Correspondence with the United Bible Societies.
It began with correspondence with the Director, Bible Society, who was very helpful. in directing my concerns to a Translation Co-ordinator of the UBS.
To: Chief Executive, Bible Society Dec 1998
Dear Mr Crosbie
Thank you for your letter, and for doing what you can in forwarding my last letter to the Bible Societies translation community. Please accept my deepest thanks. Sadly, the reaction of those to whom you passed my material is not atypical of those who are reluctant to face up to the issue. Nevertheless the translation community has a great responsibility, and cannot shirk it by hiding.
Thank you too for suggesting the EA booklet 'Faith, hope and homosexuality'. I have seen it, and was pleased that the EA have made progress in their thinking - condemning homophobia, but still seeing responsible, Christian homosexuals in a covenant relationship blessed by God as sinful. When my wife and I read it we both felt that EA were not writing about their experience of real people so much as expressing ideology.
Our experience of researching the issue, sharing with the people, and contextual study of the Bible leads us to quite different conclusions. This is contained in a short booklet, 'RELUCTANT JOURNEY' and I hope you will accept a complimentary copy. It is brief and simplified to allow people to engage with the issue in an uncomplicated way, and many have. It has been greatly used of God to change lives and the outlook of many people, heterosexual and homosexual.
The central issue quite rightly for many people is 'What the Bible says'. And that is why I need to pursue this matter with the translation community through the body or individual that brings people together to do this work. May I prevail upon you to do one more thing and help me by providing this information, as I cannot let it go until I get a responsible answer to my questions.
May I wish you and all who serve the Lord at the Bible Society every blessing in the coming year
Yours in Christ
George S E Hopper C Eng (Retired)
This is a copy of the Unsigned 'United Bible Societies Translation Co-ordinator's notes;
1. Mr Hopper's comments about the KJV not being specific enough in Deut 23:17; 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46 and 2 Kings 23:7 are valid. Many modern translations such as NRSV and TEV have corrected this.
2. However, I am not persuaded that the same criticism can be levelled at the renderings of Lev 18:22 and 20:13. Admittedly the context in these chapters includes cult prostitution, but I cannot see that it is limited to cult prostitution. I would therefore feel that a more generic translation such as that of RSV or TEV is valid in these places.
3. The contexts of the use of 'arsenokoitai(s)' in 1 Cor 6:9 and especially 1 Tim 1:10 are essentially generic, and could not be restricted by the Lev texts, even if these were limited in their reference to cult prostitution.
4. I think Mr Hopper has misconstrued the Septuagint of Lev 20:13. There is a phrase break between 'arsenos' and 'koiten', and this renders it unlikely that this verse is the source of the word 'arsenokoitai' that Paul uses. This word is not a neologism of Paul's, but goes back to at least the secular historian Polybius in the second century BC.
5. Paul's comments in Rom 1:26-27 arise from a cultural context of idolatry, but are framed in a manner that shows they are not limited to idolatry, or indeed to male homosexuality. And there is no way that female homosexuality can be linked to fertility.
6. Prohibition of homosexuality is not limited in the New Testament writings to Paul. See also for instance Rev 21:8; and 22:15.
7. We should not lose sight of the fact that the New Testament puts all sexual activity outside of monogamous heterosexual marriage under the judgement of God. It does not discriminate against homosexuals.
8. We should also remember that the New Testament offers God's grace to all kinds of sinners who repent, including homosexuals. But repentance entails desisting from actions which are displeasing to God. And not just sexual actions. Therein lies the challenge for us all.
My reply was as follows:
Director; Bible Society
I am replying to the letter dated 21 August 1998 from Philip Poole, Finance Director containing an unsigned enclosure from the United Bible Societies Translation Co-ordinator, (UBSTC) which set out 8 points in reply to my letter of 22 July 98. Regrettably I found the reply unsatisfactory as his assertions were generally unsubstantiated, and this is my response. In replying to the 8 points later, I refer to them by number.
First some background relevant to my endeavour to have properly re-examined the translation of verses commonly used against Christians who are homosexual, which from my study and experience of such people convinces me are not sufficiently accurate translations.
