They’ve come to be known as the “clobber texts” – the parts of the bible that some Christians have turned into weapons to attack the blessed belovedness of LGBTQ+ folks.
The truth is, they’re kinda wet noodles.
What I’ll do here is share some biblical scholarship about them, which I culled from the resources at the Westar Institute. Other preaching I’ve done on an affirming Christian faith can be found here.
Overall I think the most faithful, mature and Christ-like relationship with the scriptures is to keep our hearts set on the “love ethic” found there, as Walter Wink puts it below. The still-speaking God challenges us all to become more committed to following the Way of Jesus over the way of our egos, which can be so petty, judgmental, fearful, and restricted.
So, here we go. The “clobber texts” don’t number that many. Here’s a way to categorize them:
Hospitality Texts Genesis 19:1-14, 24-26 – Story of Sodom and Gomorrah Judges 19:1-30 (similar story)
Holiness Codes Leviticus 18:22 “you shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female” Leviticus 20:13 “a man who sleeps with another man is an abomination
Paul on Greek Culture 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Pseudo-Paul on Greek Culture 1 Timothy 1:8-11
Paul on Judgmentalism Against Natural and Unnatural Acts Romans 1:18-27
A General Response to the “clobber texts”:
“The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is simply that the Bible has no sexual ethic. There is no biblical sex ethic. The Bible knows only a love ethic, which is constantly being brought to bear on whatever sexual mores are dominant in any given country, or culture, or period. Approached from the point of view of love, rather than that of law, the issue is at once transformed. Now the question is not “What is permitted?” but rather “What does it mean to love my homosexual neighbor?” Approached from the point of view of faith rather than of works, the question ceases to be “What constitutes a breach of divine law in the sexual realm?” and becomes instead “What constitutes obedience to the God revealed in the cosmic lover, Jesus Christ?” Approached from the point of view of the Spirit rather than of the letter, the question ceases to be “What does Scripture command?” and becomes “What is the Word that the Spirit speaks to the churches now, in the light of Scripture, tradition, theology, psychology, genetics, anthropology and biology?” In a little-remembered statement, Jesus said, “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12:57). Such sovereign freedom strikes terror in the hearts of many Christians; they would rather be under law and be told what is right. Yet Paul himself echoes Jesus’ sentiment immediately preceding one of his possible references to homosexuality: “Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life!” (I Cor. 6:3). The last thing Paul would want is for people to respond to his ethical advice as a new law engraved on tablets of stone. He is himself trying to “judge for himself what is right.” If now new evidence is in on the phenomenon of homosexuality, are we not obligated — no, free — to re-evaluate the whole issue in the light of all available data and decide, under God, for ourselves? Is this not the radical freedom for obedience which the gospel establishes?” – Walter Wink, “Biblical Perspectives on Homosexuality” Christian Century November 7, 1979 p. 108
Responses to the “clobber texts” of the Hebrew Scriptures
Responses to the Hospitality Texts
“We may begin by excluding all references to Sodom in the Old and New Testaments, since the sin of the Sodomites was homosexual rape, carried out by heterosexuals intent on humiliating strangers by treating them “like women,” thus demasculinizing them. (This is also the case in a similar account in Judges 19-21.) Their brutal gang-rape has nothing to do with the problem of whether genuine love expressed between consenting persons of the same sex is legitimate or not.” – Walter Wink, op. cit.
“While several other biblical texts refer to Sodom (and sometimes Gomorrah), the only one that comments on Sodom’s sinfulness is the sixth century BCE prophet Ezekiel: “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. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it” (16:49-50). The Hebrew word translated “abominable things” is to’evah. Sometimes this term is used with reference to sexual offenses (as in Leviticus 18:22), but this term has a broad range of meanings. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, “Common to all these usages is the notion of irregularity, that which offends the accepted order, ritual, or moral.” Ezekiel 16 says nothing about same sex behavior. Context determines what Ezekiel meant by “abomination”: Sodom’s “abomination” was that she did not aid the poor and needy.” – Perry Key , “Sodom and Gomorrah: How the ‘classical” interpretation gets it wrong” https://www.westarinstitute.org/blog/sodom-and-gomorrah-how-the-classical-interpretation-gets-it-wrong/
Responses to the Holiness Codes
“I had a German friend come back to town and I asked if he could help me with some passages in one of my German Bibles from the 1800s. So we went to Leviticus 18:22 and he’s translating it for me word for word. In the English where it says “Man shall not lie with man, for it is an abomination,” the German version says “Man shall not lie with young boys as he does with women, for it is an abomination.” I said, “What?! Are you sure?” He said, “Yes!” Then we went to Leviticus 20:13— same thing, “Young boys.” So we went to 1 Corinthians to see how they translated arsenokoitai (original greek word) and instead of homosexuals it said, “Boy molesters will not inherit the kingdom of God.” I then grabbed my facsimile copy of Martin Luther’s original German translation from 1534. My friend is reading through it for me and he says, “Ed, this says the same thing!” They use the word knabenschander. Knaben is boy, schander is molester. This word “boy molesters” carried through the next several centuries of German Bible translations. Knabenschander is also in 1 Timothy 1:10. So the interesting thing is, I asked if they ever changed the word arsenokoitai to homosexual in modern translations. So my friend found it and told me, “The first time homosexual appears in a German translation is 1983.” To me that was a little suspect because of what was happening in culture in the 1970s. Also because the Germans were the ones who created the word homosexual in 1862, they had all the history, research, and understanding to change it if they saw fit; however, they did not change it until 1983. If anyone was going to put the word in the Bible, the Germans should have been the first to do it!” – Ed Oxford, quoted in interview https://www.forgeonline.org/blog/2019/3/8/what-about-romans-124-27
“In many other ways we have developed different norms from those explicitly laid down by the Bible: “When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him, and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts [i.e., testicles], then you shall cut off her hand” (Deut. 25:11 f.). We, on the contrary, might very, well applaud her. Just as we no longer countenance slavery, which both Old and New Testaments regarded as normal, so we also no longer countenance the use of female slaves, concubines and captives as sexual toys or breeding machines by their male owners, which Leviticus 19:20 f., II Samuel 5:13 and Numbers 31:17-20 permitted — and as many American slave owners did slightly over 100 years ago…. If Christ is the end of the law (Rom.10:4), if we have been discharged from the law to serve, not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit (Rom.7:6), then all of these Old Testament sexual mores come under the authority of the Spirit. We cannot then take even what Paul says as a new law. Even fundamentalists reserve the right to pick and choose which laws they will observe, though they seldom admit to doing just that.” – Walter Wink, op. cit.
