The Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage has incurred opposition from people who believe that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is the word of God, and that the text declares that any homosexual relations are evil, an abomination.

Many devoutly religious people base their thoughts about the Bible on some English-language translation. But the wordings of translations differ, and so if one really wants to apply the Bible as God’s word, one must go to the original languages in which the texts were written. Any translation into another language from the original is necessarily a redaction and interpretation. A full understanding requires an explanation based on the historical and linguistic context. This is why in Jewish religious thought, the written Bible is considered only half the story; the other half is in the oral text as explained by expert teachers.

In the Old Testament, two statements on homosexual relations are in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. According to “Hope Remains: Homosexuality and the Bible” , English translations “cannot be supported by the Hebrew text”. Its “correct translation” of 20:13, is that for “a man who will lie down with a male in a woman's bed, both of them have made an abomination.” The Hebrew has the term “mishk’vei” meaning “bed”.

“It can be seen that, rather than forbidding male homosexuality, it simply forbids two males to lie down in a woman’s bed, for whatever reason. Culturally, a woman's bed was her own. Other than the woman herself, only her husband was permitted in her bed, and there were even restrictions on when he was allowed in there. Any other use of her bed would have been considered defilement.”

Leviticus 18:22 is typically translated as in the King James Version: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” Similar to 20:13, the correct translation is “And with a male, thou shalt not lie down in a woman's bed; it is an abomination.” The Hebrew, using the Sephardic transliteration, is: “V’et-zachar lo tishkav mishk’vei ishah to’evah hu.” .

As stated by “Hope Remains,” “ishah - This is the Hebrew word for woman. Since there is no definite article (the), it is understood to mean a woman. And with a male thou shalt not lie down in beds of a woman. Since this is awkward, we will rephrase it to ‘in a woman's bed.’ And with a male thou shalt not lie down in a woman's bed.”

Regarding marriage, as stated by “Hope Remains,” “today's concept of monogamy was not considered the norm in biblical days. Especially among royalty, polygamy was considered essential in order to produce a large number of heirs, which would ensure that the throne would remain in the same family.” If fundamentalist Christians seek to have law conform to the Bible, that implies the legalization of polygamy.

Also, the Bible has examples of same-sex marriage. “in I Samuel 18 ... King Saul didn't seem to draw any distinction between David's marriage to Jonathan and his impending marriage to Michal. Although Saul didn't approve of the first marriage, he still recognized it as a marriage, and not just two men living together. Therefore it seems evident that the instructions given in the Bible for opposite-sex marriages were also meant to be applied to same-sex marriage” .

In Samuel 1:26, King David grieves for Jonathan: “Your love was wonderful to me, More than the love of woman.”

In an article on “The Problem with Fundamentalists & Literalists,” biblical scholar Brent Walters point out that “Any text out of context is pretext” .

Walters biblical analysis concludes that the biblical writers did not condemn homosexuality itself but rather problems such as idolatry, promiscuity, the exploitation of children, and any disregard for the welfare of others. This is expressed in an early Christian text (around 100 CE), the Didaché, in which the prohibitions include ruining boys but not adult same-sex relations.

It is natural for people to be selective in choosing evidence for their beliefs. One of the problems to avoid in science is “selection bias”. Religious adherents are usually not consistent in justifying their beliefs from religious texts. For example, few today would justify slavery and other practices that were accepted in ancient times.

The conclusion should be that even if one believes there is a religious basis for one’s doctrine, other interpretations, explanations, and redactions are possible. Therefore, no matter how much one believes that a text comes from God, we human beings differ in how we understand even the same text, and so the proper basis for governance is not any text but an ethical philosophy derived using reason.

© Text Copyright Fred Foldvary, Ph.D. rights reserved.
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