Should Christian Gays Celebrate the King James Bible’s 400th Birthday?

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Sodomite. Abomination.

Sodomite. Abomination. “Women did change the natural use into that which is against nature.” “Men with men working that which is unseemly.” “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.” We could go on.
What LGBT person doesn’t cringe when reading these phrases from the so-called “clobber passages” (Romans 1: 26-27; Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; I Corinthians 6:9; I Timothy 1:10) written into the King James Bible? Should a Christian – and especially a Christian who is gay – dare to celebrate the 400th birthday of this version of The Good Book?

On the wrong side of the Levitical Law

Yes, it has been 400 years since King James I commissioned a group of dedicated polyglots to translate the Bible into English. The Authorized Version was to counter various “lesser” English translations riddled with inaccuracies introduced by everyone from those with a political agenda, to those with poor handwriting and copying skills. Seemingly overnight, the word of God became widely available in the words of men. And somewhere during the process, same-gender-loving homosexuals came out on the wrong side of the Levitical law.

Let’s be fair, translating 66 books written by approximately 40 authors in three different languages (Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic) on three continents (Europe, Asia and Africa) over a period of 1,600 years would be a daunting task for anyone – even the many Oxford scholars among the 50-some-odd translators who did the deed over the course of four years [1]. Something’s bound to end up misconstrued.

Something’s bound to end up misconstrued.

But the King James Bible became a tool for abuse through the constant manipulations of the original texts by various entities over a broad swath of time. Certainly homophobia influenced the climate in which the first translators did their work, but if you find the word “homosexual” lurking in a condemnatory passage of your Bible, don’t blame it on King James’ employees. There is no word for “homosexual” in biblical Hebrew or Greek. The term only came into use around one hundred years ago. The 1946 Revised Standard Version (RSV) first inserted the word into the Bible [2] and with it the anachronistic assumption that the ancient Greek and Hebrew texts were actually referring to what modern-day society calls “gay people.” (That’s somewhat akin to a 1970s Bible scholar looking at the ancient Greek or Hebrew word for “hip” and rendering it in the text as “groovy.”)

Also, despite the homophobia of many Jews in the Greco-Roman world, there is also no word in biblical Greek or Hebrew for “sodomy.” A sodomite was merely a resident of Sodom until around 400 A.D. when, according to Wikipedia, Ecclesiastical Latin emerged and popularized peccatum Sodomiticum, or “sins of the Sodomites.” [3] The Authorized King James Version arguably just picked up the refrain by translating the Hebrew word “Qadesh” as “Sodomite” in Deuteronomy 23:17, when it would have been more accurately rendered as “male temple prostitute.” [4]

Over the years, aside from being one of the most widely-read and elegant translations of the word of God, the King James Bible became the whipping post to which all were tied who wanted to live at peace with God and be gay at the same time. It’s a dichotomy that’s been hard to grapple with. It spawned organizations like Exodus International who purport to help individuals resolve the “moral tension” that arises when “homosexual attractions and the desire to act on them are at odds with the desire to live a life that reflects the Christian faith.” But exactly how did that moral tension become “part of the vernacular?” The truth is, homophobia didn’t start with King James’ translators, and unfortunately it didn’t end there either.

The Bible is in your hands

In order to reconcile what some consider to be irreconcilable, all responsible Christians should undertake a careful, un-biased reading of the original texts that includes an understanding of the social and cultural norms at play when they were written. And we must do it quickly before another despised gay child commits suicide. If homophobia can cause God’s message of love to be manipulated into one of hate – than surely more informed and open-minded individuals can take that same message and make it be what it actually is.

Search out the open-and affirming congregations and clergy in your area. Follow the lead of Bible scholars like the late, openly-gay Harvard theologian Rev. Peter Gomes . Follow Bible studies by pioneers in the LGBT faith community like Pastor Barbara Caesar-Stephenson. Let’s re-read our Bibles until we find all that seems to have been lost in translation.

The King James Bible has been quoted by nearly everyone, excerpted in hymns and lyrics, and taught many the principles and tenets of a redeeming faith which will continue to triumph over bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head. So yes, Christian gays should celebrate the effort and sacrifice that led to the placement of a vernacular copy of the book of their faith into the hands of the world. What we do with our Bibles once they’re in our hands is up to us.

Are you celebrating? Comment below.

1. Dr. Laurence M. Vance, A Brief History of the King James Bible, http://www.av1611.org/kjv/kjvhist.html.
2. Justin R. Cannon, The Bible, Christianity and Homosexuality, http://www.gaychurch.org/gay_and_christian_yes/the_bible_christianity_and_homosexuality_justin_cannon.htm
3. Wikipedia, Sodomy, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodomy
4. -Blue Letter Bible, Dictionary and Word Search for qadesh (Strong’s 6945),Mar 2011. < http:// www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?
Strongs=H06945&t=KJV >]

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