Pray the Gay Away, or How to Edit the Bible

Fred Pound--Swindon Humanists

Fred Pound–Swindon Humanists

I just found this post from the Swindon Humanists (U.K.) by contributing editor Fred Pound. In the second half of this post Fred’s done a really marvelous job of succinctly presenting the case for gays and lesbians in Luke 17:34-35.  The post has teeth!  Pray Away the Gay: Or How to Edit the Bible.

Please check it out.

Nice job, Fred!

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
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10 Responses to Pray the Gay Away, or How to Edit the Bible

  1. Alex Haiken says:

    I read this post with great anticipation to see how the author presented his case for gays and lesbians in Luke 17:34-35. Please tell me what I’m missing:

    In this passage of Like 17:34-35, the original Greek word (“aletho”) which is translated into the English here as “grinding”, comes from the Greek verb for “to grind” which literally means as in “wheat flour” or “meal”. It was the custom to send women and female slaves to the mill houses to turn the hand mills. As the Bible Background Commentary, one of several sources, explains Luke 17:34-35: “Part of the Palestinian Jewish woman’s work was grinding at a mill; she would often do this with another woman. These women could normally work together regardless of religious convictions. Provided that the unreligious woman was not violating Pharisaic rules, even the wife of a Pharisee and the wife of a non-tither (whom Pharisees despised) could grind together.”

    Where is the basis for reading lesbianism into this passage, a concept which was completely foreign to the biblical text?

    As to the reference of “Two men in one bed” from Luke 17:34, you may recall the 2005 book by C. A. Tripp which received a lot of press by suggesting that Abraham Lincoln was gay. One piece of supposed evidence to support the accusation was a tabulation of historical sources showed that Lincoln slept in the same bed with at least 11 boys and men during his youth and adulthood. However, as any historian will explain, sharing a bed in ancient times (even as late as the 19th century as in the case with Lincoln) cannot be considered evidence for an erotic involvement. It was a common practice in an era when private quarters were a rare luxury. In addition, there are no known instances in which Lincoln tried to suppress knowledge or discussion of such arrangements, and in some conversations, raised the subject himself. In her book, ‘Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,’ noted presidential historian Doris Goodwin pointed out the many flaws of asserting Lincoln’s sexuality as homosexual. With regard to the co-sleeping, she reiterates what historian Donald Yacovone had said in the past: “The preoccupation with elemental sex” reveals more about the later centuries “than about the nineteenth”. It would seem the same might be said about reading “gay lovers” and “lesbians” in this passage of the biblical text.

    -Alex Haiken


    • Ron Goetz says:

      Alex, as you know, all but the most technical words have multiple meanings. The word “grind” in the Hebrew Bible, for example, flour, incense, grind the gold of the calf, grind teeth in anger, grind fools to separate them from their folly, grinding the face of the poor, and the sexual grinding in Judges, Job, and Lamentations.

      The same thing is true of grind in Greek–it is a word of wide utility. Grind was used sexually by Plutarch. The following example is in classical Greek, where “grinding the mill” refers to sex.

      This example from secular Greek is also significant because it was written at the same time Luke was probably written. This example demonstrates that the words “grind” and “mill” were used as sexual euphemisms in Greek during the time of Jesus and Luke.

      Plutarch (ca A.D. 45 to 120) was born in Greece near Delphi, and was a contemporary of Luke. One of Plutarch’s essays, “The Banquet of Seven Wise Men,” is a fictional conversation among some famous men who lived around 650 BCE. After a brief lull in the conversation, Thales of Miletus speaks:

      “This remark arrested the attention of the whole company, and Thales said jestingly…. “when I was at Lesbos, I heard my landlady, as she was very busy at her handmill, singing as she used to go at her work:

      Grind, mill, grind;
      For even Pittacus grinds,
      King of great Mytilene.”

      In rhythm with her literal grinding, the landlady sings a bawdy work song: “Grind, mill, grind.” Whether the song dates back to 650 BCE is not the point. What matters is that Plutarch records “grind” used as a sexual metaphor in the last quarter of the first century A.D., overlapping the probable years when Luke was composed.

      Plutarch’s story confirms that he considered the work song to be a “lesbian joke,” since he says that Thales of Miletus told the story set on the Isle of Lesbos ”jestingly.” The historicity of the story itself is not at issue here. What the Plutarchian evidence does is to testify to Greek language use during the period of Plutarch, Luke, and Jesus.

      The word “grind” does not literally mean, “grinding grain.” It means to rub things together, sometimes referring to grain and flour, and other times referring to human bodies.

