Perspective on biblical passages that mention (or not) homosexuality

We will look into these items:

1. Did The Law prescribe death penalty for gays?
2. Some textual issues in the New Testament
3. What is the essence of this matter?

1. Did The Law prescribe death penalty for gays?

There exist various law-traditions such as “Common law” versus “Civil law”. One variant is to have a scribe sit next to the king and note the most typical cases in a scroll. Next, the scribe would copy the scroll and hand out one copy to each judge in the kingdom. If the judge could write (likely) he would note his own precedential cases below those of the king or in the margin. When a new person was ordained judge, he would want as complete a law-book as he could get, so he may wish to copy two or three of the other judges’ scrolls. As a result, he would have the original laws and cases as doublets and a number of judgements and sentences that disagreed.

If we look at Torah — The Mosaic Law as recorded in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy — we see this very pattern. For example, if we compare Leviticus chapter 18 with chapter 20:

(NETS) Chapter 18   Chapter 20
18:17a You shall not uncover the shame of a woman and her daughter. 20:14 He who takes a wife and her mother — it is transgression of the law
18:23 And you shall not give your bed to any quadruped for sowing to bring defilement on it, nor shall any woman stand before any quadruped so as to be mounted, for it is loathsome. 20:15,16a And he who gives his sleeping-with to a quadruped, by death let him be put to death, and you shall kill the quadruped. And a woman who shall approach any animal for her to be mounted by it — you shall kill the woman and the animal
18:16 You shall not uncover the shame of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s shame. 20:21 He who takes the wife of his brother — it is impurity; he has uncovered his brother’s shame; they shall die childless.
18:22 And you shall not sleep with a male as in a bed of a woman, for it is an abomination. 20:13 And he who lies with a male in a bed for a woman, both have committed an abomination; by death let them be put to death; they are liable.

Obviously these are the same laws but with death penalty in chaper 20. Chapter 18 has the sentence at the end of the chapter in verse 29, but curiously it states a different reason for why the various listed deeds should not be performed:

Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways. […] otherwise the land will become angry with you when you defile it, as it became angry with the nations that were before you. — Leviticus 18:24a,28, NETS.

Let’s leave it hanging and compare Leviticus 19:23-26 with Deuteronomy 18:9-10!

Leviticus Deuteronomy
23 Now when you enter into the land that the Lord your God is giving you 9 Now if you enter into the land that the Lord your God is giving you,
and plant any kind of tree for food, then you shall thoroughly purify its uncleanness; three years its fruit shall be impure to you; it shall not be eaten. 24 And in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, laudable to the Lord. 25 But in the fifth year you shall eat the fruit, its yield is an increase for you; it is I who am the Lord your God.
26 Do not eat on the mountains.
  you shall not learn to act according to the abominations of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you one who cleanses his son or his daughter by fire,
And you shall not practice ornithomancy or divination by means of birds. one who practices divination, one who acts as diviner, one who practices ornithomancy, a sorcerer

It is said about bronze-age Israelite king Saul that he “had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land” (1 Samuel 28:3, ESV). From the way the medium at En-dor answered, we can be sure that her trade carried a death penalty: “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?”.

It looks like Saul broke with a preceding tradition of not killing mediums and necromancers, which would be unlikely if the Mosaic law already insisted on their death. So, while it says they are an abomination (Deut. 18:12), just like Leviticus 18:22 says of homosex, they were probably not killed until Saul took office.

This suggests a thesis: Leviticus chapter 20 dates to Saul’s reign or later.

While the thesis is not easily falsifiable or verifiable, it does mean that it is speculative or irresponsible to claim that the Mosaic Law would prescribe death penalty for homosexual people. For God can only be held responsible for the original law that he gave to Moses.

2. Some textual issues in the New Testament

1 Timothy 1:10

ESV: … the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine …

Greek: … πορνοις αρσενοκοιταις ανδραποδισταις ψευσταις επιορκοις και ει τι ἑτερον τη ὑγιαινουση διδασκαλια αντικειται …

Gothic: horam, _________, mannans gaþiwandam, liugnjam, ufarswaram, jah jabai hva aljis þizai hailon laiseinai andstandiþ

Where the lines are is where a Gothic expression for homosexuality would be expected.

Romans 1:27

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 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.
— ESV.

Here we have two paragraphs starting with “Διο/Δια τουτο παρεδωκεν αυτους ὁ Θεος εν/εις”, as if a scribe was unsure which variant was the original one and therefore kept both, with the most likely reading first.

Elisabeth Cutler’s reconstruction of Paul’s letter to the Romans according to Marcion’s version has interesting stuff. Marcion produced the first known widely circulated edition of the New Testament, less than 100 years after the books were composed. The reconstruction is based on Tertulliani and Epiphani criticism towards Marcion’s teaching, where they quote a lot from Marcion’s edition.

In Adversus Marcionem, book V, chapter 13, Tertullian cites 1:16,17, comments on the verses and cites 2:2. Then he goes on to complain about the many verses Marcion has excised and returns to commenting these verses.

But how many ditches Marcion has dug, especially in this epistle, by removing all that he would, will become evident from the complete text of my copy. I myself need do no more than accept, as the result of his carelessness and blindness, those passages which he did not see he had equally good reason to excise. For if God will judge the secret things of men, both those who have sinned in the law and those who have sinned without the law […]

This means some of the verses that we read in Romans chapter 1 and/or chapter 2 weren’t there in at least one very ancient version.

3. What is the essence of this matter?

The essence of the matter is the ancient strategy that goes by the name “Divide & Conquer”.

Various groups and ideologies fight for power and influence in the political cosmos. In order to win, they must prevent other groups from settling their conflicts and teaming up. Some of these groups that might team up are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Heathens, Hindus, scientists/engineers, gays, ethnic minorities and workers/slaves.

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