Love Lost in Translation: Homosexuality and the Bible - Review

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Written by Kjell Renato Lings

Reviewed by Pablo Stanfield

Have you ever had one of those arguments with someone who insists that God is absolutely opposed to same-sex relations, and the Bible proves it? If so, you will find Love Lost in Translation to be a valuable resource for disarming the “clobber verses” that some Christians pull from the Bible to use for attacking gays, lesbians, and others.

Two years ago, a friend sent me a Spanish version of this book, saying it conveyed information that I “really needed to know.”  I read it with pleasure and edification because it concerns linguistics, and especially because it concerns Koiné Greek, Hebrew, and the Bible, which are among my primary interests.  It also examines religious responses to homosexuality, a subject I have also dealt with for many years of my life – too many.

I have known Friend Renato since we provided language interpretation services together for FWCC meetings some twenty-five years ago, and I have thought highly of his abilities ever since. This book is a tour de force, covering in impeccable detail the uses of Hebrew and Greek to consider love, sex, and other aspects of intimate relations in Biblical times.  Lings examines words whose meanings are hard to pin down, such as the infamous “to know in the Biblical sense.” Although he brings few new conclusions to the discussions among scholars about such words, he brings expanded insights and better explications, and he demonstrates that linguistic history provides no support for an absolutist position that says the Bible opposes all homosexual relationships. This book should open the eyes of some literalists.

By comparing translations, interpretations, and commentaries on the Bible throughout the centuries – from ancient times to the latest journals – and by making a verse-by-verse analysis of the contexts in which sexual relations are mentioned, Lings proves that the behaviors proscribed by the Bible are not what we understand today as gay relationships, but instead, the Bible proscribes a set of sexual behaviors that includes prostitution, incest, and rape. From this, Lings draws essentially the same conclusion as the one reached fifty years ago in Towards a Quaker View of Sex: that it is the quality of the interpersonal relationship that matters from a spiritual or religious point of view.

Now I have read the English version of this book. Friend Lings, who is Danish, took two years to produce this version. I expected to find a translation from the Spanish. It is not that. Although it covers all the same biblical texts (and then some) and reaches the same conclusion, this English version starts over again with English language commentaries, including English translations of ancient authorities and the Bible, and includes comparisons among contemporary English versions of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. This version of Lings’ book is also a tour de force. However, it is not light reading, and I would primarily recommend it to people who are detail-oriented and who enjoy textual and linguistic analysis.

On the other hand, if you or your meeting need to have the definitive text on hand to show without a doubt that the Bible and God, whom it represents, say that the quality of a relationship is the main concern and not the sex or gender of the persons involved, then this is the book.  And it is good and clear reading for people interested in these things.

Love Lost in Translation was published in 2013 by Trafford and is also available as an e-book.  ~~~

Pablo Stanfield is a member of University Meeting in Seattle (NPYM), with a concern for appreciative eldering.