My wife and I are evangelical Christians, our commitment to Christ began in 1954. The Bible is very important to us - it is daily bread in our home together with family prayer and Christian commitment - we are both members of District Synod, my wife is Senior Circuit Steward etc and I am a writer and local preacher who wrestles with the scriptures. I would clarify that neither we nor any of our family are homosexual - we have no axe to grind other than the claims of the Gospel of Christ - love and justice.
My wife and I once saw homosexual Christians in the same light as your anonymous UBSTC, but no longer. After much prayer and heartsearching, study and experience, the Lord led us 6 years ago to a ministry of support and Christian love for such people. The story is long, but has aspects similar to that of Peter's in Acts 10. As a result, we have amassed experience and knowledge of such Christian people, and have a high opinion of those homosexual Christians we have come to know. Their courage, devotion and love for God and the Kingdom leaves many Christians far behind.
This, together with many years of examining the Bible on this issue, prayerfully, carefully, contextually and comparatively, taking account of the history and culture of the times leads me to believe that the translators have not yet got it right. They are certainly in the right ballpark, (as were the KJV translators who previously mis-translated Deut 23:17 and other references in the books of Kings), but not sufficiently specific, and this allows, indeed fosters unchristian attitudes and attacks on such of God's people. This obviously should not be.
I would invite your UBSTC to reflect on the following incongruity:
On the one hand, God brings homosexual people, men and women, into His Kingdom, and gives them His Spirit. God calls them to serve in the Body of Christ in every way and at every level; members, preachers, deacons, ordained ministers and priests etc. God does not change their sexuality, though most seek this with tears for many long years before accepting themselves as God made them. And if and when love comes to their lives, and a covenant partnership is entered into with God's blessing, it transforms their lives and ministry. Their homes are homes of Christian love and faithfulness, as any other Christian home should be. We know this, having seen this and shared with them in their homes and ours over the years.
We have no hesitation in stating that the homosexual Christians that we have come to know over the past 5-6 years are among the finest Christian people we have met; and it ill behoves any to make judgements, even if thought to be based on scripture, of people of whom little or nothing is known.
Yet on the other hand, the scriptures inspired by the same loving God are translated such that they can be and are used as a weapon against the same Christian people we know and admire.
Does this not strike you as incongruous and worthy of serious reflection?
God does not seem as ready to judge as your UBSTC. And if, as Mr Poole suggests, the UBSTC's comments represent the consensus of the Bible translation community, then it is clearly high time to address this issue seriously. If Mr Poole is correct, there would seem the possibility that the translation of key verses in this matter is being influenced by ignorance of homosexual people and the issue under consideration, and perhaps, even without realising it, prejudice towards them.
My reply to your UBS Translation Co-ordinator is as follows:
Ref 1 of the reply is simply restating a fact that I included in my previous letter, so no comment is needed.
Ref 2 of the reply. The UBSTC gives no basis for his assertion; one which, in my considered opinion, is unsustainable as all the evidence is contrary to that assertion.
The facts are as follows:
1). The linked refs, ie Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are the only ref(s) in the Hebrew Bible, (which was of course the Bible of Jesus, the early Church and of the Apostles, including Paul), that without the associated evidence might possibly be construed as calling into question all homosexual sexual behaviour.
However, this paucity of reference is part of the evidence, as it is atypical of the Bible; for when the Bible condemns, commends or exhorts, it is repetitive and leaves no room for doubt.
It is significant that the Hebrew Bible contains many, many references to heterosexual sexual sins, but by comparison there is little about same-sex sexual sin, except of male cultic prostitution. Indeed, the heterosexual sins of harlotry, adultery fornication etc are used as symbol of the damaged relationship between Israel and God, yet there is no mention of same-sex sexual sin in key areas of the Law ie the Decalogues, the Books of the Covenant, Moses 'blessings and cursings', nor in any of the Prophets or Proverbs, other than of male cultic prostitution. Surely this is where you would expect to find frequent reference to homosexual sexual sin if, as your UBSTC suggests, God sits in judgement on all homosexual sexual behaviour. Instead, you find very few clear references in the Hebrew Bible, and those that are refer to male cultic prostitution.
