A Common Bond's response to the anti-gay teachings of the Watchtower.
The Watchtower's view:
"You wouldn’t think of choosing to eat a meal of filthy garbage, would you? What, then, if you are continually exposed to mental garbage? It is bound to become part of your thinking. When watching a motion picture, you are, in effect, associating with the kinds of persons being portrayed on the screen. And movies are deliberately designed to involve you emotionally with the characters, often arousing sympathy for the wrongdoer—the fornicator, the homosexual, even the murderer. Do you want to get deeply involved in such a way with homosexuals, lesbians, fornicators, adulterers and criminals?" -- Your Youth - Getting the Best Out of It -- chapter 16
Over the years, Watchtower publications have repeatedly condemned homosexuality, claiming that same-sex relationships are scripturally forbidden. The most common adjectives used by Watchtower publications to describe homosexuality are "detestable" and "abomination". As Jehovah's Witnesses, we were taught to think of ourselves in such a way, believing that the Bible passages commonly cited in Watchtower publications were correct interpretations, and that our only hope for salvation was to attempt to lead a heterosexual lifestyle, or at least remain celibate for the rest of our lives. Known homosexuals who are proselytized into the Witnesses may be encouraged to marry (a common misconception that this will "cure" their homosexuality), but are absolutely expected to live a life of celibacy unless married to a member of the opposite sex. Gay and Lesbian Jehovah's Witnesses are required to preach from house to house, often distributing Watchtower literature which carry condemnatory statements against same-sex relationships. Many such individuals, unable to reconcile their sexuality with what they have been taught the Bible says about them, have been led to enter into heterosexual relationships against their nature, often with disastrous results. Others, plagued by feelings of hypocrisy and/or self-condemnation, in an attempt to escape their guilty consciences, have found themselves faced with alcoholism, drug addiction, or the all-too-often worst case scenario, suicide.
This essay will examine the scriptures commonly used to bash gays & Lesbians over the head with the Bible. It will clearly show that the Bible passages commonly used by the Watchtower are mistranslated or taken out of context. Many scholars studying the Bible's original Hebrew and Greek texts have reached markedly different conclusions about the correct usages of these verses. Support for this research may be found in their published works, a few of which we've listed under "Suggested Reading" below. We hope that, just as the ancient Beroeans, you will read these words below with an open mind, putting all misconceptions and prejudgements aside. (All scriptures cited will be quoted from the New World Translation, the Bible translation used by Jehovah's Witnesses.) Genesis 19: 1-28
The ancient story of Sodom and Gomorrah has been used throughout the centuries as a condemnation of homosexuality, to the point where certain sex acts have become referred to as "Sodomy". The verses in this story most commonly referred to as proof that the Sodomites were homosexual are verses 4 and 5: "Before they could lie down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, from boy to old man, all the people in one mob. And they kept calling out to Lot and saying to him: 'Where are the men who came in to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have intercourse with them." Examining this scripture, the first thing we see is that all the people, in one mob, demanded that Lot bring out the visitors to them. If we are to believe that the account of Sodom & Gomorrah is a condemnation of homosexuality, then we must accept the fact that the entire city consisted of homosexuals. If we look in the previous chapter, Genesis 18: 16-33, we see an account of Abraham negotiating with God to spare the people of Sodom, with the final outcome of God promising "I shall not bring it to ruin on account of the ten" (verse 33). God promised Abraham that Sodom would not be destroyed if only ten "righteous men" could be found I the city. If we are to accept the Watchtower's logic, this would mean that the "righteous men" referred to were heterosexuals. At this point, we need to ask ourselves: What would be the odds of less than ten people in the entire region of Sodom & Gomorrah being heterosexual? The obvious answer is: Impossible.
If homosexuality was not being referred to in this passage, then what was? Looking at the scriptures in Hebrew, we find an interesting usage of a couple of different words. When the mob cries out "Where are the men who came in to you tonight?", the Hebrew word translated men is 'enowsh which, literally translated, means "mortal".
This indicates that the mob knew that Lot had visitors, but were unsure of what sex they were. The Hebrew word for "man" (utilized in this same passage in Genesis 19:8) is entirely different.
One has to ask: Why would homosexuals want to have sex with two strangers if they were unsure of what sex they were?
