Yes, Paul Really Did Say That
It was bad enough this week when General Convention decided to open all positions in the Church—clergy, lay and volunteer—to all those for whom their sex (gender) is like their apparel, i.e., chosen to fit the mood and the occasion. Then it voted to violate ECUSA’s Constitution by authorizing a “rite” for same-sex blessings which, until it also amends the Rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer, it has no power to authorize.
But the low point of the week was surely when the House of Deputies decided to attack a certain Bible translation (the English Standard Version) for using the word “homosexuality” to translate a passage from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. The contortions they went through in trying to avoid dealing with that reality say all one needs to know about the place of Holy Scripture in today’s Episcopal Church (USA).
When Resolution A061 authorizing certain new translations came to the floor of the House of Deputies, the Standing Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music had, after a public hearing, voted to enlarge the list of approved versions which it originally submitted in its Report to the General Convention. As the SC originally had it, Canon II.2 (“of Translations of the Bible”) would have been amended to add two more contemporary translations to the list already in that Canon, as follows (numbers will identify each translation throughout this article):
Existing Translations Authorized
1. Authorized (King James) Version (1611)
2. Revised English Version (1881) [English Standard Version]
3. Revised American Version (1901) [American Standard Version]
4. Revised Standard Version (1952)
5. Jerusalem Bible (1966)
6. New English Bible and Apocrypha (1970)
7. R.S.V. Common Bible (1973)
8. New International Version (1978)
9. New Jerusalem Bible (1987)
10. Revised English Bible (1989)
11. New Revised Standard Version (1989)
New Versions Proposed in the SC Report
12. The Message (2002)
13. Common English Bible (2011)
After the public hearing on the Resolution, the SC amended it to add these translations:
New Versions Added After Public Hearing
14. Contemporary English Version (1995)
15. Contemporary English Version Global (2005)
And in the course of debating the Resolutions on the third day, the House adopted an amendment adding the English Standard Version (an adaptation from the R.S.V.) to the list:
Version Added by the HoD (July 7, 2012)
16. English Standard Version (2001)
Thus, before the 77th General Convention, there were eleven versions of the Holy Bible authorized for use in worship services in the Episcopal Church (USA). And at the 77th Convention, a total of five new versions were proposed to be added to those, and were approved in the House of Deputies.
Or, that is, until a Deputy brought to the floor, at the last minute before adjournment on the fifth day (July 7), a motion to reconsider the Resolution in the form that had passed the HoD just twenty minutes or so earlier (the form with the five new translations listed above). Specifically, the Deputy announced that he was making the motion because he had “discovered”—in just the time since the Resolution had passed—that the English Standard Version used the word “homosexuality” in translating chapter 6, verse 9 of First Corinthians.
He announced that he was “shocked”, and felt “betrayed”, that the House would propose to use such an anachronistic translation in today’s Church. Didn’t everyone know that St. Paul, who lived two thousand years ago, could have known nothing about the “long-term commitments” and deep, mutual love which characterize today’s same-sex relationships? And that to ascribe a modern, only recently developed word like “homosexuality” to the sins of temple prostitution which he was denouncing was a complete case of category mistake? [N.B.: I have paraphrased the Deputy’s remarks from the various accounts on the blogs. If anyone who was there has a more accurate transcription, I will be happy to post it.]
To rectify this horrendous error, the House quickly voted to “reconsider” the Resolution, which meant that it would be considered again, de novo, on the next day, and in the form as proposed by the Standing Committee (i.e., with the two proposed originally, plus the two Contemporary English versions, but without the ESV language). In just a matter of minutes, it was as though “l’affaire E.S.V.” had never happened.
The offending passage—which so “shocked” the betrayed Deputy —appears (as stated) in First Corinthians (ch. 6, v. 9). Here is how the ESV (16) translates that verse (along with the rest of Paul’s sentence, in verse 10). Please note that in this excerpt, and in all the quotes that follow, I have bolded the particular translation’s equivalent, in each instance, of the language which gave offense to certain Deputies:
Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
[The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.]
Well, and what about the two Contemporary English Versions which the House of Deputies also adopted, in its collective wisdom? Here is how they each translate the same passage (14, 15):
Don’t fool yourselves! No one who is immoral or worships idols or is unfaithful in marriage or is a pervert or behaves like a homosexual 10 will share in God’s kingdom.
[The Holy Bible: The Contemporary English Version. 1995. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.]
There’s that “word” again! How could that possibly have slipped by the gay police? So will the Contemporary English versions have to be removed from the list, as well?
But wait—we have only just begun to review how the other proposed recent versions translate that passage in Paul’s letter. Here’s how The Message (12 - a paraphrased version, which makes no effort at word-for-word accuracy) puts it:
Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom.
[Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: The Bible in contemporary language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.]
