By Justin Moore (also published at his blog http://likelightthroughaprism.blogspot.ca/)
So I said yesterday that I would get down to the nitty-gritty today. And so I shall. Just a warning: this post is LONG. I mean, really long. But what I’ve tried to do is compress hundreds of sources into one single post to present lots of evidence for you. There is a lot of great information here, some old and maybe some new, and I encourage you to read it slowly, ponder it, refer back to the scriptures yourself, and then continue on reading the post rather than trying to zoom through it in a single reading. At the end and throughout the post, I’ve put links to several of the articles I used. These are certainly not meant to be an exhaustive list, but I encourage you to go to any articles that deal with topics or scriptures you would like to know more about.
As I mentioned yesterday, my search began by reading the Church’s Articles of Faith. While doing that, three of them really struck me:
12. “We believe in…honoring, obeying, and sustaining the law.”
honor: (vb) 1. to regard with high respect; 2. to fulfill or keep (an obligation)
sustain (vb): strengthen or support
So how does this relate to the always increasing number of states (in the U.S.) and entire countries (in Europe) that believe that marriage should be between two people who love each other? And how does this statement of belief work with D&C 132:13, which states that anything in the world that is not of God, whether created by kings or governments, will be “thrown down”? Is it possible to “honor” and “sustain” a law while desiring that it be “thrown down”? In the last General Conference, it was made abundantly clear that the Church does not and will not support same-sex marriages. But why? Where does this vehemence come from? Answer: the Bible.
13. “…If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”
I find myself wondering what it is, exactly, that is un-virtuous, un-lovely, of bad report, and un-praiseworthy about same-sex relationships. What is it that makes them looked down upon? To see the pure love and joy in the eyes of same-sex couples as they get married, how can anyone not understand that there is love there? It’s not just that the relationships cannot result in the bearing of children, because there are myriad reasons that heterosexual relationships might do the same. If virtue is “having high moral standards,” then what could be more virtuous than two people pledging themselves to each other for the rest of their lives, looking after, helping, etc.? So there is clearly a disconnect happening to LDS church leaders and many members. They see homosexual relationships as giving in to an “appetite,” a “temptation,” or a “sin of the flesh.” But this idea has to come from somewhere, right? Answer: the Bible.
Now comes the one that really knocked my socks off:
8. “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly….”
Whoa!! Do we truly understand what this means? Do people understand how many parts of the Bible are mistranslated and/or taken out of context (which results in mistranslations)? So, in answer to my previous question about what it is about gay relationships that is so repugnant, I am left with only one thing: The Bible says so. It is the Bible that has been used for centuries to condemn gay people. It is the Bible that is the sole basis for all the suicides, stonings, shootings, executions, imprisonments, tortures, etc. of gay people all over the world.
This, the eighth Article of Faith is what really made my research explode. If this is truly one of the cornerstones of the LDS faith, and if it is true that the Bible has not been correctly translated, then the LDS Church would be compelled by their own statement of belief to abandon their condemnation of gay relationships.
In starting my research, I felt it was important to get plenty of background and context. Just what was I dealing with? The idea that there are many mistranslated parts of the Bible applied to the condemnation of homosexuals was certainly nothing new to me. I recall hearing about a book when I was in my early 20’s about that very subject. And through the years I have read tons of articles written by religious and secular scholars about those same passages. I would always just nod my head and move on, knowing that these people were only affirming what I already knew in my heart and soul: I am perfectly okay being gay. Anyway, I will share with you the meager information I compiled from various sources about the history of our modern version of the King James Bible. I have chosen to filter out other versions since it is this one that is used by the LDS Church. I encourage you to really read through this timeline in order to understand just what has happened to this “perfect” book over the centuries. Joseph Smith himself conceded that “Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.”
