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The LGTBQ Clobber Passages

We are offering this Bible study to be able to share with you our interpretation, based on study and prayer, on the passages commonly referred to as the “clobber passages,” or the Bible passages that are often used to speak against the LGTBQ community. We are starting here because this seems to be the focus of the conversations and debate among Christians. To get started, let’s do a quick review of our principles for Biblical interpretation.

1. Understand its origin

The Bible is a collection of 66 books written down over a period of about 1500 years. It was originally recorded in Hebrew or Greek and then hand copied. Eventually it was compiled into one book by early Christians who decided which writings were included. These writings would later be translated into English. We have lots of different English translations because decisions have to be made when you translate on the nuances of different words and grammatical constructs.

2. Look at the whole Bible

Let the Bible interpret the Bible. The Bible is a lot of different books but it is one big story about God. We read individual verses in the whole context of the Bible by comparing them with the rest of what the Bible says.

3. The Jesus principle

The final appeal in how we read any part of the Bible is Jesus. What did Jesus say, what did he teach, what did he do? It is critical to give the life and teachings of Jesus more weight than other passages because only Jesus is the Son of God, not Moses, not Isaiah, not Paul. If you have a question on what the Bible is trying to teach you, hold it look at it through the lens of Jesus.

4. Don't read it alone

We were never meant to read the Bible in a vacuum. When we read and interpret the Bible, we are not only listening for what it says to us. We are listening to what it says to humanity. This includes people in our church, in the historical church, Bible scholars, people different from us whose life experience brings a different understanding to the text. We interpret it best when we read it together.

5. Context matters

You read a chapter in the Psalms differently than a story in Matthew differently than a prophecy in Isaiah. And you read all of these differently than you read the newspaper. All of the Bible was recorded by real people who lived in a time that is very different from our own. Some passages are describing what was happening at the time. Others are prescribing something God intends to be the case for all time. Some passages are written to address a specific situation. Others are written more broadly.

All of these principles don’t mean we don’t take the Bible seriously. In fact, it is just the opposite. Interpreting the Bible with these principles means we take the Bible so seriously that we want to understand everything about a passage (its history, the original language, the type of writing it was) so we can get the clearest picture possible of what it can teach us about God.

Keeping all of this in mind, we remember as we start to read these specific passages that we come to them with our perspectives today. Many of our questions we will ask about gender and sexuality won’t have an exact answer in the Bible because our lives are so different from the world in which it was written. Some of the terms and frameworks we use did not exist when these texts were recorded. So our focus is trying to understand what they teach us and our best reading of the true intention of the Biblical writers. Now let’s get started:

Genesis 19

This passage has been used for a long time to condemn sex between men. It even came to be called sodomy because of this Bible passage. This is a faulty reading of the text, which the Bible itself says, including words from Jesus. But we don’t even need those passages to read it correctly, if we just pay attention while reading it ourselves.

The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2 He said, “Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the square.” 3 But he urged them strongly, so they turned aside to him and entered his house, and he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. 4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house, 5 and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.” 6 Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, 7 and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” 9 But they replied, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot and came near the door to break it down. 10 But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door. 11 And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door.

The situation has become so terrible in Sodom and Gomorrah that God rightly feels intervention is the only option. Two angels (who look like men) come into the town and Lot knows they will be in trouble so he hides them in his home. He is right. Every man in the town comes out and demands Lot send out the men so that they may “know” them, which is the Bible’s way of saying to have sex with them.

The intention of the men in Sodom is not sexual intimacy, it is rape. This was how a man showed dominance over and against outsiders and enemies in the ancient world. (It’s why Lot tried to get them inside quickly, to prevent this type of thing from happening) We see this also in Judges 19:22. In addition, all the men of Sodom came to Lot’s door, it specifically says to the very last man. This would be far fetched to be about sexual orientation, when it clearly shows it was every man and boy in town. Could they really all have been attracted to other men? It was not about desire, but power.

