Q. I’m a scientist trying to define my own beliefs on homosexuality, which I believe is based in chemistry and genetics, not choice. However, I feel like either I’m buying into a conspiracy theory (Paul being gay and fearfully adding homophobic commentary to cover his own struggle) or I’m avoiding biblical truth because I can’t wrap my head around God forbidding something that occurs naturally. What does the Bible say?
A. As for homosexuality, one problem is that many biblical texts on the topic are not clear in terms of the specific actions they are referring to (some scholars would certainly disagree with me on this point). The texts assume a certain amount of knowledge on the part of the reader that we moderns do not have any more. For example, the Leviticus texts (
In my opinion, no one really knows what this means, and so most scholars (for a very long time) have assumed that the word “beds” must refer, here, to the act of lying down rather than the place of lying down, because the word for “bed” comes from the verb “to lie down.” This is how they arrive at the usual translation, “as one lies with a woman.” I happen to think that this is not a very good translation and that we should work on figuring out what “on the beds of a woman” might mean in this context, but I’m in the minority at this point.
Even if the phrase does mean “as one lies with a woman,” the reasoning behind the rule would probably come from the concern in Leviticus with the inappropriate mixing of categories. A person should not mix two different kinds of seed in a field or wear clothing that mixes two different types of fabric (
When it comes to the New Testament, the issue has to do with certain of Paul’s letters. In
For better or worse, there are no easy or clear-cut answers when it comes to interpreting the biblical texts on this issue. While the theory about Paul that you mention is certainly creative, I would agree that it’s probably far-fetched to say that Paul was gay and just covering it up. But it is not a foregone conclusion that biblical texts are clear and decisive on the issue or that they all even agree on matters of sexual behavior.
There are a number of books and articles that address these issues in greater detail (see “Related Publications”). Robert Gagnon’s 2001 book represents the older, more conservative view. Many others disagree with this. Jennifer Wright Knust’s 2011 book and Michael Coogan’s 2010 book present more progressive views, which are accepted by most academic scholars today. Mark Preston Stone’s 2022 article offers one of the most thorough overviews of the different scholarly positions on the relevant laws in Leviticus, which are the most debated texts in the Hebrew Bible.
It is worth noting that, within Christianity, there are different understandings of what it means for Scripture to be true or inspired; traditions that emphasize natural law, such as Catholicism, tend to resist treating the Bible as a handbook of morality and rather use it as one resource among others, including human reason, to determine what is right and wrong.
- Gagnon, Robert. The Bible and Homosexual Practice. Nashville: Abingdon, 2001.
- Stone, Mark Preston. “Don’t Do What to Whom? A Survey of Historical-Critical Scholarship on Leviticus 18.22 and 20.13.” CurBR 20.3 (2022): 207-37.
- Coogan, Michael. God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says. New York, NY: Twelve/Hachette Book Group, 2010.
- Knust, Jennifer Wright. Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2011.