      In Luke 17: 35 the word “grinding” stands alone. What the women are “grinding at the same place” is not specified. In the Greek there is no word like grain, flour, or wheat. On the other hand, in Matthew 24:41, the word muloni is used, the word for mill.

      As you know, the small differences between the synoptic gospels are significant. They add up to differences in emphasis, audience, theme, etc.

      You can’t go willy-nilly homogenizing every difference before you do violence to the “author’s intent.” For example, Matthew’s “Blessed are the poor in spirit” is not the same as Luke’s “Blessed are the poor.” They have different meanings. Imagine the hue and cry if translators added the words “in spirit” to Luke.

      I have documented the history of the rendering of Luke 17:34-35, documented the personal anti-gay bias of Bruce Metzger (RSV & NRSV) and Mark Strauss (NIV), and how they and others have deliberately removed every trace of gays and lesbians in these verses as possible.

      There is a lot more to the discussion of the gay and lesbian couples in Luke 17:34-35 than I’ve written just now. If you go to the banner area, click on “Gays and Lesbians in Luke.” I have published a wealth of information, exegsis, and argument. I’ve been writing on this topic for several years. Be sure to look through the comments on the posts–I have interacted with a lot of readers there.


    • Alex Haiken says:

      Ron, thank you for your reply. With all due respect, don’t you think you may be taking unjust liberties here by forcing a translation that when examined just a bit closer, we discover the text will not allow? I submit that what you’re proposing here simply does not hold up to closer scrutiny. If you could kindly bear with me for a moment:

      You are correct that the Hebrew word for “grind,” i.e., “tahan” [Strong’s concordance, 2912] can be a euphemism for sexual activity and we see that this Hebrew word is used in that context in several instances in the Old Testament. However, we can know its use and intent in each case you cited from the context of the text.

      For example, in Job 31:9-10 which you cited, Job said: “If my heart have been deceived by a woman … then let my wife “grind” unto another, and let others bow down upon her.” In his famous early English translation of the Bible, Coverdale put it this way: “O then let my wife be another man’s harlot, and let other lye with her.” It’s clear how that this Hebrew word “tahan” [Strong’s concordance, 2912] is being used here in a sexual connotation and it’s also clear it’s heterosexual. From here to v23 Job cleared himself of social sins. The sin of adultery heads the list (v9). He did not so much as covet his neighbor’s wife; for even his heart was not deceived by a woman. In the biblical world adultery was heinous, because it struck at the roots of the family and clan. It meant, as is clear here, relations with another man’s wife. There are no “romantic gay lovers” here.

      In Isaiah 47:2, we see the same Hebrew word “tahan” [Strong’s concordance, 2912] is used in a similar context. “Make bare the leg, uncover the thigh … thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen,” strongly suggests a sexual meaning. Here in this passage we have Babylon being taken to task by God for their cruelty to the people of God (v6), for their pride and carnal security (v7-9), for their confidence in themselves and contempt of God (v10), and for their use of magic arts and dependence upon enchantments and sorceries. Again, there is no hint of homosexuality or “gay lovers”. Though the use of magic arts can suggest pagan cult idolatry and temple prostitution, as temples across the ancient Near East employed (or enslaved) both male and female prostitutes. But again, no hint of “romantic gay lovers” here either.

      And in Judges 16:21, we see the same Hebrew word “tahan” [Strong’s concordance, 2912] used in this context again. After Samson was betrayed by Delilah, “the Philistines took him, and put out his out his eyes, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house” (Judges 16:21) The context reveals that the Philistines seized Samson and blinded him (v.21). The Jews considered loss of eyesight a terrible curse. Rebellious children deserved to be blinded (Prov. 30:17). The residents of a whole city were threatened with the loss of their right eyes as a special insult (1 Sam 11:2). And we also know the men at the door in Sodom (Gen. 19:11) were struck with blindness so they were unable to find the door. The Sodom and Gomorrah passage, of course, is a classic case on male rape being used as it often was to men and kings of conquered tribes by the invading army, as the ultimate symbol of defeat and humiliation, since this was a way for victors to accentuate the subjection of captive enemies and foes and a way of humiliating visitors and strangers. But again no trace of “romantic gay lovers” here either.

      And then you provide Lamentations 5:13 as yet another example to prove your point. In Lamentations 5:11-13 the text reveals that the brutality the people were experiencing was only a continuation of what they had experienced earlier, when the Chaldeans had captured the city. “Princes have been hung up by their hands” (v12) suggests torture to make the rich reveal where they had hidden their treasures. “Elders are shown no respect” manifestly refers not to mere withholding of respect but to a deliberate shaming. Hence the hanging, perhaps impaling, is of the dead to dishonor their corpses. Again we have here are clear and repeated references to abuse, cruelty and subjugation. Once again no hint of “romantic gay lovers” here either).

