By Jack Hoehn | 21 January 2018 |
On December 13, 2017, the General Conference chief administrator chose the Christmas season to remind the church of his opinion about homosexuals. His statement emphasized that unless they are lifelong celibate, he thinks homosexuals must be denied baptism, wedding, employment or membership in the Seventh-day Adventist church. Mr. Wilson’s understanding of his “timeless and unchanging” Bible requires this.1 It was easy for me to accept the no-homosexual-practice-permitted teaching when I didn’t personally know any people who were homosexual. In my youth those with this orientation were forced to “keep it in the closet,” but as scientific evidence and personal experience began to show that this was not choice but a destiny they were born with I began to meet as real people those so born. Friends, relatives, and then as a physician many patients who were born gay or lesbian became known to me as moral, principled, virtuous, kind and loving individuals. It became inconceivable to me that Jesus would condemn those so born to a painful life of asexuality and no partnership with a true mate. But the Bible texts I had read calling male/male sex an abomination were in contradiction to what I felt Christ wanted us to do for these friends. My studies now suggest the possibility that our understanding (or misunderstanding) the context of Bible statements on sexual behavior should not be “timeless and unchanging.” A better informed understanding of what the Bible is actually talking about might lead Seventh-day Adventists to consider modifying their approach to homosexuals in our institutions, churches, schools, and homes. This is part 3 in a series on ideas available to Adventism about our future. Please read it with your Bible close at hand to check out the texts you may think made it impossible to accept homosexuals.
Moses lived sometime after 1500 BC, according to the SDA Bible Commentary. His Genesis informs readers that “In the beginning ELOHIM (God) created the heavens and the earth.” ELOHIM then step by step, with progressive creations, day after day, prepares a world for humanity, male and female, as sexual beings. In Genesis 2 the couple are presented as innocent, naked, and one-flesh, sexually unashamed.
Who Was ELOHIM?
How did Moses’ audience know who the creating “ELOHIM” was? Where did that name for God come from? And what was the sexual nature of humanity to mean in the worship of this God?
In 1928, a farmer in Syria broke into an old tomb with his plow, and uncovered an ancient necropolis (city of the dead, or cemetery) known as Ugarit dating back as far as 6000 BC. A palace including libraries of clay cuneiform tablets was discovered that also tells of EL the progenitor god and ELOHIM his descendant gods, such as BAAL and DAGON, both known later in Canaan from your Bible. The ancient clay tablets tell a pagan version of the creation story substantially different from the Genesis version, but using very similar names. It is also a sexual story but in the pagan versions the gods themselves are sexual, and they ought to be ashamed, as most of their behavior is violent, and their sexuality promiscuous and abusive. The written records come from 1800 BC. Later written copies of the stories of their gods were likely done about 1200 BC but are a retelling of creation myths at least as old as Moses’ accounts and likely older, suggesting to me that Moses, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, was editing, clarifying, correcting, or purifying a better version of the then-current creation myths.
Ancient Near East Worship
According to the New World Encyclopedia2, the Ugaritic tablets tell these tales: ILU or EL was titled “Father of mankind” and “Creator of creation,” and was known as ELION (a name for God, EL ELION, found in Genesis 14:22). ILU/EL was described as an “aged deity with white hair, seated on a throne.” His wife was ASHERA (see 2 Kings 17:10 & 16). But he had other wives too. Their sexuality produced 77 (or 88) children who were called “ELOHIM,” including YAM and BAAL, who killed YAM, but was himself killed by MOT, then resurrected by his sister, who is also his mistress, ANAT. Out of this confusing mix of deities, the ELOHIM (gods), one of them, by violence and miracles, becomes prominent. This is BAAL or Lord, well known to Bible readers as the Canaanite god enemy of our YAHWEH ELOHIM.
In Canaanite lore BAAL was enemy of his father EL, and becomes the god of rain with its thunder and agricultural fertility. His death at MOT’s hands caused drought; his resurrection brought the rain and fertility. His worship involved ritual sexual intercourse, to help resurrect him. (Bible readers remember the drought during King Ahab’s time when Elijah taunts the frenzy of BAAL priests to get their god to produce the needed rains.) “High places” during Israel’s time involved female and male sacred prostitutes to assist in this form of “worship.” Isaiah 57:7 accuses men of this kind of hill-top sexual worship. “You have made your bed on a high and lofty hill; there you went up to offer your sacrifices.”
In pagan temples and high places, men indulged themselves sexually with females in pagan worship much like the BAAL Peor “worship” (described in Numbers 25:1-3). “The men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Isra-EL yoked themselves to the BAAL of Peor. And YAHWEH’s anger burned against them.”
