top of page

Pro-Gay Theology Part 3: An Interview with Dr. Douglas Jacoby

GH: It is important to look at the historical context in which Lev 18 was written. This particular section speaks on homosexuality, and goes on to discuss procreation. It is about a nation trying to grow, to procreate. It’s not about homosexual activity in itself being sinful. What are your thoughts on this?

DJ: This is way too simplistic a reading of Lev 18. Verses 21 and 23 have nothing to do with procreation, nor do most of the sins identified in the next section (like 19:4 and 19:14).

GH: When the term “abomination” is used in the Hebrew Bible, it is always used to address a ritual wrong. It is never used to refer to something inherently immoral. Eating pork wasn’t inherently immoral, but it was an abomination because it was a violation of a ritual requirement.

DJ: Well, that’s not quite true. The term refers to certain sexual sins, and even to child sacrifice. Of course we could view the cultic requirement of infant sacrifice as a religious matter, since it took place all over the ancient world in the context of religious observance. Yet few would agree that this is only an opinion matter. Sometimes, however, “abomination” refers to something less serious. There are certain things the Lord wanted his people to reject—to be repulsed by. The same word applied to kosher requirements as to more obviously moral matters, and that can cause confusion today. But just because some rules are “cultural” or specific to the Old Covenant does not mean that there is no sin—that anything goes. Just as there are physical laws governing the universe, so there is a moral law to which we are all subject.

For a moment, let’s shift from the O.T. to the N.T. The apostle Paul urges us to be led by the Spirit, not by the flesh (Gal 5:18-23). He doesn’t speak in the abstract; Paul lists specific vices (“works of the flesh”7), as well as specific virtues (“fruits of the Spirit”). In the sin list, sandwiched between debauchery and hatred, are the sins of idolatry and witchcraft (Gal 5:20). We should be repelled by both. They are not morally neutral. Further, they cause religion to degenerate into mechanics, they objectify persons, and the lure people away from faith in God into various attempts to control the future. When we do such things, people get hurt.

Prov 6:16-19 is a passage naming seven abominations, none of which we are likely to construe as morally neutral. Ezekiel 18:13 applied the term abomination to multiple sins, including robbery and adultery (Ezek 18:11-13). Sadly, despite usually denouncing robbery, our culture has little conviction about marital fidelity.

Moral laxity spreads like a cancer. Sadly, the very things the Israelites were warned about, the idolatry and violence and superstition of the Canaanites, eventually consumed them. Israel was by no means too serious about holiness—quite the opposite. If only she hadn’t imitated the nations in their degeneracy, expressed in violence and self-indulgence.

GH: A recent New York Times article8 claims: “ Before Leviticus was composed, outright prohibitions against homosexual sex — whether between men or women — were practically unheard-of in the ancient world.” The writer, Idan Dershowitz, goes on to claim (with “a little detective work”) that the original version of Leviticus actually permitted sex between men. After making his case, he concludes, “One can only imagine how different the history of civilization might have been had the earlier version of Leviticus 18’s laws entered the biblical canon.” What’s your response?

DJ: I’ve read the article, but I’m not impressed. Dershowitz may be a biblical scholar and junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, but in this case he is not handling the text well. It’s a long article, and I will share only a few comments.

First off, why would we expect prohibitions against homosexuality in the ancient world? The pagan religions did not call people to holiness. Nor did their gods and goddesses behave morally or selflessly! Yet when Yahweh creates a people of his own, calling them to the pursuit of holiness—not the pursuit of happiness!—he prohibits all sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. In Greco-Roman culture, a degree of shame attached to being the passive (penetrated) male partner, but not to the dominant partner. Sex with a slave or young boy was acceptable. A number of ancient intellectuals spoke in praise of homoeroticism. Again, why should this surprise us?

The entire O.T. is many-layered. It did not drop out of heaven as a single volume. Instead, it’s more of a library. And even thenmany books in the library show clear evidence of development (e.g. Deuteronomy, Psalms, Proverbs, Jeremiah...). Canonization was a process, not a discrete event. The version of Leviticus we have today has probably been shaped and edited. Conservative scholars, recognizing God’s prerogative to reveal his will in any way he determines, believe this took place under the auspices of the Holy Spirit. The final form of each book of the Bible is specific. Seldom can anyone know for sure what the previous version was. And in the case of Dershowitz’s “detective work” on Lev 18, the degree of speculation is high indeed. Perhaps an ancient, pro-homosexual copy of Leviticus will be unearthed at some future time. But I’m not holding my breath.

As for the last rumination, that the history of civilization would have been different without Leviticus 18, it is hard to take such a thought seriously. There are, after all, a number of scriptures forbidding homosexuality, in both testaments. Generally speaking, biblical doctrines tend to appear in more than one isolated passage. Let’s read the Bible in its entirety.

