This post might seem to be covering old ground because the culture wars on sexuality are long over, and it looks like we lost. But this post is NOT about a culture war issue, about what laws should be passed, or what types of marriages should be recognized in America, etc. etc. That’s a conversation for another day… …namely, yesterday.
Instead, this post is about what the Bible says and what it does not say regarding “sexuality.” It is about what Christians should say and what they should believe. And I mean that in a very LITERAL way, and not as a stand-in for “How you should be an activist and jump into the public conversation.”
This post is going to be strange. It is about the concept of “sexuality,” but it is not about the concept of SEXUALITY. Instead, it is about the CONCEPT of sexuality. I am not writing about “homosexuality.” I am not writing about “same-sex attraction.” I am not writing about the fluidity of sexuality and gender. I am not writing about “gay marriage” or anything like that. Instead, this post is about “sexuality” as a concept, and how it relates to the Bible.
So let’s step into the fray and come right through the front door. So, are you ready? I don’t think you’re ready. Too bad, here it goes, anyway: What does the Bible say about “homosexuals”? Answer:
Yes, people. This is going to be one of those posts.
The Bible and “Sexuality”
If that last paragraph was not surprising, then you must have zero cultural memory of the early 2000s to 2012. People with ANY memory about that time and the issues of gay marriage and stuff will remember verses like this:
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
Sounds gay, doesn’t it? Also:
As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.”
Sounds violently homosexual, right? Also:
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
That’s about as homosexual as you can get, right? Also:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
(1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
Well, looky-there, Caleb. The world “homosexuality” is right in the text? How can you say that the Bible doesn’t talk about homosexuals?
How can I say that? With the internet, of course. But since, this is a rather technical point, I’m going to need some help from someone who is WAY smarter than me when it comes to languages, who can explain the background. Here is Peter J. Williams giving a lecture on the issues that encounter scholars who are trying to translate the ancient text of the Bible:
By the way, if you don’t know it yet, you should totally be supporting the Tyndale House (not the publisher, the research library). Do it here. And buy that guy’s book. You can do it here. And if you’re a super-nerd, buy this one, too. I can say from personal experience that he is ridiculously informative and decent, and he deserves your money.
But back to the subject at hand. In the video at 27:15, we see something rather strange. Williams explains that neither Greek nor Hebrew nor Latin have a term that corresponds to the English word “sex.”
Really? No word for “sex”? Yes, that’s true. This does not mean that Greeks or Romans did not know about sex. It means that the did not talk about it in the way that we do. For instance, instead of reading that “Adam had sex with his wife Eve,” we read:
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.”
Likewise, instead of saying that “Amnon raped Tamar” or “Amnon had sex without consent,” we read the following:
Now Absalom, David’s son, had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar. And after a time Amnon, David’s son, loved her. And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her. But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother. And Jonadab was a very crafty man. . . . But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.” She answered him, “No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing. As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.” But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her.
(2 Samuel 13:11-14)
There is a footnote in the ESV that says the word “violate” can also be translated as “humiliated.” In other translations, it says “do this folly” or “humble me.” But from context, it is easy to see what is happening. This is a forcible rape. The truly heartbreaking part of the story is when we read what happens next:
Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Get up! Go!”
(2 Samuel 13:15)
That is one of the most viscerally accurate descriptions of a rape you will ever find in scripture (or many other places for that matter). But never is the word “rape” used. Why? Because ancient people did not have a word for “sex” and therefore, they did not have a word for “sex without consent.” They did not organize the world like we do with words. They knew the actions. They knew the emotions. They knew the shame. They knew the dynamics. But scripture and the people who wrote it organized thoughts differently with words.
As another example, you will find “prostitutes” all over the place in the Bible. Despite this fact, we never read that someone “had sex” with paying customers. Instead, we get that idea in a different verb:
And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute, graceful and of deadly charms, who betrays nations with her whorings, and peoples with her charms.
Additionally, we get a strange difference in sexual relations between husbands and wives (like Adam and Eve) and more transactional sexual relations (like Abraham and Hagar):
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.”