      Then you move to Luke 17:35 – and bear in mind now you’re comparing a Hebrew word [Strong’s concordance, 2912] to a Greek word [Strong’s concordance, 229] – and, by your own admission, without any context whatsoever, suggest that here we have yet another instance where the Bible references “gay romantic lovers” and “lesbian romantic lovers”. There is no hint, trace or suggestion of any “romantic gay lovers” in any of the OT passages you cited. And similarly there is no hint, trace or context in Luke 17:35 to suggest “gay romantic lovers” and “lesbian lovers” either. Then by what exegetical rule or miracle can any of us justifiably and responsibly say, “See, its homosexual; that settles it, let’s move on!”

      Isn’t that exactly what we take the Fundamentalists to task for by reading things into the ancient text that simply are not there (i.e., eisegesis) as opposed to drawing out from the text what it actually meant the original author and to the original intended audience (i.e., exegesis)? They see homosexuals hiding behind texts every time they open their Bible when they’re quite clearly not there – and it seems that you’re doing the very same thing. We don’t have to look for or find “romantic gay lovers” on every page of the Bible to prove that the Fundamentalists got it wrong.

      -Alex Haiken


      • Ron Goetz says:

        Alex, neither Fred nor I suggested that Job, Isaiah, Judges, or Lamentations referred to gay sex. We were only documenting the fact that the word “grind” sometimes referred to sex in the Old Testament.

        What Fred Pound wrote was: “the use of the term grinding is commonly used in the bible to mean sex (Job 31:9-10, Judges 16:21, Lamentations 5:13).”

        What I have written is in the post, “Two Women Grinding Together—O.T. Hebrew.” I have never suggested that any O.T. use of “grind” referred to same-sex couples. In a sense, I was simply emphasizing a neglected and unfamiliar meaning of the word “grind.”

        For the traditionalists among my readers, it’s important to document things from both testaments, including word meanings and usages.

        BTW—I was aware of the Isaiah passage, and I’m glad you found it and realized its relevance to this discussion. (Usually people just categorically deny that any of the references I cite allow for a sexual meaning.) I have not included it in my discussions thus far because it was a far more involved discussion than I could afford to detour for. I felt I could bypass it because three examples seemed sufficient.

        I also cited the Coverdale rendering of the Lamentations passage. Nice that our work overlaps, eh?


      • Ron Goetz says:

        Alex, I have explained the lesbian identity of the women in Luke 17:35 at length, and would appreciate if it you would go to my past posts and read the discussion threads where other readers have taken issue with me.

        Go to the banner area of my blog, look for “Gays and Lesbians in Luke,” click, then find these posts:

        “Two Women Grinding Together” — O.T. Hebrew
        “Two Women Grinding Together” – Sumerian, Latin, and Greek
        “Two Lesbians without a Mill”

        You will find that I have interrogated this passage quite thoroughly, and presented evidence and argument to support my case. You are not justified to allege that there is no evidence for my case.

        Instead of simply repeating your allegations, you need to address the evidence the arguments I have presented. It may be that you will never be convinced–and that’s okay.

        As for me, I have developed a sound case, presenting historical, linguistic, and exegetical evidence and argument to support my thesis. I invite you to familiarize yourself with my case, and take care to engage what I have actually written, not what you think I wrote.


  2. Alex Haiken says:

    Ron, appreciate the specific references you just provided above and which were previously not readily available. I will review them before commenting further.

    -Alex Haiken


  3. Alex Haiken says:

    I apologize if some of my previous comments have come across as snarky or argumentative. But as you yourself have admitted in comments to others here about things you’ve grown weary of, I myself have grown weary of those who insist that the men of Sodom were gay, that Ruth and Naomi were lesbians, that David and Jonathan were lovers, that Jesus and John the disciple he loved were gay, and other similar notions.

    That said, I have read the three posts you referenced above. In these three it seemed you established that in the Hebrew Bible, “grind” was sometimes used as a euphemism for sexual intercourse, which is indeed true. You also established that “grind” was sometimes used as a euphemism for sex in both Latin, Greek and other languages, which is also true.

    But then somehow you conclude that because the term could and sometimes was used as a euphemism for sex in these languages, and was used as a euphemism for sex in a poem written by Plutarch, who himself was Greek and lived around the same Luke did, that somehow we can conclude — without any context whatsoever in the Luke passage — that Jesus was referring to gay men and lesbian lovers here, and shows Jesus’ acceptance of non-celibate gays and lesbians.

