When did the word homosexual appear in the Bible? What is the significance?

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

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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?”

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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.

In these texts, the interpreters were not necessarily referring to an identity, rather to a sex act, namely anal sex. Sodomy comes from the story of Sodom in Genesis, and it is a story of public humiliation and attempted rape. (and in context it actually has a lot more to say about immigration, reactions to terrorism, and misogyny.) Even today when people try to condemn LGBTQ people, they point to Sodom as if gang rape were a hallmark of the “gay lifestyle.” With anti-LGBTQ people now and in the past, there has rarely been any discernment about the actual details in these texts and how they differ from the lives of LGBTQ people. Sexual assault, abusing minors, beastiality are all lumped together with LGBTQ people.

King James was into Dudes; He Bible is NOT

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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.

The word, homosexual, is a modern term and only began to be used widely in the 20th Century, so it is no surprised it didn’t make it into a Bible translation until so late in the century There were other words in English and other languages that were used as umbrella terms for anything seen as “perverse” or non-traditional sexuality. Oscar Wilde was arrested for committing the “sin that dare not speak its name.” In the 1 Corinthians passage mentioned in the article, The King James version does not use boy molester. Instead it references “abusers of themselves with mankind.” I guess people of the time knew what that meant and who it targeted.
Without looking at other texts of the time, it is hard to know what these German phrases meant for the people at the time. In the 50’s someone in the USA might refer to a gay man as pervert or degenerate. Perverts shall not inherit the kingdom, which was a catch all for all the non-heteronormative and even non-gender normative people.

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?

The important question the author raises is, was there some sort of anti-LGBTQ+ agenda that influenced the way the Bible was interpreted? Did this intensify in the past 40 years? Were American Evangelicals the force behind this intensification of anti-LGBTQ+ Bible bashing? Likely yes to all of these things, but then again, that is not news. We have been aware of this for a long time. As someone who studies eunuchs in the Bible, there are countless times you will find editorial boards erasing eunuch identities in stories in the Hebrew texts. Similarly in the 19th Century we had many reachers of animal behavior in the wild suppress homosexual coupling and child-raising they witnessed in the field. Their bias shaped their published research. If you don’t want LGBTQ+ people free to roam and thrive in the world, you don’t want them showing up in the Bible.
The author of this book might have something of note to share, but the way it is presented right now seems sloppy and needs deeper research.

Recommended Work (and your suggestions?)

I recommend the work of Matthew Vines, Austen Hartke, Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians,  Jennifer Grace Bird’s Permission Granted—Take the Bible Into Your Own Hands, and Peters J Gomes, The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart.  I am sure others here have good recommendations too.
For folks who are interested in LGBTQ+ positive readings of Biblical texts, Liam Hooper, a trans man in Winston-Salem and I are now producing the monthly Bible Bash Podcast. You can get it wherever you listen to podcasts.
If you are looking for stories about gender non-conforming Bible characters, check out the Transfigurations movie.


Featured image: Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


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