logo1 edited 1Join us on facebook

Tears in God's wineskin: A theology of Hospitality

Part 4: Appendix

The New Testament Passages

Jesus and ‘Raca’ (Matthew 5:22-24)

The Roman Catholic biblical historian, Paul Halsall has considered whether the passage in Matthew 5:22-24 might be a possible reference to homosexuality:

“. . . I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” [1]

The phrase belongs to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus calls for a righteousness that transcends the Torah, in order to belong to the kingdom of God. The significant words in the passage are ‘raca’ (the Hebrew rhaka) and ‘fool’ (the Greek, moros). Halsall notes that Raca is not a Greek word and the Matthean passage is the only place where it is found in a Greek text. Most translations mention only that it is a Hebrew word and generally ignore it or mention only that it is a general term of abuse. Referring to the transliteration work of D. Greenberg and Warren Johannssen, Halsall confirms that ‘raca’ has its roots in a variety of semitic languages where it means ‘soft’ and is generally associated with effeminacy or weakness. The Akkadian word ‘raq’ is used to denote a woman’s name or occupation, and is derived from a Summerian symbol for woman, thus it may be argued that ‘Raca’ is an accusation of being ‘effeminate,’ or of being a catamite.

Halsall’s argument is certainly stronger when the word ‘Moros’ is considered, since the word can mean ‘fool’, but may also suggest a sexual aggressor, or even ‘homosexual aggressor.’ [2] Warren Johannsen, however, makes much more of the word and argues that Jesus is strongly condemning those who verbally abuse homosexuals with public name-calling, suggesting that if Jesus condemns the abuse of homosexuals, then he is actually defending homosexuals. Unfortunately, it is an entirely improvable reading, but when we consider the frequency with which Jesus opposes contemporary Judaism, and remember the significant commendation by Jesus of those who are “eunuchs for the kingdom of Heaven,” it does become a credible understanding of the text.


Idolatrous Gentiles (Romans 1:24-27)

 Paul seemingly refers to the subject of homosexuality in his letter to the church at Rome and his commentary is condemnatory. In the context of a much larger argument on the need for all people to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ, certain same-sex behaviour is given as an example of the “uncleanness” of idolatrous Gentiles, although it is worth noting that scholarship has questioned whether Paul is referring to Gentiles in particular, since ‘ehthnē’ the word normally translated as ‘Gentile’ does not occur in this passage. [3] However, Paul’s argument refers specifically to activities within idolatry, strongly implying he is referring to Gentiles whether or not he uses the term ‘ehthnē.’ Regarding homosexuality, the question we need to raise is, does what Paul speaks of refer to homosexuality in general, or does it concern specific behaviour known to him and his readers at that time?

Scholars like Robin Scroggs propose that Paul’s criticism should not be taken seriously, because the culture of the day regarded homosexuality positively and he asserts that the general attitude of the Greeks towards homosexual relationships was openly tolerant, since they were widely accepted and even honoured in some areas of society, with only homosexual prostitution being condemned. [4] Scroggs further suggests that Paul’s argument in Romans 1 simply reflects the Hellenistic Jewish model of the day and that Paul was neither concerned nor upset by the idea of same-sex relations. [5] Other writers, like Utely, are convinced Paul is speaking of all homosexual acts and passing a straight forward, general condemnation of all non-heterosexuals, “Homosexuality is probably listed as one example of the fallen life because of the entire context’s orientation to Genesis 1-3. Mankind was made in God’s image (cf. Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1, 3; 9:6). Mankind was made male and female (cf. Gen. 1:27). God’s command was to be fruitful and multiply (cf. Gen. 1:28; 9:1, 7). Mankind's fall (cf. Genesis 3) disrupted God's plan and will. Homosexuality is an obvious violation! All sins show mankind’s separation from God and their deserved punishment. All sin, especially lifestyle sin, is abhorrent to God.” [6] Other scholars share this sentiment, such as Grant Osborne, who believes Paul is speaking in Hebrew terms and not referring to Hellenistic practices, [7] also Thomas Schreiner [8] and Douglas Moo. [9] Stephen D. Moore considers that sexual proclivity of the day way varied immensely across the community and suggests that, “Romans 1:26-27 is but the tip of the socio-sexual iceberg. And the iceberg, like most, is a chilling one.” [10]

Thomas Hanks, in his commentary on Romans reminds us that the churches Paul addressed contained a large number of slaves who could not avoid the sexual services commonly demanded of them by the higher ranks of Roman society. [11] They could, however, fulfil the expectation of loving neighbour and avoid harming, oppressing or exploiting others. He points out, “This perception thus unmasks any notion of an ‘ethical absolute’ against ‘homosexuality’ as totally oblivious to the socio-economic historical context and hopelessly anachronistic.” [12] Paul condemns in sexual terms the exploitative, violent and oppressive attitudes and demands of slave owners and insists instead on loving neighbour as a norm that fulfils the spirit of Mosaic Law and reflects the good news of saving grace received through Jesus Christ.