    How do we make that jump?

    This becomes all the more problematic since we also know from commentaries such as the Bible Background Commentary which says referring to Luke 17:34-35: “Part of the Palestinian Jewish woman’s work was grinding at a mill; she would often do this with another woman. These women could normally work together regardless of religious convictions. Provided that the unreligious woman was not violating Pharisaic rules, even the wife of a Pharisee and the wife of a non-tither (whom Pharisees despised) could grind together.”

    We also know with regard to the “two men in a bed” passage that up thru 19th century and even beyond it was a common practice for men to share a bed in eras when private quarters were such a rare luxury. So where then is the basis for such a forced interpretation?

    To go one step further, we know words like “hand” and “foot” were often used euphemistically for “penis” as were words like “thigh” for “testicles.” But it would not be responsible to presume when we see these in the Bible, that the text is necessarily referring to penises or testicles — and all the more so when the word shows up in passage with no context at all.

    Even “if” Plutarch was referring lesbians in his poem, as you suggest, I still don’t see how one can responsibly make the jump that Jesus was referring to gay men and lesbian lovers and shows Jesus’ acceptance of non-celibate gays and lesbians.. Mind you, I’m not suggesting God has a problem with gay people who are sexually active, as you averred in another comment. Fact is I spend my life in many ways helping gay people integrate a theologically-sound, committed Christian faith with their sexuality and in connection with this, it has become increasingly clear to me that the people who truly do well in the long run are those who accepted they were gay and sought after a same-sex monogamous partnership.

    But for the reasons stated above, I do not see how one can responsibly derive from Luke 17:34-35 without taking some serious liberties that Jesus was referring to gay men and lesbian lovers.

    -Alex Haiken


    • Ron Goetz says:

      Thank you for presenting so much of my case so accurately.

      The only thing we differ on is whether or not I have made an unwarranted leap from sexual grinding at its core. I believe that, in the popular mind, Sodom is the key association. So what we have in Luke 17 is Sodom–Lot’s wife–two men in one bed–two women grinding together–at night. Six elements in very close proximity adding up to the gay and lesbian theme.


      • Alex Haiken says:

        Wow, I’m rather surprised to hear back from you again after almost a year and a half! Actually, I think what we differ on is more substantial than that. It is my belief that the only forms or expressions of same-sex contact cited in the Bible — and I would argue, that were even known in the ancient and biblical world — are the following three:

        (1) Pagan cult idolatry and temple prostitution, as temples across the ancient Near East employed (or enslaved) both male and female prostitutes.

        (2) Male-on-male rape, as men and kings of conquered tribes were often raped by the invading army as the ultimate symbol of defeat and humiliation. This was a way for victors to accentuate the subjection of captive enemies and foes and a way of humiliating visitors and strangers.

        (3) An exploitative form of pederasty that was popular in the ancient and Greco-Roman world. These interactions ceased when the boys began to sprout facial hair and other indications of emerging masculinity. In ancient wrings every detail in the description of overripe boyhood is intended to evoke repulsion and disgust.

        None of these are in any way related to what you and I may know of as “homosexuality” today. It is for this very reason that Bible dictionaries, such as Harper’s Bible Dictionary, say of homosexuality: “A word for which there is no specific equivalent in the Hebrew Old Testament or the Greek New Testament, since the concept itself as well as the English word originated only in the 19th century.” Not only did the WORD did not exist, but even more significantly, the very CONCEPT itself was foreign.

        Consequently, if we could stand Moses and Paul before us — the only two biblical authors who have been attributed as having said anything pertaining to or about homosexuality — and applaud or ridicule them for their condemnation of homosexuality, they would almost certainly stare at us in blank incomprehension. Why? Because homosexuality per se simply isn’t anything they’d ever been aware of.

        I don’t want to turn this into a pissing contest. I know you hold to a different view. We may just need to respectfully agree to disagree. But you’re mistaken if you think the only thing we differ on is whether or not you made an unwarranted leap from sexual grinding at its core.

        -Alex Haiken


      • Ron Goetz says:

        Hi Alex,

        I have not had occasion to study this as you have. I would simply observe that what ends up in writing probably covers the most common forms of relationships, as you have described. But given sometimes strong social disapproval of being “that way,” and given the frequent rural isolation, it is literally impossible to say that caring, committed same-sex relationships occurred no where in ancient times.

        Literate city dwellers may not have had occasion to either observe or document such relationships, but it is not possible to say they ever existed. You know, it only takes one on some isolated farm or vineyard.

        But you are undoubtedly correct as regards what made it into print, and survived.

        If only we had access to the Library at Alexandria. (sigh)


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