2). The linked references in Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13 are not as clear as people think, though they fasten onto them to condemn all homosexuals. These references are set in the context of Egyptian and Canaanite practice, (the link being religion), as reference to chapters 18:1-3; 24-30 & 20:23 will show.
3). The linked Leviticus references (in 2. above) use the Hebrew word 'toebah', variously translated 'abomination' or 'God hates that' (or equivalent), as the word of condemnation; a word normally reserved for referring to religions other than that of the true God. It is significant that the refs in Deut 23:17 and in Kings which specifically refer to cultic prostitution and which also speak of abomination, use the Hebrew 'toebah'. All this I would submit points in the direction of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 referring to cultic prostitution.
4). It is a salutary exercise to compare the laws in Exodus/Leviticus with those in Deuteronomy, the 'copy of the law', (in the same way that ministers and preachers compare the Synoptic Gospels or the books of Kings with those of Chronicles to seek further insight). There are direct comparisons on many matters; the only references to same-sex sexual sexual behaviour are Lev 18:22 and 20:13 in the Law, and Deut 23:17 in the 'copy of the law'. As the Deuteronomic reference is clearly about cultic prostitution, this is another indication that the equivalent linked Leviticus references are also about cultic prostitution and not a general condemnation of all homosexual sexual behaviour.
In my considered view, these points alone (without taking account of other cultural implications) warrant a serious questioning of the translation of the Leviticus references, which on all the evidence I have submitted are essentially about male cultic prostitution, ie the outcome of idolatry.
Refs 3 & 4 of the reply. I take these together as they are related, and I question the UBSTC's reply.
(a) Paul, the only New Testament writer to use the term 'arsenokoitai', was educated and trained as a Rabbi and Pharisee, and thus knew well the scriptures. The Septuagint was current for him and those with whom he was in constant dialogue ie Greek speaking Jews and Christians, and was widely used in the debates about Jesus and the Gospel. He knew the dangers to Christians of idolatry and fertility religion - it had menaced the religion of Israel ever since the Israelites entered Canaan, and now it was a threat to the early churches, and he rightly warned them.
He was addressing a religious moral problem, and he used religious language to express his concern. I doubt very much that the language of Polybius would have assumed anything like the importance of the language of the Septuagint to Paul, as he pointedly referred back to the Leviticus references, (although Polybius work on the history of the nations subdued by the Romans would have required him also to have the Septuagint to refer to Israel's history, and may well be his source of the word, - See (c) below).
(b) 'Arsenokoitai' was used only twice, both times by Paul, in writing to the church at Corinth and to Timothy at Ephesus. These were two of the three well known centres (the other being Rome) where fertility religion and same sex sexual immorality (influenced also by Grecian and Roman sexual customs) were seriously threatening the local churches. There were common themes in Paul's letters. In his letters to the churches, regular reference was made to heterosexual immorality - but only twice did he use the term 'arsenokoitai'. So this term cannot reasonably be considered a general condemnation or Paul would undoubtedly have used it, as he used 'pornois' in warning the churches in his letters, or describing what he meant as he did in his letter to the Church at Rome.
(c) Whether or not there is a phrase break in Lev 20:13 is I think beside the point. 'Arsenokoitai' is translated in the New Testament in the same sense as 'arsenos koiten' in Leviticus, so I am not sure what your UBSTC is saying. That it is translated in this way supports my argument of linkage.
(d) However, translators clearly do not understand the term 'arsenokoitai' except in 'ballpark' terms; evidence the variety of translations which are assigned to this word, and the damage done to many homosexual people, including Christians, as a consequence of this lack of understanding.
Because incorrect assumptions always lead to false conclusions, it is my considered view that those responsible for translating need to learn in an unbiased way about homosexual people, (especially those who are Christians), and the issues surrounding their lives, otherwise translators will continue to get it wrong when translating words connected with this area of life - as did the KJV translators when translating another Hebrew word in this same area, and did so much damage.
That, and a careful re-examination of the scriptures on this matter is badly needed to ensure that the scriptures do declare the truth of the God , who welcomes homosexuals in to His Kingdom, gives them His Spirit, calls them to serve Him in every sphere of the body of Christ, and blesses their covenant partnerships, in contradiction to the scriptures as they are presently translated and interpreted.