Hanks also astutely notes that in recent centuries fundamentalist type churches have moved from endlessly citing Paul in defence of slavery and the suppression of women - forgetting that Paul addressed churches largely consisting of slaves – to citing Paul incessantly to promote homophobia and attack non-heterosexuals. Modern paraphrases substitute ‘servants’ for the more literal ‘slaves’ and add the neologism ‘homosexuals’ to Paul’s theological vocabulary, resulting in the virtual disappearance of slaves from our hermeneutical matrix and the promotion of violence against sexual minorities.

The letter to the Roman church was written to both Jewish and Gentile Christians who would, without question, have been familiar with the immorality, overindulgences and sexual excesses of their contemporaries, particularly the rumours of what the Roman emperors and their courts participated in. Robert Jewett refers to how Emperor Nero was heavily criticised for his Greek feminine dress and public displays of bisexual tendencies. [13] The Roman Christians would also have been aware of tensions in the early church regarding Gentiles and the observance of Jewish Law, as noted in Acts 15 and Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul was writing to Jewish Christians who thought themselves significantly better than Gentile Christians and to Gentile Christians who believed themselves favoured over Jewish Christians and the Apostle saw the need to take both groups down a notch or two, pointing out that all people need the grace and salvation that comes through Christ and neither group should regard itself as better than the other.

Important to Paul’s argument is the fact that ‘unclean’ Gentiles exchanged what was ‘natural’ for them (physin) for what was ‘unnatural’ for them (para physin); similarly in Galatians 4:8, “You were slaves to those who by nature (physei) are not gods.” This is actualised by many to mean Gentiles became homosexual purely because in modern parlance the term unnatural acts has, for many homophobic people, become synonymous with homosexuality. Paul’s words are literally understood to mean that to be homosexual is an unnatural state for any human being. However, later in Paul’s letter, God acts in an “unnatural” way (para physin) to accept the Gentiles after centuries of choosing only the Jews (Rom 11:24), but no one would suggest this means God became a homosexual. What might be better considered is that what is so for God, in bringing Gentiles into the fold of Israel, is exactly so for the Gentiles Paul mentions.

Contrary to a modern understanding of the word ‘unnatural,’ these passages do not refer to a violation of the laws of nature, but rather speak of acting in a way that contradicts one’s own usual or habitual character as expected by others; in literal terms it speaks of a form of ‘travesty,’ a wilful distortion, as implied by the use of μετά (1:25), rather than ‘exchanged.’ In this sense, it may be valid to observe that if it is a travesty for a heterosexual to indulge in homosexual acts, it is also a travesty for a homosexual to indulge in heterosexual acts. Paul’s direct point is that a symptom of Gentile idolatry is that everything they did was affected by their idolatry - even acting sexually in way that was a travesty of what was generally expected of them.

Practices contrary to what was expected occurred frequently in and around pagan temples throughout the Mediterranean world in Paul's time; the writer of the Book of Wisdom refers to certain activities, and in far more detail than Paul does. [14] Such practices would have included women dressing up as satyrs with large phalli in order to penetrate their willing partners rather than be the ones penetrated, which is exactly the type of travestying or role exchange Paul is referring to. Clement of Alexandria, speaking on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, similarly comments on the subject in one of his letters:

“Such godless people ‘God has given over,’ the Apostle says, ‘to shameful lusts, for the women change their natural use to that which is against nature’ . . . Blurring the natural order, men play the part of women, and women play the part of men, contrary to nature . . . No passage is closed against evil lusts; and their sexuality is a public institution - they are roommates with indulgence.” [15]

Clement’s point being that idolatry leads to the total abandonment of all forms of appropriate behaviour. As Hultgren notes, quoting Pelagius, “Lust, once unbridled, knows no limit.” [16]

Perhaps unsurprisingly, antiquity gives us far more information about the kind of activities involving men than what women experienced. The cults of Cybele, Attis and Aphrodite were prolific, and the largest known temple, rumoured to have around 1,000 temple prostitutes and be full of the images of animals, lions and snakes in particular, was in Corinth from where Paul most likely wrote his letter to the Roman church. The cult of Cybele in particular had a strong cross-dressing element and the rites involved orgiastic events during which men allowed themselves to be penetrated, and could be concluded with some men swept up in the frenzy castrating themselves to become eunuch priests, or galli, of Cybele. [17] In the Cybele and Attis myth, Cybele remains a virgin and Attis is castrated, although both remain sexually active and engage in acts that could not produce children, whether castration was a factor or not. As with most Mother Goddess cults, transcending gender was of particular importance and castrated devotees were assumed to possess prophetic gifts or magical powers.

