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.

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Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality What Romans Refers to as “Unnatural”

Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality What Romans Refers to as “Unnatural”

In my mind, Leviticus—and any hard and fast rules laid out in the Old Testament—can be written off, and not just because of its age: In the Gospels, when confronted with the supposed sin of working on the Sabbath, Jesus said that we have outlived those outdated rules. Among these rules is the famous anti-gay one: man shall not lie with another man as he would a woman. However, the anti-gay content is not just relegated to the Old Testament. In fact, Romans contains the most detailed handling of anti-gay content, and helminiakHelminiak, in What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, tackles this important book of the Bible.

As the author points out, 1:26 is the only section of Romans to state ideas about homosexuality explicitly—though you could argue that 1:27 comes close. However, in his chapter on Romans, Helminiak looks at this verse in the context of the longer section in which it appears (1:18-32). Drawing on the research of both John Boswell and L. William Countryman, Helminiak asserts that Romans, rather than condemning homosexuality actually renders it neutral: it’s neither good nor bad simply because it is homogenital (77).

The support for this argument relies on three major points: Paul’s word choice, Paul’s structure of the passage, and his intent or plan for the letter. Furthermore, Paul wanted to bring the two sides of his Roman audience—those already converted and those who might be swayed—together, not create a further rift by attacking their sex lives. Through his careful word choice and structure, Paul acknowledged the common practice of homosexual sex among that population and simply offered one particular context in which it should be discouraged; he was not concerned with forbidding it all together. Over all, his message was one of inclusion, not exclusion.

Paul’s word choice

Paul uses three words to refer to homosexual acts: unnatural, degrading, and shameless.

First, Paul says men “gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another.” Here, Helminiak states that Paul is using “natural” to refer to what is “characteristic or peculiar in this or that situation” (78). Citing several examples of what he means, Helminiak argues that for Paul, “something is natural when it responds according to its kind,” (79), i.e. a Jew follows the laws of being a Jew while Gentiles follow different laws unique to them. Some, however, disagree, and to their contrary point of view, Helminiak notes that since sex is naturally used for procreation, ALL sex—gay or straight—that happens outside of the deliberate attempt to procreate would be “unnatural” (83).

He examines the use of this word in depth, so if you’re interested, I suggest you seek out this book.

Next, Helminiak looks at the idea of homosexual acts being “degrading” (1:27). He suggests that Paul uses this term without intending any negative connotation, just that the action is “not held in honor” (90). Paul even uses the term to refer to men who wear long hair (1 Corinthians 11:14) and even to himself when discussing his attitudes about his commitment to Christ (2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:22; Helminiak 90). So clearly there’s a context issue that modern readers inject that the author did not intend.

As far as homosexual acts being “shameless, Helminiak examines the original Greek work that is translated as shameless. However, the word actually means “not according to form” (91), which sounds a lot different that something derogatory as shame.

Paul’s structure

Helminiak sees two main sections to this famous passage in Paul’s letter, and the two should be understood as fulfilling two different purposes. The first deals with sexual impurities, and by referring to homosexual acts as impure, he’s making a distinction between what was a common practice in the Roman world—gay sex was common, basically—and Jewish tradition. The second part (verses 28-32) focuses on the real wrong, evil and sin (97).

Paul’s intent

Paul opens his letter with this chapter because he is making a point about the impurity that results from false idolatry, and it is his concern throughout (99). To read this passage otherwise is to imbue it with 21st century prejudices. He wanted to appeal to both sides of the Roman community which he was hoping to visit soon, and he did not want to offend either side.

To read it any other way speaks against Paul’s intent, and allows for people to inject meaning that is not present. For example, verse 27 talks about the punishment for committing these sins. Often, this is read to suggest that God is punishing people who sin sexually with STDs. But more straight people get STDs than gays (simply because there are more of them), and from heterosexual sex. Furthermore, lesbians are the lowest risk group for AIDS. So is God protecting them?