- by 500 BC, all books of the Old Testament are completed (written in, Aramaic, an ancient form of Hebrew)
- 6-9 AD, Jewish scholars use ancient Hebrew/Aramaic texts to create the Hebrew translation that will be used for most modern translations
- by first century AD, New Testament was completed (in Greek)
- 382 AD, Jerome translates New Testament from Greek into Latin
- After being translated into more than 500 languages, in 600 AD it was restricted to only being translated into Latin (since the only organized church at that time was Catholic, and they refused to translate into any language other than Latin. Anyone with a foreign translation was executed! The church wanted complete control of God’s word. This went on for quite some time.)
- late 1300’s: Protestant Reformation (e.g. getting the church back into the hands of The People)
- 1380’s first English version translated from Latin by John Wycliffe. (Catholic Church is not pleased)
- 1490’s Thomas Linacre reads original Greek version of Bible only to discover that the differences between that and the Latin version were so egregious that “Either this is not the Gospel…or we are not Christians.”
- 1516, Erasmus, through several partial Greek manuscripts he manages to acquire and piece together, produces a fresh, new Greek-Latin version.
- 1525-26 William Tyndale uses Erasmus’ translation to produce the first English-language printed version of the New Testament.
- 1535, Myles Coverdale translates and prints the first complete version of the Bible in English. He translates from Martin Luther’s German version and the Latin version.
- 1560, “Geneva” translation printed. Retains more than 90% of Tyndale’s translations. This is the Bible taken to America by the Puritans and pilgrims. This is the Bible that America was founded upon.
- 1611, about 50 scholars used The Tyndale New Testament (a Greek-Latin translation), The Coverdale Bible (from German and Latin translations), The Matthews Bible, The Great Bible, The Geneva Bible, and even the Rheims New Testament (a version translated from the corrupted Latin version used as the standard by the Roman Catholic Church) to create the first King James Version. They claim it is translated from the “original tongue” languages, but since Greek was not the language of Jesus, the KJV is really a translation of a translation, divided up among 50-some scholars (thus spelling variations in names), compared, discussed, and interpreted individually.
- Several more versions of KJV appear: 1701, Oxford edition; Cambridge (1762) and another Oxford (1769) contained many corrections and changes and “modernizations”; English Revised Version (1881-85); American Standard Version (1901); and Revised Standard Version, or RSV (1952).
- 1971, The New American Standard Version is done; considered by scholars to be the most accurate word-for-word translation of the original Greek and Hebrew.
- 1952 RSV of the King James Bible is what LDS Church uses today.
It would, in my opinion, be folly to assume (especially given Pres. Uchtdorf’s conference talk in which he admits that even church leaders sometimes make mistakes), that given the pinball-machine history of the Bible, it would end up in our hands perfectly translated. There are several reasons for incorrect translations:
1. Vague original wording that requires creative translating.
2. Personal biases of each individual translator (we are, after all, each victims of the era in which we live.)
3. Concepts taken completely out of their historical context
4. Original wording that has no real English equivalent
5. Misunderstood intent and motives of original Bible authors
When studying any text, whether written in 1200, 1850, or 1960, the reader must take into account the cultural influences and biases of the world of the author. As an English teacher, I always talk with my classes about, for instance, what was going on in the world that inspired Aldous Huxley to write Brave New World, how Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a reflection of the reality of women of her day, that Fahrenheit 451 was born out of a worry that mindless entertainment would make literature obsolete. The Bible can be no different, especially when one considers what it means to translate anything from one language (especially a dead one!) into another. As if that wasn’t hard enough, try translating something ancient into a modern language that was born out of events of which we cannot begin to conceive.
Nor do I fault some of the translators of the Bible. I can’t begin to imagine how daunting their task was. But nevertheless, mistakes were made. And those mistakes are the basis for hundreds of years of hate and needless persecution.