Paul’s readers would have needed no explanation of this, being a regular occurrence in local religious life. It is reasonable to deduce that Paul was referring to the newly castrated men as those who were receiving in their persons the due penalty for their error, or possibly he was speaking of the general strangeness of their demeanour and appearance. John Ziesler supports the idea that “throughout this passage Paul is talking about the moral characteristics of paganism, as he sees them” and considers verse 7 to possibly refer to sexually transmitted disease, gender-swapping or simply that the idolaters’ perversion is punishment in itself. [18] Whatever Paul meant, his readers would have understood his words exactly, simply because any respectable Jew could point out that castration, for example, was precisely the sort of stupid thing Gentiles suffered as a result of their idolatry. [19]

Paul develops his understanding of how the basic human problem is one of desire, although it is at this same level of desire that we are saved by and through Christ when desire changes from blindness to seeing; a change in desire which even the Mosaic Law - good in itself - could never affect. A similar analysis of desire led St Augustine to develop his doctrine of Original Sin, the purpose of which is to enable an understanding of how humanity suffers in essence from these same patterns of distorted desire and consequently no one is in a position to judge others, because, unlike God, we are incapacitated to judge, being distorted by our social belonging. From Paul’s perspective then, if Pharisees in the light of Christ’s teaching could not judge prostitutes, then Jews should not judge Gentiles or Gentiles judge Jews.

Romans 1:26 is the only biblical statement that possibly refers to lesbian sexual behaviour, although the actual intent of this verse is not at all clear. Perhaps the best possible explanation is again in reference to the Cybele cults although it is possible the verse refers generally to women adopting dominants roles in heterosexual relationships. Stephen D. Moore notes how Paul lists female homoerotic acts first, suggesting that this is because he regards it as more heinous in females than in males, aligning with Greek/Roman thought of the day.   He says, “[S]uch a woman – if that indeed is what ‘she’ was – pissed in the sacred waters of gender itself and sent ripples of alarm through the minds and texts of elite Greco-Roman males, the letter to the Romans included.” [20]

Moore further notes how, “Purity of gender was no mere abstraction for such males; rather they perceived it as having social consequences of the most concrete and immediate kind.” [21] Since the concept of honour existed only for males, the idea of a male being sexually submissive to another male may have meant loss of honour for the submissive male but the gain of honour for the dominant male. However, the anomalous idea of a woman gaining honour by acting like a male and dominating another woman meant the loss of honour for all males and thus female homoeroticism was considered a crime against all men and therefore the gods, or indeed God, as Paul viewed it. True sex, between a man and woman is to true worship as un-sex between two people of the same sex, is to idolatry. Consequently, the underlying soteriology in Paul’s thought is that Christ submitted himself perfectly and absolutely to God, displaying total obedience to God and reverence for him. Jesus, in full submission to God – and ultimately on the Cross – models perfectly the submissiveness that should be related by the God-fearing woman to the male.

When we consider that literary references specifically naming and referring to homosexuality were virtually unknown before the nineteenth century and extreme homophobia and is, broadly speaking, a modern day phenomena, such an understanding is quite possible given the repressive cultural expectations placed on women in Paul’s time. Hultgren suggests that the text should not be read as ‘against nature’ but ‘beyond nature,’ “In the sense that the women exceeded the bounds of what is natural or normal” for women and that Paul is not speaking of same gender relationships but rather of “behaviour flowing from ‘degrading passions’ that, in turn, have come into being due to idolatry, which is the cause of disorientation.” [22] Other suggestions are that it refers to women having sex during the menstrual period, which makes sense of Paul’s previous reference in v.24 concerning impurity, or that it is a reference to anal intercourse as opposed to vaginal, which is similarly valid. Ultimately, however, the burden of proof that the verse concerns lesbian sex actually rests on those who make the claim and not on the language Paul uses in his letter from which it can be neither proved nor disproved.