Male Temple Priests/Prostitutes
Males at pagan worship sites also indulged themselves sexually with male temple priests/prostitutes as described in 1 Kings 14:22-24, “Judah did evil in the eyes of the Lord. By the sins they committed they stirred up his jealous anger more than those who were before them had done. They also set up for themselves high places, sacred stones and ASHERA poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree. There were even male shrine prostitutes in the land; the people engaged in all the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites.”
Even worse, it appears that the illegitimate children born to the female temple prostitutes would be given back to Baal or Moloch as burnt offerings, a vicious birth control by infanticide. No wonder YAHWEH ELOHIM hated these abominable acts.
Deuteronomy 12:30,31: “…be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their ELOHIM, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their ELOHIM? We will do the same.’ You must not worship YAHWEH ELOHIM in their way, because in worshiping their ELOHIM, they do all kinds of detestable things YAHWEH hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their ELOHIM.”
Jeremiah 19:4,5: “They have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign ELOHIM; they have burned incense in it to ELOHIM that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of BAAL to burn their children in the fire as offerings to BAAL—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.”
Old Testament Male/Male Sexual Abuse
The abuse by male worshipers of the idol god known as BAAL, “sanctifying” sexual intercourse of men with both female or male cult prostitutes, is the cultural context for God’s condemnation of ritual male-on-male sex. Leviticus clearly puts its sexual laws in the context of the pagan worship practices of the Canaanites: “You must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their (worship) practices.” (Leviticus 18:3)
The priestly worship code in Leviticus 18:22 forbids the straight (not homosexual) male-on-male prostitute sex of pagan temple worship of BAAL or MOLOCH or ASHERA. This was “sanctified” idolatrous straight (not gay) male abuse of boys or men in pagan worship. It is not talking about boys born without sexual attraction to girls; it is talking about men who leave their wives to bed down a woman or man temple prostitute in a high place religious orgy.
Moses, repeating the law in Deuteronomy 23:17, makes this clear, “None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute.” Sadly, religious male-on-male (as well as male-on-female) temple prostitution persisted for hundreds of years. Good King Asa tried to “put away the male cult prostitutes from the land and removed all the idols which his fathers had made” (1 Kings 15:12). But the job was difficult and widespread, because Jehoshaphat his son also tried to “rid the land of the rest of the male shrine prostitutes who remained there even after the reign of his father Asa” (1 Kings 22:46).
The SDA Bible Dictionary summarizes: “The idolatrous religious rites (of the Canaanites) were connected with gross immorality and centered around a worship of the fertility of man, flocks and herds, and the land. The sacrificial system was similar to that of the Hebrews, but besides clean animals unclean beasts and sometimes human beings, especially children, were offered on Canaanite altars…For a time the Canaanite BAAL rivaled YAHWEH.”3
New Testament Texts Against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
The New Testament also has condemnations of male sexual abuse of boys who sold themselves for sex. In 1 Timothy 1:8-10 six classes of serious lawlessness are listed by Paul.
a. Lawless and disobedient;
b. Ungodly and sinners;
c. Unholy and profane;
d. Murderers of fathers, mothers, anyone;
e. (pornos, arsenokoites, andrapodistes in Greek)
f. Liars and perjurers.
Class e. has been translated as immoral persons, sodomites or homosexuals, and kidnappers. But a more nuanced translation would be this:
pornos is from pernemi, meaning to sell, and is a male noun. This means a boy or man who sold his sex, a male prostitute. (As porno-graphy is the “selling” of visual sex.)
Arsenokoites is a word apparently made up by Paul from arseno, male; and koites, beds. This is a “male-bedder,” or a man who sexually takes the boy he has purchased to bed.
Andrapodistes from aner, man, pod from pous, feet, one who brings men in subjection under his feet, a slaver, kidnapper, the slave dealer who owns the boy prostitute the male customer is renting.
Therefore 1 Timothy 1:10 is the condemnation of a.) men who buy sexual gratification from b.) a boy who sells himself, under the ownership of c.) the slave dealer or pimp selling him. Clearly a case of abuse and victimization involving all three–the boy prostitute, the man who paid to take him to bed, and the slave owner pimping the boy. This lawless, disobedient, ungodly, sinful sexual abuse carries the equivalent guilt of liars and murderers.
Not About Homosexuals
But we need to be reminded that this text and the Old Testament condemnation of BAAL sex is not about born homosexuals and their intimate personal relationships. Paul is writing to Timothy about the common Greco-Roman habits of wealthy heterosexual males to have (or hire) “boy toys” available for their sexual gratification in addition to their wives and mistresses. This was not gay male sex; this was straight male abuse of boys in a lust for novelty sometimes using pagan temples.
