is not a sin

Let’s start with the big one. It is a widely peddled and loudly touted claim in many denominations of Christianity that homosexuality, particularly the act of penetration between two men, is a condemnable act. However, it is difficult to find much studied proof of this in either the Old or the New Testament. Famously, Jesus said nothing on the topic. The Old Testament and New Testament combined have a mere six verses which explicitly appear to touch on the topic, so conversation on those verse is a good place to start. Note: This section will not explore liturgies so much as it will explore Scriptural interpretations.

Genesis 19: Sodom & Gomorrah

Genesis 19: 1-26; NRSV:

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.

Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed

12 Then the men said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city—bring them out of the place. 13 For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it.” 14 So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up, get out of this place; for the Lord is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.

15 When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Get up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city.” 16 But he lingered; so the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and left him outside the city. 17 When they had brought them outside, they[a] said, “Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, or else you will be consumed.” 18 And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords; 19 your servant has found favor with you, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life; but I cannot flee to the hills, for fear the disaster will overtake me and I die. 20 Look, that city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!” 21 He said to him, “Very well, I grant you this favor too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. 22 Hurry, escape there, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.” Therefore the city was called Zoar.[b] 23 The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar.

24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; 25 and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 26 But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

Common (mis)Interpretations:

Genesis is said to condemn homosexuality because the town was destroyed by God after the men tried to rape the Angels who were visiting Lot.


There was no sexual act that actually took place.

The men of the town tried to have sex with the visitors to Lot’s house, who were not men at all but “ham-mal-’ā-ḵîm;” “angels.”

  • So, the only reason this Bible passage is associated with homosexuality is because the angels in the story are assumed to be men and, if the men from the town had their way, they would have had sex with those men. Since, in fact, these were not men but angels, the angels are being mis-gendered as men, and great harm comes as a result (Namely, centuries of condemnation of homosexuals). Suddenly, Genesis 19 goes from being a famous “clobber text” against homosexuals, to serving as an apt cautionary tale on the dangers of mis-gendering.

The more likely condemnable acts which brought on the destruction of the town are the following:

  • The near gang rape of Lot’s daughters, who Lot willfully offered to the ravenous men from town.

  • The near sexual act between earthly men and heavenly beings, which is explicitly condemned in Genesis 6.

  • The town’s failure to be hospitable to the visiting angels and other foreigners (Ezekiel 16).

  • Finally, it appears that the town had already fallen out of favor with God before the town’s men attempted to attack the angels. The Angels warned Lot, “The outcry to the Lord against [this town’s] people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.” The Angels were sent to warn of the coming destruction (read: raining sulfur) which was in response to something that happened before they got there. It has nothing even remotely to do anything that happened since the angels arrival, let alone with men having sex with men.

This verse not only does not condemn homosexuality, it demonstrates the damage that can be done by assuming someone’s gender and drawing conclusions based on that assumption.

On to the next verse!

leviticus 18: 22

Leviticus 18: 22; NRSV:

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

Common (mis)Interpretation:

This verse is understood to condemn male-male penetration.


While this text does appear to speak more directly to the sexual act of men sleeping with men “as with a woman” (meaning: penetration), there is much more to consider about the context of this verse.

  • Leviticus is a list of commands and practices which were intended to set Israelite conduct apart from others’. Thus, it is important to consider this particular verse about men lying with men alongside the other practices listed out in Leviticus. Other commands in the same list as 18:22 include the need for circumcision, the prohibition of having sex during menstruation, and the prohibition of eating pork. All of these things are called “abominations,” and they are distinct from something that is “intrinsically evil like rape and theft.”* In other words, not permitting men to lie with other men was a cultural and religious expectation for ritually clean Jews in the time of Leviticus’ writing, par with avoiding pork. And, it was not a severe infraction like murder or theft; it was just one of many cleanliness expectations at the time. Therefore, if the reader affords certain modern understandings or leniencies with things like eating pork or having sex during one’s period, they must grant the same contextual leniency to this apparent condemnation of men lying with men. It is no different.

  • Another important framework to consider when reading texts like this in Leviticus and Deuteronomy is the ancient emphasis placed on the value of procreation. There are several laws that have to do with the "proper use of the male seed."** In the case of a man having sex with a menstruating woman, or men having sex with men, and surely in the case of bestiality (also condemned in Leviticus)...in all of these cases, the man's seed is not "properly" used because it is less likely to lead to procreation. Through this lens, we can understand the discouragement of male - male sex as being rooted in a desire to preserve the ancient value of procreation. Outside of the need to always be procreating (yet another problematic Biblical command in Genesis), this prohibition is obsolete.

Leviticus 18 not only does not condemn homosexual sex, but it also places the idea that homosexuality is wrong in the same archaic religious framework as obligatory circumcision and repopulating the Earth after a massive flood that killed everyone except Noah and his family.