The same-sex practices cited in Romans 1:24-27 were believed by Paul to be a result of idolatry and are associated with the offences he notes in Romans 1:18-23. The heart of his argument concerns the danger of putting what has been created before the Creator who made it, and turning to idolatry, which would have included indulging in idolatrous same-sex acts rather than being passionate for a holy God and living in accordance with the sexual orientation God creates in each individual. This is emphasised when Paul criticises the Gentiles for their foolishness in seeing God in the whole of creation and consequently choosing to worship images of humans, birds and snakes. The Apostle asserts that, on top of their sins, the Gentiles are blighted and their culture is filled with unclean practices because of their idolatry. They knew God and could see God throughout creation, but failed to worship him.

In Paul’s mind, sin and impurities go together amongst the Gentiles and there, flourish and grow culturally because they have exchanged the worship of God for a lie. This, as Jewett rightly observes, is the ultimate lie – replacing God with the human self, as the prophets “referred to idolaters as speaking and trusting ‘lies’ about God (Hos.7:13; Jer. 13:25; cf. Isa. 59:13), but the singular use of ‘the lie’ in Romans implies an antecedent act from which all lies about God derive, namely the primordial desire of humans to ‘be like God’ and to define evil and good themselves.” [23]

Understood in its larger context, the acts referred to in Romans 1 are significantly different from those of loving and responsible relationships of lesbians and gay men who do not worship idols. It is not same-sex partnerships, male or female, that Paul attacks in his letter, but the lack of wisdom in turning away from the Creator and becoming obsessed with what is created, the uppermost level of that being sexual self-indulgence with others in idolatry.


Malakoi & Arsenokoitai (1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10)

Any reference to a statement from Paul regarding same-sex acts needs to be considered in the light of the Greco-Roman and Jewish societies in which Paul ministered and wrote his letters. Pederasty (sexual relationships between adult men and teenage boys) and prostitution were the best known male-to-male sex-acts and would have been prevalent at that time. Pederasty was even considered a status symbol for rich Roman men who had wives, children and slaves, land and property, and who were generally heterosexual. In 1 Cor. 6:9 Paul condemns those who are “morally weak” and “abusers of themselves with mankind.” He says of these and others that they will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

Regrettably, some very poor translations of the Bible render these words “effeminate” and “homosexuals” or even “homosexual offenders”, which actually makes little sense of what Paul is writing about and reveals how misleading such mistranslations can be, as reflected in Barton Johnson’s work, “The church is God's kingdom on earth, and its faithful members ‘inherit’ the heavenly kingdom (Mt. 25:34) . . . Let no one make the mistake of thinking that any unrighteous man shall be an heir. Effeminate: this and the next clause refer to a shameful crime quite prevalent among the heathen, the first submitting themselves to the foul sensuality, and the second actively “abusing themselves with men,” contrary to nature. Both are Sodomites.” [24]

The first significant word Paul uses, ‘malakoi’ in the Greek text, refers to someone who lacks discipline or personal moral control; they are without restraint, morally soft, unprincipled and lacking integrity. The word is found elsewhere in the New Testament and is never used in relation to sexuality; in Matthew 11:8 for example John the Baptist refers to soft or fine clothing. In other Greek literature it can be found in reference to butter softened or melted in the sun. The second word, ‘arsenokoitai,’ occurs once in 1 Corinthians and again in 1 Timothy, but seemingly nowhere else in comparative literature of the period. It is actually two words compounded together: ‘Arseno’, which simply means ‘men’ and ‘Koitai’ which comes from ‘bedroom’ or ‘bed’ and euphemistically means ‘lying with’ or ‘having sexual intercourse with’ someone as the active or penetrating partner. The literal phrase translates as ‘man-lyer’ or, more graphically as ‘man-penetrator.’

When ‘arseno’ and ‘koitai’ are compounded, the difficulty is that all meaning behind the two words is lost. ‘Man’ may refer to the gender of the sexual agent, or it may mean the desired object of the sexual act. In other words, it is wholly unclear whether ‘arsenokoitai’ refers to a man having sex with another person or to a man having sex specifically with another man. In the first instance the word involves the active male partner engaging in intercourse with anyone. In the second instance the word refers to the active male partner specifically involved with another man. However, from the words themselves, Paul’s intended meaning is simply not determinable.