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. (Genesis 16:1-4)
Now, Hagar wasn’t a “prostitute,” but she also wasn’t a wife. She did not engage in “whorings” with Abraham. The closest modern word we have to the role she fulfilled is “surrogate.” It’s not a 100% match, but it’s a pretty darn close match (when you ignore the difference of technology).
Similarly, notice that Abraham did NOT “know Hagar.” Instead, Abraham “went in to Hagar.” Notice this surprisingly consistent accuracy the Bible uses when it references what we call “sex.”
While our word is clinical and technical, it is also a morality-free description. We may find it strange that there is no general word for “sex” in ancient languages. Ancient speakers would probably find it strange that the action you do with your wife, with a prostitute, in a crime, in private, in public, with one person, with several people, with a human, and even with an animal can be described WITH A SINGLE UNDIFFERENTIATED WORD.
Their shock at our word “sex” would be similar to a modern human’s discovery of a tribe that had no differentiation between “barbecue” and “cannibalism.” See how important morality is in words? The old way of talking about sex was INHERENTLY moral. It is implicit in the words themselves, just as “murder” and “cannibalism” and “stealing” have implicit morality in them.
As Peter J. Williams describes, there is no “non-moral” word for “sex” in the Bible. That’s the key, and we must recognize that if we want to be accurate bible-readers. This is why you will never find a passage in the Bible that condemns “sex outside of marriage.” Instead, you will find condemnations of “adultery” and “fornication.” “Sex outside of marriage” is a phrase void of moral commentary. The other words are inherently different.
That is just how the Bible talks.
About the Word “Homosexual”
At this point, you might think that I am going to say that the word “homosexual” is a word that is “devoid of moral commentary,” and therefore, the Bible doesn’t talk about “homosexuals,” but instead uses something like “Sodomite.”
But no, I’m not going to do that, because that’s false. The first thing we should know is that the term “Sodomite” never appears in the Bible. Even if it was in the Bible, it would just refer to men from Sodom. The association of “Sodomite” with homosexual relations was invented in the 1200s in Latin and Middle English, not Greek or Hebrew.
And there is another quality about words that the Bible uses. The Bible sometimes has particular words (the form of a noun) for people who engage in certain acts. For instance, one who murders is a “murderer.” There is sort-of a word for that in Greek, but it does not match to the English “homosexual.” The “men who practice homosexuality” in 1 Corinthians 6 is a translation of two Greek words — μαλακοὶ (malakoi), an adjective meaning “effeminate” and ἀρσενοκοῖται (arsenokoitai), a noun that Paul literally invented by making a compound word out of the Greek quotation of Leviticus 18:22. In contrast, non-Biblical Greek had two different words for these same ideas. It’s strange that Paul doesn’t use those words.
However, the important thing to remember is that someone who is arsenokoitai is not someone who “is homosexual.” It is someone who “does a particular act.” That is not what “homosexual” or “gay” means.
But when that Greek text is translated into English, those very specific Greek words change into “men who practice homosexuality” in the ESV, “homosexuals” in the NIV, and “effeminate,” and “abusers of themselves with mankind” in the KJV. That is the only place that “homosexuality” and “homosexuals” appears in the Bible, and it’s not in the original Greek. That is all true, but I don’t want to dwell on that. I don’t think that’s very important.
Here is what is important and what is important to know if you want to read the Bible accurately when it comes to “sexuality”:
THE MODERN IDEA OF “HOMOSEXUAL” OR “GAY” OR “LESBIAN” OR “BISEXUAL” OR “TRANSGENDER” RESTS ON CERTAIN ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT METAPHYSICS, NOT FACTS OR BIOLOGY.
THE METAPHYSICAL CONCEPTS BEHIND THESE TERMS ARE COMPLETELY FOREIGN TO THE TEXT OF SCRIPTURE.
This is ridiculously important for Christians today. It is not as if the Bible did not see people who were malakoi or arsenokoitai. It’s not that the writers of the bible did not know about people who were malakoi or arsenokotai from birth or for their entire lives.