If the sin of Sodom is not homosexuality, what is it? Their sin was being inhospitable. This sounds strange to us that this would be such a critical issue but this was extremely important in this time. Israel was supposed to be different from the other nations around them, including how they opened themselves up to the stranger, the alien, the foreigner and the immigrant. They were to embody hospitality and care for others. This is really a story about inhospitality.

Ezekiel 16:49-50 backs up this interpretation:

“This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.”

So does Jesus in Matthew 10:11-15

“11 Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”

Do you see how Jesus connects inhospitality to Sodom and Gomorrah?

We can see that the sin of Sodom was inhospitality not homosexuality. The action of the men wasn’t about same sex attraction, it was about rape as a means of establishing power over an outsider.

Next we turn to Leviticus, to look at a word that often gets used as an especially strong word of condemnation: “Abomination.” But it doesn’t mean what people might think.

Leviticus 18 and 20

Leviticus 18:1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: I am the Lord your God. 3 You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not follow their statutes.
22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
Leviticus 20:13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

The people of Israel, who were enslaved have now left Egypt and are now wandering in wilderness, left with the question “if we are not slaves, who are we?” The laws given to them were designed to showcase a new way of being in the world in contrast to those around them. The whole passage starts with “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you.”

So what does “abomination” mean? Abomination is translated from the Hebrew word toevah (תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה). Toevah were certain actions that would make an Israelite indistinguishable from surrounding nations, things that were cultural taboos. The word was not synonymous with sinful as it comes across in English. In Hebrew, it is a relative word. For example, in Genesis 43:32, it is an abomination to Egyptians to eat with Hebrews. Or in Exodus 8:26, Moses says that Hebrew religious practices are an abomination to the Egyptians. Is Moses saying that his own religion is immoral? Of course not! He is admitting that it is incompatible with the conditional cultural sensitivities of the Egyptians. It was not about morality, but identity. In addition, there still was no category for consensual same sex relationships. The words used in these passages show that they aren’t describing them, even if they wanted to. There are two likely situations to which these passages in Leviticus are referring.

The immediate context of these verses in Chapter 18 and 20 of Leviticus is concerned with one thing: incest. Incest would have been one of the practices the Canaanites and Egyptians did that Israel should not imitate. In both of these passages, the Hebrew includes the word miskeve מִשְׁכְּבֵ֣י. This word in this same grammatical form is also found in Genesis 49:4, which refers to the incestuous sexual activity of Reuben with his father’s concubine, Bilhah. This would indicate this prohibition is likely referring specifically to incestuous sexual activity, especially that which is nonconsensual, in this case between two men of the same family.

There was also a common practice with the Canaanites for temple prostitution, including among people of the same gender, for appeasing the gods of fertility. This also would have been a concern for the people of Israel in imitating these behaviors of idol worship and temple prostitution. With no context for same gender orientation the way we have now, it is also plausible that Leviticus is referring to this practice of temple prostitution.

Let’s move on to the New Testament, and the biggest clobber passage of them all.

Romans 1:26 - 27

For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. Their females exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the males, giving up natural intercourse with females, were consumed with their passionate desires for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

The first way that we take away the clobber from this passage is by understanding the intent and purpose of the letter to the Romans. As a letter, it was written for a specific reason, which you can gather from a close reading of the text itself, but become even more clear when you know some ancient history. The Jewish people, including Jewish Christians, had been expelled from Rome for about five years (leaving only Gentiles in the house churches) but then they returned. There was conflict from this in the church as the two groups came together. The purpose of the letter to the Romans was to bring reconciliation between the Jewish and the Gentile Christians.The primary goal for Paul in Romans was for these two groups to see one another as equals members of the community of faith, but Paul addresses most of his rhetoric towards the Jewish Christians. This particular section of Romans is distinct from the rest of the book, and it may or may not have been written by Paul. Paul often quotes sayings and ideas that would have been known to his readers. But regardless of whether he wrote it or not, we have to ask: how do we interpret it? Before we focus on these verses it is important to read the verses immediately preceding it.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

The phrase, “To the Jew first” says to me that Paul is going to address the Jewish Christians first. Notice how he refers to “them” over and over again. As we read it, underline all the times it says “them”, “they” or “their.”

