Abomination and Gays: The importance of the Word

“It is better to be dead than to be a homosexual.”

A starry eyed and intellectually curious boy of seven heard these words for the first time in his Southern Baptist Church in a small midwest corn town. These words would shape his psyche, damaging his ability to see himself as anything less than evil as he grew from child into man.

The pastor who spoke these words was a gentle man with a kind heart, faithfully shepherding his flock to his understanding of the word of God. The kindly older man didn’t use these words with anger or malice, but with love, which made them that much more lethal in the telling. Sitting in the pew, the boy listened intently, looking up to the man as a source of truth, guidance, and feeling within his own heart, a call of God.

Forty one years later, the boy has become a man watching the world around him, wandering aimlessly through world, still haunted by the words of the man he trusted with his soul. Haunted, not because he believed the words to be true any longer, but because of the damage they still cause so many and the people who spout them with such fervent belief which causes so many young people to end their lives or reject God outright for something they cannot change. Souls lost to eternity because of an honest belief in words translated a long time ago, lacking context and understanding. While there are many words, one word is the base of this hatred.

To’evah, translated into the King James Version of the Bible as abomination.

I am going to invite the reader of this piece to take a moment and say a prayer and ask God for a discerning spirit to hear the words proceeding if they are a believer in Christ. If you are not a believer in Christ, but continue, I ask that you read with an open heart.

Christians have a firm belief in the infallible nature and construct of the Word of God, the Bible. Read with great passion and adherence, many of their hearts are lifted and guided as they read the pages. There is an issue with this however, where did the English words come from that are so powerful to their belief?

The Bible is translated from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages. Translation is fraught with perils of mistranslation due to the use of a word in cultural and historical context while some words have no equivalent in the translated language. Translating the Bible from three languages into one presents an even greater challenge as each language comes with its own nuance and context. Translation and interpretation, even among native speakers can be met with resistance.

Americans need to look no further than their own constitution and the second amendment to understand that even among native speakers, understandings of meaning can be complex and challenging. Phrases like, “Shall not be infringed” and “regulated militia” are tossed back and forth across native speakers on what those phrases mean, including the application of the governance of the people for example. Similarly, the Bible often times suffers the same type of understanding based on cultural context and understanding of the words.

Most Christians are accustomed to the King James Version of the Bible, using it as the basis of their understanding of God and His instruction. Many do not know the KJV was not the first Bible translated into English. The Geneva Bible was written by protestants 51 years before the KJV was written.

King James commissioned the translation of the Bible in an effort to unite the kingdom during a time of great spiritual crisis in the lands between the Church of England and protestants. The King commissioned fifty of the greatest linguists and scholars to write a Bible that was true to the original texts, which he viewed the protestant version to not be. Translations with a bent outcome to start presents the first challenge to translation.

King James accomplishment of his Bible would reform the world as the KJV is considered to be the definitive version and the Geneva Bible was lost to obscurity. However both versions fall prey to translation of self fulfilling prophesy while ignoring cultural context of words used. While there are many, for our purposes, we will focus on to’evah translated into “abomination.”

In Hebrew, to’evah is a cultic term applying to being ritually unclean. If one was ritually unclean, one could not engage in worship without first performing a ritual cleanse to worship again. Hebrew scholars agree that to’evah is not a moral offense when used in Leviticus, but one of ritual offense.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow suggests that a man layinig with another man is to’evah because one man must assume the position of a female, which was below the station of a man as women were meant to be subservient to men in the cultural time of the writing. During this period of time, if a daughter were to have sex outside of marriage, she was to be stoned, but there is no mention of consequence to the man taking her virtue.

To’evah also applied to eating of pigs and shellfish or having sexual relations with a woman during her menstrual cycle. Each of these offenses require the person to perform ritual cleansing before they could go to worship but was not viewedd as a moral failing. In fact, many of the Levitical laws were in place for a more common reason, infection control, to be “pure” in the eyes of the Lord.

Ritual cleansing depended on the offense. The Hebrew Bible, in conjunction with the Mishnah and Talmud, codify the various Jewish laws and traditions, and amongst them, the practice of ritual cleansing. These rituals included hand washing, washing of the feet, and Tvilah, full body immersion. Tvilah should sound familiar and is associated with the practice of baptism, however, that is another discussion.

But surely Leviticus 20:13 shows the moral objection, not simply a ritual one? “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” This must be a clear indication of moral objection as the prescription is death?

To understand this verse, we must go back to the root of the translation, which is Hebrew. The Hebrew language is a language where words do not have casual association. In other words, the Hebrew language means what it means. This is an important distinction to understand when reading Hebrew due to our own cultural ability to make association of a translation that fits our narrative, not the meaning of the word.

In Hebrew, the literal translation says a man shall not lie with a male, not another man. Why is this important? Culturally, Judaism is a monotheistic religion swimming in a cultural sea of paganism, or multi-theistic, cultures when this was written. One of the prevalent practices at the time in pagan culture was men having sex with boys, also known as pederasty as well as temple prostitution.