In fact, I have good evidence that “from birth” was widely recognized when it comes to the concept of being “homosexual.” The following text comes from the ancient astrologer Vettus Valens. Here is what he says about the astrological influence of Saturn:
Saturn makes those born under him petty, malignant, care-worn, self-depreciating, solitary, deceitful, secretive in their trickery, strict, downcast, with a hypocritical air, squalid, black-clad, importunate, sad-looking, miserable, with a nautical bent, plying waterside trades. . . . Saturn is indicative of injuries arising from cold and moisture, such as dropsy, neuralgia, gout, cough, dysentery, hernia, spasms. It is indicative of these syndromes: possession, homosexuality, and depravity. Saturn makes bachelors and widows, bereavements, and childlessness. It causes violent deaths by water, strangulation, imprisonment, or dysentery. It also causes falling on the face. It is the star of Nemesis; it is of the day sect. It is like castor in color and astringent in taste.
In other words, “it’s not a choice,” it’s “a syndrome.” Further, look at how Valens describes the effect of the sign of Leo:
Leo is indicative of the flanks, the loin, the heart, courage, vision, sinews. Under this sign the following occur: lunacy or superstitious terrors, convulsions/wounds caused by violence or vice, or resulting from bravery or asceticism, loss of limbs, amputation, injury to the eyes. It is also the cause of foul odors. It also causes ugliness, amputations, fractures, falls from high places or from animals, bites from wild beasts, and injuries from buildings collapsing and from burns, as well as depression, cancer, and homosexuality.
In other words, “I was born this way. . . . . . specifically under the influence of Leo in my flanks, loin, vision, and heart.” But of course, that’s not the only way to make someone gay. Look at what we read later:
If Mars is in opposition to the moon, with Saturn and the sun in aspect, the husband will be an acknowledged homosexual.
Love transmitting or receiving in operative signs, with benefics in conjunction or aspect, brings about moral desires and makes men lovers of the good: some turn to education and physical or artistic training; they are softened by their delight in their hopes and they do not consider their forethought/goal a matter of difficulty. Others are enchanted by love and intimacy with men and women, and they consider to be good. Mars and Mercury in aspect or in conjunction with this place (especially if they are in their own signs) make homosexuals, men criticized with both sexes, or those who are fond of weapons, hunting, or wrestling. Venus intimacy with women; men when loved will sometimes love in return.
And look at how this plays out in (according to Valens) a particularly unfortunate natal birth chart:
Another example: sun in Aquarius, moon in Virgo, Saturn in Taurus, Jupiter, Ascendant in Gemini, Mars in Cancer, Venus in Pisces, Mercury in Capricorn, the Lot of Fortune in Capricorn, Daimon in Scorpio. Malefics were in opposition to the Lots. The native was homosexual and had unmentionable vices, because Capricorn is a lewd sign and its ruler was in Taurus, a pathic sign. Scorpio also indicates this kind of vice
That’s right. The “native.” A native is someone who is born. Valens is saying that this person was gay from birth.
If you don’t believe me, click this link to read it yourself. This was written in the 100s AD, but was written as a collection of previous and old practices. In other words, the “gay-dar” of ancient peoples was definitely a thing. It’s not that the Bible doesn’t mention it because “they had no idea.” It is not that they were ignorant. Not at all. Instead:
The Bible doesn’t utilize nouns like “sexuality” or “homosexual” or “transsexual” quite deliberately. This choice is not one of ignorance or happenstance. It is a deliberate choice about how to organize the world with words.
Therefore, we shouldn’t believe that the concepts related to “sexuality” are ignored in the Bible out of “ignorance.” Not at all. We also shouldn’t believe that certain “facts” were not observed by the writers of the Bible (be it “God” or otherwise). That isn’t the case, wasn’t the case, and never has been the case.
This is especially true with certain assumptions about “sexuality.” Two different people can see a single set of “facts” and come to radically different conclusions about what is happening based on their language, culture, and pre-existing assumptions that determine how ideas are categorized with words. n.
The Way People Organize the World With Their Words
I want to drill down on that last point about how it is not “facts” but “language, culture, andWhat the last section did with “horses” and “cars,” try to do it with issues of sexuality. Two people can observe the same set of facts, and come to completely different conclusions based on how we categorize words in our minds.