Maybe that language is loose enough to pass the Deputies’ strict standards. After all, no one in the Church today is into “abusing” sex, is one? So that language couldn’t describe any contemporary Episcopalians, and so must be all right. But what about the Common English Bible, which the Deputies adopted without objection? Here is its version of the passage (13):
Don’t be deceived. Those who are sexually immoral, those who worship false gods, adulterers, both participants in same-sex intercourse, h 10 thieves, the greedy, drunks, abusive people, and swindlers won’t inherit God’s kingdom.
hOr submissive and dominant male sexual partners.
[Common English Bible. 2011. Nashville, TN: Common English Bible.]
Whoa! What did we just read? “[B]oth participants in same-sex intercourse”? Explained in a note as meaning “submissive and dominant male sexual partners?” How did that recommendation ever get past the diligent gay censors in the HoD?
The New Revised Standard Version (11) is very popular in Episcopal churches today, and is an update of the 1952 RSV (4). Here is how it translates 1 Cor. 6:9:
Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.
[The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.]
The original 1952 RSV (4) simply called them “homosexuals”, while the Revised English Bible (10), and its predecessor, the New English Bible (6)—two other versions on the already approved list—used the now politically incorrect term “sexual perverts”. That language clearly expresses the illiterate prejudices of an earlier generation, before the American Psychiatric Association removed “homosexuality” from its official list of mental disorders in 1973. Yet, inexplicably, all three versions remain approved by the Episcopal Church (USA) for Sunday and daily worship.
Working backwards through the already approved list, we next have the New Jerusalem Bible (9), a version favored in the Roman Catholic Church. Its translation of St. Paul runs:
Make no mistake—the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, the self-indulgent, sodomites, 10 thieves, misers, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers, none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.
[The New Jerusalem Bible. 1985. New York, NY: Doubleday.]
Is that language an improvement over the 1966 original Jerusalem Bible (5), which uses the words ”catamites, sodomites” for “the self-indulgent, sodomites” of the 1985 update? Since “catamite” is a Greek term for a boy used by a pederast, it is not exactly friendly language, either.
What about one of the most widely used of all translations (though not so much in ECUSA, since its recent revisions have not been listed in the Canon), the current New International Version? It says:
Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men a10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
a [NIV Note:] The words “men who have sex with men” translate two Greek words that refer to the passive and active participants in homosexual acts.
[The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.]
The 1978 NIV (8 - the one that ECUSA officially approves) translated what it now says means “men who have sex with men” as “male prostitutes [and] homosexual offenders”. It would thus seem that by the standards of today’s majority in the House of Deputies, no version of the NIV should be on the list.
And here is the New American Standard Bible (1995), the successor to the 1901 version:
Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
[New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.]
The original version (3) of 1901, as well as its English counterpart of 1881 (2), uses the same word “effeminate” for the first class of offenders, but what the 1995 update translates as “homosexuals”, the earlier versions translate as “abusers of themselves with men” - a phrase which their contemporary, Oscar Wilde, would have understood without difficulty.
At last we come to the venerable King James Version (1), which now reads (in the light of the more recent wordings reviewed above) just the same:
Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
[The Cambridge Paragraph Bible: Of the Authorized [King James] English Version. 1873 (cxix). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.]
To summarize what we have learned from this little excursion: there was practically no change in the official translations of the Bible from the 17th until the 20th century, when the new coinage “homosexual” began to replace the earlier descriptions of “men who abuse themselves with men.” The translators viewed the two descriptions as functionally equivalent renditions of Paul’s original Greek (see the Appendix at the end of this article). Seen in this context, the sudden affronts at the ESV’s use of “homosexuality” become foolish and perverse.
And what happened in the House of Deputies the next day (July 8)? Did the shocked and affronted Deputy admit to his Biblical ignorance, and did all the ones who voted to reconsider the addition of the ESV withdraw their objections?
Of course not—do you think these people are capable of admitting that they made a huge mistake, and were wrong? Rather than face ludicrous embarrassment over its Biblical naïveté, the GLBTQI faction in the House of Deputies immediately swept the issue under the rug, by sending someone to the microphone before debate could begin to move to recommit the Resolution to the Standing Committee. That person made a motion to recommit the whole matter to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, for “further study” in the interim until the next General Convention.
And those, dear folks, are the people whom you have elected to play at being “the Episcopal Church” once every three years—at your expense. I hope you are pleased with the manner in which they carry out God’s work in your name.
* * * * * * * * * * *
APPENDIX OF OTHER TRANSLATIONS
For the sake of completeness, and just so we cannot be accused of overlooking anything, let’s look at some other translations of the Bible, starting with the more modern first. Here’s how another respected recent version, the New English Translation (N.E.T.) renders it, with word-for-word accuracy:
Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, 6:10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God.
[The NET Bible (First Edition; 2001). Biblical Studies Press.]
And what about the Catholics? Are the modern translations which they now use any different? Here’s the popular New American Bible, the version used today in most Roman Catholic Churches:
Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals
10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.
[Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Board of Trustees, Catholic Church. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, & United States Catholic Conference. Administrative Board. (1996). The New American Bible: Translated from the original languages with critical use of all the ancient sources and the revised New Testament.]
And here is how the former Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright, translates the passage in his own recent version of the New Testament:
Don’t be deceived! Neither immoral people, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor practicing homosexuals of whichever sort, 10 nor thieves, nor greedy people, nor drunkards, nor abusive talkers, nor robbers will inherit God’s kingdom.
[Wright, N.T. The Kingdom New Testament: a Contemporary Translation. 2011. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.]
To complete the survey of modern translations, here is Kenneth Wuest’s expanded New Testament Translation, which “uses as many English words as are necessary to bring out the richness, force, and clarity of the Greek text”:
Stop being deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor those who are of a voluptuous nature, given to the gratification of sensual, immoral appetites, neither men who are guilty of sexual intercourse with members of their own sex, nor thieves, nor those who are always greedy to have more than they possess, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit God’s kingdom.
[Wuest, K. S. (1997). The New Testament: An expanded translation. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.]
These recent translations seem to be pretty consistent. All use or refer to the words “homosexual” or “homosexuality” to describe the acts which St. Paul was cataloguing as barriers to the kingdom of Heaven.
Let’s stack up some more, both newer and older, just to be sure we are not missing anything:
Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.
[Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 3rd ed., 2007. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]
Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
[The New King James Version. 1982. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.]
Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality, 10 no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom.
[The Holy Bible : Holman Christian standard version. 2009. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.]
Neither sexually immoral people, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor passive homosexual partners, nor dominant homosexual partners, 10 nor thieves, nor greedy persons, not drunkards, not abusive persons, not swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
[The Lexham English Bible. 2012 (W. H. Harris, III, E. Ritzema, R. Brannan, D. Mangum, J. Dunham, J. A. Reimer & M. Wierenga, Ed.). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.]
Do not be fooled. Those who sin sexually, worship idols, take part in adultery, those who are male prostitutes, or men who have sexual relations with other men, those who steal, are greedy, get drunk, lie about others, or rob—these people will not inherit God’s kingdom.
[The Everyday Bible : New Century Version. 2005. Nashville, TN.: Thomas Nelson, Inc.]
Do not fool yourselves; people who are immoral or who worship idols or are adulterers or homosexual perverts 10 or who steal or are greedy or are drunkards or who slander others or are thieves—none of these will possess God’s Kingdom.
[The Holy Bible : The Good News Translation (2nd ed., 1992). New York, NY: American Bible Society.]
Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor those who make women of themselves, nor who abuse themselves with men, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor abusive persons, nor the rapacious, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
[The Holy Scriptures: A new translation from the original languages (Darby, J. N.  1996). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems.
Finally, let’s look at two other ancient translations besides the Authorized Version of King James, just to complete this survey. I start with the Catholic Douay-Rheims version, whose New Testament rendition into English (1582) from the Vulgate predates the King James by nearly thirty years:
Do not err: Neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers:
10 Nor the effeminate nor liers with mankind nor thieves nor covetous nor drunkards nor railers nor extortioners shall possess the kingdom of God.
[The Holy Bible, Translated from the Latin Vulgate. 2009. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.]
And for those who read Latin, here is the Vulgate itself, which dates back to St. Jerome’s translation in the fifth century:
nolite errare neque fornicarii
neque idolis servientes
10 neque molles
neque masculorum concubitores
neque rapaces regnum Dei possidebunt
Biblia Sacra Vulgata: Iuxta Vulgatem Versionem. 1969 (electronic edition of the 3rd edition). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.
“Molles” is Latin for “soft, effeminate ones.” And one doesn’t have to know very much Latin in order to be able to figure out Jerome’s “masculorum concubitores” to translate St. Paul’s Greek.
The translators have been fairly consistent for more than 1,400 years, have they not? The words they are dealing with, in Paul’s original Greek, are malakoi (“soft, effeminate ones”, i.e., the passive partners) and arsenokoitai (literally, something like “guys/bums abed”, i.e., the active ones) (οὔτε μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται). Paul was using Koine Greek slang, which like any ancient slang has been out of use for so long that there are few instances of it in the Greek texts we have extant today, to describe the homosexual behaviors in which men then engaged.
More recent ink has been spilled over possible other interpretations of those two slang words than I care to acknowledge, or to link or discuss here. My point in reviewing all the translations of Paul from that of Jerome to those of the latest New Testament scholars is to show how off-base those would-be interpretations are. They are perfect examples of eisegesis —reading one’s own meaning into the words of Scripture—rather than exegesis, which is reading out of Holy Scripture the meaning which their divinely inspired authors had in mind when they wrote.
Paul knew perfectly well what he was talking about, and so can we.
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