What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality Paperback – 20 Oct 1994
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Examines biblical references to homosexuality.
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The style is straightforward and easy to read, with Helminiak mainly presenting his own views, with the occasional short reference to other (usually contrary) viewpoints. This book is not a literature review, or balanced “state of play” of the academic, or popular, debate. To keep the text clear, he avoids footnotes and references but has a helpful short annotated bibliography of the main modern texts on the subject.
He stresses the need to see the scriptural usage in context, and manages – usually, but not always, convincingly – to portray both the OT and the NT as considering homosexuality (more accurately male-male genital acts) as socially unacceptable (in its context) and not a sin before God.
His overall conclusion is that the Bible really has very little to say about homogenital acts and nothing about homosexuality as we would consider it today. In this he follows others, such as Scroggs.
The strengths of this book are that it is short, readable and has a clear focus (on Scripture). As such it is a very good starting point when investigating homosexuality in the Bible. It helpfully makes clear that the Bible concentrates on the actions, not orientation, of males, and has little to say about lesbianism (although Helminiak does discuss the latter).
Its weaknesses are that it pays insufficient attention to contrary views and as such the careful student will have to research elsewhere. Similarly, he does not discuss the issues of Christianity and homosexuality that go beyond Scripture although, to be fair, he never sets out to tackle such a wide remit.
Overall a valuable and informative look at one of the key elements in the debate surrounding homosexuality, the Bible and the modern church. From a liberal perspective a very good place to start, but not an alternative to reading widely.
On page 26 he trots out the party line by saying that one is "born gay, it cannot be changed and is benign", none of these statements are factually true, they are simply popular myths. He then compounds the error by comparing homosexuality with race and left-handedness. Once again he is incorrect. If homosexuality was like left-handedness (i.e. genetic) then we would expect the same percentage of homosexuals in rural and urban areas, yet this is precisely what we do not find, even for young people who have not migrated yet.
On Sodom, he gives the usual revisionist interpretation (based on Boswell and Bailey), it was about their inhospitality, this is a half truth, they were very inhospitable. The men of the city wanted to have sex with the male visitors, they wanted to rape them and unknowingly they would have raped angels. The purpose of the narrative was to show that God was just in destroying the cities.
On the meaning of 'arsenokoitai', he is unsure of the meaning, but if it does refer to male same-sex acts then it only "condemn wanton, lewd, irresponsible male homogenital acts but not homogenital acts in general" (p. 105). Of course the etymology of 'arsenokoitai' is well known, it is derived from the Septuagint translation of the Levitical prohibitions of male-male intercourse (see Scroggs, p. 83, 86 and 108), the Rabbis used the equivalent Hewbrew term 'mishkav zakur', but this is rather inconvenient to Helminiak because it means that Paul thought that the Levitical prohibitions still applied in his day. Helminiak is aware of this (see p. 111), but he soft peddles here, lamely saying that 1 Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10 "may be repeating the prohibitions in Leviticus 18:22."
Then we come to Helminiak's best lie. His word study of toevah and bdelygma on p. 64-65. Toevah is the Hebrew word usually translated as abomination and bdelygma is the Septuagint Greek equivalent translation. Toevah is used in the Levitical prohibitions on male-male sex in Lev 18:22 and 20:13. He confidently asserts that toevah means "what is culturally or ritually forbidden" it is not a sin. He then compounds the error by saying that the Greek translation bdelygma, which he says, means a "ritual offense". When I looked up the meaning of the words toevah and bdelygma, the actual meanings of these two words is nowhere near as narrow as Helminiak implies. Toevah can be used in both a ritual and a moral sense, the same as bdelygma. In Lev 18:26-30 toevah is used four times and refers to adultery, child-sacrifice, male-male intercourse and bestiality (in Lev 18:20-23), bdelygma translates toevah in three of these verses. In the New Testament bdelygma is used of the "abomination of desolation" (Mat 24:15).
Lastly, we come to another quirky interpretation of Helminiak. The Greek word akatharsia which is translated "impurity" and Paul uses it in Rom 1:24 just before he talks about those who indulge in female-female sex and male-male sex in Rom 1:26-27. In all nine cases when Paul uses this word akatharsia it refers to moral sin. And yet Helminiak rather weakly says that "It must be admitted that Paul's use of the word impurity (akatharsia) here is out of line with his usage elsewhere" (p94). In other words making a scriptural case for homosexuality always involves special pleading, even lying.
This is the second edition of this book, so he had plenty of time to rectify any mistakes in his first edition, I suggest that he includes footnotes in his third edition.
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