Guy Hammond: Dr. Jacoby, thank you for speaking with me today.
Dr. Jacoby: You’re very welcome.
GH: Your resume is impressive and given your expertise. I’m certainly interested in hearing your thoughts on some of the issues my new book is addressing. In this interview I would like to pose a number of questions and objections I have heard through the years. These aren’t necessarily my own questions, but they are definitely others’.
DJ: I don’t consider myself in any way an expert. But yes, I do think a lot about theology, and have been following developments in the ongoing sexual revolution.
GH: Through the centuries, the Bible has been misused to support prejudice, segregation, slavery, treating women as second- class citizens, and so on. Today we look back and recognize these horrible errors. However, as the accusation goes, the Bible is still being misused—against gay people. They predict that in years to come people will look back aghast on our generation, just as we do on previous generations. Would you agree?
DJ: Yes, that’s exactly what people will say. It’s already happening. A number of public intellectuals compare “homophobia” with resistance to the Civil Rights Movement. They portray Bible believers as backward and hateful. True, the lack of grace and love shown to LGBTQ people on the part of supposed Bible believers is atrocious. Such people seriously misrepresent Christ. Moreover, as Christians we freely admit that many do distort the meaning of the Scriptures—an unfortunate reality throughout the centuries of church history (2 Peter 3:1-3, 16).
GH: It seems you aren’t comfortable with the term “homophobia.”
DJ: I’ve never cared for the word. Phobia denotes a fear, often an irrational one. But mere disagreement doesn’t necessarily entail fear. I don’t care for brussels sprouts—to me they taste bitter—but does that mean I have a phobia I need to grow out of? I don’t agree with the Buddhist tenet that the material world is unreal, nor with their doctrine that there is no soul. Does this make me “Buddhaphobic”?
Now I’ve never heard the term “heterophobia.” Nor will I use it, since it would be unfair to accuse those who live and think differently from me of suffering from a phobia. Is it possible that gay people fear straight people? Of course—just as there’s evidence many straight people fear and hate gays. But such ungracious attitudes are not inherent in biblical morality. Loaded words like “homophobic” and “transphobic” are coined to paint those of a different opinion as narrow-minded, ignorant, or otherwise in the wrong.
GH: But back to the matter of the comparison between Civil Rights and Gay Rights...
DJ: Basic human rights should be denied to no one, whether on the basis of gender or ethnicity or preference in vegetables.
But I’d say the comparison fails, for several reasons. First, there’s a difference between regulation of already-existing customs and institutions and active support for them. For example, in Old Testament times divorce was permitted, but a certificate provided the woman a fresh start, and protection against any future claims on the part of her former husband (Deut 24:1ff.). Slavery was a social institution worldwide—though it has nearly faded out globally since the 19th century (1). Yet in Israel humane treatment of fellow human-beings was required by the Law (Exod 21:2ff.). And engaging in the slave trade was a capital crime (Exod 21:16; see also 1 Tim 1:10). Blood vengeance was virtually a social expectation in the ancient world (as it still is today in many countries), which is why the Torah provided cities of refuge for the innocent (Num 35:6).
Let’s consider one more well-known principle: that the punishment must fit the crime. “Eye for eye” (Exod 21:24) is a recognition of proportionality: the punishment of a criminal cannot exceed the level of harm suffered by the victim. That is, “an eye for an eye” determines a maximum penalty, not a minimum. In fact there is strong evidence that despite the designation of numerous capital crimes in the Torah, cases were normally settled financially. (2)
None of these lamentable practices (slavery, divorce, blood vengeance, etc.) were actively encouraged. But they were regulated. There is, however, no “regulation” of homosexual sin (Lev 18:22)—any more than there was “regulation” of bestiality (Lev 18:23). It is true that among the 1189 chapters of the Bible there are only a handful of scriptures forbidding homosexual behavior (two in the O.T., three in the N.T). That is, the Bible hardly obsesses over the issue. Yet it is not true that this is therefore a non- issue.
GH: The film 1946: The Movie (3) advances the claim that the first time the word “homosexual” appeared in any Bible was in 1946, with the publication of the Revised Standard Version. In the translation of 1 Cor 6:9, the word “homosexual” was used to render of the Greek words “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai.” Years later, the head of the translation committee admitted that this was a mistake. Subsequent revisions of the RSV, however, didn’t replace “homosexual” with “sexual perverts” until 1971, 25 years after the mistranslation occurred. By then, many other translations of the Bible had followed suit with the word “homosexual” in biblical texts. The damage had been done. Did a mistranslation occur back in 1946?
DJ: No, I don't think so. Languages change; all languages are constantly evolving. The word “homosexual” came into the English language in the late 1800s. But that hardly means there was no such thing as homosexuality before the 1890s! Men having sex with men or women having sex with women—phrases, not words—still connote what is meant by the modern phrase “homosexuality," even if there is no exact biblical equivalent of the English word.
Translators are only human, and they do make mistakes—especially when they are pressured to agree with others, or face public academic shaming. As far as the RSV goes—which is normally a perfectly fine translation—the mistake seems to have been made not in 1946, but in 1971.
1 Nevertheless, even in our time there are millions trapped in servitude of various forms, ranging from sweatshops and child labor to sex trafficking and outright slavery.
2 The only exception to this practice seems to have been in the case of first-degree murder (Num 35:31). As for “an eye for an eye,” I don't know of a single example in the O.T. where this was carried out literally.