To Ref 5 of the UBSTC's reply, I respond as follows;
The UBSTC is taking Romans 1:26-27 out of the context of the whole argument of 1:18-32, which is clearly about idolatry. v26 is linked to the previous verses from v18 by 'therefore' or 'because of this' dependent on Bible version.
Tacitus wrote that 'Rome is the sewer into which filth pours like a flood from every corner of the world', when referring to the effect on Rome of the idolatrous customs and religions that fed back into brutish Rome of those nations it had subdued. The moral obscenity of much of Roman sexual life at the time Paul is writing is well documented; changing partners, lust, sexual violence and orgies were not uncommon and Paul is clearly stating that idolatry is at the root.
Now, if your UBSTC thinks that homosexual Christians, including the many lesbian Christians we know, are being described by Paul in Romans 1: 18-32, then I am afraid he is simply wrong - ignorant of the people. Indeed, the fact that they are Christian and serve God faithfully, and that God blesses them with His Spirit puts them outside of this passage. We know them as loving, gifted faithful Christians.
The love of a homosexual Christian is NOT the attraction of a Greek adult male for a graceful young male body, NOR the lust of a Roman paterfamilias for a male servant, prostitute or member of his family. The love of Christ is honoured and seen in Christian homosexual covenant relationships, and in spite of all the pressures society and Church bring to bear, which are potentially destructive of such relationships, they can be as loving, permanent and faithful as any marriage.
Your UBSTC seems to come to the scriptures in some confusion as to how he interprets 'homosexuality'. He seems to be making a common error in confusing a person's sexuality (which is a 'given' just as being left-handed or having blue eyes) with sexual expression, which can be abusive, or can be an expression of real love, whether it be heterosexual or homosexual in origin.
The word and life of our Saviour Jesus Christ is my ultimate guide on this matter. He made no reference, specific or implied, to homosexuals. Motive was important to him, so I imagine he would have welcomed them as we do.
There is a distinct possibility that he healed a homosexual partner in a loving relationship, without hint of condemnation. (A good understanding of contemporary Roman culture and the use of 'entimo', and of 'pais' in connection with other than family relationships supports this. See LUKE 7:1-10).
Jesus did not ask people who they were, (and there were some pretty awful people in his band of disciples, see Luke 9: 46-55) but simply said 'Follow me'. His 'rules' were not Pharisaic, which allowed some to judge others and consider themselves superior, but clear and straightforward commandments:
Love God; Love one another; Love our enemies, as God loves us each one.
Paul captures this; 'Love is the fulfilling of the law' and John; 'Where love is, there is God, for God is love.'
Jesus' disciples were quick to abandon Judaistic rules when the Spirit led; instance Peter in Acts 10, and Paul the Pharisee and Rabbi who amazingly became the 'Apostle to the Gentiles' and fought Jewish legalism in the early Church. As he says in 1 Cor 13 'Love is above all else, it is the very nature of God' and quite amazingly 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female, neither bond nor free, we are all one in Christ Jesus'.
Without their faith and love, we Gentiles might still be considered to be beyond the pale, as homosexuals are considered by many, but not by God.
If there is one thing we have proved in our lives, especially in our family, it is that when things go wrong, judgement only makes things worse - it divides and destroys, but supportive love unites, reconciles and restores.
Equally, we have found in supporting our homosexual Christian friends, (who know all about condemnation from others and the despair and ill-health it brings) that Christian love and affirmation brings health and life. Love actually works, it brings life - while judgement and condemnation only destroy people.
To Ref 6 of the UBSTC's reply, I respond;
I must confess to being both surprised and shocked that your UBSTC cites Rev 21:8 and 22:15 as 'other instances of prohibition of homosexuality'. I would be interested to hear how he supports this, as my studies show they mean nothing of the kind.
What is being referred to is the Greek word 'kunes' or 'dogs', and what shocks me is that your UBSTC can think of fellow human beings as 'dogs'.
When the scriptures are carefully examined, where 'kunes' is not used of the actual animal, it is used in two other contexts;
a) in Deut 23:18 the context is clearly that of male cult prostitutes.
b) in Phil 3:2 the context is evil workers and false teachers.