Another misunderstood text is Romans 1:26,27. But Romans 1:27 is also NOT about homosexual but heterosexual males (those who have had “natural relations with women”), straight men, who abandon female lovers for the novelty of abusive, casual, uncommitted sex with other men, usually with immature enslaved boys.
Romans 1:26 is about heterosexual women who abandon husbands (“exchange natural relations”) for sexual play with women (“unnatural ones”), who are alike condemned as a perversion of their heterosexual natures. This is NOT directed at women born truly lesbian who have never wished or taken a male lover to then abandon for a more attractive female lover.
1 Corinthians 6:9, 10: Paul uses two of the Greek words already mentioned above, but adds three more against male exploitation of slave boys.
(pornoi = males who sell themselves and
(arsenokoitai = the Pauline word for man-bedders,
who abused young boys on a sexual bed); then
eidolatrai = idolaters who indulge in pagan sex abuse at a temple;
moichoi = adulterers, because they are straight men forsaking wives for a man/bedding/man orgy;
malakoi = soft or immature, as the males abused in temples (or wealthy homes) by men were usually pre-pubertal adolescents or teens not yet able to grow beards.
The word “homosexual” used in many English translations of this text is not a Greek word, and first appeared in an English Bible in 1946. A more literal translation then could be, “Don’t be fooled, boys who sell their bodies (pornoi) to idol worshipers (eidololatria), being unfaithful to their wives (moichoi), [taking advantage of] the immature slaves(malakoi) by taking them to bed (arsenokoitai), will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
This sexual abuse of the weaker by the powerful is bunched with thieves, greedy, drunkards, insulters, and swindlers. Such abusers might today brag that they are bisexual or pansexual, but mostly the Bible suggests they are simply sexual misusers and abusers—thieves stealing virtue, swindlers offering love but giving lust, greedy or oversexed, insulting their victims, behavior that is even today often alcohol-fueled.
Multiple sexual partners of any gender are incompatible with the mutuality, equality, and exclusivity of true love. It is almost always a symptom of a power imbalance, with an entitled man (employer, wealthy, powerful, or in a position of authority) taking advantage of the weaker, dependent person, whom he uses or abuses (such as students, slaves, employees, socially and economically impoverished). This abuse pattern is now very obvious in multiple news reports since October 5, 2017, the so-called Weinstein Fallout.4,5
The Old Testament’s condemnation of idolatrous cult prostitution of boys by straight men tells us what God thinks about abuse of others for sexual pleasure, about misuse of boys and adolescents by adults for sexual purposes. The New Testament has clear words against the sexual abuse of girls, women, boys and men by straight males or the abandonment of husbands for girl-sex by heterosexual females.
These texts are not directly addressing genetic, inborn, same-sex attraction of true homosexuality itself. It seems a serious misuse to use these texts to condemn lesbians, queer or gay males trying to have stable, committed, love-based relationships in same-sex marriages. Sexual attraction is something all are born with. But the Bible texts above are not talking about same-sex attracted males who are incapable of normal relationships with women or wives, and who are not paying boys and their pimps to abuse them. How to deal with genetic homosexuals is an issue not directly discussed in the Bible, but the Bible has much to say about how we treat the weak, the sick, the poor, the shunned, the strangers in our midst, and perhaps those texts more than these against pagan temple sexual abuse should inform our approach to those so-born people.
Frankly, this has largely been misunderstood by many in the Christian church. But there is nothing in Scripture that says that homosexuals who love another of the same sex as much as the love of David for Jonathan (“whose love exceeded the love of women”–although both were very heterosexual) should not be encouraged to be monogamous and life-long lovers with commitment and faithfulness that a marriage denotes. The monogamous sexual intimacy and avoidance of promiscuity that would be called adultery of course can apply to men/men, women/women, and man/woman marriages exactly alike.
It should be clearer to us than it was to our forefathers that it is abusive of the born same-sex attracted sons and daughters, to condemn them as sinners, and punish them for what they cannot control, by using these Bible texts directed:
1.) against idolatrous BAAL cult male and female religious prostitution.
2.) against the pious but harmful abuse of girls, women, men, boys, and their babies by heterosexual men.
3.) against heterosexual women who abandon husbands and families to indulge in adulterous sexual relationships with other women.
Biblical Sexual Morality
The Bible is clearly pro-sex, from the creation of humanity in naked innocence, and the holy one-flesh intimacy of a naked unfallen man with a naked unfallen woman. Marriage is honorable, and the marriage bed is to be preserved. Pre-marital sex (fornication) is harmful and to be avoided. Extra-marital sex (adultery) is even more harmful and should be avoided at all costs. Promiscuity is always sexual abuse by one or both participants, and a sad, sick parody of love, commitment, and devotion that one-flesh intimacy was to strengthen.