The passage translated as "Bring them out so that we may have intercourse with them" needs further examination as well. Other Bible translations read "so that we may know them". The Hebrew word herewith translated as "have intercourse", or "know" is yada.
This word, yada, appears in the Hebrew Scriptures a total of 943 times. In all but ten of these usages, the word is used in the context of getting acquainted with someone. Had the writer intended for his reading audience to believe that the mob wanted to have sexual intercourse with the strangers, he would have used the Hebrew word shakab, which vividly denotes sexual activity.
The correct translation, therefore, should be rendered something to the effect of: "Where are the mortals who came in to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may get acquainted with them."
So then, if the story of Sodom & Gomorrah was not a condemnation of homosexuality, what was it trying to convey? Two verses elsewhere in the Bible sum up the story this way: "Look! This is what proved to be the error of Sodom your sister: Pride, sufficiency of bread and the carefreeness of keeping undisturbed were what happened to belong to her and her dependent towns, and the hand of the afflicted one and the poor one she did not strengthen. And they continued to be haughty and to carry on a detestable thing before me, and I finally removed them, just as I saw [fit]" - Ezekiel 16: 49, 50. It is commonly assumed that the "detestable thing" referred to in this passage is homosexuality. In fact, the Hebrew word utilized here is tow'ebah, which translated literally means "to commit idol worship".
This can be seen in the original Genesis passage, chapter 19, verse 8: "Please, here I have two daughters who have never had intercourse with a man. Please let me bring them out to you. Then do to them as is good in your eyes." One must ask: If Lot's house was surrounded by homosexuals, why would he offer the mob women? Note that these women were virgins. Note also that the Sodomites were pagans. Virgin sacrifices to idols were a common practice Sodom. Therefore, it can be concluded that Lot was offering his daughters as a virgin sacrifice to appease the mob in an effort to protect the visitors.
In the Greek scriptures, the story of Sodom is summed up this way: "and by reducing the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them, setting a pattern for ungodly persons of things to come". This corroborates Ezekiel's summation, once again showing that these were "ungodly persons", in other words, idolaters, not worshippers of the true God.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah, therefore, is a condemnation of idol worshippers, a greedy and inhospitable society. The judgement of this region had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality! Leviticus 18:22 Leviticus 20:13
The message was clear to the ancient Israelites: semen was to be used for one purpose alone - procreation. Spilled semen, whether by masturbation, anal penetration, or homosexuality, was not to be tolerated. It was a "numbers game". One of the Bible's earliest edicts, it's theme repeated through the Old Testament, was to "be fruitful and multiply". Many strict regulations were imposed on the ancient Israelites. The "chosen ones of God" understood each of these regulations to be equally important. In the Greek scriptures, James points this fact out by stating: "For whoever observes all the law but makes a false step in one point, he has become an offender against them all." Watchtower publications, however, selectively cite the two scriptures in Leviticus as a condemnation of homosexuality, overlooking James' words which state, in essence, that if you've broken just one of the laws, you've broken them all. Leviticus 19:27 condemns haircuts and shaving. Have you ever seen a long-haired, bearded Jehovah's Witness male? Leviticus 19:19 condemns wearing clothing made of more than one type of thread. How many Jehovah's Witnesses wear clothing made of 50% cotton and 50% polyester? Taking the Bible literally, such individuals are equally guilty as homosexuals. When questioned by the pharisees regarding the ancient laws, Jesus' reply was "I came, not to destroy, but to fulfill". In other words, Christianity and love of God and fellow man was a replacement for the ancient codes, many of which were no longer practical or relevant.
But do these two passages really condemn homosexuality? Looking at the scriptures in Hebrew, one sees a different condemnation. Leviticus 20:13 states, in part, "When a man lies down with a male the same as one lies down with a woman". Had the writer intended to convey homosexuality being condemned here, he would have likely used the Hebrew word 'iysh, which means "man", or "male person". Instead, the author utilizes a much more complicated Hebrew word, zakar, which literally translated means "a person worthy of recognition".
