Sexuality & Scripture

Addressing Bible passages used to condemn Same-Sex attracted people

Many people condemn those who are same-sex attracted based on Hebrew and Christian scripture that they have not studied or sometimes never read. Here we will give a brief outline of the scriptures that people assume refer to homosexuality. We do not claim it is comprehensive, but hope it gives you access to biblical interpretation and understanding of this issue from a Christian perspective.

  1. Genesis 1:27, Genesis 2 and Mark 10:6-9: (Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve)
  2. Genesis 19:5 (The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: an ancient saga that became part of the founding narratives of the nation of Israel)
  3. Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13 (The Levitical Holiness Code: a collection of ritual requirements that were intended to keep Israel pure from the surrounding Gentile nations)
  4. Romans 1:26-27 (The Apostle Paul: an early Christian missionary who first brought Christianity to Europe)
  5. I Corinthians 6:9 (Paul)
  6. 1 Timothy 1:9-10 (Attributed to Paul)

Outline of translations used for Homosexual in the Bible

  • The English word “homosexual” is a composite word made from a Greek term (homo, “the same”) and a Latin term (sexualis, “sex”).
  • The term “homosexual” is of modern origin and was not used until about 100 years ago. There is no word in biblical Greek or Hebrew that is parallel to the word “homosexual”.
  •  No Bible before the Revised Standard Version in 1946 used “homosexual” in any Bible translation.
The word that is translated as “homosexual” or “sexual pervert” (or some other similar term) is the Greek word “arsenokoites”; which was formed from two words meaning “male” and “bed”. This word is not found anywhere else in the Bible and has not been found anywhere in the contemporary Greek of Paul’s time. We do not know what it means. The word is obscure and uncertain. It probably refers to ritual male prostitution, associated with Greco-Roman pagan temples. Ritual prostitution was a common practice in the Roman world, as revealed in the excavations at Pompeii and other sites.
The word translated “effeminate” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is the Greek term “malakoi” which means “soft” or “vulnerable.” The word is translated as “soft” in reference to clothing in Matthew 11:8 and Luke 7:25, and as “illness” in Matthew 4:23 and 9:35. It is not used anywhere else in the New Testament and carries no hint of reference to sexual orientation. Malakoi in 1 Corinthians 6:9 probably refers those who are “soft,” “pliable,” “unreliable,” or “without courage or stability.” The translation of malakoi as “effeminate” is incorrect, ignorant, degrading to women, and impossible to justify based on ancient language use compared to the meaning of “effeminate” today. This is an incorrect rendering of malakoi and using arsenokoites in reference to gender orientation has been disastrous for millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual people.

Genesis 1:27, Genesis 2 and Mark 10:6-9: “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”

Genesis 1:27 reads “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

This poetic reference could be interpreted to mean that male and female are rigid categories, that they are part of human nature and compulsory norms for human behaviour. This line of argument is often used to vilify Trans and intersex people as well as gay and lesbian people. But poetry is intended as a powerful, image-rich and open kind of writing. What it says is that God created our gender and our sexuality, but this is not intended to be a rule that everyone has to follow. Rigid interpretations are never suitable for a reading of poetry.

Genesis 2 (The Garden of Eden) is also often quoted to suggest that God’s intention was for all people to be heterosexually married. In this story, Yahweh (ancient Israel’s name for God) planted a pleasure-garden and put animals and a man in it. The man was lonely, and looked for a partner in every animal, but none of them were suitable, so Yahweh took part of his body (possibly a rib or a side), and made a woman out of it. Like poetry, stories should never be interpreted rigidly. We listen to stories, not primarily for information, but because we can relate to the events that happen, and those events teach us more about what it means to be human. This particular story is full of insight into the human condition. Who cannot relate to the idea of looking through every animal but being unable to find anyone to relate to? Or realized that in falling in love has cost you ‘a piece of yourself’? I think that the ultimate message of this story however, is about how our humanness alienates us from God – for the divided human beings, male and female, were unable to keep Yahweh’s commandments like the original unified human had done, and were thrown out of the garden.


