Other passages in the Hebrew Bible are sometimes thought to refer to homosexuality. Older English translations (including the King James Version) used the word “sodomite” to translate the Hebrew noun qedeshim, which we now know meant something different, namely, “consecrated ones” (see Deuteronomy 23:17; 1 Kings 14:24, 15:12, 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7; and Milgrom’s comments in Readers Reply, BR 10:02). Sometimes the “sin of Sodom” is claimed to be homosexual behavior, but the Jewish tradition consistently understood the sin of Sodom as inhospitality.
Milgrom argues (BR, December 1993) that the prohibition of homosexuality in Leviticus 18:22 applied only to Jewish males, and not to Gentile males (unless living in Israel). Whatever one makes of this specific claim (and I am not competent to make a judgment about it), the more general point of the law code of ancient Israel that contained many particularities that Christian tradition has generally set aside.
Though 1 Timothy is attributed to Paul, most mainstream scholars do not think it was written by Paul, but by a follower (or “corrector”?) of Paul writing two or three generations later in Paul’s name.
The King James Version translates it as “abusers of themselves with mankind,” the New English Bible as “homosexual perversion” and the Revised Standard Version and New Revised Standard Version as “sodomites” and/or “male prostitutes.”
Space limitations prevent citing the reasons it probably refers to pederasty. For details of the argument, see Robin Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983), esp. pp. 17–65 and 101–109. Scroggs’s book is the most helpful book-length study of homosexuality in the New Testament by a mainstream scholar. L. William Countryman’s study of sexual ethics in the Bible, Dirt, Greed and Sex (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), is equally important, though it treats matters in addition to homosexuality.
In 1 Timothy 1:9–10, arsenokoitai is grouped with two other Greek words, pornoi (often translated variously as “immoral persons” or “fornicators”) and andropodistai (translated variously as “menstealers,” “kidnappers” or “slave traders”). Scroggs, pp. 118–121, makes the interesting argument that the three terms should be taken together and translated as “male prostitutes, males who lie with them, and slavedealers who procure them.” If so, the reference is not to homosexuality in general, but to a particular form of it.
For this argument, see Countryman’s Dirt, Greed and Sex, esp. pp. 120–123.
Moreover, given that Paul treats homosexuality as a purity issue in Romans 1, Paul’s own attitude toward purity becomes crucial. It is most clearly expressed later in Romans: “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean/impure in itself” (Romans 14:14). For my own treatment of homosexuality as a purity issue and the subversion of the purity system by Jesus and the early Christian movement, see chapter three of Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (Harper San Francisco, 1994), esp. pp. 50–59.