As Helminiak successfully argues, Paul’s intention was to bring two sides together: the faithful and those who might be converted. Again, he was trying to bring together, not separate; to do this, part of his approach had to account for and respect those who openly engaged in homosexual sex. Therefore, as Helminiak asserts, Christians who use Romans to separate within the Christian community are ignoring Paul’s true purpose. Doing so unfairly attacks the gay community, many of whom live their lives in ways Paul would have respected, in the process.

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Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality – The “Abomination” of Leviticus

Daniel Helminiak’s What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality – The “Abomination” of Leviticus

Although there may be few mentions (or hints) of homosexual content in the Bible—there helminiakare six—that’s enough for some who choose to use the Bible as evidence of our “lifestyle” being “wrong.” After all, the Bible refers to homosexual acts as “an abomination.” In What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, author Daniel Helminiak has plenty to say about this word and the context in which it is used.

In Leviticus, the word is used to label the act of a man laying with another man. According to Helminiak, the point of the holiness code dictated in Leviticus exists for religious reasons, though, and not sexual ones. Why? Well, Jews wanted to distinguish themselves from the Gentiles, who were engaging in homosexual sex acts during religious ceremonies. To support this, he points out how other codes contained in Leviticus are repeated (and often) elsewhere, such as adultery, incest, and bestiality. This is not the case for male-male sex (55).

ne_leviticus18_22But what about the emphatic nature of referring to these same sex acts as an “abomination”? The issue rests in how the Bible uses this word, not our modern context (56). According to Helminiak, abomination is just another word for unclean. Therefore, in context, the act is merely a violation of purity laws, such as eating unclean animals. Therefore, this didn’t—and does not—refer to homosexuality as we know it. Otherwise, in the way abomination is used, we would be likening homosexuality to menstruating women, attending a burial, giving birth, and a man’s “seminal emissions” (59).

However, there still seems to be more to this issue than merely the word choice used to evaluate the action. Helminiak adds that there are several other things to consider when evaluating what the Bible has to say about these homosexual acts. First, the specific reference in Leviticus refers to penetrative sex—as you would with a woman; therefore, the specific act is targeted. So, for example, oral sex would be fine, as would identifying as a homosexual. So, technically, if a modern gay person abstained from anal sex, the Bible would have no issue with it—if you were to take the good book literally. However, Helminiak does not make this suggestion. He does carry to point further by suggesting that a particular action for a particular people—in this case, the Jews of the Old Testament—turned something that made them uncomfortable—homosexual penetrative sex—and turned it into a sin in order to discourage the behavior (63).

Today, we often discourage actions once embraced by society—such as smoking—and turned them into social taboos; however, we haven’t converted them into sins (unless you see smoking as a sin). So here he suggests that something that was once embraced can become a social taboo; the reverse also happens, in part because knowledge allows us to better understand something, such as what it means to be gay.

He builds on these ideas in the following chapter by discussing purity laws in more detail (69). Specifically, he feels that Jesus rejected these laws, in part because he felt that what goes into the body is not as important as what come out—in words, actions. Therefore, what mattered was purity of heart (70).

If this idea was good enough for Jesus, why isn’t it good enough for his followers? Furthermore, Helminiak asserts that the restrictions against any male-male sex acts were designed to outlaw “the abuse and exploitation” that might be part of these activities (73).

Often, our society embraces an idea with the best intentions; however, new information surfaces which changes our point of view. Take, for instance, the modern obsession about getting/staying “clean”—anti-bacterial soap. For a while, the best-selling soaps were ones that claimed to kill all bacteria. Who wouldn’t want to as clean as possible? Then we learned (or rediscovered what was already known but not as widely publicized) that there are two kinds of bacteria—good and bad. We need the good; however, the anti-bacteria soap killed it all. So we’ve backed off. Sometimes a good idea turns out to not be one after all. We have to be willing to accept that our ideas can evolve. Negative thoughts about homosexuality should be one of these concepts if your problem with us is dictated by your interpretation of the Bible.

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