This word was used to refer to high priests of the surrounding idolatrous religions. It was believed that by granting sexual favors to the high priest (a fertility rite), one would be guaranteed an abundance of children and crops. Taking Leviticus 18: 22 into proper context, then, one looks at the preceding verse 21: "And you must not allow the devoting of any of your offspring to Molech". What we see here in actuality are warnings to the Israelites not to engage in the fertility rituals of the worshippers of Molech, which often required the granting of sexual favors to the priest. Had this been a mere condemnation of homosexuals, the writer would have used clearer language. Romans 1:26-27 1 Cor. 6: 9-11 1 Tim. 1:9-11
Greek, like Hebrew, is a much more descriptive language than English. As an example, while we have the word "love", Greek has agape, storge, philia, and eros - each describing a different form of love. Further, meanings of words can change over generations. A typical example would be if someone were referred to as a "space cadet" thirty years ago, likely they were employed by NASA. Today, the same phrase would be an insult. Thus, it is easy to understand why words in the ancient Greek could be misinterpreted, as are the terms "men who lie with men", "abusers of mankind", "homosexual", and "pervert" in the above referenced scriptures. The two words in Greek used in the above scriptures that are commonly mistranslated as such are arsenokoites and malakos. Bible scholars now believe arsenokoites to mean "male temple prostitute", as mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures at Deut. 23: 17-18. The actual meaning of this word, however, has been lost in history, as it was a slang term which, literally translated, means "lift bed".
The Greek malakos, literally translated, means "spineless" (some linguistics scholars translate it as "limp", or "coward").
What is important to note here is that both of these words are nouns. In ancient Greek, there is no known noun to define homosexuality. It was always expressed as a verb. Just as in the Hebrew scriptures examined above, the Greek scriptures make reference to those who engaged in idolatrous practices, much of which centered around sex in return for favors. Neither the homosexual nor the direct idea of homosexuality appears anywhere in these passages. Had the writer intended to make a clear point about condemnation of gays, the Greek verb would have been utilized rather than the above-referenced nouns which are directly related to cowardice and idolatry.
But what of Paul's statement at Romans 1 where "females changed the natural use of themselves into one contrary to nature and likewise even the males left the natural use of the female and became violently inflamed in their lust towards one another"? The answer lies in Paul's words in verses 22 & 23: "Although asserting they were wise, they became foolish and turned the glory of the incorruptible God into something like the image of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed creatures and creeping things." Obviously, Paul's reference here is to idolatry. As mentioned above in examining the Hebrew scriptures, many pagan idol-worshipping religions of Paul's day taught that by granting sexual favors to the high priest, the one giving the favor would be rewarded with fertility of crops and offspring. It then becomes clear that Paul's reference was not to same-sex, loving relationships, but his condemnations focused on heterosexuals who, going against their own sexual nature, granted sexual favors to the leaders of pagan religions in expectation of reward by the pagan gods. In Conclusion...
...nowhere in the Bible is any negative reference made to loving same-sex relationships. In fact, two positive references appear in the Hebrew scriptures of love between two people of the same sex:
2 Samuel 1:26 states: "I am distressed over you, my brother Jonathan, very pleasant you were to me. More wonderful was your love to me than the love from women."
Ruth 1: 16, 17 states: "And Ruth proceeded to say: 'Do not plead with me to abandon you, to turn back from accompanying you; for where you go I shall go, and where you spend the night I shall spend the night. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I shall die, and there is where I shall be buried. May Jehovah do so to me and add to it if anything but death should make a separation between me and you'."
While no mention is made of actual sexual activity between these two same-sex couples, it must be pointed out that these couples had made covenants with each other. To the ancient Israelites, a covenant was viewed as a holy bond, a powerful uniting of two people.
While we do not expect the Watchtower Society to alter its views on homosexuality, it is our hope that those who are affected by the Watchtower's negative stance towards gays and Lesbians will now take a second look at these scriptures and read them in the context in which were actually meant to be understood. A Common Bond is here to offer our support, acceptance, and love to our Gay and Lesbian Brothers and Sisters worldwide. Please contact us! RECOMMENDED READING:
Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality - by John Boswell
Good News for Modern Gays - by Rev. Sylvia Pennington
Sex Positive - by Larry J. Uhrig
Homosexuality and Religion - edited by Richard Hasbany PhD
Living in Sin? - by Bishop John Shelby Spong
What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality - by Daniel Helminiak
Openly Gay Openly Christian - by Rev. Samuel Kader
Steps To Recovery From Bible Abuse - by Rembert Truluck