I know it’s seen as a sort of cop-out to bring up, but let’s recall just for a moment how the ancient Greeks and Romans felt about homosexuality. It was not only welcome, but it was encouraged. (This is, of course WAY simplified.) Although same-sex relationships far into adulthood were rare, that wasn’t because homosexuality was looked down upon; rather, it was because men had a duty to procreate. (I don’t mean to leave out women here, but the great bulk of scholarship deals with men.) And this wasn’t just a quick historical gay fling. This went on for thousands of years. Even gay marriage was common! When these practices began to be looked down upon, it was not the fact that it was two men getting married; it was the idea that one man would be taking the part of (and even dressing like) a woman that bothered people. And although there was a rejection of homosexual relations in ancient Judaism, it wasn’t merely gay sex that was bad, but ANY sexuality outside monogamous, heterosexual marriage.
The earliest Christians had a problem to face: Romans were pretty free with their bodies, both men and women. This resulted in lots of abortions as well as lots of unions that could not (for obvious biological reasons) result in the bearing of children. In order for the church to be successful, these practices had to be quashed. Fast.
(Holy moly!! I officially apologize to every blogger whose blog I clicked on, scrolled down, and thought, Who has the time to write all this? And who has the time to read all this?? Feel free to come back later if you’re getting tired.)
So there are six “traditional” scripture references used as proof against homosexuality, and I will deal with those shortly. But I first want to discuss something I found along the way that I had never before encountered or thought about, proof in the Bible of affirmations of homosexuality. Again, I am simplifying for the sake of space here, and I encourage you to research further if you would like more information.
1. Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10. Jesus affirms a gay relationship. Basically, a centurion approaches Jesus and asks that his “servant” be healed, which Jesus does, impressed by the man’s great faith. If the original Greek word is translated as “servant” then the modern reader thinks everything is hunky-dory. But the word the centurion uses is “pais,” which in the context of the time was a word that was used to refer to a servant who was his master’s male lover. Once again, we must read through the lens of the time in which something was written, not through our own modern lens. (I found the most complete discussion of this story here.)
2. Genesis 2:24 and Ruth 1:14. Here we discover that Ruth loved Naomi in the same way that Adam loved Eve. The Hebrew word used to describe that love is “dabaq” which means “to cling.” While it is true that the vast majority of men and women would “cling” to each other (in heterosexual marriages), these scriptures are proof that two women can also do the same. (A detailed breakdown of the scriptures can be found here.)
3. Matthew 19:10-12. Here, Jesus says that some people are born gay. Jesus has just said that divorce is bad, but he follows this up with an explanation that there are three kinds of men who are not meant to marry women: eunuchs by choice (e.g. monks and priests who devote their lives to God), those made eunuchs by others (men who have been castrated), and “born eunuchs” or “natural eunuchs.” In the parlance of the time, this term was used, as proved by existing contemporary literature, to refer to gay men. (See thisgreat discussion on the original Aramaic words used by Jesus.)
4. In yesterday’s post, I mentioned briefly the love that David had for Jonathan. (1 Samuel 18:1-4; 20:30, 41-42; 2 Samuel 1:23, 26-27) The last of these verses, the song ordered by David to be sung by all the people of Judah, tells us that the love he had for Jonathan was greater than any love he had for a woman. (I love the way this page discusses “the evidence.”)
To further bolster these interpretations and translations, there are other stories written during the same time period that talk about same-sex love and relationships. But if that’s the case, what’s up with the obvious condemnations in Leviticus and Romans?? What about Sodom and Gomorrah? What about I Corinthians and I Timothy? Stick with me here. This is fascinating and important stuff.
I will try to keep things as simple as I can to save space. But there is SO much scholarship out there about these scriptures. I feel like I should say from the start that my discussion of these scriptures is not Bible bashing or religion bashing. I am not attempting to sway good and faithful believers. What I will be talking about, as I said earlier, are mistranslations and a lack of looking at social, cultural, and religious views in the context of the times in which the Bible was written. We are, I believe, doing the Bible a huge disservice (not to mention millions of LGBT people) by forcing our own modern biases on ancient texts. What follows are examples of factual information gathered and studied by linguists, historians, theologians, etc.