- Think of hypothetical Person #1. He has a wife and kids. Then, he comes out of the closet, divorces his wife of 40 years, and marries a new partner. Was he gay all along? Was he bisexual all along? Did he become gay? Did he choose to become gay by divorcing his wife? The answer to these questions does not depend on any particular FACT. Instead, it depends on how you organize the world.
- Think of hypothetical Person #2. This person was born with testicles and a penis. Then, the person starts wearing clothes of a different sex. Then, the person goes all the way, gets surgery, removes their sexual organs, gets plastic surgery, and uses the law to get a new sex, gender, and name. Was this person a man or woman all along? Was this person transsexual all along? Did the person become trans? Did the person chose to become trans by undergoing the surgery, or by a different event? The answer these questions does not depend on any particular FACT. Instead, it depends on how you organize the world with your words.
- Go even further. What if Person #1 married Person #2. Is that a gay marriage? Is it a straight marriage? What do you even call that? The answer to these questions does not depend on any particular FACT. Instead, it depends on how you organize the world with your words.
This is what Christians should understand about the Bible and certain words in the culture that deal with “sexuality.” The differences between the Bible and the culture do not result from any disagreements about “facts.” Instead, they result from speaking a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT LANGUAGE that ORGANIZES THE WORLD in a completely different way.
As a Christian in a certain situation, we might be forced to decide which language we will speak. But there is more important issue that cannot be avoided. We must decide what we will BELIEVE, even when we are not forced to decide what we will speak.
Why Different People Organize the World Differently With their Words
A good example is the tribe of the Comanches, who were some of the most fearsome mounted warriors in the 1800s. They were known as the greatest horsemen and warriors that ever lived. Note what a first person observer described about how they were able to fight:
“Amongst their feats of riding, there is one that has astonished me more than anything of the kind I have ever seen, or expect to see, in my life:—a stratagem of war, learned and practiced by every young man in the tribe; by which he is able to drop his body upon the side of his horse at the instant he is passing, effectually screened from his enemies’ weapons as he lays in a horizontal position behind the body of his horse, with his heel hanging over the horses’ back; by which he has the power of throwing himself up again, and changing to the other side of the horse if necessary. In this wonderful condition, he will hang whilst his horse is at fullest speed, carrying with him his bow and his shield, and also his long lance of fourteen feet in length, all or either of which he will wield upon his enemy as he passes; rising and throwing his arrows over the horse’s back, or with equal ease and equal success under the horse’s neck.” (Catlin, Letters and Notes, vol. 2, no. 42, 1841; reprint 1973)
Below is a sketch of that happening. Not until the advent of the repeating rifle were white settlers in Texas able to establish a foothold in their territory against tactics like these.
You can notice that the white horse looks like a unicorn. It’s not. That’s what it looks like when a Comanche has a lance in his hand and is shielding himself with his horse. Not only that, but if you killed the horse, then the Comanches were able to pick up wounded warriors from the ground, from a different horse WHILE IN MOTION, without stopping, and deliver the warrior to another horse that was waiting. It was absolutely spectacular.
But notice something strange about their language and culture. In “Empire of the Summer Moon,” S.C. Gwynne describes the Comanches in the following way:
They were in most ways typical hunter-gatherers. But even among such peoples, the Comanches had a remarkably simple culture. They had no agriculture and had never feld trees or woven baskets or made pottery or built houses. They had little or no social organization beyond the hunting band. Their culture contained no warrior societies, no permanent priest class. They had no Sun Dance. in social development they were culturally aeons behind the dazzlingly urban Aztecs, or the stratified, highly organized clan-based Iroquois; they were in all ways utterly unlike the tribes from the American souteast, who in the period from AD 700 to 1700 built sophisticated cultures around maize agriculture that featured large towns, priest-chiefs, clans, and matrilineal descent.” (Empire of the Summer Moon, p. 27)
But notice how the Comanches were able to talk about what mattered to them:
While the Comanches had a limited vocabulary to describe most things — a trait common to primitive peoples — their equine lexicon was large and minutely descriptive. For color alone, there were distinct Comanche words for brown, light bay, reddish brown, black, white, blue, dun, sorrel, roan, red, yellow, yellow-horse-with-a-black main-and-tail; red, sorrel, and black pintos. There were even words to describe horses with red, yellow, and black ears. (Empire of the Summer Moon, p. 34)
Why were there so many words for the way that horses looked? Because horses MATTERED TO THEM. In fact, it was about the only thing that mattered to them. In contrast, what words did the Comanches have for Anglos, Welsh, Scotch-Irish, Irish, Americans, English, and Dutch? “The White Man.” You get the picture?
