The Bible on the Question of Homosexuality

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The Bible on the Question of Homosexuality. By Innocent Himbaza, Adrien Schenker, O.P., and Jean-Baptiste Edart. Translated by Benedict M. Guevin, O.S.B. Catholic University of America Press. 147 pages. $19.95.

In reply to some recent ideological interpretations of the Bible, Innocent Himbaza, a Protestant, and Adrien Schenker, a Dominican priest, both of the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, and Jean-Baptiste Edart, of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Rome, have produced a timely book that clarifies what the Bible says on the question of homosexuality. Himbaza offers a close reading of three stories: Sodom, the men of Gibeah, and the friendship of David and Jonathan; Schenker looks at the prohibition of homosexual acts in Leviticus 18 and 20; and Edart analyzes relevant passages in the New Testament.

Himbaza points out that the inhabitants of Sodom did not merely fail to practice hospitality but were also violent and debauched in their desire to yada the strangers - the term yada in Hebrew having sexual connotations. The same word yada is used in Gibeah, where once again "raping a woman seems less odious than raping a man." In both stories, Himbaza says, "homosexual behavior is part of what constitutes the sins of the inhabitants." To insist that the stories say nothing about homosexual behavior seems to be "an ideological interpretation."

In his analysis of key passages in Samuel, Himbaza shows that "no word, no gesture describing the love between Jonathan and David is limited to an erotic context, nor absent from common and neutral language." For instance, the kiss the friends exchange (1 Sam. 20:41) is just like the kiss Moses gives his father-inlaw, Jethro (Exod. 18:7). Some have seen an erotic connotation in David's lament, "More precious have I held love for you than love for women" (2 Sam. 1:26), but the word used for "love" {ahavah) is also used for love of country or master. So a homosexual relationship between David and Jonathan "is neither clearly expressed nor implicitly suggested."

Schenker remarks that when the Mosaic Law forbids homosexual acts (Lev. 18:22), no reason is given, and yet the prohibition occurs after 15 other prohibitions, nearly all related to incest. Likewise, a second prohibition of homosexual acts (Lev. 20:13), punishable by death, occurs in a list of several other forbidden sexual acts. In these passages, Israel is being given rules to follow that are "not ritual commandments of minor significance" but guides to holiness. While the biblical pro- hibition is only against the act, not the inclination, it is logical to conclude that "anything that paves the way to the prohibited act is also excluded by the Torah."

Edart focuses on the controversial passages of the New Testament. He notes that the word malakoi in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is translated in the New American Bible as "boy prostitutes," but in fact it means "passive homosexual partner" and is not limited to a boy.

The debate about homosexuality over the past 30 years "has generated all kinds of literature, mostly American," on Romans 1:18-32. Various writers contend that Paul refers here only to pedophiles, male prostitutes, and heterosexuals engaging in homosexual acts. Edart answers that "Paul's perspective is theological. …