GH: Regarding Romans 1, pro-gay proponents argue that the problem was not that people were engaging in homosexuality, but that the homosexuality was associated with idolatry, prostitution, orgies, and paedophilia. Is there any suggestion of this in the original Greek of Romans 1? If so, what is it? If not, where do you think pro-gay theologians get these ideas from?

DJ: That sounds like special pleading. Sure, homosexuality idolatry, prostitution, and paedophilia are wrong, but it’s doubtful these are what Rom 1:26-27 is referring to. The description is more general. Like English, Koine Greek has a rich vocabulary, and there is no shortage of terms when a writer wants to be specific.

The key concern within queer readings of Romans 1 is over the term “nature” (see, for example, John Boswell). They argue that what Paul is prohibiting is heterosexuals engaging in homosexual practice. In other words, people who are by “nature” gay should engage in gay practices; it is only those who are not gay by “nature” who should not. Within queer hermeneutics this is the practice that Paul is railing against. The argument is flawed in that Paul is not talking about “human natures,” but nature itself, but the arguments surrounding which kind of sexual practice is in view (pederasty, prostitution, cultic sex practices) do not really relate to Romans 1 directly. Those debates are generally about the terms used in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1.9

As for where some theologians get their ideas, their views are not biblical. They arrive at their conclusions ahead of time, read them into the text, (10) and then claim to have “discovered” them there. A similar dynamic was in play 2600 years ago among Israel’s popular false prophets (Jer 23:26, 30-32).

GH: Regarding the term that Paul uses for the word homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-19; didn’t Paul just make up the word arsenokoitēs (“men who have sex with men,” NIV)? Some people say the word didn’t even exist before the first century AD, therefore homosexuality wasn’t banned until that time. What do you say?

DJ: Well yes, quite possibly it was the apostle who coined the word. As far as scholars know, arsenokoitēs shows up nowhere else in the literature before Paul. Yet the bare observation may be misleading. The Jews translated their Bible into Greek in the centuries before Christ, as more and more lived outside the land of Israel. This was the Bible of the early church, commonly referred to as the Septuagint or LXX. (11) In fact, nearly every time the N.T. quotes the O.T., it’s from the Greek version, not the Hebrew.

Arsenokoitēs is derived from the Greek of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Arsēn means male. Koítēs is lying (as in English coitus). Arsēn + koítēs = arsenokoítēs. Lev 18:22 states “... meta arsenos ou koimēthēsēi...” [with a male not will you lie], and Lev 22:13 “... hos an koimēthēi meta arsenos koitēn gunaikos...” [whoever lies with a male the lying of a woman]. The word is thus not so much a neologism (the jury’s out anyway) as an obvious reference to a sin passage that would have been familiar with anyone who read the Greek O.T. This included the majority of Jews as well as the majority of Christians.

Of course there’s a difference between a thing and what you call that thing. The first murder was probably committed before there was a word for it. Too often I am afraid self-acclaimed experts in ancient languages are just playing games. So even if Paul did mint a new word, that doesn’t invalidate his teaching. Besides, he was an apostle. It was to the apostles that Jesus promised the truth would be revealed (John 14:25; 16:12-13).

GH: Is there anything else you’d like to express before we end the interview?

DJ: Too much of the current debate focuses on personal “rights.” Let's keep in mind that just because something is legal doesn’t mean that it’s pleasing to God. Like Jesus Christ, we are called to be willing to surrender our rights, especially for the greater good of love (1 Cor 8:1-11:1). Humans are more than sexual animals. By God’s Spirit we can rise about the level of the flesh—of being controlled and defined by our appetites.

I realize that some readers will brand me as closed-minded. And I may even be labeled a fundamentalist. (I assure you, I’m not!(12)) Lately I’ve been reading the complete works of G. K. Chesterton. It was he who wisely quipped, “An open mind is like an open mouth: its purpose is to bite on something nourishing. Otherwise, it becomes like a sewer, accepting everything, rejecting nothing.”(13) It’s possible to be too open-minded.

We appreciate your ministry (14) deeply, Guy. It takes real courage to resist the strong currents of societal pressure—standing instead on the Word. Your work is important, and deserves our prayers and support.

GH: Thank you, Douglas.


7 Paraphrased “the acts of the sinful nature” in the NIV.

8 “The Secret History of Leviticus,” The New York Times, 21 July 2018.

9 Special thanks to my friend and N.T. scholar Andrew Boakye (Manchester University) for his insightful critique in this paragraph.

10 This is eisegesis, not exegesis.

11 The Septuagint is named after the 70 (septuaginta, Latin) scholars who (tradition claims) translated the Hebrew O.T. into Greek. The translation was made in the 3rd-1st centuries BC. It is usually designated by the letters LXX (Roman numerals for seventy).

13 The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986), 16:212.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page