An article about a mistranslation of the Bible has been making the rounds. Ed Oxford compares the words in the “clobber passages” from old versions of German Bibles with modern versions that did not start using the word Homosexual until the mid-20th Century and later. Compelling stuff for sure. Since I have received multiple messages asking me what I think about the findings and conclusions, here are my thoughts.
Empathy for LGBTQ people from Bible-believing backgrounds
I recognize there are LGBTQ people from some Christian backgrounds who have family that outright reject them for being LGBTQ. Some families do not allow LGBTQ people or their partners to family functions. They deny LGBTQ relatives and partners the opportunity to get to know grandchildren, nieces, nephews, others, etc. This is incredibly painful. I know many LGBTQ people who have made peace with religion and the Bible, yet they are looking for the silver bullet piece of theology that will once and for all get their family to see the light and end the harm and rejection.
Whenever a piece comes out like this one comes out, I see the hope rekindled—Maybe this is the one. Maybe, but likely not. The hard fact is that many of these traditional Bible-based Christians are able to see some stories within their cultural context or as a spiritual metaphor, but when it comes to LGBTQ people and texts that may have something (even remotely) to do with us, they insist on a strict literal interpretation. That they can do it some places and not others speaks to me less about their inability to navigate ancient texts in a modern world and more about the transphobia and homophobia they refuse to acknowledge and renounce. They tell themselves and their LGBTQ family the reason behind rejecting LGBTQ people, our partners, and our rights is because they are just being faithful to the Bible. I do not believe that is entirely true.
What Do You Do When Family Loves You as Long as You Are Not LGBTQ??
The challenge then for the LGBTQ person in this situation is how to proceed. Sometimes the healthiest thing is to fully separate from the family that cannot fully embrace our humanity—LGBTQ and all. I know for me it felt like being in an abusive relationship when I had friends who insisted my sexuality and my relationship with Glen is sinful. That undermines my well-being and my marriage. I had to end those friendships. It can be much much harder when it comes to family. I feel a lot of empathy for people in these types of relationships, and I understand why they so desperately are looking for talking points that will dislodge their family from entrenched bigotry.
Beyond the Clobber Passages: A more effective approach
What I have ultimately found most effective is to move away from what are known as the clobber passages or the texts of terror and to instead point people to the many stories about gender non-binary people in the Bible and those who transgress and transcend the gender expectations of the time of the text. These stories give life and create a dilemma for the anti-LGBTQ Bible believer. It provides necessary cognitive dissonance that may lead to deeper critical thinking. Likely they will offer a strong defense whenever we pick apart the clobber passages, but when we talk about the Ethiopian eunuch or the other Ethiopian eunuch or Joseph in Genesis or the Water Bearer in the Gospels, this may open a path to a more fruitful conversation.
Some Thoughts on “Has Homosexual Always Been in the Bible?”
When a family member asked me about this article and its findings, I immediately thought about language and how in English Sodomy and Sodomite were used as catch alls for what we now think of as gay, which not too long ago was referred to as homosexual. In fact, it may have extended to anyone who we consider LGBTQ+ today.
King James was into Dudes; He Bible is NOT
It was in the early 17th Century when King James, long suspected to be into guys himself, sanctioned what became known as the King James Version of the Bible. Seems he and the translators went out of the way to create an English version of the bible that condemned anything that was NOT heterosexual procreative sex.
Questions I would like the researcher to consider
I am curious to know if the German term, “boy abuser,” was used at the time specifically or more generally. It may just be the term of art at the time. Did these interpretations then lead to the legal prohibition of homosexuality in Germany and Switzerland? Like the English did the German speakers draw on the Bible to give them authority to create anti-sodomy laws? Were these laws specifically geared towards sexual abuse/assault of minors or were they more generally used to police sexual activity between men and between women? Did they also target gender non-binary and trans people?
Recommended Work (and your suggestions?)