William Hendriksen is categorical that in 1 Timothy arsenokoitai refers to all homosexuals, male and female, without exception, and calls them ‘sodomites.’ [25] William Mounce, speaking of the 1 Timothy list as a Decalogue reflecting the 10 Commandments and, after discussing adultery, active male prostitution and the active older males in pederastic relationships, concludes simply, “Whatever the specific meaning of άρσενοκοίτης in 1 Tim. 1:10, it denotes a type of illicit sexual activity that breaks the 7th commandment.” [26] Similarly, Donald Guthrie considers the verse to be a reference to extreme violations of adultery. [27]

Unfortunately, language does not always follow rational patterns. In English, “out of sight, out of mind” could be literally understood as “invisible madman”, even though we know that it means that if something is not in front of us we neither long for it nor miss it. Similarly, if we say someone is “dressed to kill” we are not suggesting they are about to commit murder but rather that they look glamorous and attractive. We know and understand such phrases because they belong to the idioms of our culture and Paul’s readers would have understood his phrases for exactly the same reason.  

It is fascinating to observe how the word ‘malakoi’ has been translated biblically over the centuries. From the late 1300s to the late 1500s the word favoured was weakling [28] not unlike the true meaning of ‘malakoi.’ During the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s, the term developed to become “effeminate.” [29] In 1913 Moffat introduced “catamites;” 1941 saw the arrival of “Sodomites” in the New American Bible and in 1958 the term “those who participate in homosexuality” was used in the Amplified Bible. The 1970s, 1980s and 1990s favoured either “homosexuals,” [30] “boy prostitutes” or “male prostitutes,” [31] although one or two later versions preferred “perverts,” “one who is less than a man,” or even “men kept for unnatural purposes.” [32] Since the turn of the new century has appeared an assortment of, “male prostitutes,” “homosexuals,” “those who use and abuse each other,” and “passive homosexual partners.” [33] It is interesting that even briefly dipping in to the variety of biblical translations over the ages a vast difference is revealed between good scholarship and what has been socially assumed and thus consequently reflected in translation at any given time.

Substantial scholars may differ on the full meaning of Paul’s use of ‘malakoi’ and ‘arsenokoitai’, but they generally agree that he is speaking of a form of prostitution, as does Scroggs, [34] either in the form of paid-for pleasure purchased by a client, or for self-gain involving the cultivation of a carefully chosen elderly companion in order to inherit their estate; the Roman poet and satirist Juvenal makes fun of exactly this kind of (heterosexual) affair. [35] Male prostitutes were not slaves, but free men who sold themselves to other men who desired sexual gratification. It was considered by many to be a degrading way to make a living and the Stoics in particular questioned the exploitation involved. Paul, therefore, was not being particularly counter cultural in deploring such behaviour.

Those scholars who do not view ‘malakoi’ and ‘arsenokoitai’ as male prostitution generally understand Paul’s meaning to be pederasty, ‘malakoi’ being a ‘soft’ boy or very young man and ‘arsenokoitai’ being the active, much older adult male. Nigel Watson takes this view, understanding that, “The underlying Greek words probably refer to the passive and active partners in a homosexual (usually pederastic) relationship,” but he concludes that Paul’s sense here is “some form of ruthless self-gratification, reckless of other people’s rights.” [36] Anthony Thiselton discusses at length whether malakoi arsenokoitai refers to passive-active partners in a pederastic relationship or to male prostitution, but points out that Paul’s primary point is to condemn abusive relations whatever their form, since they reflect practices born of idolatry, while for those united in love the body and its practices occupy a position of great importance, agreeing with Kenneth Bailey and Dale Martin. [37]

Hedonistic homoerotic practices such as pederasty were widespread across the Roman Empire and more often than not would be performed by a social superior upon a social inferior. Such relations were not often faithful or exclusive and were based on little more than a Roman understanding of status and class. A high born Roman was permitted to sexually penetrate his wife, a woman of lower social standing, a prostitute, his slave or anyone of a lower status, as long as it was with consent and could not be interpreted as rape. [38] A final but unlikely possibility is that Paul is referring to child abuse, because “kidnappers” appears in the list of sins and wrong-doings noted in 1 Timothy (1:9-10). Young slaves were sometimes kept as objects of their owner’s lust and amusement, which led to attractive girls and boys occasionally being kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery by the unscrupulous for commercial gain.  

In both 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy ‘arsenokoitai’ occurs in a list of the behaviours of sinful people Paul regards as having nullified their inheritance of the Kingdom of God. It should be remembered, however, that the Kingdom of God is simply not a theme in Paul’s teaching. Thiselton notes that 21 specific moral failures are listed in Romans 1:29-31, similar to the 1 Corinthian and 1 Timothy lists, all of which stem from idolatry and many of which are the same as those listed in Wisdom 14:22-31. [39] It is likely Paul is merely repeating a list of widely accepted wrongs that people generally decried at the time. He is not particularly concerned with any specific reference, he does not write at length about any of them and he returns to none of them. Paul is encouraging his readers to be good people and he does this by reminding them of the evils of the day, with a view to their keeping well away from such things. He lists a series of known unacceptable behaviours, much in the same way we might list ‘drug abuse, street gangs, identity theft, mugging, internet bullying and child abuse’ as a modern list considered by the majority to be unacceptable behaviour.