In a similar way, there is a reason we have words and concepts for coupes, sedans, sport-utility vehicles, vans, recreational vehicles, crossovers, luxury vehicles, trucks, convertibles, hybrids, limousines, motorcycles, go-karts, and minivans. We may think that these are OBVIOUS divisions of categories that are grounded in “fact.” But it’s not so easy to know, and even when it is easy to know (for instance, because Ford says so), these distinctions are rather arbitrary. Consider the question, “Is a Chevrolet El Camino a coupe or a pickup truck?”
The answer depends on how you organize the world of cars. Notice that someone could call it a coupe and another could call it a pickup truck, even though they don’t disagree on any particular FACT about the vehicle. Instead, the disagreement is on how you organize concepts in your mind. You organize concepts in your mind based on what is important.
With this background, why do you think that the ancient world’s various words for sexual relations have been reduced to a single a-moral and clinical word of “sex?” I think the linguistics of the Comanches can give us a hint.
What is important to modern Americans today? What is not?
The Moral Imperatives of Organizing the World With Words
That might sound like pie-in-the sky philosophy, but unfortunately, whether we like it or not, this philosophy has a way of becoming very practical. Sometimes people will disagree on certain facts on sex (such as whether chromosomes, genitals, or a range of factors determines the “sex” of the person). Sometimes people will disagree on certain facts on sexual orientation (such as whether it is permanent, intrinsic, nature, nurture, and whether it can be changed or whether it SHOULD be changed, even if such a change is possible). Those are nice questions for another day. I want to talk about something much more basic, even when we do not disagree on any particular “fact.”
Is there a moral imperative NOT to adopt a particular way of organizing the world? I put forward an emphatic YES. But to make this point without the ensuing controversy, I’d like to do it on a more simple subject, where I can ask a few simple questions:
- Do you know what the word “ugly” means?
- Have you ever met an “ugly” person?
- What about the word “beautiful”?
- Have you ever met a “beautiful” person?
If you were forced to categorize someone as “pretty” or “ugly,” would you be able to do it? Do you believe that some people just have good genes, and are just born beautiful? Likewise, do you accept that some people are just born ugly, and — though they can definitely do some things to improve their appearance like work out, eat healthy, and dress well — that they will never rise to the same level of beauty of people whose cheek-bones, metabolism, and skin-tone just sets them above the rest of the crowd?
Most people wouldn’t proclaim these things out loud (because it is certainly not polite), but it is hard to deny that “ugly” and “beautiful” are things that exist, and which people can generally recognize. Some people just ARE beautiful. And sure, beauty is often in the eye of the beholder, and sure, this beauty doesn’t make them any better or worse than anyone else (though some vain people might have a disagreement on “fact” in that case), but it is hard to deny something quite basic about how the world is categorized:
Christian Ronaldo has something that Paul Giamatti does not have. No matter how much respect you have for Paul Giamatti (and I have a TON of it), you cannot in good conscience say that they are on the same level when it comes to the concepts of beauty/ugly. The same goes for Margaret Thatcher and Gal Godot. These are facts, people. We have to recognize it, even if we don’t have to rudely proclaim it.
But let’s make it more difficult. Are these statuses fixed? Will they ever change? Are they the most significant facts about Christian Ronaldo, Paul Giamatti, Margaret Thatcher, or Gal Godot? That’s where things get complicated. So let’s return to the issue of sexuality now that we’ve muddied the waters:
ARE THE CATEGORIES IN YOUR MIND FOR “GAY AND STRAIGHT” SIMILAR OR DIFFERENT THAN THE CONCEPTS OF “BEAUTIFUL” AND “UGLY”?
SHOULD THEY BE THE WAY THEY ARE?
That is the question of morality. I don’t have to deny any “fact” about homosexual attraction or science or biology to say “I don’t categorize the world in that way, and I refuse to do so.” That doesn’t mean that I will refuse to believe someone who tells me they are gay. Instead, it will only mean that I do not care about the “fact” that I hold in my brain.