*[1] https://postbarthian.com/2017/10/11/clobber-verses-six-scriptures-cited-gays-lesbians-sex-relationships-lgbtq/

**Cheryl B. Anderson, Ancient Laws and Contemporary Controversies: the Need for Inclusive Biblical Interpretation (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 37.

On to the next verse!

1st Corinthians 6: 9

1 Corinthians 6: 9; NRSV:

Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes,, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

Common (mis)Interpretation:

This text often translates the words μαλακοὶ & ἀρσενοκοῖται, the words in bold red and blue above, into “male prostitutes” and “homosexuals,” or “sodomites.”

Thus, in the common English translation, it reads as a clear statement that homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God.


The actual English word “homosexual” did not appear in the Bible until 1946, and it was in this verse that it appeared. It was a newly released translation of the Revised Standard Version which decided to make the leap from the more literally translated “effeminate”/"soft" & “male+bed,” to the hugely problematic translation of “homosexual.”

  • μαλακοὶ translates literally as “soft,” “young,” or “effeminate”

      • Generally speaking, this term could refer to someone who was soft in their morals or courage. In an ironic twist, this term has also been used in Paul's writings to refer to individuals who are too heterosexual. That is, too easily seduced by women.*

  • ἀρσενοκοῖται is made up of two root words: “male” and “bed, so it can be understood crudely as “male bedder.” Paul is believed to have made up this word, as it appears no where else in ancient Greek. ** It is unclear if the word is conjugated as the male doing an action, or receiving an action.

With these more accurate translations in mind, and with an eye to other ways these Greek words have been used throughout the New Testament, scholars agree that this verse has less to do with general homosexual acts, and more to do with a specific condemnation of politically or economically motivated child molestation.** Otherwise known as “pederasty,” or, “a man who desires or engages in sexual activity with a boy.”

It was a common practice during the Roman Empire for men of power to have sex with younger men or boys as a means of exerting power and dominance over them. This is far more likely the type of behavior that is being condemned in Paul’s writings - not consensual sex between two same-sex partners.

1 Corinthians: 6 includes a list of vices which are frowned upon, and among them is a condemnation of pederasty, or child molestation. Both the grammar and the historical context of the passage suggest that Paul was in no way condemning consensual homosexual relations between adults.

*Cheryl B. Anderson, Ancient Laws and Contemporary Controversies: the Need for Inclusive Biblical Interpretation (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 37.


On to the next verse!

1 Timothy: 1

1 Timothy: 8-10; NRSV:

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. 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

Common (mis)Interpretation:

Here again, ἀρσενοκοῖται makes an appearance (See 1st Corinthians above), along with another word which has a debated translation: ἀνδραποδισταῖς.

  • ἀρσενοκοῖται is often translated as "homosexual," or "sodomite."

  • ἀνδραποδισταῖς is often translated as slave trader.

As can be seen in the above NRSV translation, the two words are often translated as two separate things, seeming to condemn homosexuality and slave trading alongside murder and slavery.


The above discussion of the translation of ἀρσενοκοῖται applies to 1 Timothy as well, but the new insight that this verse offers is the immediate juxtaposition of ἀνδραποδισταῖς.

  • ἀνδραποδισταῖς literally translates as “dealers” or “stealers of people.” Thus, the translation as slave traders seen above.

  • Juxtaposed to the Greek ἀρσενοκοῖται, which likely refers to the political practice of pederasty (See "1st Corinthians"), it is possible that these two words are intended to be understood together, condemning the specific practice of sex slavery or human trafficking.

This seems even more likely when it is acknowledged that Temple prostitutes were common place in Roman times, in the times when Paul wrote.* Sex-trafficked young men were made available for men of authority to exert their dominion over, and slate their desires. This is the behavior that is more likely condemned in these verses from 1st Timothy.

This is not a condemnation of sex or sexual acts among LGBTQIA+ couples, but rather a condemnation of sex trafficking and the rape of young children.

*[1] https://postbarthian.com/2017/10/11/clobber-verses-six-scriptures-cited-gays-lesbians-sex-relationships-lgbtq/

On to the next verse!

It is meaningful to note: With careful study, even the most infamous texts that have been used to condemn the sexual expression of generations can be reframed and salvaged to empower the vulnerable and exploited. It is not enough to upend these verses, or “cancel” them. Rather, the work must be done to find the Good News in these verses, and to inject that Good News into circumstances and dialogues that harm the oppressed.

To make a modern comparison…A Genesis 19 that says, “Beware of the harm that comes from mis-gendering!” is the antibody to the viral Genesis 19 which says, “Homosexuality is a sin.” They look similar, but one defeats the other.