When we sum up the lessons of 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10, the condemnation is not of same-sex acts in general but of exploitative, lewd and unrestrained sex probably, though by no means definitely, between males. This is what Paul regards as the corruption of a moral, God-filled life. Certainly across the entire range of sexual matters, the Bible calls for mutual respect, caring and responsible sharing; in a loaded word, (agape) love. It is the violation of these specifically, but not sex generally, that the Bible condemns. If anything, the important lesson from the verses of 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy is that this principle applies equally to all heterosexuals and homosexuals alike.


Alien Flesh (Jude 7)

Apart from those writers who insist the sin of Sodom was homosexual intercourse, most modern day theologians today see no reference to homosexuality in verse 7 of Jude’s one chapter letter. Nevertheless, as with any biblical text that is vague, it can be translated into whatever people want it to mean and, unfortunately, some translations of the Bible encourage misinterpretation.

Jude faults the people of Sodom for lusting after ‘strange’ or ‘alien’ flesh. The Greek says this with complete clarity with, ‘sarkos heteras’. So what exactly is Jude referring to when he speaks of “alien flesh”? When we interpret the Sodom event correctly, we read in Jude a reference to humans lusting for sexual intercourse with angels. It would be sufficient to suggest Jude’s ‘strange’ or ‘alien’ flesh referred simply to foreigners or non-Sodomites, but given Jude’s context of human-angelic interrelations this seems unlikely. In the previous verse, he alludes to a strange story from Genesis 6:1-4 (cf. 1 Enoch 12:4): “The sons of God saw the daughters of men were fair and they married any they chose.” Jude is referring to an ancient story concerning the poor behaviour of angels towards human women; Josephus speaks briefly of this odd event in Antiquities, “Some, born of angels who had consorted with women, resembled the audacious giants of Greek mythology.” [40]

Richard Kugelman interestingly points out that in Jude’s text Sodom and Gomorrah are feminine nouns, so Jude is certainly relating the similarities between the angel stories and sexual sin, firstly with the masculine angels lusting over human women and then the feminine cities lusting after angels, “Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities were destroyed because, like the angels who lusted after and sinned with women, they went after ‘strange flesh,’ i.e. flesh that was not human.” [41]

Following the Enoch and Genesis ancient story, Jude refers to Sodom and a parallel example of the poor behaviour of human men towards angels. So the strangeness of the intercourse mentioned has nothing to do with same-sex relations but sex between angels and humans. Bo Reicke takes this understanding and refers to Sodom and Gomorrah, “running after ‘alien flesh,’ perhaps reflecting Sodomite idolatry but certainly society’s attempts at self-exaltation.” [42]

Some scholars nevertheless do read homosexuality into the text, based on a misinterpretation of Genesis 19, Grant Richison for example, “These were the sins of homosexuality and lesbianism - a mixture of categories. Such sins always result in the destruction of the national entity where they occur in prominence. That is why God extinguished the entire culture of Sodom and Gomorrah.” [43] Cooper Adams believes that, “Jude says the Sodomites gave themselves to the gross sin of homosexuality. In other words, they willingly chose the lifestyle they knew was wrong, making the same mistake the fallen angels did.” [44] E. M. Sidebottom, speaking of the angels says, “These did not, of course commit sodomy, i.e. homosexual acts, but Jude, like his mentor the author of 1 Enoch, tends to despise all sexual activity.” [45] And William Barclay says, “What the men of Sodom were bent on was homosexual intercourse with Lot’s two visitors – sodomy, the word in which their sin is commemorated.” [46]