In Mark 10:6-9 [Jesus said:] ‘But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’

Many people read these words, and apply them to modern sexual ethics. They suggest that Jesus interpreted the “Adam and Eve” model as normative. So, they reason God made a man and a woman, therefore everything else is wrong. This is just logically lame. Making one heterosexual couple does not imply a desire for all couples to be heterosexual. A better understanding of Jesus’ words is that they are intended as a criticism of the way that men treated their wives in Jesus’ time. In ancient Mediterranean cultures like Galilee, women were treated like property. A man acquired a wife by paying a bride-price to the woman’s father. Since women had no legal standing, they depended on men, be it their husband, father or son, as a way to survive and have validity in their culture. In this context, to divorce a woman would effectively take everything away from her: her honour, livelihood and her social standing. It is in this context that Jesus refers back to Genesis 1, and recalls that the foundation of human relationships is God’s creation of humans in the image of God. He was speaking against a terrible social injustice, and (in effect) denouncing the whole system of patriarchal marriage in the ancient Mediterranean culture. He was not forbidding divorce for moral reasons but socio-economic ones, and far from suggesting that alternative relationships are wrong – his words demand that patriarchal marriage be drastically rethought. So, the argument “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” simply doesn’t follow from the facts of the Biblical text. God created Adam, and Eve and also Steve, and millions of different kinds of human beings and relationships. And God loves everything God created and has said it is “very good.” Gender and sexual orientation, along with race and class are not to be used to discriminate regarding someone’s place in the body of Christ. “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26-28, NRSV). Idolisation of hetero-normative culture is a threat to the very nature of the Christian life. Through our baptism Christians become a new creature liberated from the very nature of being defined as socially constructed personalities and behaviors. The way we are and live is then transformed to be like that of the risen Christ, which is beyond gender and also beyond sexual roles and constructed customs.


Genesis 19 (The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: an ancient saga that became part of the founding narratives of the nation of Israel)

The plot of Genesis 12-50 (The Patriarchal Narrative) is one of the most complex stories ever written, and perhaps one of the most entertaining soap-operas in the Bible. It is also deeply edifying, as the complexities of relationships and life teach repeatedly about the faithful of God in the midst of human chaos. Of course, there is no way to summarise it adequately here, but it is very worth a read, if you have time! Suffice to say, at this point in the narrative, Abraham’s nephew Lot is fleeing from a city which God is going to destroy because of its wickedness. A group of angels come to rescue him from the city. That night, a lynch mob shows up at the door making this demand in Genesis 19:5 “Bring them out to us that we may know them.”

 “Know” is the Hebrew word yada‘, which simply means ‘to know’, but Hebrew is a language of euphemisms, and in sexual contexts, yada means penetrative sex. The reason we know that sex is being referred to here is because Lot offers to the lynch mob his “virgin daughters” instead of the angels. In ancient Mediterranean society, Lot’s honour demanded him to do this. It seems obvious that homosexuality is not what is being referred to here; they are a group of people who intend to bring shame upon a foreigner’s home by violating their guests. Some people have suggested that the men who want to rape the angels are homosexuals, and that is the reason for God’s initial judgment that the city was wicked. But that is not how the text read in its original context. No Jewish scholars before the first Christian century taught that the sin of Sodom was sexual. None of the biblical references to Sodom mention sexual sins but view Sodom as an example of injustice, lack of hospitality to strangers, idolatry and as a symbol for desolation and destruction.


Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13 (The Levitical Holiness Code: a collection of ritual requirements that were intended to keep Israel pure from the surrounding Gentile nations)

Leviticus 18:22 “You shall not lie with a male as those who lie with a female; it is an abomination.”

 Leviticus: 20:13 “If a man lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination and they shall surely be put to death.” 
 There are references in the Hebrew Scriptures to an ancient fertility cult, which worshiped a male sky God, Ba‘al and a female fertility God, Asherah. Scholars suggest that these verses refer to people who took part in fertility rituals in order to guarantee good crops and healthy flocks. No hint at sexual orientation or homosexuality is even implied. The word abomination in Leviticus was used for anything that was considered to be religiously unclean or associated with idol worship. The use of Leviticus to condemn and reject homosexuals is obviously a hypocritical selective use of the Bible against gays and lesbians. Nobody today tries to keep the laws in Leviticus. Look at Leviticus 11:1-12, where all unclean animals are forbidden as food, including rabbits, pigs, and shellfish, such as oysters, shrimp, lobsters, crabs, clams, and others that are called an “abomination.” Leviticus 20:25 demands that “you are to make a distinction between the clean and unclean animal and between the unclean and clean bird; and you shall not make yourself an abomination by animal or by bird or by anything that creeps on the ground, which I have separated for you as unclean.” You can eat some insects like locusts (grasshoppers), but not others. Leviticus 12:1-8 declares that a woman is unclean for 33 days after giving birth to a boy and for 66 days after giving birth to a girl and goes on to demand that certain animals must be offered as a burnt offering and a sin offering for cleansing. Read Leviticus 23 to see the detailed regulations concerning “complete rest” on the Sabbath day and demands of animal sacrifices to be carried out according to exact instructions. Leviticus 18:19 forbids a husband from having sex with his wife during her menstrual period. Leviticus 19:19 forbids mixed breeding of various kinds of cattle, sowing various kinds of seeds in your field or wearing “a garment made from two kinds of material mixed together.” Leviticus 19:27 demands that “you shall not round off the side-growth of your heads, nor harm the edges of your beard.” The next verse forbids “tattoo marks on yourself.” The Apostle Paul rejected the absolute commands of Leviticus in Colossians 2:20-23, where he said, “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’ (Which all refer to things destined to perish with the using) in accordance with human commandments and teachings? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against human indulgence.” Paul also declared in Colossians 2:14 that Jesus has “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us which was hostile to us; and Jesus has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Using passages in Leviticus and other parts of the Bible in order to condemn and reject people is the wrong path. Jesus quoted only one passage from Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (19:18). Jesus used Leviticus to teach love, not condemnation.