These two practices offend the Hebrew belief systems on two levels. The first, and most important, breaks the law of engaging in pagan practices and engaging in male pederasty. Notable in these laws, there is no mention of women or girls engaging in sexual activity together because they weren’t viewed as important to the hierarchy of worship.

The prescription of death for these sins are moral and different than the to’evah, hence, having two separate versus to address each type of offense. Understanding of the culture and literal nature of the Hebrew makes a difference in the actual translation. However, without cultural understanding or cultural relevance, we risk not understanding the progression of anti homosexual relevance of the KJV translation.

While Rome did inhabit pagan practice, understanding the conversion of Rome to Christian belief plays a pivotal role in culture. Historically, Rome had a dirty past with pagan practice and Christian Emperors would do everything they could to purge and cleanse the past from their reign.

Pagan rule ended with Heliogabalus, the last pagan Emperor of Rome when he was murdered around 222 AD. Heliogabalus participated in temple prostitution, including with males. The choice of the word males is intentional to tie back to the Hebrew use of males to include pederasty. His cousin, who’s mother was Christian, Emperor Alexander Severus reigned for thirteen years from 222–235 AD.

To separate himself from his pagan cousin, Severus began the conversion of Rome from pagan to Christian by delineating himself as different from his pagan cousin. Open homosexuals were not killed, but deported and temple prostitutes were heavily taxed. Deporting is an important distinction to show the early Christian belief did not kill homosexuals, but simply sent them away. Ritual versus moral offense becomes increasingly important to the early church and timelines.

The Council of Elvira forbade the giving of last rites to pederasts in 305–306 AD. Pederasty clearly was seen as separate from the act of homosexuality in the eyes of the early church. It wasn’t until 314AD that the Council of Ancyra in Asia Minor excluded homosexuals from receiving the sacrament as a form of power grabbinig. This act gave the council ecclesiastical power over all laws.

The use of restriction and penalty towards homosexuals was wielded much like the Salem witch trials where mere accusation meant condemnation. Due to the climate created, any who opposed were deemed homosexual and were denied last rights, leaving them unable to obtain their heavenly destination. Finally, by 390 AD, Emperor Valentinian decread homosexuals should be burned at the stake as only “cleansing fire” could save them.

Two important facts need to be imparted with this decision. Pederasts and homosexuals had now been lumped together. To’evah no longer applied as being a homosexual, and only applied to men, was a moral, no longer a ritual offense. In essence, Tvilah, or baptism, was no longer seen as able to cleanse, but only fire.

The Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 529 closed the Platonic Academy in Athens, declaring that “because of such impious conduct cities have indeed perished. . . . Because of such crimes there are famines, earthquakes, and pestilences”. A plague would arrive in 543 AD and blamed homosexuals for the disease.

Not only was the death of Jesus unable to cleanse the sins of homosexuals, neither did the Old Testament laws apply. Now man’s laws prescribed what to do with those that were gay. They supplanted God’s in favor of their own, creating a system of “ultimate sin.”

By the time the Geneva Bible was written, divisions within the Church on salvation, style, and belief had taken root in the mind of Christian England. The Church of England, who’s roots were established in Catholicism and Rome, is lead by none other than the ruling monarch on the throne. Enter King James.

Combining the translation difficulty with the cultural influence, the King James Version of the Bible does indeed influence the translation and subtlety of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek portions that lead to our Bible we use today. Language is now set, not subtle like that of the founding language in Hebrew.

In the interest of intellectual honesty, consensus among Rabbi’s is not complete. Even among native speakers, reading of the Hebrew Bible, Mishnah, and Talmud are not universal. So how can the English translation be so cut and dry and what is the harm of being careful, just in case?

The road to hell is paved with good intentions fits this question perfectly. Through the misuse of words in translation, literally, millions of people are being turned away from the doors of the church and to the salvation of Jesus Christ. If you’re not a homosexual, you risk nothing asking this question. Instead of applying compassion and allowing the Holy Ghost to move in an individual, the church has decided who is worthy, and who is not to serve God.

Creating a self fulfilling prophesy does not. make a prophesy true. The church tells homosexuals they are broken, diseased, and only concerned about sex. The church fills their halls with messages of how homosexuals. are wicked and will not see the glorying of God because they are consumed with the pleasures of the flesh.

When a young person in the church who has been brought up with these messages turns to drinking, sex, and drugs, the church says, “See!” The harm comes in from saying being homosexual is an unforgivable sin and you can’t serve God. Could it be the reason why conversion from gay to straight has such abismal rates and increases rates of suicide? Could it be that mistranslation leads people to hell? Could the harm be why LGBT children have a four times higher rate of suicide than their heterosexual counterparts?

That innocent, starry eye boy who loved God with all his heart struggled through his life feeling like there was no place for him in God’s plan. He grew up believing he would amount to nothing and that life held little value knowing his eternity would be filled with hell fire. He grew up to be a man who prayed and studied to meet God to find some peace.

Tyler Davis

*There are many other scriptures that deal with homosexuality that also suffer from mistranslation and misunderstanding through cultural and historical relevance. This is not meant to be a definitive answer.

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Tyler Davis

Author of New America: Awakenings now avialble at Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Googleplay, Kobo