So let’s apply that to the real world. Someone believes and proclaims (perhaps with some evidentiary support) that they are “ugly,” that they were born “ugly,” and that therefore they have decided to simply live like the world tells them how “ugly” people should live.
IN SUCH A CASE, HOW ARE YOU MORALLY OBLIGED TO RESPOND?
Take out “ugly” and insert “homosexual,” and you will see the moral imperative of recognizing that the Bible says nothing about “homosexuals.” It also does not provide any guidance on someone who is “ugly” or “beautiful.” Instead, scripture deliberately decides to ignore such topics.
For instance, remember how Paul directly commands his readers to organize the world differently from those outside the church when it comes to “ugly” and “beauty”:
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Peter 3:1-4)
That is what Peter does with “beauty.” In the same way, I utterly refuse — on scriptural grounds — to give credit and moral weight to concepts like “homosexual.” I am perfectly able to understand what the words mean, and I am free to think and wonder and believe or doubt certain “facts” regarding these concepts.
BUT I WILL NOT ORGANIZE THE WORLD THIS WAY IN MY MIND.
I won’t. And I refuse to do so. In the same way, if a girl with and eating disorder declares that she is “fat” or “ugly,” I am not going to fight her on definitions at that point (though the time may come). However, I do have a moral obligation to REFUSE to join her in the way she categorizes the world in her mind.
A Christian Refusal to Join The World and Its Words
In the same way, I think it is vitally important that Christians REFUSE to categorize the world with terms like “homosexual” or “transsexual” or “bisexual.” We are free to say these words, but saying and believing are two different things.
The Bible gives different terms for the same set of facts. We have Male and Female. That’s about it. It is not that that is “ignorantly” the only words we have. Those words are DELIBERATELY the only words we have. We are not forced to ignore the complicated medical issues that make “male and female” complicated for a small minority of people (which, I might add, is a MUCH SMALLER minority than what typically gets thrown around in LGBT activist medical circles).
We are also free to notice that the Bible has concepts that are actaully more specific than the words we have for ourselves. Notice that the Bible also has a noun (not an adjective) that we do not use often, both in Hebrew (סָרִיס – saris) and Greek (εὐνοῦχος – eunouchos). The word is “eunuch” and it means:
(a) a chamberlain, keeper of the bed-chamber of an eastern potentate, eunuch, (b) a eunuch, castrated person, or one who voluntarily abstains from marriage. (Strong’s Concordance)
In light of the stuff going on in our current sexual confusion, I think we need to get used to these concepts, and start organizing our thoughts in the way that the Bible organizes its thoughts. When we analyze facts (which Christians are free to reasonably disagree about) we should not adjusting the categories of Scripture to correspond to the categories of the world. Instead, we should analyze facts by organizing the world to the categories of Scripture.
The bad news is that doing so will lead to some VERY DISAPPOINTING answer to “hot-button” questions. It might look like you are waffling on an important issue, when actually you are being quite technical in a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT LANGUAGE. For instance:
- Is homosexuality a sin? Well, yes and no: There are no status crimes in Scripture, but there is sexual immorality. It depends on what you mean.
- Do homosexuals go to heaven or hell? Both. And neither? What do you mean by that? What is a homosexual?
- What should I say if my son tells me he is homosexual? Well, I don’t know. If you don’t put any weight into categories like “gay” and “straight,” then your ability to confirm this status is just as vapid as your ability to deny this status. The Bible doesn’t give you any guidance on how to treat “a homosexual.” It only offers guidance on how to treat “sons.”
- What does the Bible say about Transsexuals? I don’t know. Let me clarify. Are these transsexuals that are eunuchs or transsexuals that are not eunuchs?
- Etc. Etc. Etc.
I’m not going to tell you this isn’t weird. I’m not going to tell you that you must insist on your own “language” when talking about these issues with non-Christians. However, I am going to tell you that if you want to think about what scripture says about the world, you have to speak the same conceptual language as scripture.