1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 (The Apostle Paul: an early Christian missionary who first brought Christianity to Europe)

“Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes (Gk. malakoi), sodomites (Gk. arsenokoitai), thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers — none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.” In interpreting 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10, it is crucial to understand the meaning of the Koine Greek (biblical Greek) words, malakoi (sg. malakos) and “arsenokoitai” (sg. arsenokoites), used by Paul in this list. Apart from the Greek, literal connotations of ‘softies’ and ‘men lying the bed’, there is no agreement in opinion as to what the words mean. Difference in opinion exists, also, as to whether the words stand separately (as with the other words in the list) or are to be taken as a linked pair. In the first case, malakoi may be a general, derisive term for a class of “softies” and arsenokoitai may refer to ‘male prostitutes’, servicing either sex. There is no reason to assume that the two words are a linked pair because of their proximity in Paul’s list. The adjective (descriptive word) malakos is used as a plural noun, malakoi, by Paul. Malakos literally means ‘soft’ as when referring to inanimate objects such as cloth (see Matthew 11:8; Lk. 7:25). Matthew also uses a related word, malakia, to mean ‘sickness’ or ‘weakeness’ (Matt.4:23; 9:35; 10:1). Early English translations rendered malakoi to denote a generalised, degenerate class of persons. Malakos has various uses in ancient literature, contemporary to Paul, showing that it did not mean homosexuality in any way. Epictetus uses malakos to refer to ‘soft-headed’ persons, whom he regards as too dull to absorb true philosophy. Other ancient writers use the word to refer to a ‘soft’ person who is in need of exercise or is lazy. Vettius Valens followed Aristotle’s use of malakos to denote unrestrained indulgence in bodily pleasures, or licentiousness. A similar viewpoint was held by of Stoic philosophy that one was “softened” by too much sexual activity or by licentious living or over indulgence. Josephus used malakos to denote moral condemnation in men who appeared ‘soft’ or ‘weak’ through lack of courage in battle, reluctance to commit suicide in defeat or the enjoyment of luxury. Paul could not have meant malakos in the literal sense of ‘soft’, other than to apply a critical stereotype such as “softies”, perhaps with Stoic and Hellenistic Jewish influences in the background. What makes the persons “soft” is unclear and unspecified. Some interpreters have argued that it could refer to a man who undertakes a passive sexual role, thus resembling a woman in practice. That interpretation relies heavily on reading Leviticus 18:22 into the text. The Greek nuance could be given as ‘effeminate’, which may be close to the meaning, as the KJV and ASV render the word. Malakoi is followed by the rare word, arsenokoitai, which is more difficult to translate than malakoi. Morphologically it is a compound word: arseno – ‘man’ + koitai – ‘lying the bed’, thus the literal meaning is, ‘man lying the bed’. The etymology (the study of the origin of words) of the word is problematic, however, being ambiguous as to whether the word means ‘a man who lies the bed (with anyone)’, in which the first part of the word, arsen- is the subject, or whether it means ‘one who lies with men’, with arsen- taken as the object. John Boswell takes the former, subjective usage of arsen, and translates arsenokoitai to mean ‘male sexual agents’, that is, active male prostitutes. In this case it is not a specific reference to homosexuality; as such persons may service either sex.To argue that the two words, malakos and arsenokoitai refer to passive and active partners in homosexual intercourse, belies the historical and lexicographical evidence and perpetuates a homophobic prejudice. Graeco-Roman pederastic practices and/or prostitution may lay behind the text, but there is no reference to homosexuality generally or in a universal way that can be applied today.



