Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality Curbing Abusive Homosexual Sex Specifically, not Homosexuality in General

Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality Curbing Abusive Homosexual Sex Specifically, not Homosexuality in General

Our society has many laws that govern sex. In general, sex is legal. You can’t have it in public though. If force is used to initiate sex—rape—that is illegal. If there is the potential for an abusive power dynamic between an adult and a minor—statutory rape—that is illegal. These laws (among many) are designed to protect people not to discourage sex in general.

helminiakRead the way the author intended, both 1 Corinthian and 1 Timothy contain attitudes about homosexual sex; however, these target abusive male-male sex, not homosexual sex in general. Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality makes this case for the content in these two Bible books. His argument hinges on the wide variety of translations of two important Greek words: malakoi and arsenokoitai. Both words point to something evil, but the rub is that there is not enough context to appreciate what exactly they refer to.

Depending on which current Bible translation you read—Helminiak mentions 1977 and 1989 versions—these words range in meaning from “homosexual” to “sodomites” to “sexual perverts” (arsenokoitai) as well as “effeminate” to “sissies” to “boy prostitutes” (malakoi) (106). A 1985 translation, however, translates malakoi to mean the “self-indulgent.” To show just how wide-ranging these the interpretations of these two words has been, Helminiak points that until the Reformation, malakoi was understood to mean “masturbators.”

He takes this point a step further by stating that a recent Catholic New American Bible translates arsenokoitai to “practicing homosexual” (106). The problem with this particular change in meaning reflects a concept that did not exist when the Bible was written: no such sexual orientation existed. Furthermore, it also folds in women, when the original content speaks directly to men (106-7).

As Helminiak points out, Bible translations appear to reflect changing prejudices, not the author’s intent (106).

To support these points, Helminaiak examines other places these two words surface in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. Malakoi refers to “effeminacy” and to being “loose.” With this use, Helminiak understandably sees the earlier use referring to a particular way of engaging in homosexual sex—those acting effeminate (like women) and being on the receiving end. Therefore, what is being discouraged is not homosexual sex in general but rather acting a particular way that appears to act against male “masculine” nature, a behavior typically exhibited by prostitutes during this era (108).

By why is there so much debate about what these two words mean? As far as arsenokoitai, the issue lies in how obscure the word is—1 Corinthians is the earliest example of its use and it appears in only 6 other works (not including 1 Timothy). True, it always appears in a list of vices, but Helminiak argues that the way the two parts of the word function suggest that it refers to male prostitutes (111). Helminiak also suggests that this typical vice list did not belong to Paul; rather, when writing these letters, he borrowed this list in order to encourage people to be better individuals, using common vices with which they would be familiar.

Think of a foreigner coming to the US and referring to the first ten Constitutional amendments in order to explain where our priorities lie.

Understanding a bit about first century Roman society is also crucial: sex was everywhere and men often sought out other men and boys for sex. This was embraced, for the older man often mentored the younger boy. It was viewed as a positive relationship. However, men also kept and abused boys for sex, even kidnapping boys and girls and selling them into sexual slavery (113). Given this situation, Paul’s points speak to discouraging this practice, not homosexual activity in general.

This historical context demonstrates that we can’t inject our own meaning into words when we translate the Bible, choosing to massage words so they fit ideas we have; we need to better understand exactly what the author intended. To do that we need to take into consideration the culture in which particular words—like malakoi and arsenokoitai—were used. The Bible encourages love and understanding and condemns abuse; this is what the supposed gay content in these two Bible books addresses.

About virgowriter

Brad Windhauser has a Master's in English from Rutgers University (Camden campus) and an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. He is an Associate Professor (Teaching/Instruction) in the English Department at Temple University. His short stories have appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Santa Fe Writer's Project Journal, Ray's Road Review, Philadelphia Review of Books, Northern Liberty Review, and Jonathan. His first novel, Regret (a gay-themed thriller set in Philadelphia) was published in 2007. You can read more about (and buy) it here: http://goo.gl/yvT24K His second novel, The Intersection, is being published by Black Rose Writing September 2016. He is one of five regular contributors to 5Writer.com. On his solo blog, he is chronicling his experience as a gay writer reading the Bible for the first time: www.BibleProjectBlog.com Follow his work at: www.BradWindhauser.com VirgoWriter@gmail.com
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2 Responses to Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality Curbing Abusive Homosexual Sex Specifically, not Homosexuality in General

  1. Bob says:

    Nope – not sold on the concept that “gay is ok”. The arguments used in this book (at least from what I can read on these blogs) rely on loose interpretations, fabricated scenarios, and plain ‘ol speculations.
    For example: The argument that David and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship is nonsense. These two guys are no more gay than two soldiers facing battle together. Listen to any two soldiers who shared a hardship together and you’ll find a bond between them that is easily stronger than the their connection to wives, friends, and even family. This does not mean that they are gay – they’re just connected on a deeper level based on shared extreme experiences.
    Second: Jesus did not come to “wipe out the OT”. He clearly statement that he was not here to get rid of the law, but to fulfill it. The NT illustrates that Jesus replaced the need for ritualistic sacrifices and atonements by becoming the sacrifice himself. This does not suddenly make homosexuality OK.
    Third: Paul’s message was indeed one of unity, not division. But this was a new church – a new idea he was bringing to the table in a Roman society of many gods, idols, sacrifices, people who had never heard of God, and yes homosexuality. Also, for the existing Jews who did know God, he was expanding their evangelism to the Gentiles and claiming that Jesus was for all people, not the just the traditional “Torah followers” of Israel. How this got twisted into saying that Paul accepted homosexuality is beyond me. In fact, many times in Paul’s letters he pleads with people to give up their sin and “clothe themselves with righteousness”.
    A minor one: “Sex intended naturally used for procreation – so any sex other than having kids is unnatural”??? Haha!!! Have you ever read Proverbs? Song of Solomon? Or how about Paul’s advice to single men in 1 Corinthians 7:9? (Subsequently, the following verses address husbands interactions with their wives, NOT their gay husbands.)

    I could go on, but clearly this book is a feeble attempt to justify another sin in the guise of “biblical interpretation and cultural context.”

    Let’s move on and take the bible for what it is – the truth, not twisting it around to “have our ears tickled”.
    2 Timothy 4:3

    • virgowriter says:

      So Jesus abided the OT law of not working on the Sabbath? Song of Solomon does not compliment Paul. If you took everything in the Bible as the truth you would have a hard life. Deciding what to consider true requires interpretation.

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