The Importance of Competing Conceptual Languages
While there can be some apathy on some philosophical questions, we should not think that this means that nothing matters. Sometimes, the way you organize the world can be RIDICULOUSLY SERIOUS. Though people can agree on the SAME FACTS, the way they organize the world can have SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES.
I’ll give the examples through developments in Astronomy and Medicine.
People in ancient cultures observed the SAME FACTS about the sky as you and I observe when we look at the sky. But they had completely different concepts of what was happening, and this was reflected in their language.
Take astronomy, for instance. Very serious scientists making very serious observations used to view “the stars” (as we understand them) as “the fixed stars,” because they did not move. They described them as the “heavenly sphere” that moves around the earth in a daily motion. The planets were called the “wandering stars” because unlike the fixed stars, the did not stay in their place, and they “wandered.” So stars and planets were both “stars.” Also, comets were “stars,” too.
Further, the “stuff” on earth was combinations of the four elements, earth, air, fire, and water, which were combinations of an even more basic concepts of “hot” or “cold” and “heavy” or “light.” On the other hand, the “stuff” in the sky, beyond the air (which was believed to have stopped at the moon, the only heavenly body that actually changes, like stuff here on earth), was “aether.” That was the fifth element that no one cloud touch, but which everyone knew existed.
Similarly, there are certain words and concepts for certain observations of the sky. These would include things like “the spheres of the heavens” and “epicycles.” These concepts have been proven FALSE, because they do not match with what we have later known. But they describe TRUE phenomena.
After Copernicus and Galileo and Kepler and Newton, these ideas and ways of organizing the world went away. They are only preserved in language. Interestingly, there are places you will and won’t see the “seven heavens” or the “spheres of heaven” or the “elements” of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water mentioned. The Koran does so. So do ancient encyclopedias (like Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis and Ovid’s Creation story). The Bible does not.
However, if you were to travel back in time and experience the work of an ancient astronomer, I would highly recommend this. It would expand your knowledge and provide a meaningful addition to your life and knowledge.
People in ancient times experienced pain and had most all of the same diseases we have today, in differing amounts. But they had completely different concepts about what was happening, and this led to different ways to TREAT illnesses than today.
While Earth, Fire, Air, and Water was the stuff that composed the world, the bodily fluids of blood, phlegm, yellow bile (aka choleric), and black bile (aka melancholy) were important for health. The sub-parts of “hot” and “dry” made choleric. “Hot” and “wet” made blood. “Cold” and “wet” made phlegm. “Cold” and “dry” made black bile. These facts controlled both psychological and physical well-being. This is why we say that someone has a “bad temper,” because the effect of the imbalance (the “temper”) is causing someone to be very angry.
These also affect various diseases, and the art of medicine is to get them back into order. If someone has too much “hot and dry,” then they may become dehydrated. (This is where the digestive infectious disease of cholera gets its name. The dehydration and fever made someone quite “choleric.”) Does someone have pneumonia? That’s phlegm! Phlegm is cold and wet! Send them to a hot and dry climate! That will balance them out! Too much cold and dry can make someone “melancholy,” which is cold and dry, so go to the beach! Get some good sun and have a swim! That will fix it. Do you have a fever? That’s too much blood! Blood is hot and wet, so open a window and institute blood-letting with leeches or cuts on the arm.
…..wait…. what did you say?
Yeah. Blood-letting. You have a fever. You are too “hot,” and they have too much “wet.” We need to get rid of the hot and wet by taking out the hot and wet blood. You probably have way too much blood. We need to take your blood.
….um…. how much blood?
Oh, not very much. Maybe a cup or two…. …or five.
….um…. I’m not so sure about this.
Don’t worry, General Washington, everything will be fine! Step over here, and we’ll get this fever taken care of quite quickly! A little blood-letting, and this fever and sore throat will be just fine!
Spoiler alert: Things were not fine. That’s how George Washington died. Those doctors were not ignorant about sickness and death and fevers and stuff. They just categorized the facts that they observed differently in their mind. This different organization of facts affected how they acted.
Lesson Learned from Astronomy and Medicine
We in the modern world have a completely different way of organizing our thoughts when it comes to astronomy and medicine. This provides some useful analogies for the modern issue of “sexuality.”