Responses to the “clobber texts” of the New Testament
“The New Testament really does not provide any direct guidance for understanding and making judgments about homosexuality in the modern world. To the extent that it does talk about homosexuality, the New Testament appears to be talking about only certain types of homosexuality, and it speaks on the basis of assumptions about homosexuality that are now regarded as highly dubious. Perhaps, then, we could paraphrase what the New Testament says about homosexuality as follows: If homosexuality is exploitive, then it is wrong; if homosexuality is rooted in idolatry, then it is wrong; if homosexuality represents a denial of one’s own true nature, then it is wrong; if homosexuality is an expression of insatiable lust, then it is wrong. But we could say exactly the same thing about heterosexuality, couldn’t we? If homosexuality is not necessarily any of these things, however, then it would appear that the New Testament has nothing to say about it in any direct sense.” – William O Walker Jr., “What Does the New Testament Say about Homosexuality?” The Fourth R, Volume 21-3, May-June 2008
Responses to Paul and Pseudo-Paul on Greek Culture
“Even if 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 and 1 Timothy 1:8–11 do refer to homosexuality, what they likely have in mind is not homosexuality per se but rather one particular form of homosexuality that was regarded as especially exploitative and degrading. Some scholars have suggested that malakoi designates attractive young men, or boys, whose sexual services were either purchased or coerced by older men, and that arsenokoitai designates these older men who thus “used” or exploited the younger men.9According to this interpretation, malakoi and arsenokoitai do refer to male homosexuality, but the objection is not necessarily to male homosexual activity per se, but rather to the prostitution, coercion, and/or exploitation that typically accompanied one particular type of male homosexuality. And this, too, is consistent with Martin’s conclusion that arsenokoitai refers more specifically to exploitation than it does to sex. Furthermore, if this is the case, then we simply have no way of knowing what the New Testament writers might have said about a non-exploitive, non-coercive, loving, committed, monogamous homosexual relationship. We cannot know because New Testament writers are not talking about that kind of homosexual relationship” – William O Walker Jr, op.cit.
Response to Paul on Judgmentalism Against Nature and Unnatural Acts
“What must be emphasized, then, is that the passage, taken as a whole, is not about homosexuality. It is about idolatry. The only reason it mentions homosexuality at all is because the author assumes that it is a result of willful idolatry. Knowing full well that there is one true God, people nevertheless freely choose to worship false gods. As punishment for this idolatry, God “gives them up” to homosexual activity. Thus, in a sense, homosexuality is not so much a sin as it is a punishment for sin. This should mean, however, that no monotheist would ever take part in homosexual activity—no practicing Jew or Christian or Muslim. Only worshippers of false gods would engage in such activity. This was a fairly common assumption within first-century Judaism, and it is one of the dubious presuppositions that underlie Romans 1:26–27. Clearly, however, it is not consistent with what we can observe in the world around us. The passage also makes at least two other assumptions that point to its essential irrelevance so far as modern discussions of homosexuality are concerned. First, it assumes that homosexuality is somehow “unnatural”—contrary to nature—or a better translation would be “beyond what is natural.” In other words, it isn’t just unusual for people to engage in homosexual activity. It is abnormal; it “goes beyond” that which is natural. According to the American Psychological Association, however, “most scientists today agree that sexual orientation is most likely the result of a complex interaction of environmental, cognitive, and biological factors.” Moreover, psychologists tend to be extremely cautious about using such categories as “natural” and “unnatural,” “normal” and “abnormal” when talking about human behavior. … “What would the author of Romans 1:26–27 say about a loving, committed, monogamous homosexual relationship—one that was not rooted in idolatry, one that did not represent a rejection of one’s own true nature, and one that was not characterized by excessive lust? I think the answer has to be that we simply do not know, because, once again, the author is talking about something quite different.” – William O Walker Jr, op. cit