed
by Scripture, even if one subscribes to an inerrant Bible.
A view to the contrary (I am told) is presented in the book
"Straight and Narrow" by Thomas Schmidt. There is also a book
titled "A Freedom Too Far" by Socaraides (sp?). I have not (yet) examined
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 some
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 now read through this book three times; I think I
understand the arguments; this essay is 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, the Bible is inerrant, and that, therefore,
where it speaks on an issue, that needs to be an end to it.
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:
I Cor 6:9
I Tim 1:10
Three issues emerge:
Note: the words "unclean," "impure" and "taboo" appear to be,
generally speaking, synonyms for one another.
The Leviticus passages forbid male homosexuality as a taboo -- a
betrayal of Jewish identity; an offense (impurity) against the
Jewish religion. "Uncleanness."
The Romans passage refers to it as an example of an impurity, only to
insist that impurity issues are of no importance on Christianity.
The I Corinthians and I Timothy passages are a condemnation of
sexual abuses associated with homosexuality, not with homosexuality
Note: I hope I have it (the thesis and arguments structure) right!
It is not that the author is unclear; it is more my slowness of
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 examples (very short) of
how homosexuals are oppressed. Discussion of how the Bible has
been used (badly) 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.
The Bible MUST be interpreted; that's what we do when we read it!
The reader ought to understand the culture & mindset of the 1st century.
That mindset is not our mindset!
Two ways to interpret -- literal and historical/critical.
Example: Matt 19:24, the camel/needle parable.
Literal interpretation -- leads one to trust God to do a special
miracle to get a rich person into heaven.
Historical/critical interpretation -- leads one to believe it is very hard
(but not impossible) for a rich person to attain heaven.
(note by me -- both are "right." Grace of God, etc.)
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:
Sexuality is a core aspect of the human personality.
Celibacy is a gift not given to all persons; St. Paul, BTW, agrees!
2-4% of the human population are homosexual.
Homosexuality appears to be biologically based.
Probably fixed in place by early childhood.
About the same % of the population across many cultures.
No convincing evidence it can be changed -- at least in most people.
No evidence at all it is pathological or harmful.
(note by me -- some folks don't agree with all the above -- evidence?)
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.
Both texts refer to male homosexual acts.
The death penalty is prescribed.
The death penalty is also prescribed for adultery, cursing parents,etc.)
This is part of the holiness code -- keep Israel separate.
(see start of Lev 18)
A religious consideration. Jewish purity code.
"abomination" = "unclean thing" = "taboo."
Many things taboo. Mixing cotton/linen in same garment, for example.
Hebrew word "toevah."
Did NOT use the Hebrew word "zimah," which meant "sin."
The Septuagint argument is the same. The translators
used "bdelygma" and not "anomia."
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 from me. This is 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 from me -- 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
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 Christian 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.