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those who by their injustice suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been seen and understood through the things God has made. So they are without excuse, 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless hearts were darkened.22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

God has revealed Godself to the Gentiles, and the text says they are without excuse if they don’t know God. But even so they exchanged the glory of God for images, or idolatry. Remember our conversation earlier about the pagan worship at the temple and idols. What was happening there? Prostitution as a part of the pagan worship. After this we get to the verse in question. It makes more sense that instead of this verse seemingly interrupting a conversation about idolatry to talk about sexual behavior, that it would instead be continuing to talk about idolatry as a reference to idolatry and the prostitution happening at the temples of idol worship.

This first chapter of Romans isn’t about sexuality. It’s about idolatry.

The biggest thing that Jewish Christians would hold against Gentile Christians is that before they came to the faith, they worshiped idols, and took part in religious practices that would have been an abomination to them. Paul appeals to this bias they have, but only to set a trap for them. Paul seems to be using a rhetorical device here to lay a foundation for his argument to the Jewish Christian that the Gentile Christians were not worse than they were. He sets up this section about the things the Gentiles are doing to whip up an emotional response of hatred toward them. He is making a case that Gentiles failed to know God and turned to idolatry. Paul intentionally stirs up some deeply entrenched prejudices held by the Jewish people toward the Gentiles then leads into Romans 2:1. Watch as he switches from they, to “you” as you read in Romans 2, which starts out

“Therefore you are without excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others, for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”

Paul is leveling the playing field between the Gentiles and the Jews. Again, even if you prefer to dismiss the context of the surrounding verses and the likely implication that this is about idolatry, not sexuality, there are more questions to be raised by reading in the original Greek. Remember our conversation about cultural norms. In Romans 1:26 the word for dishonorable in the Greek is atimia (ἀτιμίας) . This word indicates something culturally shameful but not inherently sinful. 1 Corinthians 11:14 uses the same word to talk about having long hair, something that Jewish people had no problem with, and we clearly don’t concern ourselves with today.

Also, the phrase “contrary to nature” in the Greek is written as παρὰ φύσιν (para physin). This is how Paul describes the practices he is condemning. But contrary to nature is also used by contemporary Greek writers to describe non-procreative sex. For instance, Augustine wrote that a man having sex with a prostitute was “according to nature” while also being clearly immoral. This shows us that according to nature was not synonymous with moral but instead the understood way things worked at the time. This same phrase “contrary to nature” is also used in Romans 11:24, describing how God grafted the Gentiles into the Jewish community. It is not natural, but God is doing it, meaning contrary to nature cannot be assumed to mean wrong. This especially takes the wind out of the sails of this clobber passage, as a more likely reading of “women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural” is that they engaged in non-procreative sex, which eliminates the Bible's sole seeming condemnation of lesbianism. Again, all of this would have likely been taking place in the context of idol worship and prostitution at the pagan temple. Now let’s look at the final two clobber passages:

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:10

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites (1 Corinthians 6:9)
This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching (1 Timothy 1:9-10)

Let’s start by talking about two specific words in these passages. 1 Corinthians 6:9 first mentions male prostitutes. The Greek word is Malaokoi (μαλακοὶ) and can mean effeminate or soft and was used to refer specifically to male prostitutes. Then in both 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 it references sodomites. The Greek word in both passages is arsenokoitai (ἀρσενοκοῖται). This seems to be a word Paul has pulled from a Greek transliteration of the words from Hebrew in the Leviticus passages we talked about earlier. If we believe that the Leviticus passages are primarily about incest and prostitution at the pagan temples, then we can assume in Paul alluding to these words in Leviticus that this passage is also alluding to prostitution here. But let’s see how this bears out in the broader context of the whole chapter for 1 Corinthians 6. 1 Corinthians 6 talking about the legal issues in the community, about dragging one another into court. Then it goes on to talk at length about prostitution.

“The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” 17 But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body, but the fornicator sins against the body itself. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple[g] of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:13-20.