For the most part, the difference in Astronomy will not cause any problems. By understanding what words like “stellarium” and “epicycle” and “spheres” and “primum mobile” mean, it might actually help you talk and interact with your neighbors. However, as soon as you decide to do something crazy, like build a rocket and travel in space, you better go to the more accurate way of organizing the world.
In contrast, the difference in Medicine will get tricky really fast. You are safe until the era of rocket-power when it comes to different ways to think about astronomy. I wouldn’t even trust Medicine as far as a headache, sore throat and fever. STAY AWAY. The effect of organizing the world in that way can get much more dangerous than normal. George Washington’s face says it all:
How Christians should Navigate New Ways of Organizing the World around “Sexuality”
How do the new ways of organizing the world regarding “sexuality” interact with the Christian faith? That’s a good question, and “it’s complicated.”
For the most part of someone’s day-to-day existence, I think it is going to be a lot like the difference between ancient and modern astronomy. We Christians may never agree with the words being used, but we can peacefully coexist with people who speak a different conceptual language. We might even be able to engage with our neighbors better by understanding and studying the way that people organize the world in their minds. Not much bad stuff will happen by doing this — so long as you realize that the words being used are not “facts” or “the truth.” They are just a way to categorize things in the world.
However, whenever you start doing theology, the astronomy analogy still holds. Theology and sexuality is analogous to building a rocket and reaching for the heavens. That is difficult stuff, and consequences are real. If you have the wrong categories — like the noun “homosexual” and the adjective “gay” as they are used in common parlance — things will not work out very well. You will need extremely accurate understandings of the world to do theology. Otherwise, your plans will fail and you will fall back down to the ground with a big fiery crash.
Therefore, it may be necessary to ignore the world’s categories without apology, excuse, or explanation. It will sometimes be necessary to completely understand what someone is telling you, while completely refusing to believe what they are saying. When asking what you believe about “gay people,” it might be necessary to say:
“I don’t actually believe in that stuff.”
This may be offensive to the person who has no other way of organizing the world, but “offensive” and “the gospel” often go hand in hand. This is why Paul remined his readers of the following:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)
So live by faith when it comes to organizing the world in your mind. It might sometimes be offensive, but it may also soon become a universal Christian duty, if it is not already one today.
But a mere mental protest of Christians among other Christians might not be enough. Sometimes our duty will spread to our non-Christian neighbors, too. In cases like… oh… I don’t know….. PUBERTY BLOCKERS AND TESTOSTERONE AND SURGERY FOR MINORS, MAYBE? This is where things get more dire, and our obligations to ignore the world’s categories are far more pressing. We may even be forced to act as a Christian duty.
The analogy here is with ancient medicine. In such a case, we should not idly stand by as our neighbors bleed to death because of a cockamamie and strange and inaccurate way to organize the world with our words, beliefs, and actions. If you have a headache and a fever, take a Tylenol and an antibiotic or something. Cutting your flesh in such a situation is not a “difference of opinion” or a place where “reasonable people can disagree.”
The same goes for concepts of “transsexual.” We should publicly declare a better way, a more accurate way, and a life-giving way of human life. As lifeguards know, sometimes you have to forcibly rescue people, because in their distress, they will thrash and cling and bring you down with them.
When that shame and criticism and true pain comes, when others reject you for the words you use, when your “faith” in the gospel brings shame, remember what Paul said:
But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:12-14)
With that in mind, remember what has been entrusted to us through the Holy Spirit in the Bible:
WORDS, WHICH CARRY BOTH MEANINGS AND ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT HOW THE WORLD IS ORGANIZED, TOO
And these words of scripture are not random or of human origin. Instead:
MEN SPOKE FROM GOD AS THEY WERE CARRIED ALONG BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
So choose your words accordingly. We should remember that Christ and Scripture give categories like male and female, forgiven and redeemed, tempted and faithful, and strong and courageous. We should also remember, as Paul tells us, of how the “categories” of the world do not work the same way with Jesus Christ:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)
In the victory of Christ, he even destroyed the world’s categories of “death” and “life” to establish his kingdom. The same spirit of Christ lives in us, and we should not be afraid to destroy categories of “sexuality” that do not correspond to the gospel. And remember:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:10-13)
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