To Ref 7 of the UBSTC's reply, I respond;
I very much doubt that your UBSTC reflects the loving purposes of God in his assertion, and I give some reasons as follows.
First, there have been various forms of marriage through the ages which have been a development. 'Marriage' as we know it now is a relatively modern development, and until that time was for most, if not all except the wealthy, akin to what is unkindly referred to as 'living in sin'. In New Testament times marriage forms included Levitical marriage, and in Old Testament times, took polygamous forms, and included siring children through servant girls.
The ancestors of our Saviour came from such marriages - are they under the 'judgement of God'? Of course not. Such marriages were suited to society and its culture at the time - a development until today's form.
Christianity is a lively faith, based on God's love. It is why it is not an anachronism; for nothing that God's love demands be changed in the light of need and experience can remain the same. This is the law of love. It was seen in Jesus who broke 'the law' in the interests of love, we saw it in Peter and Paul, and we see it as the Church struggles with important issues, of marriage, ordination etc.
Secondly, contrary to your UBSTC's assertion, such teaching as he asserts about marriage is powerfully discriminatory against homosexuals as we know them today! It is an injustice that I believe offends against the love of God.
For, just about the worst advice that homosexuals can be given is to marry.
It is the insistence that homosexuals can only express their sexuality within heterosexual marriage that brings about so many marital tragedies, and actually undermines the estate of marriage. Marriage is difficult enough without one partner's differing sexuality to deal with. This difference often contributes to marriage breakdown with all the trauma that goes with it, as neither partner finds fulfilment.
The physical expression of love within marriage which should be a binding factor and a joy, is found to be something to endure. A few such marriages do survive, but how and why is not known. The reasons are probably as individual as marriage.
Thirdly, all who do not shut their minds to truth know that responsible homosexuals, especially Christians, while different in one important aspect from others, do not conform to the stereotypes of the past. There are responsible, faithful Christian people who need to love and be loved, and thus their committed covenant relationships should be honoured and affirmed. For when a homosexual Christian finds the same quality of love for another (as my wife and I share), there is the same happy, loving Christian home.
To Ref 8 of the UBSTC's reply, I respond;
I fully agree that we all need to repent. But I see the challenge lying not so much in the negative way of desisting from actions displeasing to God, much more in engaging in a life of love pleasing to God - whose nature is love. A wholly different, positive way - the way of Christ. Therein, lies the challenge for us all!
We all fail at times. And love sometimes demands that we take risks with which we are uncomfortable and draw back from, unlike Peter in Acts 10. Christian faith is not a 'safe and comfortable' faith of 'not doing', but a risky, lively, positive faith based on responding to God's redeeming love. The challenge is not negative, but positive - 'living unto Christ' - taking and sharing the love he gives us through His Spirit into the world, and obeying his command to love all- especially the poor, the downtrodden, the outcast.
We find that homosexual Christians are generally rather better at this than many other Christians - the people who judge them and erect barriers to keep them out, while claiming the grace of God for themselves.
The homosexual Christians we know have repented and have received the grace and Spirit of God, which enables them to be the kind of Christian disciples we know them to be. But their sexuality remains the same.
I have to say that I can find no prohibition in scripture which denies the loving, life-enriching, faithful love of one homosexual for another, especially in a God-blessed covenant partnership, for the Bible writers are unaware of such a possibility. The only condemnation of sexuality I can find - for homosexual as for heterosexual - is when 'sexuality is expressed in a way that does not accord with the way of faithful, life-enriching love and human dignity'. This is what 'arsenokoitai' as well as 'pornoi' is all about - and such a translation expresses the failure in a Christian way - a positive way that points to the way of success.
This is the way I believe Christian scriptures should be translated. Not pointing to a heavy-handed God of judgement that Jesus did not teach, but to the Father God of all grace who is hurt at his children's waywardness and longs for them to return to him.
I hope to hear something more positive from you on this. I am still very willing to meet to discuss this, and will do anything that will help forward an improved translation of the scriptures on this matter.
I remain your servant in Christ, one who loves the scriptures.
George S E Hopper C Eng (Retired); Local Preacher
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