This text is a perfect example of how translation may consciously or otherwise make the Bible say what is simply not in the text, colouring scripture with personal or social attitude, rather than allowing the text to speak purely from itself. Of course, readers will always require the language they are reading to make sense, and this is the translator’s challenge. Unfortunately, what the Bible actually says in its ancient language and culture does not always make sense in the modern world and Jude’s letter is a case in point: The 1989 New Revised Standard Version says Sodom “pursued unnatural lust,” the New American Version says “practiced unnatural vice,” while the 2002 English Standard Version says “pursued unnatural desire,” the Jerusalem Bible similarly says Sodom was “equally unnatural.” Unsurprisingly then, we find commentary such as that of Robert Bratcher saying, “They indulged in sexual immorality and perversion or crimes against nature. This is generally interpreted as a reference to homosexual acts; perhaps bestiality is also intended.” [47] Yet there is nothing in the Greek text that can be translated as ‘unnatural.’ Homophobic parlance states that homosexuality is unnatural, so unfortunately, deliberately or not, translations such as these automatically promote homophobic sentiment. If the courage could be taken, misleading biblical translation of this kind might be pronounced an embarrassment to theological scholarship. In the case of Jude’s letter it is one of the oldest versions of the Bible, the King James’ Version that deserves applause for accurately translating the verse as simply, “going after strange flesh,” which is precisely what Jude says. 


Destruction of the Ungodly (2 Pet.2:6) 

In his seecond letter, Peter mentions sodom and Gomorrah in a list of God's punishments: "by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes God condemned them to extinction and made them an example of what is coming to the ungodly."

The text neither states nor explains what the ungodliness in question was and some scholars take this into consideration, suggesting nothing further, which is David Guzik’s understanding, “God judged the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, making them an example of His judgment, because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave.” [48] However, because of Peter’s Sodom reference, some conclude that he meant homosexuality, as does John Gill, “. . . those unnatural lusts and uncleannesses, which to this day go by the name of ‘sodomy,’ and ‘sodomitical’ practices; now the punishment of the inhabitants of these cities was an ensample to such wicked conduct.” [49] This of course results in a false view of Peter’s teaching based upon misunderstanding the Genesis passage. Peter’s only point is that God punishes the wicked and Sodom is listed as an example without any reference to specific offences, sexual or otherwise. If sexual sin must be considered here, it might be that of sex with angels, particularly as Peter introduces the subject in verse 4, beginning, “For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned...” which leads us back to the discussion of Jude 7 and a completely foreign matter to our modern worldview.



[1] Paul Halsall (Pro Gay Texts in the Bible), Available online at: http://ninure.com/bible2.html

[2] Henry G. Liddell, Robert Scott and Henry Stuart Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon: With Revised Supplement (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 71013.

[3] See for example Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), pp.96-97.

[4] R. Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality: Contextual Background for Contemporary Debate (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983), pp.17-65.

[5] Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality, pp.108-18.

[6] Dr Bob Utely, Romans (Free Bible Commentary.org), Available online at: http://www.freebiblecommentary.org


[7] Grant R. Osborne [ed.], Romans: The IVP Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2004), pp.52-53.

[8] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), pp.96-97.

[9] Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, pp.113-115.

[10] Stephen D. Moore, God’s beauty Parlour and Other Queer Spaces in and Around the Bible (Stamford CA: Stamford University Press, 2001) p.147.

[11] Thomas Hanks, Romans, in The Queer Bible Commentary, Deryn Guest, Robert E. Goss, Mona West, Thomas Bohache [Eds.] (London: SCM Press, 1988), p.586-7.

[12] [12] Thomas Hanks, Romans, in The Queer Bible Commentary, p.587.

[13] Robert Jewett, Romans: Hermenia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MI: Fortress Press, 2007) pp.160-166.

[14] Wisdom 14:23-28. Apart from Jewish sources, weighty evidence further exists concerning practices in the Ancient World that occurred in popular cults, such those of Cybele or the blood god Mithras. A useful and interesting compilation of these can be found in Jeramy Townsley’s article, Romans 1:22-28: Paul, the Goddess Religions and Homosexuality, in Journal of Biblical Literature (Vol.130 Number 4, Winter, 2011), pp.707-28.

[15] Jeramy Townsley [trans.], Clement, Paedagogos 2.10.86-87; in, Homosexuality and Christianity, Available online at: http://www.jeramyt.org/gay.html

[16] Arland J. Hultgren, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Commentary (Cambridge: William B. Eerdman, 2011), p.98, quoting Pelagius, Commentary on St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Theodore S. de Bruyn [trans.] (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p.67.

[17] The body of a castrated Roman eunuch priest with ornaments confirming devotion to Cybele was uncovered by archaeologists in Yorkshire in May 2002. The body dates back to the 4th Century AD and was discovered during excavations of a Roman settlement in Catterick that began in 1958. The skeleton, dressed in women’s clothes and jewelry, is believed to have once been a castrated priest of the Cybele cult and is the only example recovered from a late Roman cemetery in the United Kingdom.