Romans 1:24-27 (The Apostle Paul: an early Christian missionary who first brought Christianity to Europe)

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” The context of this scripture is in regard to idolatry, in which worship of the true God is exchanged for untrue worship. As a result, those involved in the idolatry engage in sexual conduct that is not ‘natural’. Paul criticises pagan idolatry and culture for abandoning the truth. More than this, he is reflecting theological attitudes and beliefs that derive not only from his Jewish background, but also from differing attitudes in the pagan world towards pederasty and temple prostitution in idol worship. The intent of the passage is to show how idolatry leads to complete degeneration of behavior: to evil, envy, treachery etc. The reference to what was, for them, unnatural homosexual behavior seems almost incidental, to the story. It was merely one symptom of the results of Pagan idolatry. The persons whom Paul condemns are not homosexual, for it is clear that they are ‘heterosexual’ persons who have turned from their “natural” ways. As Boswell writes: “The whole point of Romans 1, in fact, is to stigmatize persons who have rejected their calling, gotten off the true path they were once on. It would completely undermine the thrust of the argument if the persons in question were not “naturally” inclined to the opposite sex in the same way they were ‘naturally’ inclined to monotheism.” Interestingly, people assume that the ‘unnatural’ acts women engage in is with other women, but this is not what this verse is referring to at all. Firstly as Women were property and not assumed to have power or value to sexually relate to each other, as men were the center of the universe. Clement of Alexandria and Saint Augustine, believed this ‘unnatural’ sex to be anal or oral sex between heterosexuals (Brooten, 1985; Miller, 1995). Note that the reference to women does not say anything about the gender of the person they are having sex with, so the assumption that this verse relates to women having sex with other women is not clear. Romans 1 is the center of many discussions around what is ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ in regards to sexual orientation & activity. For same-sex attracted people, being attracted to people of the same sex is natural, just as for heterosexuals; attraction to the opposite sex is natural. Care needs to be taken in making assumptions about what is “natural” in God’s created order. 1 Timothy 1:8-11 (Attributed to Paul) “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites (Gk. arsenokoitai), slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” Once again we come across the term arsenokoitai, and who comprise them has been discussed above. Here in the NRSV it is inappropriately translated as “sodomites”. As can be seen from the text, the passage concerns legitimate use of the Old Testament laws. This was a problem being addressed in the letter to Timothy to counter exploitation of some early Christians by those promoting their own interests contrary to the teaching of Paul. Just what does constitute “legitimate” use of the Law or even of Scripture? Is it legitimate to apply mistranslation to words such as arsenokoites in order to push a particular social bias (as is done in the text quoted above)? ConclusionAll texts are properly interpreted in light of their own context and are interpreted through our own contexts and experiences before being applied to modern situations. Some quite biblical positions are now questionable and irrelevant, as in relation to the place and role of women, attitudes to the environment, the killing of recalcitrant children or keeping of slaves. We no longer follow the Levitical Law in regard to food and cooking or the wearing of mixed fibre cloth. Nor do we prohibit women, eunuchs, dwarfs and cripples from leading worship. There is a deeper spiritual issue at stake in all of this. The practice of picking and choosing parts of the Bible that suit us is not just a tool used to oppress sexual minorities, women, and people of colour. It is an ingenuine way of dealing with the Bible. When we read the Bible this way on any issue, we end up trying to follow rules and details which don’t work in our context. God doesn’t work in that way, and while we are distracted by trying to please God by copying an old and irrelevant model, God has a message for today that we are missing out on. Jesus once told a parable about new wine in old wineskins. The new wine bursts the old wineskin. But new wine ferments well in a new wineskin, because while the wine ferments, the new leather is still supple and can adapt with the wine (Matthew 9:17). Jesus was talking about how God is present in changing times and different cultures. When society grows up, and realizes that it’s ok to be accepting of people who are different, God doesn’t get angry at us, God rejoices that we have grown! The Bible is God’s Word revealed in a certain context – just as Jesus was God, but lived in a certain context. But until we discover how Jesus is incarnated today, incarnated in our life, we haven’t met him. We need to try and understand the Bible in its own context, and then seek fresh inspiration for today.


Material sourced from Rev Heather Creighton & edited by Pastor Karl Hand (CRAVE MCC).