In other words, Paul is very concerned of the sexual immorality of joining oneself with a prostitute, which would have been important not only because of the sexual action but because of its connection to temple worship. He ends with the reminder that “you were bought with a price” which creates a contrast between Jesus’ claim on us and the practice of buying others’ bodies at a price through prostitution.

Both of the two words in these passages then are used to describe exploitative and transactional same-gendered acts like prostitution not same gender relationships in the way we understand them today. There was a lot of this kind of exploitative sexual behavior happening at the time Paul wrote Romans. Pederasty, men keeping a boy on the side for sexual activity, was very common. So are all same gender sex acts condemned here? No. These passages are condemning sexual activity that is exploitative or transactional.

This brings up an important note. Sexual morality is important for all people of faith: gay, straight, bisexual, nonbinary, transgender, all of us. Everyone should be faithful to their one and only partner. Everyone should condemn rape and abuse. No orgies are allowed. These passages do point to the importance of sexual morality, but do not condemn a healthy, same gender relationship.

Most of the passages we have looked at so far are used to condemn sexual attraction to people of the same gender. The debate in these has been about attraction and sexual activity. Now for our last section we will talk about a few passages that discuss gender and its expression. You’ll notice that these passages seem vague at best as use as possible clobber passages. This in itself shows the lack of scriptural warrant for a position against transgender and nonbinary persons.

Trans Specific Scriptures

Genesis 1:26 - 27

Then God said, “Let us make humans in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the cattle and over all the wild animals of the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”So God created humans in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

There is a duality in the Creation story. God creates day and night, land and sea, male and female. But the duality here is not meant to be exhaustive. God creates day and night, but we have dusk. God creates land and water, but we have marshes. The binaries are not comprehensive of all of creation, and this includes male and female.

Deuteronomy 22:5

5 “A woman shall not wear a man’s apparel, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for whoever does such things is abhorrent to the Lord your God

This text is likely referring to the cross dressing that happened in worship of cults and other gods. It is yet another passage intended to keep the people of Israel from worshiping the gods of their neighbors and from idolatry. There is also some evidence it may have been to keep men from evading military service or women from entering the temple by wearing clothing traditionally associated with the other gender. This would have been intended to keep men and women in the spheres to which at this time they belonged in ancient Israel.

Deuteronomy 23:1 vs. Isaiah 56:3-8 and the Eunuchs

Eunuchs were by definition castrated men, who were often put in charge over a king’s harem of wives. Many Israelites and Judean captives were castrated to be forced into service in the courts as eunuchs. When they returned to the community, the words of Deuteronomy presented a problem.

“No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 23:1)

This makes us think the Eunuchs would have been excluded from the community of faith based on their sexual anatomy. But look at what comes later in Isaiah 56:3-8:

Let no foreigner who is bound to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant— to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever. And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” The Sovereign LORD declares— he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.

Not only are the Eunuchs not excluded from the assembly of the Lord but it says the Lord will give them a name better than sons and daughters.

Jesus knew about eunuchs too. In Matthew 19:12 in his teachings on divorce he mentions Eunuchs who were forced to be eunuchs, those who choose to be, and those born as eunuchs, saying:

12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”

This is a really big one. Eunuchs who were eunuchs by birth were men who just had no interest in women. What do we call men who have no interest in women today? Gay. Or Asexual. Or Queer. Jesus doesn't have anything bad to say about them. Here is the only time that Jesus comes close to mentioning homosexuality, and he just mentions it casually and moves on.

Acts 8:26-33, 36-39

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31 He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.’ 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 37 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

What is to prevent me from being baptized? the Eunuch asks. Nothing.

One final note relevant to the transgender community, and that is about renaming. In the transgender community, it is common to take a new name. This practice, however, is not new and was common in the Bible. In the Biblical world, a new identity was often followed with a new name.

Genesis 17:5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations and “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name (Gen 17:15)
Numbers 13:16 And Moses changed the name of Hoshea son of Nun to Joshua.
Matthew 16: 17-18: Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.

We will stop here in our Bible study for now. There is certainly much more we could discuss together but our goal for this initial study was to address specifically the clobber passages and begin to share some that affirm the LGTBQ community.

- Pastor Dave and Pastor Megan


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