The first time the word “homosexual” appeared in any Bible was in the Revised Standard Version (RSV) published in 1946. In the RSV’s original translation of the Greek words “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai,” the word “homosexual” was used. Researchers today agree these words translate loosely to “effeminacy,” and “pervert,” or “sexual pervert,” The publishers corrected this error in their 1971 translation. The new documentary movie 1946 explores how this mistranslation ignited the anti-gay movement within American conservative Christians.
Today, conservative Christians want to continue teaching against homosexuality--as if it were a conscious choice. Liberals want to minimize Scripture anyway, so don't really care whether homosexuality is an appropriate translation. This new movie discusses how that translation came to be, but doesn't tackle the follow-up question, "Now what?" Now that mainline scholars understand the translation problem, what is the correct understanding of sexual sin in Scripture? As much as the liberal scholars would like it to all just go away, it’s not going to. Correctly translated, Paul is still talking about perversion, and the conservatives say that perversion was homosexuality. The shallow scholarship that permeates liberal Christianity has no good answer to this dilemma.
The answer lies in correctly understanding how the Old Testament Jews viewed the Law.
Many people have come to believe that the Bible, and in turn Christianity, denounces people who are attracted to someone of the same sex, or have other issues, such as being born intersex, or the body of one gender, but the mind of another. At least in the USA, this tends to be a political discussion rather than a theological question. Americans have come to treat everything as a political issue, even things that make no sense being politicized.
The answer lies in correctly understanding how the Old Testament Jews viewed the Law. Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul taught using the Law as a teaching aid, but we blow right past it when reading Scripture, because we Christians never learned how the Jewish Law worked--that is, how the Jews understood it.
The Jews have always separated all The Law into two categories:
The Works of the Law: These are all the laws between mankind and God; called erga, in the Greek–which literally means “work,” (sometimes translated “Jobs”). Those were the “how to be Jewish” part of the law that the Jews had to follow under the Old Covenant; ritual purity, ceremonial cleansing, avoiding blended fabrics, keeping kosher, etc. Violating these was never considered worthy of Spiritual death; and these Works of the Law, no longer matter. They pertained only to the Jewish believers, under the Old Covenant.
The Justices of the Law: These are all the laws between one person and another person; called dikaiomata in the Greek–which literally means “rights” or “justices.” These are the obligations between one and another, that is, between one person and another. This part of the Law never went away. Violating these laws has always been worthy of Spiritual death. These are the “Love your neighbor as yourself” portion of the Law.
There are no other categories! This is something the Christian Church never learned from the Jewish Old Covenant. Ask your neighborhood Rabbi to explain the laws between mankind and God and the laws between one person and another, these two categories date back thousands of years, and are still the only two the Jews recognize. The Westminster Confession of Faith, from 1646, divides the Mosaic laws into three categories: moral, civil, and ceremonial; these categories are incorrect. Most Evangelical and conservative Christian scholars will add dietary laws, and health & ritual cleanliness laws to the conversation. Again, these are all incorrect labels, or categories. Getting the two, and only two, original Jewish categories correct is critical. Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul taught using the two categories, so when the Christian Church does not understand those two categories, Christianity misunderstands what Jesus and Paul were teaching.
When the Pharisees or the Sadducees were angry with Jesus, it was almost always because they thought Jesus had broken a Work of the Law, or some other Jewish social tradition; healing someone on the Sabbath, befriending prostitutes and tax-collectors, showing concern for women, children, and foreigners, etc. The Jewish leadership loved obeying the Works, because it made them look good in the eyes of the community. But, what Jesus constantly reminded the Pharisees and the Sadducees was that He was fulfilling the Justice of the Law by caring for these people. That angered the Jewish leadership because they didn’t always like to obey the Justices—there was rarely anything in it for them; it was hard work for little, if any, social reward.
The entire argument that “the Bible teaches against homosexual relationships” is based on the Christian Church’s historic lack of understanding that there are only two types of Law; Works & Justices. The Justices of the Law that speak to sexual sin are talking about the abuse and cheating that does accompany some sexual relationships: owning boys as sex slaves which the Greeks and Romans did, sexual hazing like Sodom & Gomorrah, or bestiality like Nineveh. Cheating on a spouse is in this category too, as that’s unfair to the spouse. This is what those Greek words translated sexual perversion were talking about. These kinds of abuse have always been sinful, and remain so under the New Testament. Conversely, the Works of the Law that spoke to sexual sin were talking about sex as a part of idol worship, and God’s desire for the Hebrews to multiply–which only happens through heterosexual sex, and the purity teachings of the Law–which were teaching tools that humans were expected to fail.
Correctly understood, there are no other categories of Law: The Justices, including those about sex, teach us to treat others as we want to be treated. The Works, including those about sex, expired 2,000 years ago. To say it differently; sexually mistreating someone remains forbidden, but God never applied those how-to-be-Jewish laws to anyone other than the Old Covenant Jews. Even then, breaking those Works of the Law was not considered serious, because they were part of those Laws that God expected the Jews to fail, as a leaching tool.
Obviously the Religious Right, and Fundamentalist scholars don't want to deal with the easily-verified reality of these two categories, Justices & Works. Admitting that consensual homosexuality has to be lumped into a group of laws that no longer apply, pulls the morality rug out from under their feet.