Pontifical Biblical Commission Asks, “What is Man?”

The 300-page study looks at man created by God, in relation to other persons and the rest of creation, and in the salvific plan of God.

(photo: Register Files)

VATICAN CITY — The authors of a new and lengthy study of biblical anthropology by the Pontifical Biblical Commission say it offers theologians and catechists “observations of modern society’s views on man today and contrasts them with Scripture.”

Composed of four chapters, the study commissioned by Pope Francis and called What is Man? An Itinerary of Biblical Anthropology, deals with themes such as man created by God; man in relation to the rest of creation; the relational reality of anthropology (focusing on spousal, parental/filial and fraternal relationships); and the salvific plan of God for humankind.

But reports have suggested that Chapter 3 of the 300-page work represents a significant shift toward acceptance of the sin of homosexual acts.

The leftist Italian La Repubblica newspaper went so far as to claim the text says “the homo-erotic relationship is not to be condemned.”

But does the document really say this?

To gain a better understanding of what exactly the text says, here’s my translation of some relevant excerpts from the third chapter (titled “The Human Family” and with the subtitle “Homosexuality”):

The institution of marriage, constituted by the stable relationship between husband and wife, is constantly presented as evident and normative in the whole biblical tradition. There are no examples of legally recognized ‘unions’ between persons of the same sex.

For some time now, particularly in Western culture, voices of dissent have been heard about the anthropological approach of Scripture, as it is understood and transmitted by the Church in its normative aspects; in fact, all this is judged as simply reflecting an archaic, historically-conditioned mentality. We know that many biblical statements, in the fields of cosmology, biology, and sociology, have gradually been considered outdated with the progressive establishment of the natural and human sciences. Similarly — some people conclude — a new and more adequate understanding of the human person calls for a radical qualification of the exclusive value of the heterosexual union, in favor of a similar acceptance of homosexuality and homosexual unions as a legitimate and worthy expression of the human being. Moreover — it is sometimes argued — the Bible says little or nothing about this type of erotic relationship, which is therefore not condemned, because it is often unduly confused with other aberrant sexual behaviors. It therefore seems necessary to examine the passages of Sacred Scripture in which the problem of homosexuality is discussed, in particular those in which it is denounced and blamed.

It should be immediately noted that the Bible does not speak of an erotic inclination towards a person of the same sex, but only of homosexual acts. And it deals with these in a few texts, which differ from each other in terms of literary genre and importance. As far as the Old Testament is concerned, we have two accounts (Genesis 19 and Judges 19) that improperly evoke this aspect, and then some norms in a legislative Code (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) that condemn homosexual relations.

The chapter then explains the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, noting that Sodom was cursed because of “sin,” often denounced as “very grave” (Genesis 13:13 and 18:20) and considered without remedy, because in the city there was not the minimum number of “righteous” to avert divine judgment (Genesis 18:32). The study then asserts: “The aspect of the whole population’s connivance would therefore seem to be a greater aspect of sin.”

It goes on to say that it “should be noted first of all that in other passages of the Hebrew Bible that refer to Sodom’s guilt, there is never an allusion to a sexual transgression practiced against people of the same sex.” It lists various references from the Old Testament, including Isaiah 1:10 in which the inhabitants are denounced for betraying the Lord, Isaiah 3:9 which speaks of “generic sinful conduct perpetrated in a brazen way,” and Ezekiel 16:49 when the “prophet says that the sin of Sodom consisted of proud, carefree joyfulness and lack of help to the poor.”

It also adds that biblical tradition has tended to refer to Sodom and Gomorrah as the “emblematic, but generic, title of an evil city.”

But it then goes on to quote passages from the New Testament and the second century of the Christian era that offer a “different interpretation” which it says “has become established by becoming habitual reading of biblical accounts.”

The city of Sodom is:

…blamed for a disgraceful sexual practice, called ‘sodomy,’ consisting in the erotic relationship with people of the same sex. This would seem to have, at first glance, clear support in the biblical account. In Genesis 19 it is said, in fact, that two ‘angels’ hosted for the night in the house of Lot, are besieged by the ‘men of Sodom,’ young and old, all the population at large, with the intention of sexually abusing these strangers. The Hebrew verb used here is ‘to know,’ a euphemism to indicate sexual relations, as confirmed by the proposal of Lot, who, in order to protect his guests, is willing to sacrifice his two daughters who ‘have not known man.’

It goes on to say:

We do not find in the narrative tradition of the Bible indications concerning homosexual practices, either as behaviors to be faulted or as attitudes tolerated or welcomed. Friendship between people of the same sex (like David and Jonathan, exalted in 2 Samuel 1:26) cannot be considered a sign in favor of the recognition of homosexuality in Israelite society. The prophetic traditions do not mention practices of this nature, neither among the people of God, nor among the pagan nations; and this silence contrasts with the attestations of Leviticus 18:3-5, 24-30 that are attributed to the Egyptians, to the Canaanites, and in general to the non-Israelites as unacceptable sexual behaviors, including homosexual rape. This indicates, as we shall see, a negative evaluation of this practice.

The book then cites references condemning homosexual practice in the Old and New Testaments, including St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

The sub-chapter ends with the following words:

In conclusion, our exegetical examination of the texts of the Old and of the New Testaments has brought to light elements that must be considered for an evaluation of homosexuality in its ethical implications. Certain formulations of biblical authors, as well as the disciplinary directives of Leviticus, require an intelligent interpretation that safeguards the values that the sacred text intends to promote, thus avoiding repetition to the letter that which carries with it cultural traits of that time. The contribution provided by science, together with the reflections of theologians and moralists, will be indispensable for an adequate exposition of the problem that is only sketched out in this Document. In addition, pastoral care will be required, particularly with regard to individual persons, in order to realize the service to the good that the Church has to assume in her mission for mankind.