[18] John Ziesler, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: New Testament Commentaries (Philadelphia: Trinity International, 1989), p.78.

[19] For an in depth look at pagan Galli, see Arthur Darby Nock, ‘Eunuchs in Ancient Religion’ in, Essays on Religions and the Ancient World, Vol.1 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972); Will Roscoe, Priests of the Goddess: Gender Transgression in Ancient Religion, in History of Religions, 35 (3), 1996, pp.198-206; and specifically on Roman Galli, Rabun Taylor, Two Pathic Subcultures in Ancient Rome, in Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 7, No 3, 01.01.1997, pp. 319-71 [esp. pp.328-37].

[20] Moore, God’s beauty Parlour, p.148-172, referring to Bernadette J.Brooten, Love between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism (Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1996), pp.240-252.

[21] Moore, God’s Beauty Parlour, p.149 – referring to Judith P. Hallett, Female Homoeroticism and the Denial of Roman Reality in, Judith P. Hallett and Marilyn B. Skinner [Eds.] Roman Sexualities   (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997).

[22] Hultgren, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, p.98.

[23] Jewett, Romans, p.170

[24] B.W. Johnson, First Corinthians: People’s New Testament (Studylight.org), Available online at: http://www.studylight.org

[25] William Hendriksen, Thessalonians, Timothy and Titus: New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979), p.69.

[26] William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter Varsity Press, 1989), pp.61-62.

[27] Donald Guthrie, The pastoral Epistles: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter Varsity Press, 1989), pp.61-62.

[28] Wycliffe 1382-95; Tyndale 1526; Luther 1534; Bishops Bible 1568; Geneva Bible 1575-76.

[29] King James (Authorised Standard) 1611; Douay-Rheims N.T. 1582, complete Bible 1633; Young’s Literal 1862.

[30] New English 1970; New King James’ Version 1982; Revised English 1989.

[31] New American 1970; New International Version 1978 and 1984; New Century Version 1987; New Revised Standard Version 1989; New Living Translation 1996.

[32] Catholic English Version 2006; Bible in Basic English 2009; Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation 1989.

[33] International Standard Version 2011; World English Bible 2012; God’s Word Translation 2010; The Message 2005; New English Translation 2012.

[34] R. Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality: Contextual Background for Contemporary Debate (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983), pp.101-09.

[35] Juvenal, Satire 1, Why Choose Satire, Lines 39-40, also It’s a Litany of Crime, Line 78, in Peter Green [trans.], The Sixteen Satires 3rd Edition (London: Penguin Classics, 2004).

[36] Nigel Watson, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: Epworth commentaries (London: Epworth Press, 1992), p.56.

[37] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman, 2000), pp.447-452, referring to Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul’s Theological Foundation, pp.31-40, and to Dale B. Martin, The Corinthian Body, pp.163-228.

[38] Amy Richlin [trans.], Curculio, in Rome and the Mysterious Orient: Three Plays by Plautus (Los Angeles: California University Press, 2005), pp.57-108; the play covers an array of Roman sexuality; see also Elaine Fantham, Stuprum: Public Attitudes and Penalties for Sexual Offences in Republican Rome, in Echos du Monde Classique/Classical Views (Vol.35, No. 10, 1991), pp. 267-91.

[39] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p.440.

[40] Paul L. Maier [ed.] Josephus: The Essential Writings – Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Ch.3, Section 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregal Publications, 1988), p.21.

[41] Richard Kugelman, James and Jude: New Testament Message, Vol.19 (Wilmington, Delaware: Veritas Publications, 1980), p.91.

[42] Bo Reicke, The Epistles of James, Peter, Jude (New York: Doubleday and Co. Inc., 1964), p.199.

[43] Grant C. Richison, Jude, (Versebyversecommentary.com), Available online at: http://versebyversecommentary.com

[44] Cooper P. Adams, A Commentary on the Book of Jude: God’s Condemnation of Apostacy and False Teachers (Bible-truth.org), Available online at: http://bible-truth.org    

[45] E.M. Sidebottom, James, Jude and 2 Peter: New Century Bible (Johannesburg: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1967), p.86.

[46] William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude: The Daily Study Bible (Edinburgh: St Andrew’s Press, 1976), p.185.

[47] Robert G. Bratcher, A Translators Guide to the Letters from James, Peter and Jude (New York: United Bible Societies, 1984), p.176.

[48] David Guzik, 2 Peter, Commentary on the Bible (Studylight.org), Available online at: http://www.studylight.org

[49] John Gill, Exposition of 2 Peter (Bibles Suite), Available online at: http://biblos.com