The thoughtful reader will recognize that everything I have here extracted from scripture about sexual morality applies equally to Christian heterosexual and homosexual lovers. A better understanding of what our Bibles are actually saying about sexual practices should allow our churches and their members to take a more Christ-like approach to those born with same-sex attraction. A positive sexual doctrine will be inclusive of all types of humans loved by YAHWEH ELOHIM, who created all capable of love, unselfishness, commitment, and sexual pleasure. This is true of both hetero- or homo-sexually attracted.
Is homosexuality “normal?” Well, not for me, and those same-sex attracted that I know agree that their same-sex attraction is an inversion of the “normal.” But for them it is as “normal” as my attraction to women is for me. And my wife’s attraction to men is for her. As my son’s attraction is to my daughter-in-law. It’s not something we had to work at or struggle over; we just had to enjoy it and find the right partner; it’s just the way we were born. How is it any different for the same-sex attracted? It’s not a choice they make; it’s just the way they were born.
There are commandments to not commit adultery against your mate, to not steal other’s mates, and to not lie (about the truth of your sexual attraction). But there is no commandment I have found to “be normal.” And the great Christian declaration demands Christians become inclusive, not exclusive. “In Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, no slave or free, no male or female, but you are all (straight and gay alike) one in Christ.”6
Jeremiah 13:23 has YAHWEH ELOHIM of Isra-EL asking a rhetorical question, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?” The obvious answer is, No, you cannot change inborn genetically determined things such as skin color. It is not a stretch to say the same about the gender attraction you are born with. Attempts to manipulate and change sexual orientation have failed so dramatically that in some areas of the world it is considered professional malpractice and even illegal to try to change a person’s sexual orientation.
So, Adventist church, can we make room for Ethiopians, and same-sex attracted in our churches, hospitals, schools, and in our homes? The world is learning that homosexuality is not a choice; it is an inborn destiny. The thinking world will not understand why Adventists (based on misunderstandings of the Bible) continue to condemn as sinners those so born.
It was perhaps an understandable error to have misunderstood these Bible texts in the past, especially when the issues of homosexuality were poorly understood. But now that much of the evidence is clearer, and the world itself has changed its stand against homosexuals, I think it will become our Adventist sin if we refuse to repent of our previous misunderstanding and improve how we treat homosexuals and their unique problems.
I realize that this will be a very big change in attitude for many older members of our church. And it will take editing and improvement of our official statements, including those of the General Conference chief administrator. But if we have misunderstood the problem and God’s attitude toward moral and faithful sexual love for both heterosexual and homosexual, don’t we have to try and change?
God warns in Jeremiah 13:24-25, “Because you have forgotten me and trusted in falsehoods, I myself will strip you and expose you to shame.”7 May we get over misunderstandings of Scripture and our present shaming and humiliation of homosexuals. May it not become necessary for God to next so publicly turn that shame back on us.8,9
3.) Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary (Takoma Park, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Assn, 1979), 177-78.
4.) Jack has discussed this phenomenon in a widely shared article available here: https://atoday.org/you-too-charlie-rose/
5.) A published update on the issue of sexual misconduct by men in positions of power can be read here: https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/sexual-misconduct/weinstein-here-s-growing-list-men-accused-sexual-misconduct-n816546
6.) Galatians 3:28
7.) Jeremiah 13:25,26 from The New Living Translation, or as the International Standard Version says, “I’ll also pull your skirt up over your face, so your shame will be seen.” My translation would say, “Because you have been sexually shaming others, unless you stop, you yourselves will be the ones shamed!”
8.) My understanding of what the Bible was really talking about in these Old Testament and New Testament texts previously used to condemn homosexual relationships was helped greatly by Justin R Cannon, The Bible, Christianity, & Homosexuality, which starts off with this statement: “There is no word in biblical Greek or Hebrew that is equivalent to the English word homosexual. The word was coined only about 100 years ago and first appeared in the Bible in the 1946 Revised Standard Version.”
It is available here: https://www.amazon.com/Bible-Christianity-Homosexuality-Justin-Cannon/dp/1438249616/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1513806170&sr=8-1&keywords=Justin+R.+Cannon6
9.) See also David W.T. Brattson, “Homosexuality in the First Three Centuries,” Adventist Today, Fall 2011 issue, pp. 12,13. Explaining the casual Christian Church approach to homosexuality in early Christianity. (Available to Atoday Members on: https://atoday.org/site/1/issuepdf/2011-04.pdf )
Jack Hoehn is a frequent contributor to both the print and on-line versions of Adventist Today. He has served on the Adventist Today Foundation board since 2012. He and his wife Deanne live in Walla Walla, Washington. He has a BA/Religion major from Pacific Union College, and an MD from Loma Linda University. He was a licensed minister of the SDA church for 13 years when serving as a missionary doctor in Africa.