1. Romans 1:21-28. Oh man, how do I simplify this one. Everywhere I go, there is so much explanation of this passage because so much of it rests on an understanding of the context in which Paul delivered this sermon. In essence, Paul here is talking about idol worship, putting other gods before God. Part of these pagan rituals was giving up one’s “natural” inclinations–remember how I talked earlier about sexuality being pretty fluid in Rome?–and shacking up with someone of the same sex. What he is referring to are heterosexual people who engage in homosexual sex just for the fun of it, just for the sexual gratification. Even if we did take these verses to mean that Paul is saying that homosexuality is against nature, let us not forget that he also says that men who have long hair is “against nature” and also that women should cover their heads, have long hair, and not speak in church. (MUCH better discussionshere and here.)
2. Genesis 19 and Jude 7: Sodom and Gomorrah. I have always been fascinated by the interpretations of this story. We all know that the house was surrounded by the villagers who demanded that the angels be sent out to them that they might “know” them. The perversion of these passages has resulted in the terms “sodomite” and “sodomy,” which are both derogatory terms for gay people and gay sex, respectively. A couple details are interesting to me. First, it is said that all the males of the town were surrounding Lot’s house, both boys and men. To use these verses as proof against homosexuality, one would have to assume that every single man in the town was gay. Hmm… Second, IF all the men of the town were gay, WHY would Lot offer them his virgin daughters!? In my research, I have found two explanations for the punishment of Sodom, and both sound equally valid to me. The first is that the Hebrew word “yadha” almost always means, literally, to know, to gain knowledge (of). There are only 10 times where it is used in what we now call “the Biblical sense,” meaning to have sexual relations, and those times always refer to heterosexual sex. A literal, non-sexual translation would then mean that the men of the town, based on custom and fear at the time, would demand to “know” who these strangers were that Lot had welcomed into his home since all strangers were immediately suspect and considered dangerous outsiders. The second possibility, if we interpret the word “yadha” to mean sex, is that the men of the town wanted to rape the strangers. Again, in the context of the time (and certainly even in our own time) one man defiling another is a sign of power, domination, and contempt. As further evidence of the error of thinking that Sodom was destroyed because of gay sex, I present several pieces of scriptural evidence. The first is the reference to Sodom in Ezekiel 16:49-50, which says that Sodom was destroyed due to pride, not helping the poor, and haughtiness. Nothing there about the gays. Other scriptures, Isaiah 13:19, Jeremiah 23:14, 49:18, and 50:40, and Luke 9:51-56 and 10:8-12, also say not one single thing about the sins of Sodom having to do with homosexuality. As far as Jude goes, theologians, even conservative ones, interpret the “going after strange flesh” as referring not to homosexuality–this probably stems from our modern slur of gays as “queer,” a word that means strange–but rather to the belief at the time of Jude that the women of Sodom had had sex with angels: heterosexual humans having sex with angelic bodies = strange flesh = bad news.
3. The dreaded Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. This book is often quoted by both believers and non-believers alike. These chapters are regarded as a set of rules or Holiness Code to protect the Israelites from doing what the Egyptians and Canaanites did. And what was it that the Egyptians and Canaanites did that was so bad? Idol worship and sexual pagan fertility rituals! Taken in historical context, what is being referred to here is male temple prostitutes. There is much written on these practices that I won’t go into here, but I will point out, once again, the importance of not taking something out of its own world and placing it into our own and accepting it as scripture. I mean, let us not forget that those same chapters forbid a man from having sex with his wife while she is menstruating, forbid anyone from wearing clothing made from mixed fibers, forbid men with certain physical handicaps from serving in the priesthood, etc. For me, it comes down to our acceptance that “those rules” are clearly not meant for our culture and our era. So why can we pick and choose which ones to use?
