We constantly hear phrases that God loves the sinner but hates the sin. We know of churches trying desperately to repeat and act on that mantra. God, indeed, may be able to make the distinction between the sinner and the sin, but the rest of us find that more difficult. That seems to be especially true when it comes to the topic of homosexuality. It’s easy to understand why people would think God is a homophobe, since there are both Old and New Testament references to homosexuality as some form of “abomination” before the Lord. [e.g., Lev. 18:22, 20:13; I Cor. 6:9.]

To read and digest the Bible we must understand several things: the mind and situation of the writer; the mind and situation of the audience; and the message the writer was trying to communicate. Having understood that, we can begin to strip away the external “trappings” of the writer (e.g., those elements of the Old Testament text that clearly belong in the late Bronze Age or of the New Testament text that clearly belong to the early first century Christian Era) and concentrate on the true underlying message.

In short, the writers of biblical literature were people of their times and it shows.
In the Old Testament the whole concept of eternal life was understood as the growth and survival of one’s clan or progeny. Similar to the early cultures of our Native Americans, it was the tribe or clan that was the integral unit of society – not the individual. Preservation of the tribe was paramount. A man refusing to procreate with a woman threatened the tribe. Additionally, homosexuality was predominately (if not exclusively) cast in male terms. The Patriarchal nature of the social structure was, by our standards, very demeaning for women, who were not much better than chattel property. If a man preferred another man, who would marry someone’s daughter and furnish a good dowry? That was a scary thought.

There is nothing said, biblically, about women sexually preferring other women. It wasn’t a threat to the male-dominated social structure. Women could not alter their social status. Husbands could and did rape their wives to produce offspring. The tribe or clan would continue to survive. Homosexuality among males, however, contained the potential to threaten the survival of the clan. Consequently, it was condemned.

During the time of the New Testament, only the top 1-2% of the people in the Hellenistic (Greek) culture of Roman society were wealthy enough to afford slaves and have the leisure time to indulge in pleasure just for the sake of pleasure – we call it hedonism today – or to maintain a homosexual relationship. The concept of a committed, long-term, homosexual relationship, as we know it today, was virtually unheard of in the days of the Bible. In Romans 1:18-27, a passage often quoted by anti-homosexuals, the Apostle Paul was clearly referring to this very upper social class that worshipped man-made gods. Paul railed against homosexuality because it was a symbol of Greco-Roman encroachment and much of its accompanying hedonism. Prostitution, both female and male, and homosexuality were quite common among the most elite of the population.

“They were the only segment of the people who had the time and money to indulge themselves. It was a terrible affront to the moral Greco-Roman family man as well as to the pious Jew. It was enjoyment for enjoyment’s sake—hedonism—something only available to the “idle rich.” Additionally, there certainly was an aspect of the Greek culture that adored the beauty of the human body, both male and female, and the cultural/sexual reverberations that went with that. Just as there are “meat markets” (gay and heterosexual) in our society that are shunned by many in both the gay and straight communities, that form of hedonism existed in the Greek culture as well. Paul railed against that. He was not railing against a gay or lesbian lifestyle, with commitment, nurturing, caring—albeit between same-sex partners. That lifestyle was generally unheard of in the first century. It basically didn’t exist. It was simply unaffordable, thus undoable, for 99 percent of the populace.” (How the Bible became the Bible, p. 108).

We also have to keep in mind that Paul was writing in the firm belief that the end of the world and the permanent coming of the kingdom of heaven was – literally – just around the corner. (“What I mean, my friends, is this. The time we live in will not last long. While it lasts, married men should be as if they had no wives; mourners should be as if they had nothing to grieve them, the joyful as if they did not rejoice; buyers must not count on keeping what they buy, nor those who use the world’s wealth on using it to the full. For the whole frame of this world is passing away.” I Cor. 7: 29-31 NEB).

Paul railed against homosexuality and other things, such as adultery, drunkenness, greed, loose-living, and gluttony, primarily as acts of hedonism. His message? We need to stop doing these things and we must stop now. After all, the kingdom of heaven is upon us. We must also remind ourselves that Paul assigned more ink against adultery, swindling, and drunkenness than he did to homosexuality.

We continue, as well, to condemn hedonism in our society today. When we rail against sex just for the pleasure of sex (outside of marriage), we call it going to “meat-market” bars or clubs – places to pick up people for sexual pleasure – and this condemnation includes both homosexual and heterosexual “meat markets.” It is demeaning. It is dehumanizing. It is unsafe.

What can we conclude from this? Those today decrying homosexuality and citing biblical references to buttress their position are doing so more as an act of their homophobia than as an exposition of biblical knowledge. To truly follow Paul, they should be decrying adultery, greed, and gluttony more often and with as much gusto as they decry than homosexual relations.

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