4. I Corinthians 6:9-10 and I Timothy 1:10. These are my personal favorites because I get to talk about word creation, the dangers of translation, and the ability for translators to insert their own personal biases. In the first verses (Corinthians), we find the Greek word “malakoi” which is translated either as “effeminate” or, in our modern times, as “homosexual.” The word literally translates as “soft.” Depending on context it can refer to someone who has a weak moral constitution, or weak like a woman. (One certainly doesn’t need to look far to find references to how morally weak women were seen. If you’re curious how misogynistic some church folk were, check out the Malleus Maleficarum, which basically says that women are the weakest of the weak. They willingly let Satan into their hearts (and beds) and are thus infinitely more susceptible to becoming witches.) Nothing was worse for a man than to act like a woman, either physically or spiritually. That is why this word is often translated as “effeminate” and people assume that means gays (since they’re all nelly queens). It is also stated by scholars that this word might refer to male temple prostitutes who would have been the receptive partner in sex acts, thus making him “the woman” because he is penetrated and submissive. The next word, which appears in both scriptural references, but is actually very rare, historically-speaking, is the word “arsenokoitai.” This is a compound noun, much like thousands we have in our own modern English language (storehouse, freeway, blackboard, underworld, etc.). The root “arseno” means “man” and the root “koitai” means “bed” and is accepted as referring to sex. So since we have no English equivalent, and since Paul appears to have invented this word himself since it is not found in any writings before him (and only 70-some times in the 600 years after him, and never dealing specifically with gay sex), it has been somehow accepted to refer to man-on-man sex, especially since no woman is mentioned in connection with the “arsenokoitai.” To understand this word and its translation just think of someone a couple thousand years from now encountering the words “parkway” and “driveway.” Future translators would almost certainly think that a parkway is where we park our cars and a driveway is where we drive our cars, right? But we know it to be the exact opposite. (Dontcha love English?!) Also notice that these words always appear in a list. One would assume that a list contains things that are of a like nature. One translation of “arsenokoitai” is one who sexually takes advantage of another man (whether through rape or by paying him, thus supporting his prostitution). This, to me, makes the most sense, especially if we interpret “malakoi” as a male prostitute. The plain fact is that we don’t really know the exact meanings of these words, but we do know, through an examination of context and culture, that they do not refer to gay sex, and certainly not to loving homosexual relationships.
If you have actually read all of this, you deserve some sort of prize. How does my everlasting love sound?
I am hoping, truly and honestly, that this discussion of scripture brings about increased dialogue and a desire for people who believe the Bible and the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God to gain a deeper understanding of what it is they are reading and subsequently, the beliefs that they preach to others. I do also feel that if Mormons are to fully adhere to their own Articles of Faith, a frank admission about the sources of modern condemnation of same-sex relationships should be made. This is not about slandering any church. This is about creating more love. After all, let us remember the words in John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” It is by this love for each other that people will be identified as followers of Christ. That is a love without conditions attached. It is a love that is given freely and generously. It is not about loving the sinner and hating the sin.
Selected Bibliographical Sources:
“Why Do We Use the King James Version of the Bible?” by D. Kelly Ogden
“Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible” by Robert J. Matthews
English Bible History
Gay Marriage and Homosexuality Were Part of Moral Landscape in Ancient Rome
What Do the Scriptures Really Say About Homosexuality?
Homosexuality and Scripture From a Latter-Day Saint Perspective by Alan D. Lach
Would Jesus Discriminate?
Are You In or Out? I Corinthians and I Timothy (several posts on this blog were very insightful)
**Disclaimer: I was swimming through TONS of scriptural references and source materials in writing this post. If I have gotten something wrong, listed an incorrect reference, of misquoted someone please let me know and I will fix it immediately! I don’t want to be “that guy” who goes on a rant and is incorrect about something.
Justin Moore has been many things, a ballet dancer, ballet teacher, and choreographer, a prep cook, a deck builder, a custom framer, a pianist (thought not a very good one), and a singer (even worse than the pianist gig). He is currently loving his job as a high school English teacher, even if it is in small-town rural Wisconsin. He recently started a blog that will chronicle his journey as a mid-30’s gay Mormon as he reconciles his past with his present with his future.